Drug smuggling is HSBC’s raison d’etre

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HSBC Tower in Hong Kong; the cannons are pointed at the Bank of China Tower. HSBC still issues Hong Kong’s official currency. 

31st January 2016 

HSBC are in the news for attempting to suppress a report into money laundering. This is no surprise as the company’s entire history, right up to the present day, is one of financing drug cartels.

HSBC are not known for their transparency. Britain’s wealthiest company, with a stock market valuation of $215billion, has enough advertising muscle in the British press to ensure that critical investigative pieces have been spiked in both the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph – in the latter case, causing that newspaper’s chief political commentator to resign in protest. Then last year, the bank’s friends in the Swiss government sentenced the whistleblower who exposed the bank’s massive facilitation of tax avoidance to five years in prison, the longest sentence ever demanded by the country’s public ministry for a banking data theft case. And back in 2011 HSBC was revealed to be the UK financial sector’s most enthusiastic user of tax havens, with no less than 556 subsidiary companies based in offshore jurisdictions. Tax havens, as leading expert Nicholas Shaxson notes, “are characterised by secrecywhat they are fundamentally about is escape – escape from the rules, laws, regulations of jurisdictions elsewhere. You move your money offshore and you can then escape the laws that you don’t like”. This is clearly an institution with much to hide.

So it should not have surprised anybody when, earlier this month, it was revealed that HSBC are now seeking to block the publication of a report into HSBC’s compliance with anti-money laundering laws. After all, it was only three years ago that HSBC were hit with a massive $1.9 billion fine for laundering around $1 billion on behalf of some of the world’s most vicious gangsters. According to US assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer, “from 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia, and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA. These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard.” This is putting it mildly; in fact HSBC went to great lengths to facilitate the drug cartels. As Matt Taibbi wrote in his definitive piece on the scandal, HSBC “ran a preposterous offshore operation in Mexico that allowed anyone to walk into any HSBC Mexico branch and open a US-dollar account (HSBC Mexico accounts had to be in pesos) via a so-called ‘Cayman Islands branch’ of HSBC Mexico. The evidence suggests customers barely had to submit a real name and address, much less explain the legitimate origins of their deposits.” The bank did have a system in place to identify ‘suspicious activity’; but it routinely flouted it. As Nafeez Ahmed has written, “By 2010, HSBC had racked up a backlog of 17,000 suspicious activity alerts that it had simply ignored. Yet the bank’s standard response when it received its next government cease-and-desist order was simply to ‘clear’ the alerts, and give assurances that everything was fine. According to former HSBC compliance officer and whistleblower Everett Stern, the bank’s executives were deliberately ignoring and violating anti-money laundering regulations.” Taibbi wrote that “In one four-year period between 2006 and 2009, an astonishing $200 trillion in wire transfers (including from high risk countries like Mexico) went through without any monitoring at all. The bank also failed to do due diligence on the purchase of an incredible $9 billion in physical US dollars from Mexico and played a key role in the so-called Black Market Peso Exchange, which allowed drug cartels in both Mexico and Colombia to convert US dollars from drug sales into pesos to be used back home. Drug agents discovered that dealers in Mexico were building special cash boxes to fit the precise dimensions of HSBC teller windows”. HSBC’s customers – cartels like Colombia’s Norte del Valle and Mexico’s Sinaloa – were at the time involved in mass murder and abuse of the most psychopathic variety, including beheadings and torture videos. The official death toll from these groups in Mexico alone is 83,000 over the past decade. That they have the capacity to carry out violence on such a

massive scale is the result of the massive financial growth of their industry. And that growth was wilfully facilitated by HSBC. 

Given that this has all now been established in court, were the rule of law actually applied, the bank’s Charter would have been revoked, and its directors (including former UK Trade Minister Stephen Green) would now be in jail. The reason this did not happen is that the sheer size of HSBC’s operations make it too strategically important to close down. “Had the US authorities decided to press charges”, explained Assistant Attorney General Lenny Breuer, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.” That is to say, HSBC’s wealth and power put it officially above the law. Even its $1.9 billion fine, massive though it might seem, amounted to a mere five weeks profit for the bank.

But all of this is entirely in keeping for a bank whose roots lie precisely in illegality, drug trading and massive violence.

HSBC’s website notes that it was formed in 1865 to “to finance trade between Europe and Asia”, whilst the official 763-page history of the company explains that “the expansion of international trade with China had inevitably led to demand for trade finance and money-changing facilities – demand that the traditional Chinese banks, the quianzhuang, had been unable to meet”, with HSBC kindly stepping in to help. Yet neither source deigns to tell their readers of exactly what this trade consisted. 

The previous century had seen a huge growth in UK imports of tea from China; indeed, these were growing so large that Britain’s silver supplies were draining away to China to pay for them. The problem for Britain was that it had nothing China wanted to buy in return; as Emperor Qian Long explained in a long letter to King George III in 1793, “our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.” But the traders of the British East India Company, which had taken control of Bengal in 1757, came up with an ingenious solution. They would force the dispossessed peasantry of India – starving and desperate following the Company’s destruction of their textile industry through extortionate taxes, plunder and the imposition of ‘free trade’ – onto newly founded opium plantations, and sell this to the Chinese. This was entirely illegal; but that posed no problem for the British, who simply bribed corrupt Chinese officials to turn a blind eye to the trade. By the 1830s the trade had reached 40,000 chests per annum; selling for up to $1000 per chest, the trade became, according to Frederic Wakeman, “the world’s most valuable single commodity trade of the nineteenth century”, and accounted for almost two thirds of British overseas trade with China. But this tidy little scam came under serious threat in 1839. By that time, the trade had grown so large that China’s silver was now draining away to Britain to pay for the drug, and the Emperor decided to launch a crackdown. As the Le Monde Diplomatique recounted recently, “a senior Chinese government official, Lin zexu, known for his competence and moral standing, issued a warrant for [British opium trader Thomas] Dent’s arrest in an attempt to close his warehouses” and eventually forced the British superintendent of trade to surrender 10,000 chests, which were then destroyed. China’s flagrant attempt to protect its citizens and enforce its own laws was deemed an affront too far for the British, who responded by sending gunboats to the coast of China, and opening fire. Town after town was destroyed by cannonfire, and then

looted by British troops; indeed, according to historian John Newsinger, “it was during this war that the Hindi word ‘lut’ entered the English language as the word ‘loot’”. In one town alone, Tin-hai, over 2000 Chinese were killed, with the India Gazette reporting that “a more complete pillage could not be conceived…the plunder only ceased when there was nothing to take or destroy”. This destruction continued for three years, until the Chinese agreed to the British terms: handing over Hong Kong to the British, opening more Chinese ports to British trade, paying the full costs of their own bombardment, and fully compensating the opium traders for the loss of their property.

A second war followed, lasting from 1856 to 1860. This one was even more destructive, with British warships advancing up the Peiho river to Beijing itself, eventually reaching the Emperor’s majestic Summer Palace. Captain Charles Gordon explained that his troops, “after pillaging it burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal manner most valuable property…everybody was wild for plunder.” One of the items looted was the Emperor’s pet Pekinese dog, taken as a present for Queen Victoria. She called it Looty.

This time, the Chinese were forced to legalise the opium trade. Over the decades that followed, the trade would reach dizzying heights, with British opium exports climbing to 60,000 chests per year by the 1860s, and 100,000 in the 1880s, making it, according to the Cambridge History of China, “the most long continued and systematic crime of modern times”, with millions of Chinese addicts paying the price.

This was the trade which HSBC were created to facilitate. Thomas Dent – the opium trader whose arrest hepped trigger the first of the ‘opium wars’ – was one of its founders. Another was Thomas Sutherland, the Hong Kong superintendent of British shipping company P and O and chairman of Hong Kong and Whampoa dock; opium accounted for 70% of maritime freight from India to China at the time.

As the British research group Corporate Watch have shown, “After the second round of wars the Chinese government could only pay off its massive war fines by turning to such merchants as the Hong King and Shanghai Bank. According to one historian, ‘They…had the effect of placing the revenues of China almost totally in foreign control.’” In other words, then as now, the sheer overwhelming dominance of the bank and its backers created an economic dependency on it which effectively put it above the law.

The combined impact of Chinese government’s dependency and the growing opium trade created profits which catapulted HSBC to the position of most profitable British bank (either overseas or domestic) within 25 years of its foundation. It would stay at or near this position right up to the present day.

Following legalization, Chinese opium production took off, eventually eclipsing even British imports, which ended in 1917. But by this time, HSBC was fully embedded in the Chinese economy, able to position itself as chief financier of the new Chinese entrepeneurs. When this production itself was wiped out by the victorious Communist Party in 1949, production shifted to South Asia (with help from the CIA, according to Peter Dale Scott). HSBC followed. According to Richard Roberts and David Kynaston in their official history of HSBC, The Lion Wakes: “In search of new business, the bank expanded operations elsewhere in Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, it extended its branch network in Singapore and Malaysia, and for the first time opened branches in Borneo.”

Today, drug profits form a major part of the entire global financial system. According to a 2005 UN report, the illegal drugs trade was worth £177 billion per year, equating to a staggering 8-9 % of total world trade; the latest UN figure is £320 billion per year. Of this, Alain Labrousse of Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, estimates that around 80% of the profits end up “in the banks of the wealthy countries.” Indeed, so dependent has the financial system become on the illicit trade that in 2009, the UN drugs tsar testified that it was

only laundered drug money that kept the global economy from collapsing during the crisis of 2007-8.

Little wonder, then, that wherever you look – from Afghanistan, to Kosovo, to Libya, to Mexico to Colombia, and even ‘at home’ – the policies of the world’s leading financial centres serve to boost the production, distribution and profitability of the drugs trade. And little wonder that HSBC are still keeping their ‘money laundering checks’ to themselves.

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. Britain is the heart and soul of tax evasion 

 

8th April 2016 

The British government’s claim to be tackling tax avoidance is about as credible as Al Capone claiming to be leading the fight against organized crime. In fact, Britain is at the heart of the global tax haven network, and continues to lead the fight against its regulation.

 

The 11 and a half million leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have proven, once again, what we have already known for some time – that the ‘offshore world’ of tax havens is a den of money laundering and tax evasion right at the heart of the global financial system.

 

Despite attempts by Western media to twist the revelations into a story about the ‘corruption’ of official enemies – North Korea, Syria, China and, of course, Putin, who is not even mentioned in the documents – the real story is the British government’s assiduous cultivation of the offshore world. For whilst corruption exists in every country, what enables that corruption to flourish and become institutionalized is the network of secretive financial regimes that allow the world’s biggest criminals and fraudsters to escape taxation, regulation and oversight of their activities. And this network is a conscious creation of the British state.

 

You wouldn’t know this, of course, listening to the words of the British Prime Minister, who always casts himself on the side of the angels. In 2013, David Cameron hosted a G8 Summit claiming that he would lead a push for an end to the use of tax havens as a means for what he called “shady secretive companies” to hide their cash and activities. In the event, nothing of any substance was agreed, largely due to Cameron’s failure to conduct the necessary behind-the-scenes lobbying: the posturing, it seems, was designed solely for public consumption.

 

Even today, in response to the Panama Papers, Number Ten continue to claim that Cameron put tax evasion “front and centre” of Britain’s G8 presidency and is now “ahead of the pack” on tax transparency.” Keen to hype up what will no doubt be another round of empty rhetoric and BRICS-bashing, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has also chimed in: “We’ve got an anti-corruption summit here in May. This is a key agenda for the Prime Minister”.

 

What the Panama Papers demonstrate, however, is that the real, and hidden, key agenda for the British government is maintaining the offshore netherworld’s role as a conduit through which global funds, largely plundered from the global South, can escape democratic control to enter the City of London’s private banks.

Of the 215,000 companies identified in the Mossack Fonseca documents, over half were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, one single territory in what tax haven expert Nicholas Shaxson calls a “spider’s web” of well over a dozen separate UK-controlled dens of financial chicanery. In addition, the UK was ranked number two of those jurisdictions where the banks, law firms and other middlemen associated with the Panama Papers operate, only topped by Hong Kong, whose institutional environment is itself a creation of the UK. And of the ten banks who most frequently asked Mossack Fonseca to set up paper companies to hide their client’s finances, four were British: HSBC, Coutts, Rothschild and UBS. HSBC, recently fined $1.9bn for laundering the money of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels, used the Panamanian firm to create 2300 offshore companies, whilst Coutts – the family bank of the Windsors – set up just under 500. And, of course, David Cameron’s own father was named in the papers, having “helped create and develop” Blairmore Holdings, worth $20million, from its inception in 1982 til his death in 2010.

Blairmore, in which Cameron junior was also a shareholder, was registered in the Bahamas, and was specifically advertised to investors as a means of avoiding UK tax. The Daily Mail noted that: “Even though he lived in London, the Prime Minister’s father would leave the country and fly to Switzerland or the Bahamas for board meetings of Blairmore Holdings – to ensure it would not have to pay UK income tax or corporation tax. He hired a small army of Bahamas residents, including a part-time bishop, to sign its paperwork – as part of another bid to show his firm was not British-based.”

That Britain should emerge as central to this scandal is no surprise. For as Nicholas Shaxson, a leading authority on tax havens, put it when I interviewed him in 2011, “The City of London is effectively the grand-daddy of the global offshore system”. Whilst there are various different lists of tax havens in existence, depending on how exactly they are defined, on any one of them explains Shaxson, “you will see that about half of the tax havens on there, of the ones that matter, are in some way British or partly British.” These are essentially of three types. Firstly, are “Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man: the crown dependencies. They’re very fundamentally controlled by Britain.” Next are the Overseas Territories, such as the Caymans, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Gibraltar and the Turks and Caicos Islands, in which “all the things that matter are effectively controlled by Great Britain”. Of course, it suits the British government to portray all these territories as ‘autonomous’ or ‘self-governing’ in order to provide itself with plausible deniability about what they are doing. But the reality is that the overseas territories are run by a governor appointed by the Queen on the British government’s advice. The governor, not the elected council, Shaxson notes in his book Treasure Islands, “is responsible for defence, internal security and foreign relations; he appoints the police commissioner, the complaints commissioner, auditor general, attorney general, the judiciary and a number of other senior public officials. The final appeal court is the Privy Council in London”. Casey Gill, one of the earliest lawyers specializing in offshore operations explained how legislation was devised in the Caymans: tax experts and accountants would fly in from all over the world “and say ‘these are the loopholes in our system’. And Caymans legislation would be designed accordingly”, often by a conglomerate run by Gill, before being sent to the British Foreign Office for approval. Shaxson asked Gill if Britain, who had the power to veto such legislation, ever raised any objections. “No,” he said, “Not ever. Never”.

Finally, “there are other countries that are either in the British Commonwealth or they have very long and deep historical links with Britain. All of these different networks feed money and feed the business of handling money into the City of London. And so the City is the biggest protector – the City of London Corporation but also the banks located in the City – huge defenders of the tax havens around the world.” Recently, the City of London Corporation has been negotiating with the Kenyan government on plans to create an ‘International Financial Centre’ in Kenya, which will effectively turn Kenya into the first tax haven in mainland Africa.

The entire UK-controlled web is home to offshore deposits estimated in 2009 to be worth $3.2trillion, 55% of the global total: equivalent to roughly $500 for every man, woman and child on the planet.

In his book ‘Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World’. Shaxson describes how, in the 1960s, a “London-centred web of half-British territories” was “deliberately created” in order to “catch financial business from nearby jurisdictions by offering lightly taxed,

lightly regulated and secretive bolt holes for money. Criminal and other money could be handled by the City of London, yet far enough from London to minimize any stink”.

Whilst ostensibly involved in a process of ‘decolonisation’, in fact the UK hung on to a large global network of small, sparsely-populated islands; “the British empire”, Shaxson wrote, “had faked its own death”. These islands were to serve the same imperial purpose the empire had always had: the projection of British power and the channeling of African, Asian and Latin American wealth into Britain. But whilst some of the islands, such as Diego Garcia and the Falklands, were to serve as crucial military outposts, many of the others were developed as a means of facilitating the financial plunder of the former colonial world. In Shaxson’s words, the role of these tax havens is to “capture passing foreign business and channel it to London just as a spider’s web catches insects” whilst also acting as a “money laundering filter that lets the City get involved in dirty business while providing it with enough distance to maintain plausible deniability”. Whilst the vast majority of critical media reporting on tax havens tends to portray the UK as a ‘victim’ of tax havens, the reality is that, just like the empire they replaced, these ‘treasure islands’ provide a massive cash injection into the ‘motherland’: “in the second quarter of 2009”, Shaxson writes, “the UK received net financing of US$332.5billion just from its three Crown Dependencies Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man”. And where does this money come from? Obviously, it comes from all over the world; but wealthy European and North American nations have been much better equipped to prevent ‘capital flight’ from their territories than have developing countries. Indeed, the Bank of England took special care, when it was establishing the global tax haven network, to protect the UK from potential ill effects; a letter from the Bank of England quoted by Shaxson, written in 1969 and marked ‘secret’, writes of the new tax havens that “there is of course no objection to their providing bolt holes for non-residents but we need to be sure that in so doing opportunities are not created for the transfer of UK capital to the non-Sterling area outside UK rules”. As Shaxson comments, “No objection to the looting of other countries – so long as Britain was protected”. Of course, it is the poorest countries which are in the worst equipped to defend themselves against this looting.

In 2008, Global Financial Integrity estimated that flows of illicit money out of developing countries into tax havens were running at about $1.25 trillion per year, roughly ten times the total value of aid given to developing countries by the rich world. Shaxson himself originally came to be interested in tax havens whilst investigating the illegal West African oil trade. As he explains: “I began to see how the terrible human cost of poverty and inequality in Africa connected with the apparently impersonal world of accounting regulations and tax exemptions. Africa’s supposedly natural or inevitable disasters all had one thing in common: the movement of money out of Africa and into Europe and the United States, assisted by tax havens and a pinstriped army of respectable bankers, lawyers and accountants. But almost nobody wanted to look beyond Africa at the system that made this possible”. People like Cameron were more interested in handwringing about ‘corrupt African governments’ than in examining the system that enabled and promoted this corruption. Tax havens are facilitating the plunder, by the London banks, of African wealth. And they are doing so because this is what they were designed to do – to continue the extortion of colonialism, just at the moment Britain was forced to give up the bulk of its formal empire.

It is this system that Cameron’s government – in diametric opposition to its rhetorical flourishes – is working to perpetuate. Indeed, much of Cameron’s battling with Europe has been driven precisely by the desire to maintain the impunity of the City and its web of tax havens in the face of attempts by the EU to regulate the banking sector. As the FT reported this week, “David Cameron personally intervened in 2013 to weaken an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of trusts, creating a possible loophole that other European nations warned could be exploited by tax evaders”. Britain has also led opposition to EU

attempts to reforms that would make corporations register for tax in the places where they actually do business. And one of the key concessions Cameron managed to wring out of the EU Summit in February this year was that Britain, in the words of the Telegraph, “can now pull an emergency lever over eurozone laws they have “reasoned opposition” to, forcing leaders to hold back from implementation until their concerns are addressed”. The Telegraph then gives some revealing detail on exactly what kinds of laws might trigger Britain’s ‘reasoned opposition’: “The protections will address real concerns in the Treasury that the EU will develop a sprawling framework which will clamp down on the reckless “Anglo-Saxon” lenders which many on the continent still blame for bringing crisis to European shores back in 2009…In the aftermath of the last financial crisis, the UK had its fingers burnt over the EU’s decision to press ahead with a controversial banker bonus cap in 2012. …Other British battlegrounds include the much-resented Financial Transactions Tax, a radical attempt to impose a single levy on Europe’s financial sector. This was initially vetoed by the UK at the EU level, but is still being pursued by a group of euro states.” In other words, far from being hamstrung from taking action by the non-cooperation of other countries, the UK is the leading saboteur of any attempts to make the financial sector more accountable.

But of course, this is only natural. For accountability would bring the whole criminal enterprise crashing down.

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. The British empire never died: tax havens as neocolonialism 

 

June 2016

 

Kwame Nkrumah was the leader of the Ghanaian independence movement in the 1950s, eventually leading the country to become the first black African nation to break free from British rule in 1957. But Nkrumah knew that the country he led remained tied into a colonial world economy, and would require much more than formal political independence to become truly liberated. He analysed the condition of political independence combined with economic dependence as ‘neocolonialism’ which, he argued, aimed “to keep [living] standards depressed” in the formerly colonized countries “in the interest of the developed countries” and to preserve “the colonial pattern of commerce and industry”. Specifically he noted “the financial power of the developed countries being used in such a way as to impoverish the less developed.” This short sentence describes precisely the main role of today’s global network of tax havens.

Whilst there is no single, internationally-agreed, definition of exactly what constitutes a tax haven, there is little disagreement on the broad contours of their appeal: the chance for capital to escape the regulation, scrutiny and tax laws of the society in which it was generated. Their scale and significance to the global economy is hard to overstate: according to Ronen Palan, one of the leading academic authorities on ‘offshore’ finance, tax havens hold an estimated 20% of all private wealth, process almost half the world’s stock of money, conduct 80% of international financial transactions and account for almost 100% of foreign exchange transactions (worth $2 trillion per day). It is not surprising, then, that 99 of Europe’s top 100 companies have subsidiaries in tax havens. As the investigative journalist Nicholas Shaxson has commented, “the offshore system is not just a colourful outgrowth of the global economy, but instead lies right at its centre”. But this has not always been the case. Whilst early tax havens began to take shape in the 1930s, their emergence as the world’s major financial centres coincided precisely with the end of (most) formal colonialism.

Whilst most of the British Empire had gained independence by the end of the 1960s, Britain retained control of a significant number of island outposts scattered around the globe. Some of these, such as the Chagos and Falkland islands, became outposts for the projection of military power. The Chagos islands, for example, were emptied of their indigenous populations and turned into a US base which has played a crucial role in the refueling of bomber jets on their way to the Middle East, as well as a staging post in the CIA’s notorious rendition programme. But most of the islands were destined for another, although linked, purpose: to act as financial vehicles for the continued looting of the former colonial regions, channeling their resources back to the imperial heartlands. Closest to home were the three Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man; then the fourteen Overseas Territories, mostly in the Caribbean; and finally a range of other jurisdictions such as Gibraltar and Hong Kong. Virtually all of these islands had become tax havens within years of the formal decolonization of the rest of the empire, and collectively represent around one half of all the world’s tax havens (however defined) today. With the exception of Hong Kong, all remain under the control of the British crown, with governor-generals appointed by London, and legislation subject to approval or veto by the British Foreign Office.

 

Once established, Britain’s network of tax havens created the competitive pressures that led other global powers to create their own offshore centres in response. As noted by Palan, Murphy and Chavagneux, “the British state and the British Empire emerged as the second [after Switzerland] and soon the dominant hub of the offshore economy…A City of London-centred economy emerged, closely linked to a satellite system of British dependencies. The British Empire economy combined tax avoidance and evasion with regulatory avoidance in a new synthesis known as OFCs [Offshore Financial Centres]. The powerful attraction of this London-centred offshore economy forced both the United States and Japan to develop their own limited version of OFCs, adopting a model originally designed in Singapore”. As

Shaxson has noted, “It was Africa’s curse that its countries gained independence at precisely the same time as purpose-built offshore warehouses for loot properly started to emerge…The colonial powers left, but quietly left the mechanisms for exploitation in place”.

 

The main way in which tax havens drain the resources of the developing world is through their facilitation of illicit capital flight. Whilst this affects all countries, as Palan et al explain, “unlike illicit flows of money between developed countries, which tend to be multilateral (eg Swiss firms transfer illicit money to the United States, and US firms transfer money to Switzerland)…flows [from developing countries] tend to be one-directional, from the developing to the developed, from the poor to the rich”, with an estimated “80-90% of all illicit money transfers from the developing countries” thought to be “permanent outward transfers”. The result is illicit flows of $1.25 trillion per year out of developing countries, according to a 2008 report by Global Financial Integrity, ten times the total aid sent to the developing world. Palan and his colleagues note that “these sums are much larger than all other deleterious effects of development, including the transfers identified by traditional dependency theory”.

 

According to Raymond Baker of Global Financial Integrity, fraudulent transfer pricing accounts for around two thirds of these illicit flows. This occurs when subsidiaries of multinational corporations either over-charge or under-charge another of their subsidiaries to avoid tax. An Exxon copper mine in Chile, for example, raised eyebrows in 2002 when it was sold for $1.8billion, despite being lumbered with $500 million debt and having been, at least on paper, consistently loss-making for the previous 23 years. What emerged is that the entire profits of the mine had been swallowed up in interest payments on a loan that had been taken out with Exxon’s Bermuda subsidiary. Thus the Bermuda subsidiary was making all the profit – tax free – whilst the mine itself was officially loss making, and did not pay a penny of tax to the Chilean government for the entirety of its existence. With one exception, this practice was being used by every single mining enterprise in the country. Given that 60% of all global trade is composed of such ‘intra-firm’ trade, and such deliberate mispricing appears to be the industry standard, this constitutes a massive drain of wealth: research by Christian Aid suggests that developing countries lose $160 billion per year to such practices. If these revenues were collected as tax and spent on healthcare in the same proportions as they have been since 2000, they note, this money would save the lives of 1000 under-fives per day. These practices are facilitated primarily by tax havens.

 

The second largest form of illicit money flows from developing countries, constituting 30-35% of the total, is money from criminal enterprises. The secrecy provided by tax havens – which makes it nearly impossible to trace the owners of companies – along with the willful disinterest in how funds were acquired – makes tax havens a magnet for criminal funds seeking a ‘laundering’ service to clean dirty money.

 

Finally, an estimated 3% of the illicit money flows comes from government officials involved in theft and bribery. Whilst small as an overall proportion, however, such flows have had major consequences, as much of the money was stolen from international loans, leaving the public on the hook for ever-growing, and ultimately unpayable, debts. A major study of 30 African countries by Boyce and Ndikumana in 2003 found that for every $1 lent to Africa between 1970 and 1996, up to 80 cents flowed out of the country as capital flight within a year, often stashed away in the private bank accounts of corrupt leaders in tax havens. A further study of 33 African countries revealed that over $700 billion had fled the continent between 1970 and 2008, amounting to $944 billion including imputed interest. This dwarfs the total African foreign debt of $177bn, making Africa a net creditor to the rest of the world, by a huge margin

(of $767billion). But whereas the wealth is held in private offshore bank accounts, the debt is owed by the population, with interest payments reaching $20 billion per year in 2006. Boyce and Ndikumana argue that such payments “represent the third and final act in the tragedy of debt-fuelled capital flight. In the first two acts – foreign borrowing in the name of the public, and diversion of part or all of the money into private assets abroad – there is no net loss of capital from Africa. What comes in simply goes back out again. It is when African countries start to repay these debts that the resource drain begins”. The authors have calculated that, by diverting public funds away from healthcare and towards debt repayments, “debt fuelled capital flight resulted in an extra 77,000 infant deaths per year”, not to mention deaths amongst other age groups, and losses to every other part of the public sector. Tax havens, by providing the facilities by which stolen money could be hidden and stored, have played a major role in facilitating debt-fuelled capital flight.

 

Not even the tax havens themselves appear to benefit. Despite the hundreds of billions passing through the Pacific tax havens each year, for example, they “remain among the poorest nations in the world” (Palan, Murphy and Chavagneux). And the Cayman islands – the world’s fifth largest financial centre, hosting 80,000 registered companies and holding $1.9 trillion in deposits, does not even provide subsistence to its population; the island’s budget for 2004-5 had as an objective that all residents should achieve at least subsistence levels of income – an astonishing admission for what is, on paper, one of the world’s richest countries per capita, with a population smaller than a typical English village.

 

So, through transfer mispricing, money laundering, debt-fuelled capital flight and straightforward tax evasion, tax havens are facilitating the draining of over $1 trillion per year from developing countries. But once that money arrives in the tax havens, it doesn’t typically stay there. As Martyn Scriven, secretary of the Jersey Banker’s Association, explained to Nicholas Shaxson: “We gather deposits from wealthy folk all around the world, and the bulk of those deposits are sent to London. The banks consolidate their balances every day, and surplus funds won’t sit here – they either go to another bank or on and through to the City. If I have money to spare, I pass it to the father. Great dollops of money go into London from here”. Indeed, according to a recent UK Treasury report, “the UK has consistently been the net recipient of funds flowing through the banking system from the nine jurisdictions” covered in the report (six of the UK’s overseas territories plus its three crown dependencies, all of them tax havens). In particular, “The Crown Dependencies make a significant contribution to the liquidity of the UK market. Together, they provided net financing to UK banks of $332.5 billion in the second quarter of calendar year 2009, largely accounted for by the ’up-streaming’ to the UK head office of deposits collected by UK banks in the Crown Dependencies.” The report explains that “‘Up-streaming’ allows deposits to be gathered by subsidiaries or branches in a number of

different jurisdictions and then concentrated in one centre, in this case the UK, where the bank

has the necessary infrastructure to manage and invest these funds. This model is followed by

many large banks around the world and is not confined to ‘British’ jurisdictions”.

 

In other words, the US and British banks use tax havens to gather wealth from all over the world using unregulated subsidiaries in tax havens, and then channel that money to their parent companies in London and New York. The UK report concludes that “in aggregate, the UK was a net recipient of funds from the nine jurisdictions of $257 billion at end-June 2009”, conforming to “the long-standing pattern that the UK has consistently been a net recipient of funds.” As Shaxson put it, the British-controlled tax havens “scattered across the world capture passing foreign business and channel it to London just as a spider’s web catches insects”. But this web also acts as “a money-laundering filter that lets the City get involved in dirty business whilst providing it with enough distance to maintain plausible deniability… By the time the money gets to London, often via intermediary jurisdictions, it has been washed clean”.

 

And once it gets to London or New York, it is pretty safe – the US success rate in catching criminal money, for example, is estimated by Global Financial Integrity to be around 0.1%. No wonder that Baker calls this system, ‘the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery’. For Shaxson, “the offshore world is not a bunch of independent states exercising their sovereign rights to set their laws and tax systems as they see fit. It is a set of networks of influence controlled by the world’s major powers, notably Britain and the United States”; and even the UK Treasury admits “the UK’s responsibility for representing their [the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies] interests in international fora”.

 

Just as under formal colonialism, of course – and as Western media loves to point out – there are certainly also beneficiaries of tax havens in the global South. The ruling elites who have plundered their own countries and stashed the money abroad, from Mobutu in the Congo, to Marcos in the Philippines, Abacha in Nigeria and countless others, have become some of the world’s wealthiest people thanks to the ‘no-questions’ storage and laundering services provided by tax havens. Neocolonialism, as colonialism before it, has always relied on its indigenous collaborators.

 

Likewise, there are also big losers from the tax haven system in the global North. Richard Murphy has estimated that £25 billion per year in tax revenues are lost to tax havens from the UK alone, and Shaxson notes that one third of Britain’s largest companies pay no tax at all. Furthermore, all countries, including the richest, have been forced to compete with tax havens by emulating some of their deregulated and low tax features in order to avoid capital flight offshore, with the result that, in Shaxson’s words, “in the large economies tax burdens are being shifted away from mobile capital and corporations and onto the shoulders of ordinary folk”. He adds that “overall, taxes have not generally declined [in the US]. What has happened instead is that the rich have been paying less, and everyone else has had to take up the slack”.

 

Nevertheless, what is beyond doubt is that the damage inflicted on developing countries by tax havens, in terms of world historic levels of capital flight, and measured in the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children is simply incomparable with the side effects suffered by the developed world. Equally incontrovertible is that it is the predominantly Western banks and multinational corporations that are the biggest winners from the explosion of offshore, as demonstrated by the net flows into US and UK-based institutions – institutions, that is, on which a massive and increasing proportion of Western citizens depend for their pensions.

This short essay has, by its nature, many omissions, barely scratching the surface of the mechanisms used by tax havens to drain the resources of the developing world. Neglected, for example, were the issue of double (non)-taxation; the role of offshore in creating financial crises in which developing countries suffer disproportionately (and following which Western corporations buy up bankrupted companies at far below their real value); and the crucial role of under-development itself in boosting Western profits, firstly by keeping third world wages low, and secondly by maintaining the West’s monopoly of hi-tech industry. Nevertheless, it has shown that whilst all countries are impacted by the tax losses, capital flight and illicit transfers facilitated by tax havens, it is the developing world which suffers the most inhuman consequences by a large margin; and at the same time, the net flows into London from its string of tax havens dwarf overall UK tax losses by a factor of around ten. Whilst I have not seen comparative figures for New York, I have no reason to disbelieve the UK Treasury’s claim that a similar pattern is at work. What is clear is that the US and UK, the world’s foremost neocolonial powers, are net (and huge) beneficiaries of the offshore system, relying on a string of ‘offshore’ territories over which they have effective control (places such as Panama in the case of the US) to provide ‘arms length’

banking services it would be politically difficult to provide at home. Nkrumah claims that “Neo-colonialism is…the worst form of imperialism. For those who practice it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress”. It would be hard to find a more precise example of this than in today’s empire of tax havens.

 

This article originally appeared in Counterpunch magazine 

 

  1. Close down Gibraltar

 

11th April 2017

 

British sovereignty over Gibraltar stems from the same treaty that gave Britain a monopoly on the slave trade and granted Brazil to Portugal. It, like all these abominations, belongs in the dustbin of history.


The British ruling class have been frothing with belligerent outrage this week following EU President Donald Tusk’s comments on Gibraltar in his letter to Theresa May. Responding to the British Prime Minister’s letter formally requesting to leave the EU, Tusk noted that any agreement between the UK and the EU would not apply to Gibraltar without Spanish consent. The statement was hardly controversial in itself, given that all member states already have a veto over any agreement, such is the nature of the decision-making in the EU. As Stephen Bush commented in the New Statesman, by giving Spain a veto over the terms of a future trade deal, Tusk was giving it “a right which it already has an EU member”. Indeed, compared to Ms’ May’s thinly veiled threat to unleash terrorism against the EU should Britain not get the deal it wants, Tusk’s gentle reminder of the existing state of affairs was positively christlike.


Nonetheless, it was enough to provoke the full fury of British supremacism. The Sun newspaper devoted its entire front page to declaring “Hands off OUR rock” (helpfully translated into Spanish for the paper’s Iberian readers), whilst former Tory leader Michael Howard waded in with a threat to rerun the Falklands war. Current Tory defence minister Michael Fallon appeared to embrace this approach with a promise that Britain will “go all the way” to keep Gibraltar under British rule, a classic euphemism for the use of armed violence. 


All of this prompted a slightly bemused response from the Spanish, with Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis commenting that his government was “surprised by the tone of comments coming out of a country traditionally characterised by its composure…it seems someone is losing their cool”, he added.


In fact, the longest rulers of Gibraltar were neither Spanish nor British, but North African Muslims. The word ‘Gibraltar’ itself comes from the Arabic name for the Rock – Jabat-at-Tariq, meaning “mountain of Tariq”. Tariq led the Ummayad conquest of Gibraltar in 711 and it remained, along with the rest of Spain, under Moorish control until 1462. Then, after two and half centuries of Spanish rule, Britain took the territory in 1704, its troops conducting mass burglary and rape, causing over 90% of the inhabitants to flee. In 1713, Britain forced Spain to cede the territory to Britain “in perpetuity” in the Treaty of Utrecht, turning it into another piece of Britain’s growing colonial jigsaw.


A glance at the map immediately reveals the strategic value of the tiny territory, especially to an Empire like Britain’s, based on control of the seas. The southernmost tip of Western Europe, Gibraltar lies just 8 miles from the North African coast, making the Strait of Gibraltar the narrowest ‘choke point’ on the Mediterranean. As a British naval base, it played a key role in the battle of Trafalgar, the Crimean war, and the World War Two campaign against German U boats. Following the misnamed ‘decolonial period’ in the 1950s and 60s, Britain took care to hang on to a series of such strategically placed territories to ensure it could continue to project military power against those of its former colonies that dared to challenge the new neocolonial dispensation. This covert empire included places like Diego Garcia, leased to the US as a crucial refuelling stop for its long-distance bombers following the ethnic cleansing of its native population; parts of Cyprus, regularly used to dispatch British fighter jets to the Middle East; Falklands, an air and naval base from which to intimidate Latin America; and Gibraltar.


Gibraltar’s strategic importance increased massively following the opening of the Suez canal in 1882, becoming a crucial point on the sea route between Britain and its empire in the East; today, fully one half of all world trade passes through the strait, including one third of oil and gas shipments.


But Britain’s strategically located islands and peninsulas are not only military bases; they also make up what leading tax haven expert Nicholas Shaxson calls a global “spider’s web” of tax evasion and money laundering. Following the end of (most of) Britain’s formal empire, lawyers, bankers and criminals from the City of London, New York and elsewhere, helped to turn Britain’s overseas territories into jurisdictions offering absolute secrecy to those seeking to hide their wealth from both the tax authorities and the criminal justice system. Effectively, places like Gibraltar, alongside other UK-managed territories such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Jersey, Guernsey, the Turks and Caicos islands, and the British Virgin islands, were transformed into a giant global money laundering service. Local branches of the major London banks were established in each territory, taking in vast amounts of criminal wealth, which could then be safely transferred to each bank’s parent branch in London. Today, the developing world is estimated to lose $1.25trillion per year in illicit wealth transfers to tax havens in this way, around ten times the rich world’s aid budget. As Shaxson puts it, “For every dollar that we have been generously handing out across the top of the table, we in the West have been taking back some $10 of illicit money under the table”. Eva Joly, a magistrate involved in investigating the criminal use of tax havens, commented that “It has taken me a long time to understand that the expansion in the use of these jurisdictions has a link to decolonisation. It is a modern form of colonialism”.


Gibraltar is a major part of this criminal network. John Christenson, former Economic Advisor to Jersey, itself a major UK-run tax haven, noted that “the instruction from senior partners in London was to direct the really, really dodgy business away from Jersey to Gibraltar…[we] regarded Gibraltar as totally subprime. This was where you put the real monkey business”. This was apparently confirmed in 2014, when OLAF, the European anti-fraud office, revealed that it had “a number of concerns” over “cigarette smuggling across the border” between Gibraltar and Spain, including “indications of the involvement of organised crime”. The following year, Spanish newspaper ABC reported that Gibraltar was home to no less than 15 organised crime gangs connected to drug smuggling, money laundering and the Russian mafia. In 2008, Expatica.com  reported that, according to Spain, “Gibraltar refuses to cooperate in investigations into money laundering, tax evasion and organised crime”, quoting a Spanish police official involved in anti-money laundering operations as saying that “we’ve reached a point where when we chance upon something related to Gibraltar in an investigation we prefer to leave it aside because we face a brick wall. It is useless trying to get information.”


Indeed, this is the whole point of a tax haven: it guarantees secrecy to its depositors, protecting them from the taxman and criminal investigators alike. This is precisely what enables them to soak up so much of the world’s stolen wealth and channel it into London.


The secrecy offered by Gibraltar is astonishing. The beneficial owners of any company incorporated in the territory – that is, the ones actually taking the revenues – are not only kept private, but are not even submitted to the registrar of companies. ‘Nominee’ shareholders and directors can be used – that is, people not genuinely connected to the company in any meaningful way – and only one of each needs to be named. Gibraltar has signed no information exchange treaties with any other country, meaning that, according to taxhavens.biz, “information regarding offshore clients is safe and will not get back to other country’s tax authorities”.


Ah yes, tax avoidance. Gibraltar has no sales tax, no capital gains tax, no inheritance tax, wealth taxes or estate taxes. Since 2010, it has had a corporate tax rate of 10%, although it is currently under investigation by the European Commission for, probably illegally, exempting at least 165 multinational corporations from even paying this.  As Richard Murphy has noted, Gibraltar is “deliberately run as a tax haven with the intention of undermining [Spain’s] tax revenues.”
What’s more, this is all likely to get a lot worse unless action is taken. At present, Gibraltar is – at least in theory – bound by EU regulations on financial transparency. Once it leaves the EU, however, none of those will apply. This is why Spain, in particular, is so worried about Gibraltar being used to destroy its tax base even further. As Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK has pointed out, Gibraltar “is funded by its activity as a tax haven and centre for offshore gambling. The first activity is intent on undermining the global economy and the legitimate tax revenues of democratically elected governments. The other is wedded to destroying individual lives. Quite emphatically, this is a place that is dedicated to undermining wellbeing”. It is time it was closed down.

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. Quantitative Easing: the most opaque wealth transfer in history 

 

22nd July 2017

 

It appears that the massive, almost decade-long, transfer of wealth to the rich known as ‘quantitative easing’ is coming to an end. Of the world’s four major central banks – the US federal reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – two have already ended their policy of buying up financial assets (the Fed and the BoE) and the ECB plans to stop doing so in December. Indeed, the Fed is expected to start selling off the $3.5trillion of assets it purchased during three rounds of QE within the next two months.

Given that, judged by its official aims, QE has been a total failure, this makes perfect sense. QE, by ‘injecting’ money into the economy, was supposed to get banks lending again, boosting investment and driving up economic growth. But overall bank lending in fact fell following the introduction of QE in the UK, whilst lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – responsible for 60% of employment – plummeted. As Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, has noted: “Central banks have flooded the global economy with cheap money since the financial crisis, yet global growth is still in the doldrums, particularly in Europe and Japan, which have both seen colossal stimulus packages thrown at the problem.” Even Forbes admits that QE has “largely failed in reviving economic growth”.

 

This is, or should be, unsurprising. QE was always bound to fail in terms of its stated aims, because the reason banks were not funnelling money into productive investment was not because they were short of cash – on the contrary, by 2013, well before the final rounds of QE, UK corporations were sitting on almost£1/2trillion of cash reserves – but rather because the global economy was (and is) in a deep overproduction crisis. Put simply, markets were (and are) glutted and there is no point investing in production for glutted markets.

This meant that the new money created by QE and ‘injected’ into financial institutions such as pension funds and insurance companies was not invested into productive industry, but rather went into stock markets and real estate, driving up prices of shares and houses, but generating nothing in terms of real wealth or employment.

Holders of assets such as stocks and houses, therefore, have done very well out of QE, which has increased the wealth of the richest 5% of the UK population by an average of £128,000 per head.

How can this be? Where does this additional wealth come from? After all, whilst money – contrary to Tory sloganeering – can indeed be created ‘out of thin air’, which is precisely what QE has done, real wealth cannot. And QE has not produced any real wealth. Yet the richest 5% now have an extra £128,000 to spend on yachts, mansions, diamonds, caviar and so on – so where has it come from?

The answer is simple. The wealth which QE has passed to asset-holders has come, first of all, directly out of workers’ wages. QE, by effectively devaluing the currency, has reduced the buying power of money, leading to an effective decrease in real wages, which, in the UK, still remain 6% below their pre-QE levels. The money taken out of workers’ wages therefore forms part of that £128,000 divided. But it has also come from new entrants to the markets inflated by QE – primarily, first time buyers and those just reaching pension age. Those buying a house which QE has made more expensive, for example, will likely have to work thousands of additional hours over the course of their mortgage in order to pay this increased cost. It is those extra hours that are creating the wealth which subsidises the yachts and diamonds for the richest 5%. Of course, these increased house prices are paid by anyone purchasing a house, not only first time buyers – but the additional cost for existing homeowners is compensated for by the rise in price of their existing house (or by their shares for those wealthy enough to hold them).

QE also means that newly retiring pensioners are forced to subsidise the 5%. New retirees use their pension pot to purchase an ‘annuity’ – a bundle of stocks and shares generating dividends which serve as an income. However, as QE has inflated share prices, the number of shares they can buy with this pot is reduced. And, as share price increases do not increase dividends, this means reduced pension payments.

In truth, the story that QE was about encouraging investment and boosting employment and growth was always a fantastical yarn designed to disguise what was really going on – a massive transfer of wealth to the rich. As economist Dhaval Joshi put it in 2011: “The shocking thing is, two years into an ostensible recovery, [UK] workers are actually earning less than at the depth of the recession. Real wages and salaries have fallen by £4bn. Profits are up by £11bn. The spoils of the recovery have been shared in the most unequal of ways.” In March this year, the Financial Times noted that whilst Britain’s GDP had recovered to pre-crisis levels by 2014, real wages were still 10% lower than they had been in 2008. “The contraction of UK real wages was reversed in 2015,” they added, “but it is not going to last”. They were right. The same month the article was published, real wages began to fall again, and have been doing so ever since.

It is the same story in Japan, where, notes Forbes, “household income actually contracted since the implementation of QE”.

QE has had a similar effect on the global South: enriching the holders of assets at the expense of the ‘asset-poor’. Just as the influx of new money created bubbles in the housing and stock markets, it also created commodity price bubbles as speculators rushed to buy up stocks of, for example, oil and food. For some oil producing countries this has had a positive effect, providing them a windfall of cash to spend on social programmes, as was initially the case in, for example, Venezuela, Libya and Iran. In all three cases, the empire has had to resort to various levels of militarism to counter these unintended consequences. But oil price hikes are, of course, detrimental to non-oil-producing countries – and food price hikes are always devastating. In 2011, the UK’s Daily Telegraph highlighted “the correlation between the prices of food and the Fed’s purchase of US Treasuries (i.e. its quantitative easing programmes)…We see how the food price index broadly stabilised through late 2009 and early 2010, then rose again from mid-2010 as quantitative easing was re-started …with prices rising about 40% over an eight month period.” These price hikes pushed 44 million people into poverty in 2010 alone – leading, argued the Telegraph, to the unrest behind the so-called Arab Spring. Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick commented at the time that “Food price inflation is the biggest threat today to the world’s poor…one weather event and you start to push people over the edge.” Such are the costs of quantitative easing.

The BRICS economies were also critical of QE for another reason: they saw it as an underhand method of competitive currency devaluation. By reducing the value of their own currencies, the ‘imperial triad’ of the US, Europe and Japan were effectively causing everyone else’s currencies to appreciate, damaging their exports. This is exactly what happened: wrote Forbes in 2015, “The effects are already being felt in the most dynamic exporter in the world, the East Asian economies. Their exports in US dollar terms moved dramatically from 10% year-on-year growth to a contraction of 12% in the first half of this year; and the results are the same whether China is excluded or not.”

The main benefit of QE to the developing world is supposed to have been the huge inflows of capital it triggered. It has been estimated that around 40% of the money generated by the Fed’s first QE credit expansion (‘QE1’) went abroad – mostly to the so-called ‘emerging markets’ of the global South – and around one third from QE2. However, this is not necessarily the great boon it seems. Much of the money went, as we have seen, into buying up commodity stocks (making basic items such as food unaffordable for the poor) rather than investing in new production, and much also went into buying up stocks of currency, again causing an export-damaging appreciation. Worse than this, an influx of so-called ‘hot money’ (footloose speculative capital, as opposed to long term investment capital) makes currencies particularly volatile and vulnerable to, for example, rises in interest rates abroad. Should interest rates rise again in the US and Europe, for example, this is likely to trigger a mass exodus of capital from the emerging markets, potentially prefigurng a currency collapse. Indeed, it was an influx of ‘hot money’ into Asian currency markets very similar to that seen during QE which preceded the Asian currency crisis of 1997. It is precisely this vulnerability which is likely to be tested – if not outright exploited – by the coming end of QE and accompanying rise of interest rates.

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. 20 years after the East Asian crash: is history repeating? 

7th August 2017 

20 years ago this month, a run on the Thai currency triggered a financial crisis that quickly devastated the economy of the entire region, sinking the currencies of Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea and ultimately spreading as far as Russia and Brazil. Far from ‘lessons being learned’, however, history looks worryingly set to repeat itself.

On 2nd July 1997, Thailand’s Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh announced that the baht, would be freely floated. The Thai government lacked the foreign exchange reserves necessary to continue pegging the currency to the US dollar – and the result was a collapse of the baht to less than half its former value.

The contagion quickly spread to Thailand’s neighbours as panicked investors began selling off their stocks in other East Asian currencies. Within months, noted the Financial Times on the 2nd January 1998, the crisis had “laid waste to what was once the most dynamic part of the world economy”, leading to a collapse of the currencies of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea. Later that year, the economies of Russia and Brazil were seriously hit by the impact of the crisis on commodity prices, triggering crises of their own.

Across the region, economic devastation reigned. Unable to refinance their debts, companies of all sizes had their loans called in. But the collapse of their currencies meant that the value of these debts – denominated in dollars – had increased exponentially. A wave of bankruptcies drove unemployment through the roof, whilst governments hit by declining tax revenues – and IMF-imposed austerity – were forced to cut back on social safety nets. At the same time, the collapse of currency values led to rapid inflation, forcing up prices of basic essentials such as food and fuel. Poverty rates ramped up – and in Indonesia, the resulting social unrest even led to the overthrow of the government.

What had caused this devastation? In the years preceding the crash, the economies of East Asia had, under IMF tutelage, removed capital controls. This, in turn, had led to an influx of ‘hot money’ into those economies, as low returns in the developed world prompted investors to seek capital outlets elsewhere. As the Financial Times noted in January 1998, “between 1992 and 1996 net private capital flows to Asian developing countries jumped from $21bn to $101bn. …What caused the inflow was largely the search for better returns by investors made insensitive to risk and hungry for profit by the western bull market.” Those investors had been especially encouraged by the 1993 World Bank report “The East Asian miracle” praising the growth those countries had achieved. To keep their exports competitive, they had pegged their currencies to – then undervalued – dollar. But things turned sour when the so-called ‘reverse Plaza accord’ of 1995 brought about a major appreciation of the dollar, decimating the exports of the East Asian economies. It took a while for this to ‘filter through’ to investors, but once it became clear that East Asian currencies and stocks were overvalued, the herd mentality took over. “As usual,” wrote the FT, “mania ended in panic”.

Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea were all forced to take billions of dollars in emergency loans from the IMF – coming, of course, with strict conditions, which exacerbated the crisis. As is standard with the IMF, recipient governments were forced to adopt strict austerity measures, preventing them from doing anything to stimulate demand. But they were also forced to abolish all barriers on foreigners purchasing assets such as banks and property. As a result, Western capital was able to swoop in and buy up Asian infrastructure – some of the most modern plant and machinery in the world – for pennies on the dollar, as companies unable to meet their dollar debts were forced to sell their assets at rock-bottom prices. As Wade and Veneroso wrote, “the combination of massive devaluations, IMF-pushed financial liberalisation, and IMF-facilitated recovery may have precipitated the biggest peacetime transfer of assets from domestic to foreign owners in the past fifty years anywhere in the world”. For Professor Radhika Desai, this was “the most impressive exercise of US power the world had seen in some time”, providing, in the words of Peter Gowan, “a welcome boost for the US financial markets and through them for the US domestic economy” as “capital flows bypassed emerging-economy financial markets and went directly into the upward-moving US bond and stock markets” (Desai). Western policy had facilitated the crisis, exacerbated it, and profited immensely from it: for, as Peter Gowan has noted, “the US economy depends…upon constantly reproduced international monetary and financial turbulence” – whilst Wall St in particular “depends upon chaotic instabilities in ‘emerging market’ financial systems”.

With the western world poised to ramp up interest rates, could it be that we are again on the verge of just such an episode? The parallels are worrying.

First of all, just as during the years prior to 1997, the past decade has seen a massive influx of capital into the developing world, exacerbated by the British-US-German-Japanese ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) programmes. According to the world bank, “Over the four-year period between mid-2009 and the first quarter of 2013 [ie the first four years of the QE experiment], cumulative gross financial inflows into the developing world rose from $192 billion to $598 billion”, which, it noted, was “more than twice the pace compared to the far more modest increase of $185 billion between mid-2002 and the first quarter of 2006”.  Former foreign secretary of India, Shyam Saran, warned of the potentially destabilising effects of this influx back in 2013: “According to one estimate, about 40 percent of the increase in the U.S. monetary base in the QE-1 phase leaked out in the form of increased gross capital outflows, while in the QE-2 phase, it may have been about one-third. This massive and continuing surge of capital outflows to emerging and other developing economies is having a major impact. Corporations which have a sound credit rating are taking on more debt, and increasing their foreign exchange exposure, attracted by low borrowing costs. Their vulnerability to future interest rate changes in the developed world and exchange rate volatility will increase.” The Daily Telegraph has also picked up on this vulnerability, noting that “Nobody knows what will happen when the spigot of cheap dollar liquidity is actually turned off. Dollar debts outside US jurisdiction have ballooned from $2 trillion to $9 trillion in fifteen years, leaving the world more dollarised and more vulnerable to Fed action than at any time since the fixed exchange system of the Gold Standard.” Even the World Bank have admitted that the reversal of QE “is a central concern for developing economies, which have struggled to cope with the surge in financial inflows that they have experienced over the past several years, and are fearful that the renormalization of high income monetary policies will be accompanied by a disorderly sudden stop in capital inflows.” Later in their study, they conclude that “These fears were not unfounded”. Just as during the pre-1997 period, emerging markets are dangerously leveraged, with the influx of ‘hot money’ into the developing world leaving it exceptionally vulnerable to any action that might reverse this flow. And such action is almost certainly on the cards.

On July 18th, the Times’ economics editor Philip Aldrick wrote that “In two months’ time, the US Federal Reserve is expected to begin the next phase in the greatest economic experiment of modern times. America’s central bank has signalled that it may start unwinding quantitative easing in September with the piecemeal sale of the $3.5trn of bonds bought since QE’s 2008 launch. No one quite knows what happens next, but the gloomiest predict another financial maelstrom. One thing is certain. Borrowing costs will rise”. Indeed, he writes, “it’s already happening. Government bond yields, used to price everything from fixed rate mortgages to corporate loans to pension schemes, have jumped. Since June, the yield on ten-year UK gilts has risen from below 1% to 1.275%. The same is happening in US and German bonds.

Against the backdrop of automatic global monetary tightening, a Fed decision to flood the market with more bonds would lift borrowing costs even higher.” In other words, we are entering an era of rising effective interest rates exactly like that which prefigured the 1997 crisis.

A second parallel is that the debts being accumulated in the global South are, again, largely denominated in dollars. In 1997, this was devastating as it meant that, as local currencies dropped in value, their dollar debts effectively escalated by the same amount; had the debts been denominated in local currency, the number of bankruptcies would not have been nearly so large. To guard against a repeat scenario, therefore, the countries hit in 1997 began to issue debt only in their own currency: those wishing to invest would have to first convert their money into the local currency, and only then could they do so. As the years passed, however, complacency seems to have set in: to such an extent that, today, according to the Bank of International Settlements, non-bank borrowers in emerging markets have now accumulated more than $3 trillion in dollar-denominated debt. According to a report published by the Bank last year, “The accumulation of debt since the global financial crisis has left EMEs [emerging market economies] particularly vulnerable to capital outflows. As private sector borrowing has led to overheating in several large EMEs, the unwinding of imbalances may generate destabilizing dynamics.” The report goes on to note that around $340 billion of developing country debt will be maturing this year, “creating a potential default risk if investors start pulling money out of emerging markets”.

All the warning signs are there. Writing for Bloomberg, Lisa Abramowicz wrote in November 2016 that “the debt of developing economies is positioned uniquely for pain.” Noting Adair Turner’s warning that “the large increase of emerging-market debt, much of it denominated in dollars,” is one of the biggest risks in the financial system right now, she added, “All that money is owed to somebody, and a failure to pay it back will cause big ripple effects. So as emerging markets come under stress, bond investors around the world should take note. As the dollar continues to strengthen, it’s not a stretch to see how this developing-market debt selloff can worsen, having far-reaching consequences on markets around the world.”

Others have specifically drawn attention to the parallels with 1997. Reporting on a speech by Bill Dudley, head of the New York Fed, the Telegraph noted that he had “hinted that the Fed may opt for the fast tightening cycle of the mid-1990s, an episode that caught markets badly off guard and led to the East Asia crisis and Russia’s default.” And the above quoted former foreign secretary of India, Shyam Saran, warned that “The Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 was, in part, triggered by an earlier version of QE pursued by Japan in the aftermath of the bursting of its property and asset bubble in the early 1990s. Then, too, the large inflow of low-cost yen loans led to the asset price bubbles, inflationary pressures and currency instability in the Asian economies.”

Of course, triggering a new crisis by ramping up interest rates and selling off bonds – precisely at a time when a large portion of developing world debts are maturing – would hurt the West as well. Yet this seems to be precisely what is being planned. Because if a new crisis is inevitable – and the inherent capitalist tendency towards overproduction means it surely is – it makes perfect sense to time it at a moment when the global South will be forced to bear the brunt. And, even if the US it hit, so long as everyone else is hit harder, that is a net gain for US power. As the Telegraph noted, “The US is perhaps strong enough to withstand the rigours of monetary tightening. It is less clear whether others are so resilient.” And, says Abramowicz, “While bonds globally are posting some of the biggest losses on record, debt of U.S., Germany, Japan and other large economies will eventually have natural buyers that can swoop in and support values.”

Fans of Breaking Bad will remember the memorable scene in which drug lord Gus Fring arrives at the mansion of his arch rival Don Eladio with a bottle of poisoned tequila disguised as a peace offering. Eladio is suspicious, so to prove its purity, Gus drinks the first shot. Whilst the rest of the cartel are poisoning themselves, he heads to the bathroom to make himself sick. After nearly dying, he eventually recovers – whilst his rivals’ corpses  lay strewn around the swimming pool. Is the US hoping to pull the same stunt – choking themselves, but fatally throttling everyone else in the process, so they can swoop in and pick up the pieces? It wouldn’t be the first time.

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. Trump’s attack on the lira: the opening shots of a new financial war against the global South 

17th August 2018 

 

Last Friday, Donald Trump announced new sanctions on Turkey – comprising a doubling of the steel and aluminium tariffs he had introduced earlier this year. Turkey’s currency was already struggling, but these new sanctions “are the straw that broke the camel’s back”, commented Edward Park of the UK investment management firm Brooks Macdonald. The same day, the Turkish lira fell to more than 6 to the dollar, the first time it had ever done so, hitting a low point of 7.21 to the dollar on Sunday. Following Turkish caps on currency swaps, it slightly regained some of its lost value, and was trading at 6.12 by Wednesday, still way below the 4.75 to the dollar it was worth last week. Whilst the Turkish move has had some effect, this should not be overstated: simply banning the trading of lira above certain limits, which is effectively what Turkey has done, is hardly a sustainable means of revalorising the currency; andaccording to the FT, investors “are still ratcheting up bets against Turkey in other ways, such as through credit default swaps that pay out in the case of a debt default”. Turkish bank shares now stand at their lowest level since 2003.

Underlying the currency’s vulnerability are the country’s massive dollar debts. Turkish companies now owe almost $300 billion in foreign-denominated debt, a figure which stands at over half its GDP. The question is – how did this happen, and why has it suddenly now become a problem?

During the era of Quantitative Easing, the US Federal Reserve flooded US financial institutions with $3.5trillion in new dollars, much of which poured into so-called ‘emerging markets’ such as Turkey. So long as the music kept playing, this was fine – near-zero interest rates, combined with a weak dollar, made these debts affordable. But since the Federal Reserve ended its programme of QE last year – and then started to reverse it, selling off the financial assets it had purchased (and thus effectively taking dollars out of the financial system) – the dollar’s value has started to rise again, making debt repayments less affordable. This appreciation of the dollar has been compounded by two successive interest rate rises by the Reserve; but it has also been compounded by Trump’s actions. Paradoxically, Trump’s trade wars have led to a further rise in the dollar, as investors have viewed it as a ‘safe haven’ compared to other currencies deemed less able to withstand the unpredictable turbulence he has unleashed. Even the yen and the Swiss franc, traditionally viewed as ‘good as gold’ have weakened against the dollar– as, indeed, has gold itself. As Aly-Khan Satchu, financial analyst at Rich Management, has put it the “US dollar has been weaponised – either deliberately or by design” (is there a difference?), adding that the “dollar is basically knee-capping countries”, warning that other countries will face the same treatment “if they continue to pursue the policies that Erdogan is seeking to pursue”.

Thus Turkey has been hit by a quadruple whammy from the US – interest rate hikes and the choking off of dollars by the Fed; tariffs and sanctions from Trump. The result is a loss in the lira’s value of almost 40% since the start of the year.

And the effects are already being felt far beyond Turkey’s borders; the South African rand fell to a two-year low on Monday, and the Indian rupee, Mexican peso and Indonesian rupiah have all been hard hit. This is unsurprising, as the ballooning of dollar-denominated debts – from $2trillion 15 years ago to $9trillion today, largely in the global South – combined with the reversal of QE was a crisis waiting to happen. All the conditions which prefigured the 1997 East Asian currency crisis are now effectively in place. All that’s needed is a push – which is exactly what Trump has just given.

This is textbook stuff – or should be, if economics textbooks bore any relation to reality (which they don’t). The last ten years are virtually an exact replay of the decade or so running up to the 1997 crisis. Whilst the 1985 ‘Plaza Accord’ dollar devaluation was not exactly Quantitative Easing, it had the same intent and results – a flood of cheap money and dollar debt, and therefore growing global dependence on the dollar and vulnerability to US monetary and economic policy. This vulnerability was then effectively ‘cashed in’ with the ‘reverse Plaza accord’ ten years later, which, as with the current reversal of QE, choked off credit and ramped up interest rates, making markets more jumpy and bankruptcies more likely. In the end, the trigger was the collapse of the baht – the currency of a country (Thailand) with a GDP half that of Turkey – which spiralled into a crisis that ultimately spread across all of Asia, sabotaging the continent’s development and allowing US corporations to buy up some of the most advanced industrial plant in the world for a fraction of its value.

It is not hard, then, to see why Trump and the Fed might well wish to trigger such a crisis today. The more the currencies of dollar-indebted countries slide, the more real goods and services they have to pay in tribute to the US to service the same paper-dollar debts – whilst those who cannot keep up will be gobbled up for pennies on the dollar. Yet beyond these purely economic gains lies also the geopolitical imperative – to maintain and extend US domination by scuppering its rivals. Trump is, after all, about nothing if not the conversion of all possible means of power into leverage to obliterate his opponents. Forcing one country after another to the brink of bankruptcy – and therefore to the IMF for a bailout – is a means of cashing in the dollar-dependency built up over the past decade into raw power. One can easily imagine the demands the US might make in return for its support in securing an IMF bailout – end oil imports from Iran, discontinue involvement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative… the potential is vast. Already direct threats are being made against Turkey about ‘what it needs to do’ to ‘reassure the markets’ – the Times on Tuesday, for example, demanding that “Erdogan should end his spat with the West if he wants to avert a deeper crisis…his course of action should be clear: he should raise interest rates [that is, promise a bigger cut of the Turkish economy to international currency speculators], heed competent economists, explicitly guarantee the independence of the central bank [that is, remove it from democratic oversight], and make up with President Trump” – as, after all, “US support will be needed if the IMF of World Bank is to step in”. Indeed, the targeting of Turkey may well be a response to Erdogan’s insubordination in relation to Iran: noted Robert Fisk this week, “Erdogan is helping Iran to dodge US sanctions which were imposed after Trump flagrantly tore up the 2015 nuclear agreement, and – in a decision demonstrating the cowardly response of the EU’s own oil conglomerates to Trump’s insanity – has announced that he will continue to import Iranian oil. Thus will Washington’s further threat of increased oil sanctions against Iran be blunted.” Trump may well hope – as I argued recently – that tariffs can serve as a weapon to bring recalcitrant states back in line with his Iran policy.

Indeed, it is here that the false dichotomy between the ‘globalists’ and the ‘economic nationalists’ in the Trump White House – and the country at large – is, once again, exposed. When it comes to pushing the global South into bankruptcy, their interests are perfectly aligned. However much Goldman Sachs’ press releases may cry wolf about Trump’s tariffs, the reality is that the trade war is the icing on the cake of the Fed’s own policy of squeezing the ‘emerging markets’. Indeed, Wall st depends on precisely the kind of financial instability which Trump’s trade wars have triggered. As Peter Gowan has noted, “the US economy depends…upon constantly reproduced international monetary and financial turbulence” – while Wall St in particular “depends upon chaotic instabilities in ‘emerging market’ financial systems.” But by draping these actions in the flag, and parading them alongside a chorus of pseudo-shock from the ‘globalists’, their true nature is obscured. The global South now stands on the precipice – with ‘establishment liberals’ and ‘nationalist insurgents’ alike lining up to give it a shove.

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

Part two: the instrumentalisation of sectarian violence 

 

BOOK 2 – articles 2

 

West’s death squad strategy – Al Q as shock troops of the West (OR under failed states)

ISIS deliberately fostered? (or failed states?)

The purging of Al Q (US drone strikes)

The use and abuse of British Muslims (maybe under fascism at home)

MI6 and terrorism: a special relationship

May Mayday (Salman Abedi)

 

  1. The fall and rise of the West’s ‘death squad’ strategy

23rd May 2015

 

The ISIS suicide bombings in Yemen and Saudi Arabia today – killing a total of at least 43 people – is yet more bitter fruit of the policy pursued by Britain, the US and France and their Gulf allies for the past eight years. This strategy – of fostering violently sectarian anti-Shia militias in order to destroy Syria and isolate Iran – is itself but part of the West’s wider war against the entire global South by weakening any independent regional powers allied to the BRICs countries, and especially to Russia.

 

The strategy was first revealed as far back as 2007 in Seymour Hersh’s article ‘The Redirection’, which revealed how Bush administration officials were working with the Saudis to channel billions of dollars to sectarian death squads whose role would be to “throw bombs… at Hezbollah, Motada al-Sadr, Iran and at the Syrians” in the memorable words of one US official.

 

But more evidence of precisely how this strategy unfolded has been coming out ever since. Most recently, last Monday saw the release of 100s of pages of formerly classified US Defence Intelligence Agency documents following a two year court battle in the US. These documents showed that, far from being an unpredictable ‘bolt from the blue’, as the mainstream media tends to imply, the rise of ISIS was in fact both predicted and desired by the US and its allies from as far back as 2012. The DIA report, which was widely circulated amongst the USA’s various military and security agencies at the time, noted that “There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)” Elsewhere, the “supporting powers to the opposition” are defined as “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey”.

 

In other words, a Salafist – that is militantly anti-Shia – “principality” was “exactly” what the West wanted as part of their war against, not only Syria, but “Shia expansion” in Iraq as well. Indeed, it was specifically acknowledged that “ISI [Islamic State in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS] could also declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria”.

The precision of the declassified predictions is astounding. Not only was it predicted that the “terrorist organisations” being supported by Washington and London in Syria would team up with those in Iraq to create an ‘Islamic State’, but the precise dimensions of this state were also spelt out: recognising that “the Salafist[s], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”, the report noted that the consequences of this for Iraq would be to “create the ideal atmosphere for AQI [al Qaeda Iraq] to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.” Mosul, don’t forget, was taken by ISIS in June 2014, and Ramadi fell earlier this week.

 

In the three years since the document was drawn up, the policy has continued relentlessly. Recent months have seen the West and its regional allies massively stepping up their support for their anti-Shia death squads. In late March, Saudi Arabia began its bombardment of Yemen following military gains made by the Houthi (Shia) rebels in that country. The Houthis had been the only effective force fighting Al Qaeda in the country, had taken key territories from them last November, and were subsequently threatening them in their remaining strongholds. This was when the Saudis began their bombardment, with US and British support and, unsurprisingly, Al Qaeda have been the key beneficiary of this intervention, gaining ‘breathing space’ and regaining valuable lost territory, retaking the key port of Mukulla within a week of the commencement of the Saudi bombardment.

 

Al Qaeda have also been making gains in Syria, taking two major cities in Idlib province last month following a ramping up of military support from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. And of course, Britain has been leading the way for a renewed military intervention in Libya in the guise of a “war against people smuggling” that, as I have argued elsewhere, will inevitably end up boosting the most vicious gangs involved in the trade, namely ISIS and Al Qaeda.

 

So what explains this sudden stepping up of Western and ‘allied’ support for al Qaeda and co right now? 

The answer lies in the increasing disgust at the activities of the death squads across the region. No longer perceived as the valiant freedom fighters they were depicted as in 2011, their role as shock troops for the West’s ‘divide and ruin’ strategy, promising nothing but a future of ultra-violent trauma and ethnic cleansing, has become increasingly obvious. The period between mid-2013 and mid-2014 saw a significant turning of the tide against these groups. It began in July 2013 with the ouster of Egypt’s President Morsi following fears he was planning to send in the Egyptian army to aid the Syrian insurgency. New President Al-Sisi put an end not only to that possibility, but to the flow of fighters from Egypt to Syria altogether. The West hoped to step in the following month with airstrikes against the Syrian government, but their attempts to ensure Iranian and Russian acquiescence to such a move came to nought and they were forced into a humiliating climbdown. 

 

Then came the fall of Homs in May 2014, as Syrian government forces retook a key insurgent stronghold. The momentum was clearly with the government side; that is until ‘ISIS’ sprang onto the scene – and with them, a convenient pretext for the US intervention that had been ruled out just a year before.

 

Meanwhile, in Libya, the pro-death squad parties decisively lost elections for the first elected ‘House of Representatives in June 2014. Their refusal to accept defeat led to a new chapter in the post-NATO Libyan disaster, as they set up a new rival government in Tripoli and waged war on the elected parliament. Yet following a massacre of Egyptians by ISIS in Libya last December, Egypt sent its airforce in on the side of the Tobruk (elected) parliament; it is now, apparently, considering sending in ground troops.

 

Losing ground in Yemen, in Libya, in Egypt and in Syria, the West’s whole strategy for using armed Salafists as tools of destabilisation had been starting to unravel. The direct interventions in Syria, Yemen and soon Libya, then, are nothing but a means of propping them up – and last Friday’s bombings show they are already paying dividends. 

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. Yes Mr Odierno, ISIS could have been prevented – if only it hadn’t been deliberately fostered

23rd July 2015

 

In an interview with Fox News earlier this week, retiring US Chief of Staff Ray Odierno stated that the US could have prevented the rise of ISIS. He is absolutely correct: but his reasoning is topsy-turvy. Whilst he blames the group’s rise on a lack of US military intervention, the truth is precisely the opposite.

“If we had stayed a little more engaged, I think maybe it might have been prevented”, he said, echoing a common view in neo-con circles that aims to pin the rise of ISIS on a supposed ‘lack of commitment’ to Iraq by the US under President Obama. He continues: “I go back to the work we did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and we got it to a place that was really good. Violence was low, the economy was growing, politics looked like it was heading in the right direction.” What Odierno fails to note is that none of this actually served US strategic policy aims.

Odierno speaks as if the sole aim of the US military is to help impoverished and war-torn third world countries develop in peace. Nothing could be further from the truth; the ultimate purpose of the US military is to preserve not peace and stability, but rather US global domination. True, there was a time when there was a certain convergence of these goals. During, and immediately after, the Cold War, stability was a tool of domination; or at least the stability of capitalist states was. Ensuring such states remained stable was key both to ensuring the neo-colonial extraction of their resources, and to preventing their falling into the Soviet ‘sphere of influence’. Of course, destabilization was used, and often, against socialist, nationalist or Soviet-allied states. But, by and large, capitalist regimes could generally be relied on to side with the US, and the US, therefore, tended to desire their stability.

Fast-forward to 2011, however, and this is no longer the case. Stable states – of whatever ideological orientation – are increasingly a threat to continued US domination, rather than a tool of it. Nothing could illustrate this better than the case of post-invasion Iraq.

Two years ago, the US ‘think tank’ Jamestown Foundation published a fascinating analysis of China’s oil policy in Iraq. This report described, in detail, how China had become the main winner of oil contracts under the new Iraqi government, and had helped restore the battered industry back to impressive production levels.  “China was able to secure the first major oil accord between the Iraqi government and a foreign entity since 2003” the report notes, when “in 2008, China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) concluded a $3.5 billion deal with Iraq’s North Oil Company (NOC) to develop the al-Ahdab oil field—a relatively small oil field by Iraqi standards—in the province of al-Wasit.” While unlikely to prove a particularly lucrative investment in itself, its significance was as “an early foothold in the Iraqi oil sector that would lay the groundwork for future dealings on larger and more lucrative projects.” Indeed, this turned out to be the case, with a deal signed the following year giving a joint venture between BP and CNPC access to Iraq’s biggest oil field Rumalia. Further deals followed, including A 20 year agreement over the Missan oilfield in 2010, with the result that “at least one third of all future production of Iraqi oil will be derived from oil fields owned outright or co-owned by Chinese concerns”. The report noted that half a million barrels of Iraqi oil per day were flowing to China, whilst a report by a Forbes blogger estimated that this number had tripled to 1.5 million barrels per day less than eighteen months later. As Jamestown put it: “In light of the widely-touted opinion that the United States invaded Iraq, in large part, to

dominate its energy reserves, it is important to highlight the tremendous inroads made by China in the Iraqi energy sector following the fall of Saddam Hussein. While U.S. and other Western oil majors have reaped substantial profits in Iraq, it would appear that China, for numerous reasons, was able to realize disproportionate gains in the Iraqi energy sector”.

The gradual re-emergence of a functioning Iraqi economy, then, was benefiting not the US, but rather the US’s number one strategic rival, China. Iraq’s peaceful development, in this context, was proving to be a direct threat to continued US domination.

Nor was this growing Iraqi-China co-operation solely economic. Jamestown’s report concluded that “the convergence of mutual interests between China and Iraq over the buying and selling of oil will serve to underpin a long-term strategic partnership.” A long-term strategic partnership between Iraq and China? Is this what the US spent $3trillion to bring about?

It is important to note here, however, that the US itself does not actually need Iraqi oil. As Gordon Chang noted in Forbes, it is rapidly reducing its dependence on energy imports altogether: “The U.S. overtook Russia as the world’s biggest natural gas producer in 2012 and is, after Saudi Arabia and Russia, the third biggest pumper of oil,” Chang said. “U.S. energy imports have fallen in the last five years, natural gas by 32 percent and oil by 15 percent.” He concludes: “So a crisis [in Iraqi oil production] would put America in an even stronger position in the oil and gas markets.” Just to clarify that last point, the article repeated it: “Chang….noted that the United States would actually be in a stronger economic position with Iraqi oil off the market.”

This is the context in which the rise of ISIS has to be read. A stable Iraq, able to develop its oil infrastructure in peace, has turned out to be not only unnecessary to the US project of global domination, but actually antithetical to it. The Pivot to Asia, then – that is, the attempt to block and stifle China’s rise – is not separate from US policy towards Iraq: a destabilised, dysfunctional Iraq is an integral part of it.

Nor should the removal of most US troops from overt street patrols in 2011 be read as a ‘withdrawal’ from the region in any meaningful sense. The US remained deeply involved in the region’s politics, sparking off a renewed intensification of violence across the entire Middle East-North Africa region, through both its seven month blitkrieg against Libya, and its overt sponsorship and patronage of a vicious sectarian insurgency in Syria, all of which had predictable consequences for Iraq: As Patrick Cockburn noted in the Independent, “For 18 months, Iraqi leaders have told anybody who would listen that the opposition in Syria was dominated by jihadis such as Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra (the official al-Qa’ida representative) and Ahrar al-Sham. The Iraqis expressed complete conviction that unless the US did something to close down the civil war in Syria then this would inevitably destabilise Iraq.” Indeed, we now know that the US Defence Intelligence Agency was saying the same thing as far back as 2012. Far from ‘withdrawing’ from Iraq, the US has simply switched from using its own soldiers to achieve its strategic goals, to training and funding sectarian ‘jihadi’ death squads to do the same.

The very language of a ‘Pivot’ to Asia is thus a total mystification, suggesting a turning away from the Middle East (which, it is always forgotten, is in Asia as well), when in fact the US destabilization of Iraq is part and parcel of the fight against China.

So Odierno is right: the US could have prevented the rise of ISIS. But with ISIS leading the fight to cripple one of China’s most important strategic allies, one has to ask: why would it have wanted to do that?

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. Purging Al Qaeda

18th June 2015

 

Nasir al-Wuhayshi, leader of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, an amalgam of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the Al Qaeda franchise, was executed in a US drone strike on Monday. He was reportedly killed whilst relaxing on a beach in Mukhalla, part of a vast swathe of territory the group has gained courtesy of US-British supported Saudi airstrikes over recent months. With characteristic triumphalism, US National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said that Wuhayshi’s death had struck a “major blow” to the organisation, a view echoed on the BBC, who called the killing a “big blow”. CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank went one further, calling his death “the biggest blow against al Qaeda since the death of (Osama) bin Laden”. A typically diverse range of opinion, then, from our democratic representatives and the media outlets which hold them to account.

Not everyone shares this rosy view, however. “Celebrating the death of al-Wuhayshi as if it means the death of AQAP is a very flawed way to look at this” commented Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, to the International Business Times. For one thing, the assassination immediately catapulted AQAP military chief Qassim al-Raymi to the top position in AQAP. According to Yemen analyst Hisham al-Omesiy, Raymi is “more dangerous and aggressive” than Wuhayshi, predicting that “You will be seeing a more aggressive Al-Qaeda” from now on. This is an outcome which likely suits the US, now in a de-facto alliance with Al Qaeda in the war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as across much of the rest of the region, very well.

Judging from their public activities, there do seem to have been some real differences between the dead leader and his replacement over how to conduct the war against the Houthis. Whereas Raymi had organised suicide bombings at religious gatherings, such as that killing 33 Zaydi Shia last December, Wuhayshi had emphasised “clear instructions to the operating cells to avoid attacking mixed gatherings and to focus on armed Houthis” according to another assassinated AQAP operative al Ansi. It is revealing that this comment was made in January of this year, intended perhaps as a veiled criticism of Raymi’s actions. In this light, the assassination, and its replacement of Wuhayshi with Raymi, may well represent a US desire to see AQAP ‘take the gloves off’ in the battle for Yemen, especially given the new urgency resulting from the spillover of the war into Saudi Arabia.

The use of Al Qaeda as a proxy force to fight the West’s wars has always been riddled with danger, of course, especially given that organisation’s, at least theoretical, commitment to attacking the West itself. Hence the need to conduct these periodic purges, which take out those less conducive to serving the West’s regional strategy and replace them with those better placed to do so.

In this light, the recent assassination is not so dissimilar to that of Bin Laden himself. Bin Laden, in his last years, had become increasingly disillusioned with the direction in which his movement was heading, criticizing its growing sectarianism and expressing anger and frustration that its members seemed more interested in perpetrating sectarian violence against fellow Muslims than in fighting Israel and the West. Zawahiri, on the other hand – the movement’s ‘second-in-command’, who

immediately took over the reigns of power following Bin Laden’s death – had always been more ambivalent on this issue. Whilst he criticized Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for his murderous attacks on Shia civlilians, by 2010 he himself was virtually calling for a holy war against the Shia.

Given the West’s strategy of co-opting sectarian militias as proxy armies for its coming wars against Libya and Syria at this time, it was clear which of these men would be best suited for resurrecting the old ‘jihadi’-imperialist alliance. It is no coincidence then, that just as these wars began to get under way, Bin Laden was taken out and his organization effectively handed over to Zawahiri, who, aside from the occasional token massacre in Boston or Paris, has happily thrown his fighters wholeheartedly into a deadly sectarian war against the region’s last remaining independent powers, in open alliance with the “crusaders” his organization is supposedly committed to destroying.

If recent testimony from a former AQAP operative is to be believed, Raymi may turn out to be a similarly dependable ally. In an explosive interview with Al Jazeera recently, Hani Mujahid, a member of Al Qaeda since the 1980s who later became an informant for the Yemeni security services claimed that Raymi was also working for Yemeni intelligence, calling him “a creation of Yemen’s National Security Bureau”. Mujahid claimed that both he and Raymi had reported to Colonel Ammar Saleh – Yemen’s deputy security chief, nephew of former President Saleh and a key link between Yemeni forces and the US under both his uncle’s rule and that of President Hadi. If Raymi had been working for Colonel Saleh, and Saleh for the US, all along, no wonder US planners were so keen to facilitate his control of AQAP; he was, whether directly or indirectly, their man.

Of course, the US could not have been sure that Raymi would assume the top job following the death of his boss – especially as, rare amongst top-level Al Qaeda leadership, he had no fighting experience from the Afghan war of the 1980s. But April’s drone killing of Ibrahim al-Rubaish, AQAP’s ‘spiritual leader’, and Nasser al-Ansi, took out his two major potential rivals and helped clear his way to the top.

Raymi himself certainly seems to have had protection from drone attacks. As Clayton Swisher wrote: “Mujahid pointed out to Al Jazeera in 2014 how many of AQAP’s leaders have been eviscerated in the US-led drone campaign. Every one – that is, except Raymi – who has also miraculously survived Yemeni security force raids as well as cruise missile strikes. Mujahid intimates that, because Raymi was collaborating with Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government, he had specifically been spared: “Qassim al-Raymi comes from Rima…How is it that this man is not getting killed? It is impossible for someone to come from outside of the tribe and live in a strange tribe. His looks, his dialect are different, and when you are a stranger, you become an easy target for the Americans. The sons of the tribes can hide. Indeed, many of the leaders whom Ali Abdullah Saleh could not contain were liquidated using drones as well as in ground ambushes.”

Raymi was not the only one who avoided liquidation. A highly revealing article in the Sunday Times last year discussed how the assassination of master AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri was averted at the last minute by a sudden CIA ‘change of plan’, only for him to turn up in Syria as a key part of the Western-supported terror campaign against the Syrian government. Morten Storm, MI5 agent in AQAP, had devised a plan to deliver a cool box fitted with a tracking device to Asiri, “the architect of a new generation of stealth bombs” so that he could be assassinated in a US drone strike. But “Storm says he was forced to pull out of the mission two years ago at the last minute after the CIA insisted that he deliver the cool box in person rather by courier, thus putting his own life at risk”. As a result, “Western security officials believe that Asiri has since passed on his bomb making skills to foreign fighters in training camps in Syria.” The article elaborates exactly what happened: “Storm intended to fly to Yemen and arrange for the cool box to be delivered by courier, a method that had previously been used by the spy agencies. At the 11th hour, however, he says the CIA insisted on him delivering the equipment in person. The change of plan made Storm suspect that the Americans may also have wanted him killed in any subsequent drone strike. He therefore aborted the mission”. 

The US drone war against Al Qaeda may, it seems, be nothing but an elaborate means of promoting leaders and operatives happy to keep the movement working as an effective tool of US-British strategic regional policy. Where the Israelis “mow the lawn”, to use their own fascistic lingo, the US are a little more subtle; they weed the garden, so to speak – allowing their ‘flowers’ – the Asaris and the Raymis – to flourish.

But the threat of drone killing also serves another purpose – it is an effective way of not only controlling operatives, but also recruiting them. In the interview referred to earlier, Mujahid goes on to claim that those who refused to work as informants for Yemeni intelligence were themselves targeted for assassination: “I know many shabab [youth]who were offered to work in the National Security Bureau but they refused. As a result they were severely harassed by the security. They were forced to go to Abyan and to Hadramout where they were liquidated with drones upon the assumption that they were leading figures within Al-Qaeda organisation posing a danger to the USA.”

The claim bears an uncanny resemblance, though on a more brutal scale, to one reported by the Independent in 2009: that MI5 was trying to recruit British Muslims to work as agents within various militant formations by threatening them that they would be arrested and harassed under anti-terror laws if they refused. The war on terror – with its inevitable corollary that all those labelled ‘terrorists’ can be stripped of their rights and even their life – is, as it turns out, just the leverage the security forces need to recruit terrorists.

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. The use and abuse of British Muslims 

4th December 2014 

Using the spectre of ‘ISIS terrorism’ as cover, David Cameron is pushing through the latest chapter in the British state’s ongoing crackdown on civil liberties. But he is doing nothing to stop the terrorism he has helped to create.

The British state has been facilitating and promoting terrorism in Syria and Libya for the past four years. Since the beginning of the Syrian insurgency, the British government has been calling for its victory, meeting its leaders(including those openly allied to Al Qaeda), providing it with military equipment, training its forces, and has even chipped in to a £30million project to improve its public relations techniques.

Bombarded with lurid, misrepresented, and sometimes simply fabricated, stories about Assad’s brutality – and equally whitewashed accounts of the rebel forces – from the British media, hundreds of British Muslims responded to the propaganda campaign by going to join the valiant ‘freedom fighters’ Cameron had been applauding so loudly. The British intelligence services openly facilitated their passage, as the revelations at the recent trial ofMoazzam Begg made abundantly clear.

When the volunteers arrived, however, they discovered that the real situation in Syria was nothing like the image they had been fed by the BBC, ITN and Al Jazeera. The simple narrative of an oppressed people rising up against a hated dictator was muddied by the sectarian violence common amongst the insurgents and their gratuitous targeting of civilians, not to mention the widespread support for the government still clearly evident amongst huge swathes of the population, including the supposedly oppressed Sunnis who continue to make up the majority of the Syrian army. Some of those who went to fight became disillusioned –as was perhaps the case with the two brothers jailed last week – whilst others were influenced by – and even developed a taste for – the sectarian brutality they found themselves a part of. Over time, the disillusioned either returned home, or, if they were Syrian themselves, even began to ‘critically support’ the government, seeing it as the ‘lesser of two evils’ leading what had effectively become an existential war of national defence against a Western-backed terror campaign. In the process, the insurgency became increasingly stripped of its liberal veneer, and ever more openly a war of extreme religious chauvinism, targeting entire sections of the population on the basis of sect and race as much as political affiliation.

Of course, there was always the danger of‘blowback’ for the British state – the danger that those young Britons who had been ‘radicalised’ in Syria (establishment double-speak for brainwashed, traumatised and initiated into a life of violence) would return to practice their new skills back home.

But rather than admit that its campaign of destabilisation against Syria has been a murderous disaster and reversing it, the British state has launched yet another round of ‘counter-terror’ measures, which implicitly point the finger of blame at the British Muslim community itself – precisely the section of British society who have suffered most from the government’s abuse of their youth as cannon fodder for their proxy war against Syria. Indeed, it is the parents of those youngsters lured into fighting in Syria who have been most angered by the British state’s effective endorsement and facilitation of the misguided activities of their children.

No one should be fooled into thinking that either the new ‘counter-terror’ bill or the recent prosecution of two Britons returning from Syria actually represents a change of heart. It is worth noting that, far from discouraging terrorism, both the legislation and the court case create an incentive for British Muslims in Syria to stay there and keep fighting. When Moazzam Begg – who had admitted to making frequent trips to Syria in order to help the insurgency – was put on trial, MI5 eventually came to his defence and admitted they had given him the ‘green light for everything he was doing, ensuring the collapse of the prosecution case. No intelligence agencies sprang to the defence of the two brothers last week, however, and both were given sentences of several years. Yet the judge had admitted that not only was there no evidence of their planning terrorism in the UK, but also that there was no evidence they had even been involved in the fighting in Syria. Was this, perhaps, what they were really being punished for – for refusing to co-operate with MI5 and fight in Britain’s proxy war? Is this why no one in MI5 spoke up for them? Either way, the message being sent to Britons in Syria is clear – stay and fight, because if you dare to come back you will be punished; a message clearly backed up by the new bill’s proposals to give the government the power to ban its citizens from returning home at all. Those British Muslims in Syria and Iraq who might have might have come to their senses and realised that they had been conned by the Cameron/ Hague/ Al Jazeera/ BBC ‘freedom fighter’ narrative, are now effectively being told by the British state that desertion is a crime and they must stay and finish the job. The Begg case shows that the only way to guarantee their immunity from prosecution is with MI5 protection, and the only way to attain that, it seems, is by being able to demonstrate some real service to the destabilisation campaign. Try to return without even have fired a shot, and the fate of the London brothers awaits you.

It is in this light – of the British state’s use of Muslims to act as proxy soldiers for their campaigns of destabilisation against independent third world states such as Libya and Syria – that we should view the ‘anti-terror’ legislation. The strategy of recruiting British Muslims as foot soldiers for Britain’s wars is obviously fraught with danger. Unlike sending in ground forces as an occupying army, there is no direct chain of command from the British state, there is the danger that they will turn against their handlers, and so on. Therefore by granting new powers of house arrest, seizing passports, banning return home etc, this gives the intelligence services a very real additional power in terms of controlling and manipulating the fighters involved. Refusal to co-operate can get you put under house arrest, or ensure that your passport is removed. But co-operation can be rewarded with MI5 protection. And all of it can be presented to the public as the precise opposite – as the intelligence services diligently working to crack down on terrorism.

Of course, none of this means that the threat of terrorism within Britain is not real. But this week’s trial of a far-right British soldier for possession of a nail bomb demonstrates that it does not emanate solely from the Muslim community. Indeed, the largest ever haul of explosives in Britain – along with a rocket launcher – was discovered by police in the house of a BNP member in 2006, and according to Europol data, only 0.4% of terrorist attacks between 2006 and 2008 were carried out by Islamists. Likewise there has yet to be a single prosecution of anyone returning from Syria planning attacks on British soil. Yet the presentation of the threat in the media always associates terrorism with Islam. This serves a double purpose – not only does it serve to scapegoat a vulnerable and under-represented community for Britain’s promotion of terrorism abroad, but it also deludes the white, non-Islamic, majority into thinking that anti-terror laws are not also aimed at them. We have already seen how existing ‘counter-terror’ legislation has been used to crack down on protest and other misdemeanours  totally unrelated to terrorism – from the arrest of 82 year old Water Wolfgang following his violent eviction from the Labour party conference, to councils spying on people’s dustbin habits The reality is that once the police, the Home Secretary, and other state agencies are given ‘anti-terror’ powers, they will use them as part of their everyday toolkit. And there is a good reason for them to beef up this toolkit against dissent right now – the imminent prospect ofanother financial crash.

David Cameron himself is but the latest establishment figure to admit that another crash is very likely on the way; others have gone further, with Martin Wolf of the Financial Times arguing that it is inevitable. When it occurs, it will massively deepen the existing economic crisis, and lead to unprecedented job, benefit and wage cuts, dwarfing even the already unprecedented cuts of the past few years. The social unrest, dissent and revolt this will produce will be huge, and the ongoing waves of‘counter-terror’ legislation will ensure that the state has the legislative framework already in place to launch massive crackdowns without the need for legal niceties of evidence, courts, trials etc. The current bill’s proposal to lower the burden of proof for imposing house arrest (now known as Terrorism Prevention andInvestigation Measures) from ‘reasonable belief’ to ‘balance of probabilities’ is a particularly contemptuous snub to the entire basis of theBritish legal system. But it is not one without precedent, following on from other measures over the past fourteen years which have extended detention without charge, banned ‘unauthorised’ protests outside parliament, andallowed the government to strip dual nationals of citizenship, amongst many others.

Once again, the spectre of ‘Islamist terrorism’ has provided the popular acquiescence necessary to push these measures through. The media’s complicity has been absolute. The proposal to allow the mass government snooping of internet data – already standard practice, albeit currently illegal – was justified largely by a well-timed ‘revelation’ that one ofLee Rigby’s killers, Michael Adebalajo, used facebook to communicate his intentions to a colleague. This titbit, revealed in a report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, was front page, top of the hour, news across pretty much all British-based channels and newspapers. What was almost universally ignored from the same Committee report, however – or at least relegated to the inside pages – was the revelation that MI5 had been in frequent contact with Adebelajo for over ten years, and in particular during the run up to Rigby’s murder, during which time they had been attempting to recruit him to work for the organisation. Indeed, according to his friends and family, it was precisely this MI5 pressure and harassment which largely motivated his fatal attack on Rigby. In other words, whilst the media were pushing the line that facebook were responsible for the killing – implying that it could have been prevented if only state agencies were given greater powers of surveillance – they were sitting on a story which suggested the exact opposite – that Rigby’s murder was carried out by a man driven to it by the British state in its desperate attempt to extend its collaboration with ‘Islamist terrorism’.

By presenting the matter in the way they did, the media helps to ensure that the majority white, non-Muslim, British public are lulled into the idea that the tearing up of civil liberties is something that will only affect Muslims – so therefore the rest of us have nothing to worry about. The British state is promoting and tapping into a latent Islamophobia in order to tear up the civil liberties of the entire population – even whilst it continues to rely on ‘Islamist terrorism’ to fight its proxy wars against independent third world states abroad. This is cynicism at its purest.

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. MI6 and overseas terrorism: a special relationship 

16th January 2016 

Last week, Siddharta Dhar, a Hindu-born Muslim convert, made front page news as the latest British citizen to turn up in Syria draped in ISIS imagery and toting an AK. He may or may not be the masked Brit who starred in a recent ISIS snuff movie, but, like pretty much all those who preceded him, he was well known to the British security services. A member of Al-Muhajiroun, a ‘proscribed organisation’ under the 2000 Terrorism Act, he was on bail for terrorism offences at the time he left the country, and had been asked to hand over his passport to the police (he didn’t bother, as it turned out). Indeed, according to Andy Burnham, shadow British Home Secretary, “He was well-known to the authorities having been arrested six times on terrorism related offences”. Perhaps stating the obvious, Burnham added that “People will be shocked that a man detained on a series of counts of terrorism-related activity could be allowed to walk out of the country, unimpeded.” Nor was his flight exactly unpredictable. Earlier in the year, he had declared – on the BBC’s ‘This Morning’ programme, no less – that “Now that we have this caliphate I think you’ll see many Muslims globally seeing it as an opportunity for the Koran to be realised”. Just to clarify his intentions, he went on to tell Channel Four News: “I would love to live under the Islamic State”. I’m no expert on decoding terrorist lingo, but to my untrained eye this statement appears fairly unambiguous. But perhaps no one in British intelligence has a telly.

 

Or perhaps there is another explanation. Once in Syria, Dhar tweeted that “My Lord (Allah) made a mockery of British intelligence and surveillance…What a shoddy security system Britain must have to allow me to breeze through Europe to the Islamic State.” Shoddy? Maybe. But as Nick Lowles, from the group Hope not Hate, put it, “With at least six prominent members of al-Muhajiroun (the banned extremist group) having been able to slip out of Britain whilst on bail or having been banned from leaving, questions need answering. One absconding is a worry, two appears careless but six – well, that needs answering.” Indeed it does.

 

In fact, it seems that pretty much every time a British ISIS or Al Qaeda recruit is unearthed, they turn out to have deep ties to the intelligence services. The case of Michael Adebalajo is a case in point.

 

On 22 May 2013, Adebelajo and Michael Adebowale stabbed Fusilier Lee Rigby to death in London. It soon emerged that MI5 had been trying to recruit him at the time. But for what?

 

The parliamentary committee on intelligence and security conducted hearings on the murder later that year, and its report makes fascinating reading. It revealed that, prior to the murder, Adebolajo had been identified as a Subject of Interest (SoI) in no less five separate MI5 investigations, including one which was focused specifically on him.  This surveillance had revealed that he was in contact with “a high profile and senior AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] extremist” as well as two “Tier 1 SoIs being investigated…due to their possible links with AQAP in Yemen”. At one point in 2011, this particular investigation was “MI5’s highest priority operation” and it led MI5 to conclude that “Adebolajo was a primary contact of BRAVO and CHARLIE”, codenames for the two suspected AQAP members under investigation. 

 

Of course, ‘guilt by association’ alone would not have been enough to arrest him. But his drug dealing would have been. In theory, MI5 are supposed to ‘disrupt’ the activity of extremists by, for example, facilitating their arrest if they are involved in criminality. In Adebolajo’s case, the ‘intrusive surveillance’ which he was under for a time revealed not only that he “was involved in drug dealing” but indeed that he was “spending most of his time” drug dealing. This was the perfect opportunity for MI5 to ‘disrupt’ the activities of a man suspected of being a recruiter for Al Shabaab and known to be in contact with senior members of Al Qaeda. But MI5 seemed curiously uninterested in pursuing it. They did eventually pass some information onto the local police – but without passing on any actual evidence, and “accidentally omitting” his house number, with the result that “the police officer tasked to investigate concluded…that no further action could be taken”, an entirely predictable outcome.

 

Further opportunities for ‘disruption’ were also ignored. The report notes that “In November 2012, Adebolajo was part of ‘a larger group of individuals who were [involved in] a violent confrontation’…Following the disruption, it was noted that “Adebolajo’s details will be passed to [another police unit]”. For some reason, however, this didn’t happen. Nor was Adebolajo prosecuted for his membership of a proscribed organization (Al Ghurabaa, aka Al Muhajiroon). But most suspicious was the British response to his arrest in Kenya in 2010:

“On 22 November 2010, the Kenyan police reported to the MPS officer based in Nairobi that they had arrested Adebolajo the previous day. He had been arrested with a group of five Kenyan youths and was assessed to have been attempting to travel into Somalia to join Al Shabaab (a Somalia-based terrorist group).” Information apparently relating to Adebolajo’s involvement with terrorism – but redacted from the report – was known by MI6 at the time of his arrest according to the British counter-terrorist police officer stationed in Kenya at the time. According to the Daily Mail, “The Kenyans believed Adebolajo, 28, had played a crucial role in recruiting his co-accused, including two secondary school-aged boys, after they were radicalised during weekly visits to a mosque in Mombasa.” Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said: ‘We handed him to British security agents in Kenya and he seems to have found his way to London and mutated to Michael Adebolajo. The Kenyan government cannot be held responsible for what happened to him after we handed him to British authorities.” The security agents in question belonged to a highly secretive counter-terrorism unit in Kenya (referred to in the report as ARCTIC) with “a close working relationship” with the British government. Adebolajo alleged on several occasions that he had been tortured during his time in custody, leading the Committee to point out that “if Adebolajo’s allegations of mistreatment did refer to his interview by ARCTIC then HMG could be said to have had some involvement”.

 

MI6 consistently lied to the Committee about their involvement with Adebolajo in Kenya – a point noted (albeit somewhat apologetically) in their report. Of his detention, MI6 claimed “we did not know it was going on”; prompting the Committee report to “note that SIS [MI6] had been told that a British citizen was being held in detention: therefore, they did know that “it was going on”. The Chief of MI6 then lied about their responsibility to investigate the allegations of abuse, claiming that this “is not an SIS responsibility”, directly contradicting emails written by an MI6 officer at the time which had stated that “We obviously need to investigate these allegations”. This, said the Committee, clearly indicates that SIS officers believed that they had a responsibility to investigate the allegations”, adding that this is “not consistent

with the evidence provided to the Committee by the Chief of SIS”, and going on to note their “concern that this email was not provided as part of the primary material initially offered in support of this Inquiry as it should have been [as] it was clearly relevant to the issues under consideration.” Finally, a redacted piece of information referring to what the Committee called “relevant background knowledge” concerning Adebolajo was disowned by MI6, who claimed only to have heard it when told by the police. The police, however, had already explained that it was MI6 who passed it to them in the first place.

 

Exactly what MI6 were up to in Kenya with Adebolajo remains shrouded in mystery. However, the Committee were clearly unimpressed by what they were told: “SIS has told the Committee that they often take the operational lead when a

British national is detained in a country such as Kenya on a terrorism-related matter.

They have also told the Committee that they have responsibility for disrupting the

link between UK extremists and terrorist organisations overseas, and that in Kenya this is at the centre of their operational preoccupations. The Committee therefore

finds SIS’s apparent lack of interest in Adebolajo’s arrest deeply unsatisfactory:

on this occasion, SIS’s role in countering ‘jihadi tourism’ does not appear to have

extended to any practical action being taken.” What if, however, MI6’s work on the “link between UK extremists and terrorist organisations overseas” is not aimed at disruption after all? What if they have been charged with facilitating, rather than countering, “jihadi tourism”?

 

The SO15 (counter-terrorism) police officer who conducted an extensive interview with Adebolajo on his return to the UK from Kenya concluded that “It is… believed Adebolajo will attempt to travel again in the future…” At the time, MI5 was running an investigation into “individuals who were radicalising UK-based extremists and facilitating their travel overseas for extremist

purposes”, referred to in the Committee’s report as Operation Holly. They wrote to an MI6 representative in East Africa to ask whetherone of Adebolajo’s contacts could have been a Kenya-based SoI

known to MI5 and SIS” then under investigation, but MI6 never responded. The following year, “surveillance deployments indicated that Adebolajo had met an SoI investigated for radicalising UK-based individuals and facilitating their travel overseas.” This entry in the report’s timeline was preceded by four redacted items and followed by another. 

 

The report also contains reference to a number of occasions in which investigating officers’ requests and recommendations for action against Adebolajo and Adebowale were not implemented, for reasons that were not recorded. This raises the issue of whether these requests had been over-ruled, and if so by whom. Unfortunately, the committee seemed to accept at face value MI5’s explanations of such failures (new priorities taking away resources etc) – but their report did note, in somewhat exasperated tone, that “where actions were recommended, they should have been carried out. If the investigative team had good reason not to carry out a recommended action, then this

should have been formally recorded, together with the basis for that decision”.

 

Adebolajo, then, had come up on the security services radar again and again as someone not just potentially involved in recruiting for overseas terrorism, but with prior form in actually doing so. And yet we are supposed to believe that MI6 – whose prime concern was supposedly to deal with such people – had no interest in him in Kenya, and that MI5 – who are supposed to disrupt the work of such figures – willfully passed up chance after chance to do so.

 

Fast forward to today, and we have an official figure of 800 – but with estimates of 1500 and more – British citizens who have gone to fight in Syria. We have evidence from Moazzam Begg’s collapsed trial that MI5 gave the ‘green light’ to his trips to train fighters in Syria; we have the collapse of Bherlin Gildo’s trial for terrorist activities in Syria due to the embarrassment it was feared it would cause British security; we have Abu Muntasir’s testimony that “I inspired and recruited, I raised funds and bought weapons, not just a one-off but for 15 to 20 years. Why I have never been arrested I don’t know”; we have the US Senate hearings into the murder of US ambassador Christopher Stevens revealing that MI6 was involved in running a ‘ratline’ of weapons from Libya to Syria; we have case after case of families angry at the British authorities for allowing their children to go and fight despite repeated warnings, and on it goes. Can we really still call it a conspiracy theory to believe that British intelligence has allowed this to happen? These fighters are, after all, going to fight against a government whose destruction has been openly egged on by the British Prime Minister for the past five years. A shoddy security system? Or a ruthlessly efficient one?

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

  1. Theresa May’s personal role in facilitating the Manchester bombing 

7th June 2017 

 

As Home Secretary, Theresa May ensured that counter-terror police were overruled to allow the Manchester bomber and his father – a known member of Al Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – to train and fight in Libya. The same policy allowed literally hundreds of ‘subjects of interest’ to shuttle back and forth between Britain and the training camps and battlefields of Libya and Syria as part of Britain’s campaign to destroy those states. As far as she and her government are concerned, the murdered victims of the Manchester and London Bridge attacks are merely collateral damage.

 

On Sunday morning I awoke to the news of another another terror attack in London; actually two attacks, as there was a triple suicide bombing in Kabul as well. The reports coming out of both places are truly horrific and it beggars belief that there are people who could support such actions.

 

Yet the British government does support these kinds of actions, and the groups who carry them out, as a tool of its foreign policy, and has done so for many years.

 

In 2011, in Libya, Britain threw its support behind a vicious racist insurgency, which targeted Libyan police and soldiers as well as African migrants and black Libyans. Britain led the call for military intervention on behalf of the insurgents, calls which led to almost 10,000 NATO strike sorties against Libya, eventually toppling the Libyan government and bringing the rebels to power.

 

The British government knew very well the nature of the forces it was supporting. On the second day of the uprising, a month before the NATO intervention began, the rebels themselves admitted to executing 50 African migrants (who they falsely accused of being ‘mercenaries’) whilst locking up others in a prison cell and burning them alive. Other reports included between 70-80 migrant workers from Chad being hacked to pieces by the rebel groups. One of the groups involved even called itself ‘the brigade for the purging of black skins’, and went on to carry out the full ethnic cleansing of the town of Tawergha, which had been the only black town on the North African coast.

 

Likewise, the involvement of Al Qaeda was well known. For years, Britain had harboured fighters from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Al Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate,  led by Abdulhakim Belhaj. Belhaj went on to become the commander of the rebels’ Tripoli brigade, responsible for overthrowing Libyan government forces in Tripoli in coordination with NATO. Yes, NATO’s most important ally in Libya was the same man who had openly been the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Libya for 15 years.

 

So where does Theresa May come in? Well, since 2005, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had officially been designated a terrorist organisation in both the US and Britain. Many of its members had therefore been placed under control orders, a form of house arrest. Yet, when the insurgency broke out, those control orders were suddenly lifted so that the militants could go and join in with the British-sponsored Al Qaeda rebellion in Libya. This was the point at whichSalman Abedi‘s father went to join the fight, taking the 16 year old Salman with him. And who allowed a known member of an Al Qaeda affiliate to go to fight in Libya? Well, control orders come under the responsibility of the Home Office. And who was in charge of the Home Office at the time? Theresa May, the Home Secretary. Yes, Theresa May personally changed the status of known Al Qaeda affiliates, incuding Salman Abedi‘s father, to allow them to go and train and fight with Al Qaeda in Libya.

 

But that’s not all. Every time someone on a terror watch list attempts to leave the country, this is automatically flagged up to border control officials. So counter-terror police actually tried to stop several of these Al Qaeda affiliated fighters as they were attempting to travel. The police, however, found their attempts to stop them travelling overruled by MI5, who ensured they were allowed to do so. Literally, the fighters themselves called up MI5 and asked them to sort it out. MI5 comes under the responsibility of the Home Office. So this policy – in which counter-terror police were systematically overruled by MI5 to allow militants to shuttle between Britain and Libya to train and fight – was, again, signed off by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

 

Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was on a terrorist watch list. So his final trip to Libya for, presumably, his final training session with ISIS, would have been automatically flagged up when he attempted both to leave and to come back in. But thanks to Theresa May’s policy, this warning would have been ignored. Likewise, Yousseff Zaghba, one of the London attackers, was clearly known to the authorities – and had even been arrested by Italian police en route to Syria – yet apparently no attempts had ever been made to disrupt his activities in Britain. Indeed, it has now emerged that at least one of the other the London attackers, Khuram Butt, was also known to the authorities, and had even appeared on a channel four documentary in which his comrades proudly unveiled the ISIS flag. Had the government been hoping they would go and join Britain’s jihad against Syria, ready to be drone-striked at a moment’s notice if things got out of hand?

 

But that’s not all. Just as the British government had managed to destroy the Libyan government through an open alliance with Al Qaeda-affiliated death squads, it attempted to do the same in Syria. Britain has provided logistical support, military equipment, training, funding and all manner of diplomatic and political support, and effectively acted as the cheerleader for this rebellion ever since it began in 2011.

 

In 2012, the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) circulated a document amongst various US government agencies clearly spelling out that Al Qaeda in Iraq (the group

that would later form the roots of ISIS) was one of the “major forces driving the

insurgency in Syria”. This document would undoubtedly have gone to the British government as well, due to the high level of cooperation in intelligence sharing between the two countries. You might have thought that this revelation – that the Syrian insurgency Britain was supporting was in fact being led by one of the most vicious and genocidal branches of Al Qaeda – might have reduced British support for it. Quite the contrary – in fact, Britain stepped up its support, with William Hague leading a campaign to end the EU embargo on arms shipments to the rebels, which he eventually achieved the following year. The head of the DIA at the time later confirmed in an interview with Al Jazeera that continued support for groups like Al Qaeda was not a mistake on the part of Western governments, but “a wilful decision”.

 

Since then, several terrorism trials in the UK have collapsed after the defence pointed out that the activities of those involved had been directly supported by British intelligence. In 2014, Moazzam Begg was on trial for training British fighters in Syria. Begg admitted to doing this, but argued that MI5 had given him “the green light” to do so. MI5 admitted to the court this was, in fact, true. The case collapsed, as to have continued would have implicated the intelligence services themselves.

 

Later the same year, Bherlin Gildo was prosecuted for attending a terrorist training camp in Syria. His defence lawyers pointed out that the group running this camp was itself being supported by MI6. Again, the trial collapsed. Since then, intelligence officers have been allowed to give evidence in secret to avoid further revelations about the true extent of this British state collusion with death squad terror.

 

At the same time, Britain remains the world’s biggest gun runner to Saudi Arabia, the leading state sponsor of ISIS terrorism, shipping billions of pounds of lethal weaponry to the Saudis every year. Saudi Arabia is the biggest source of funds and weapons to ISIS; indeed, it was perfectly legal to fund ISIS in Saudi Arabia right up until last year.

 

So let’s just recap here. The British government not only wilfully destroyed the Iraqi and Libyan states, turning them into terrorist safe havens, whilst attempting to do the same to Syria. They have not only been funding, training and equipping violent sectarian forces, including Al Qaeda, in order to destroy independent governments of the global South. They not only maintain an alliance, including the shipping of billions of pounds worth of weaponry, with Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading sponsor of ISIS. But Theresa May personally has overruled her own counter-terror police to allow hundreds of British militants to train and fight in Syria and Libya with Al Qaeda unimpeded.

 

That the British government have blood on their hands, is without doubt. But alongside the blood of millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis. Libyans, Nigerians, Malians, Tunisians, Algerians and many, many others, they now have the blood of 22 Mancunians and 7 more Londoners on their hands also. Make no mistake, Theresa May and her Cabinet are guilty of complicity in murder – and, if the Nuremberg laws were to be applied, they would be hung for war crimes.

This article was originally published by RT. 

 

BOOK 2 – articles 3

 

Part 3 – the phoney war on terror

 

War aimed at Assad, not ISIS (MEE) (OR under phony war)

Egypt is calling the West’s bluff

Turkey – Russia plane downing (OR proxy armies)

British airstrikes in Syria – still aimed at regime change (telesur)

The US and Turkey – a division of Labour

Goldilocks in Libya

British troops in Syria and Libya

US will never separate its fighters from Islamists 

 

  1. This war is not aimed at ISIS, but Assad

2nd October 2014

 

Watching the debate in the British parliament last Thursday, over whether Britain should, yet again, launch aerial attacks against the long-suffering people of Iraq, it was striking just how much admission there was of the failure of Britain’s policy in the region hitherto.

That ISIS have been emboldened, or even created, by the West’s insistence on supporting the armed insurgency in Syria over the past three years – pouring money, weapons and training (including even in public relations) into the hands of fighters of all shades – was admitted again and again by MPs from all parties, as was the reality that it was precisely the dysfunctional state bequeathed by the occupation that had allowed ISIS to take root in Iraq. But those very same MPs then almost all went on to explain that would be voting (‘reluctantly’, ‘with a heavy heart’, etc etc etc) for the government’s motion. The implicit argument was that, yes, we have being doing the wrong thing for the past three years (or past eleven years); but now we have a chance to put it right; indeed it is precisely because we helped create the ‘beast’ that we must now help to kill it.

Pretty much every British attack on the Middle East has been justified along the same lines. The bombardment of Libya was supposedly a recognition that Britain’s treatment of Iraq – occupation with ground forces – was counter-productive and bred resentment; ousting Gaddafi using Libyan (and Qatari) forces backed by airpower, therefore, was presented as somehow ‘overcoming’ the ‘mistakes’ of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But that invasion itself had been presented at the time as the reversal of the previous, ‘mistaken’, British policy of supporting the region’s ‘dictators’ (this was the line used by Tony Blair every time it was pointed out that Britain had fully supported all of the supposed Iraqi crimes which Blair pointed to as vindication for his war). And Britain’s supposed support for Saddam Hussein during the 1980s (if encouraging a self-destructive war can be termed support) was itself, no doubt, presented as an enlightened move forward from the 1950s policy of trying to maintain a puppet king hand-picked by the British Foreign Office. Each twist and turn of British foreign policy is thus accompanied by an admission that we have been doing exactly the wrong thing up till now; but now we are doing the right thing; that interference was wrong, but this interference will put it right; that violence was a sin, but this violence will atone for it.

Except it won’t. And it won’t because, despite appearances, there hasn’t been any change of heart. In fact, there has never been a genuine self-criticism on the part of the British foreign policy establishment; the self-criticisms come about only in order to justify the next bout of bloodletting; they are never presented as they should be, as the tragic footnotes to a disaster, but only as the preamble to a new bloody chapter. The policy, after all, has never changed. It has always had the same goal – to stifle any potential of independent development. When the British-backed king could no longer hold back the forces calling for Iraq’s modernisation, Britain sought to reduce the influence of the communists by supporting a coup by the right-wing of the Ba’ath party. When the Ba’ath party itself ended up overseeing a successful modernisation of the country in the 1970s, Britain did all it could to encourage a war with Iran, ensuring that the wealth of both countries was squandered, their development pushed back by decades. Within three years of that war ending, Britain was involved in an aerial attack that devastated the country’s infrastructure, followed by a crippling sanctions regime the like of which the world had never before seen, which killed half a million children, and caused 3 successive senior UN officials to resign in protest at what they described as a policy of genocide. Just as the ‘legal’ justification for sanctions was about to run out – with the country almost entirely disarmed – came the invasion of 2003, which ended up imposing a constitution which institutionalised sectarianism and created a political system in which ‘democracy’ was reduced to

competing promises to maximise favours to your sect at the expense of everybody else. The result was that the Sunni minority were rendered the implacable enemies of the government, leading to the disaster now unfolding. In every case, with every intervention, the result has been surprisingly consistent – that Iraq’s ability to realise its enormous potential has been stymied and set back. The supposed Dasmascene conversions by British policy makers turn out, on closer inspection, to be mere tactical shifts. Our MPs would do well to admit these continuities instead of constantly attempting to delude their constituents, and themselves, into thinking that the leopard has changed it spots.

And so to today. This war – presented as a new war against a new enemy, Isis – is in fact a continuation of the three-year old war against the Syrian state – itself a continuation of the centuries-old war against development and independence amongst the states of North Africa and West Asia, and indeed the entire global South.

The fact that so many of the MPs in the debate who voiced support for airstrikes, did so with an admission that they will almost certainly fail to destroy ISIS, is one clue that this war is not what it purports to be. In fact, the British government is both unable and unwilling to destroy ISIS.

Unable, because, as all serious military analysts agree, airstrikes alone cannot destroy an organisation like ISIS. As Patrick Cockburn pointed out shortly before the Commons debate, “Though air strikes will inflict casualties on Isis in Syria and Iraq, they will not be enough to defeat the group and may not even contain it.” ISIS’s continued progress towards Baghdad this week was a particularly swift vindication of the point. But it is the reluctance on the part of the British and US governments to coordinate their efforts with the forces which have actually been fighting against ISIS and its allies for years – that is to say Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah – which really demonstrates their insincerity on the issue.

Why do they not pursue a more effective strategy?  Because the defeat of ISIS is not really their goal. ISIS and its friends have played right into the hands of British foreign policy for the past three years, acting as the vanguard in the Anglo-American proxy war of attrition against the Syrian state. But the use of sectarian militias as tools of foreign policy has a much longer pedigree in Britain. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Al Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate) were hosted in London for decades before finally being unleashed against the Libyan state in March 2011, their services to their imperial masters including a botched MI6-led assassination attempt against Gaddafi in 1996. The Muslim Brotherhood were cultivated by British intelligence as a means of undermining Nasser’s pan-Arab socialism in Egypt in the 1960s, but had already been used against the progressive liberal movement of the interwar years, the Wafd. Most infamously, the self-proclaimed ‘mujahadeen’ in Afghanistan – which ultimately spawned both Al Qaeda and the Taliban – were given full support by Britain in their war against the Soviet Union and the progressive forces of Afghanistan. This is all without mentioning the now notorious integration of loyalist death squads into the British army’s war against Irish republicanism in the 1970s and 80s under the auspices of the SAS’ s ‘Forces Research Unit’ – claimed by the British authorities for years to be nothing more than the invention of paranoid fantasists, until it was categorically exposed in one of the British government’s own inquiries.

There is no reason to believe Britain has given up on this strategy of using sectarian death squads as an instrument of foreign policy; indeed in an age of relative economic decline for the world’s ‘former’ colonial powers, it is likely to increase in importance. With economic cutbacks leading inexorably to a corresponding relative decline in military capacity, the strategy of exploiting sectarian gangs for use

against independent powers is likely not just to continue – but to grow.

So what will this war achieve? Firstly, it will have a number of effects on ISIS itself. As Cockburn has pointed out, it will probably force ISIS to “revert to guerrilla warfare which has been its tactic in Iraq since the US started bombing there on 8 August”, noting that “in the past few days Isis fighters have killed 40 Iraqi soldiers with suicide bombs and captured another 68 as well as over-running an army garrison west of Baghdad.” In other words, it will ensure that ISIS continues in its role as a straightforward terror gang, rather than evolving into some kind of semi-governmental body administering territory. And this suits the British government, which wants to see them fully focused on destabilisation, rather than being diverted into any kind of ‘state-building’, however half-baked. Airstrikes may, as it were, succeed in turning IS – a proto-state formation – back into ISIS – a sectarian death squad, the role originally mapped out for them by imperial planners.

However, there will be one crucial difference to the ISIS of pre-April 2011 and the ISIS that is now emerging under Western aerial bombardment. This time, they will benefit from a credibility that they have so far been denied – the credibility of being able to pose as an anti-Western , anti-imperialist force. Because, over the past three years, it has been so obvious they and the Western countries have been on the same side, singing from the same ‘Assad must go’ songsheet, they have not really been able to do this – until now. This will undoubtedly bring them more recruits, more support, and more funding. But an even bigger shot in the arm will come from the image of strength that they will gain from surviving airstrikes. Nothing succeeds like success, it is said, and the image of endurance and perseverance apparently ‘against the odds’ will gain them an appeal formerly beyond their reach.

And what of the ‘war against Assad’? Far from this having been eclipsed by the ‘war against Isis’, it is at its foundation. Having been thwarted from bombing Syria in August 2013 by Syrian, Russian, Chinese and Iranian steadfastness – and subsequent parliamentary nervousness in both the US and Britain – the West are now indeed bombing Syria. David Cameron, for his part, cleverly designed his motion only to refer to airstrikes against Iraq – ensuring that Syria was largely kept out of the debate – but insisted that he could expand the operation into Syria without parliamentary approval once it was underway. We are now being told that the West are being ‘forced’ to intervene in Syria because Assad failed to defeat ISIS, but the truth is precisely the opposite – the West is now in Syria because ISIS and its friends – the recipients of so much lavish diplomatic, financial and military support from the West and its allies these past three years – have failed to defeat Assad. The US – alongside Britain shortly, no doubt – are thus going in to Syria in order to take more direct control of a war in which, for much of this year, the momentum has been with the Syrian state forces. Indeed, there has already been talk of a Turkish ground invasion of Syria, along with a new initiative aimed at training yet more insurgents in Saudi Arabia (5000 more, apparently) – the breeding ground of the violent sectarianism that underpins ISIS. The idea is that if anyone is to seize ground from ISIS, it should not be the secular forces of the Syrian government (the only power capable of actually governing the country, even according to US general Martin Dempsey), but rather the forces of NATO and their ISIS lookalike allies.

Why does Cameron claim this war will take years? Because he knows it will escalate. It will escalate because ISIS is only the preliminary target, the pretext. The ultimate target is, as it has ever been, the Syrian state itself. It is revealing, in this regard, to look at the pattern of US bombing within Syria that has already been revealed. A Reuters report from last week noted that the strikes “seemed to be intended to hamper Islamic State’s ability to operate across the border with Iraq, where it also controls territory.” In other words, the aim is not to destroy ISIS in Syria – but, as far as possible, to keep ISIS in Syria.

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, is amongst many others who argue that the airstrikes will not be effective at destroying ISIS. They are not, therefore, an act of foreign policy, he says, but merely a piece of macho showmanship. I disagree. Foreign policy is foreign policy, not a game; it only appears  to be ill thought-out folly if one misreads its aims – or naively believes them to be what they are claimed to be. Noam Chomsky argues that states must be held accountable for the predictable consequences of their actions; I would go further. At least in the case of long-established, powerful and prosperous states with hundreds of years of experience in military aggression, we must also assume that such consequences are part of their strategic goals.

So if Britain’s actions do not destroy ISIS, but ensue they remain focused on destabilising Iraq and Syria, we must assume this to be part of their aim. If they succeed not in degrading and demoralising, but in boosting the prestige and credibility of ISIS, we must assume this is a goal which Britain seeks. And if ISIS provide the pretext for the West to take more direct control of its war against Syria, paving the way for Turkish occupation, airstrikes against Syrian infrastructure, and the direct coordination of insurgent groups whose ideology and methods are a virtual carbon copy of those of ISIS, again, we should not see this as some kind of opportunist spin-off of the war against ISIS – but as its very purpose.

An edited version of this article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. Egypt is calling the West’s bluff over its phoney war on ISIS 

 

19th February 2015

 

Western states are trumpeting ISIS as the latest threat to civilisation, claiming total commitment to their defeat, and using the group’s conquests in Syria and Iraq as a pretext for deepening their own military involvement in the Middle East. Yet as Libya seems to be following the same path as Syria – of ‘moderate’ anti-government militias backed by the West paving the way for ISIS takeover – Britain and the US seem reluctant to confront them there, immediately pouring cold water on Egyptian President Sisi’s request for an international coalition to halt their advances. By making the suggestion – and having it, predictably, spurned – Sisi is making clear Western duplicity over ISIS and the true nature of NATO policy in Libya.

On 29th August 2011, two months before the last vestiges of the Libyan state were destroyed and its leader executed, I was interviewed on Russia Today about the country’s future. I told the station: “There’s been a lot of talk about what will happen [in Libya after the ouster of Gaddafi] – will there be sharia law? Will there be a liberal democracy? But what will replace the Libyan state won’t be any of those things, what will replace the Libyan state will be the same as what has replaced the state in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a dysfunctional government, complete lack of security, gang warfare and civil war. And this is not a mistake from NATO. They would prefer to see failed states than states that are powerful and independent and able to challenge their hegemony. And people who are fighting for the TNC, fighting for NATO, really need to understand that this is NATO’s vision for their country.” Friends at the time told me I was being overly pessimistic and cynical. I said I hoped they were right. But a decade following the results of my own country (Britain)’s wars of aggression in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq long after the mainstream media had lost interest, led me to believe otherwise.   HIstorical precedent tends to be a better guide to likely developments than wishful thinking. 

But Gaddafi himself had already sounded the alarm long before me. On March 6th 2011, several weeks before NATO began seven months of bombing, Gaddafi gave a prophetic interview with French newspaper Le Monde du Dimanche, in which he stated: “I want to make myself understood: if one threatens [Libya], if one seeks to destabilize [Libya], there will be chaos, Bin Laden, armed factions.  That is what will happen. You will have immigration, thousands of people will invade Europe from Libya. And there will no longer be anyone to stop them. Bin Laden will base himself in North Africa and will leave Mullah Omar in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You will have Bin Laden at your door step.”

He specifically warned that Derna, a town that had already provided large numbers of suicide bombers to Iraq, would become an “Islamist emirate” on the Mediterranean. Gaddafi’s warnings were mocked in the Western media (although many intelligence experts, in under-reported comments, backed his assertions), and few in Europe had ever heard of Derna. Until November 2014, that is – when ISIS announced their takeover of the city, the first of three in Libya now under their control. Their most recent conquest, Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, was heralded by the posting onto youtube of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians they had captured there last December. They are widely believed to have been immigrant workers from one of the poorest parts of Egypt.

Sirte had been a pro-government stronghold during NATO’s onslaught in 2011, and one of the last cities to fall – the result of its ferocious resistance and zero support for the ‘rebels’. It was subjected to a massive siege and became the scene of some of the worst war crimes of the war, both by NATO and their allies on the ground. Now that the people of Sirte have been forced to live – and die – under the latest incarnation of NATO’s ‘heroic freedom fighters’ – it is becoming  ever clearer why they fought so hard to keep them out in the first place. Yet even this massacre is eclipsed by the

almost 600 Libyan National Army soldiers killed by ISIS and their allies in their battle to take Benghazi over the last three years.

This is the state of affairs NATO bequeathed to Libya, reversing the country’s trajectory as a stable, prosperous pan-African state that was a leading player in the African Union and a thorn in the side of US and British attempts to re-establish military domination. And it is not only Libya that has suffered; the power vacuum resulting from NATO’s wholesale destruction of the Libyan state apparatus has dragged the whole region into the vortex. As Brendan O Neill has shown in detail, the daily horrors being perpetrated in Mali, Nigeria and now Cameroon are all a direct result of NATO’s bloodletting, as death squads from across the entire Sahel-Sahara region have been given free reign to set up training camps and loot weapons across the giant zone of lawlessness which NATO have sculpted out of Libya.  

The result? African states that in 2010 were forging ahead economically, greatly benefitting from Chinese infrastructure and manufacturing investment, moving away from centuries of colonial and neo-colonial dependence on extortionate Western financial institutions, have been confronted with massive new terror threats from groups such as Boko Haram, flush with new weaponry and facilities courtesy of NATO’s humanitarianism. Algeria and Egypt, too, still governed by the same independent-minded movements which overthrew European colonialism, have seen their borders destabilised, setting the stage for ongoing debilitating attacks planned and executed from NATO’s new Libyan militocracy. This is the context in which Egypt is starting to push back against NATO’s destabilisation strategy.

Over the past year in particular, Egyptians have witnessed their Western neighbour rapidly descending down the same path of ISIS takeover as Syria. In Syria, a civil war between a Western-sponsored insurgency and an elected secular government has seen the anti-government forces rapidly fall under the sway of ISIS, as the West’s supposed ‘moderates’ in the Free Syrian Army either join forces with ISIS (impressed by their military prowess, hi-tech weaponry, and massive funding) or find themselves overrun by them. In Libya, the same pattern is quickly developing. The latest phase in the Libyan disaster began last June when the militias who dominated the previous parliament (calling themselves the ‘Libya Dawn’ coalition) lost the election and refused to accept the results, torching the country’s airport and oil storage facilities as opening salvos in an ongoing civil war between them and the newly elected parliament. Both parliaments have the allegiance of various armed factions, and have set up their own rival governments, each controlling different parts of the country. But, starting in Derna last November, areas taken by the Libya Dawn faction have begun falling to ISIS. Last weekend’s capture of Sirte was the third major town to be taken by them, and there is no sign that it will be the last. This is the role that has consistently been played by the West’s proxies across the region – paving the way and laying the ground for ISIS takeover. Egyptian President Sisi’s intervention – airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya – aims to reverse this trajectory before it reaches Iraqi-Syrian proportions.

The internationally-recognised Libyan government based in Tobruk – the one appointed by the House of Representatives that won the election last summer – has welcomed the Egyptian intervention. Not only, they hope, will it help prevent ISIS takeover, but will also cement Egyptian support for their side in the ongoing civil war with ‘Libya Dawn’. Indeed, Egypt could, with some justification, claim that winning the war against ISIS requires a unified Libyan government committed to this goal, and that the Dawn’s refusal to recognise the elected parliament , not to mention their ‘ambiguous’ attitude towards ISIS, is the major obstacle to achieving such an outcome.

Does this mean that the Egyptian intervention will scupper the UN’s ‘Libya dialogue’ peace talks initiative? Not necessarily; in fact if could have the opposite effect. The first two rounds of the talks were boycotted by the General National Congress (the Libya Dawn parliament), safe in the knowledge that they would continue to receive weapons and financing from NATO partners Qatar and Turkey whilst the internationally-recognised Tobruk government remained under an international arms embargo. As the UK’s envoy to the Libya Dialogue, Jonathan Powell, noted this week, the “sine qua non for a [peace] settlement” is a “mutually hurting stalemate”. By balancing up the scales in the civil war, Egyptian military support for the Tobruk government may show the GNC that taking the talks seriously will be more in their interests than continuation of the fight.

Sisi’s call for the military support of the West in his intervention has effectively been rejected, as he very likely expected it to be. A joint statement by the US and Britain and their allies on Tuesday poured cold water on the idea, and no wonder – they did not go to all the bother of turning Libya into the centre of their regional destabilisation strategy only to then try to stabilise it just when it is starting to bear fruit. However, by forcing them to come out with such a statement, Sisi has called the West’s bluff. The US and Britain claim to be committed to the destruction of ISIS, a formation which is the product of the insurgency they have sponsored in Syria for the past four years, and Sisi is asking them to put their money where their mouth is. They have refused to do so. In the end, the Egyptian resolution to the UN Security Council on Wednesday made no mention of calling for military intervention by other powers, and limited itself to calling for an end to the one-sided international arms embargo which prevents the arming of the elected government but does not seem to deter NATO’s regional partners from openly equipping the ‘Libya Dawn’ militias. Sisi has effectively forced the West to show its hand: their rejection of his proposal to support the intervention makes it clear to the world the two-faced nature of their supposed commitment to the destruction of ISIS.

There are, however, deep divisions on this issue in Europe. France is deepening its military presence in the Sahel-Sahara region, with 3000 troops based in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali and a massive new base opened on the Libyan border in Niger last October, and would likely welcome a pretext to extend its operations to its historic protectorate in Southern Libya. Italy, likewise, is getting cold feet about the destabilisation it helped to unleash, having not only damaged a valuable trading partner, but increasingly being faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the horror and destitution that NATO has gifted the region. But neither are likely to do anything without UNSC approval, which is likely to continue to be blocked by the US and Britain, who are more than happy to see countries like Russian-allied Egypt and Chinese-funded Nigeria weakened and their development retarded by terror bombings. Sisi’s actions will, it is hoped, not only make abundantly clear the West’s acquiescence in the horrors it has created – but also pave the way for an effective fightback against them.

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. Turkey shoot: the rage of the impotent in Syria 

25th November 2015 

 

Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet today shows the utter desperation currently sweeping through the regime change camp as Russia closes in on the death squads in Syria – and does so with massive international support.

 

At 9.20am this morning, a Russian SU-24 jet was shot down by Turkish fighter planes. Its pilots were then allegedly killed by Syrian Turkmen anti-government militias, with the body of one paraded on camera in a video that was immediately posted on youtube. Turkey claimed the jet had encroached on Turkish airspace, but Russia maintains the plane was shot down well inside Syrian territory, 4km from the Turkish border. Rather than calling Russia to defuse any tension arising from the attack, Turkey then immediately called an emergency NATO meeting to ramp it up – “as if we shot down their plane”, Putin commented, “and not they ours”.

 

To make sense of this apparently senseless provocation, it is necessary to cut through the multiple layers of obfuscation which surround Western narratives around Syria and ISIS. The reality is that the forces essentially line up today just as they did at the outbreak of this crisis in 2011: with the West, Turkey and the gulf monarchies sponsoring an array of death squads bent on bringing down the Syrian government; and Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria (obviously) and Hezbollah resisting this project; the rise of ISIS has not fundamentally changed this underlying dynamic. Indeed, the next-to-useless impact of the West’s year-long phony war against ISIS – alongside its relentless funneling of weaponry to militias with an, at best, ambiguous relationship with Al Qaeda and ISIS – has demonstrated that the Syrian state (or “Assad” to use the West’s puerile personalization) remains the ultimate target of the West’s Syria policy. As Obama himself put it, the goal is not to eliminate ISIS, but rather to “contain” them – that is, keep them focused on weakening Syria and Iraq, and not US allies like Jordan, Turkey or the US’s favoured Kurdish factions. In civil wars, there are only ever really two sides. And in the Syrian civil war, NATO remains on the same side as ISIS. In this sense, Putin is entirely correct when he commented on the Turkish attack it was a “stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists” and asked: “do they want to make NATO serve ISIS?” Or is it, we could add, that ISIS were created to serve NATO?

 

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict two months ago, however, has caused utter panic in the ‘regime change’ camp. Belying all their ‘anti-ISIS’ rhetoric, the US and Britain were openly horrified that Russia might actually be putting up an effective fight against the group and restoring governmental authority to the ungoverned spaces in which it thrives. Immediately, the West began warning of ‘blowback’ to Russia, and ramping up advanced arms shipments to the insurgency. Within a month, a Russian passenger plane was blown up, with ISIS claiming responsibility and British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond calling the attack a “warning shot”. It was a “shot” alright, aimed not only at Russia, but also at her allies; the downing of the plane on Egyptian soil was a deliberate act of economic war against the Egyptian tourist industry, a punishment for Egypt’s support for Russia and Syria and its choking off of fighters to Syria since Sisi came to power. Then, two weeks later, came the attack on Paris. White supremacist niceties prevented Hammond calling this one a “warning shot” as well, but that is precisely what it was, this time at those within the regime change/ anti-Russia camp who were showing signs of ‘wobbling’. Hollande had suggested back in January that sanctions on Russia should be lifted asap, and more recently had showed a willingness to cooperate with Russia militarily over Syria: a ‘red line’ for France’s ‘Atlantic partners’.

 

Nevertheless, the net continues to close on the West’s death squad project in Syria. From the start the key to ISIS success has been, firstly, the porous Syria-Turkey border, through which Turkey has allowed a

free flow of fighters and weapons back and forth for the past four years, and secondly, the massive amounts of finance ISIS receives both from oil sales and from donors in countries prepared to turn a blind eye to terror financing. In recent weeks, all of this has been threatened by the Russian-led alliance (of which France is increasingly willing to be a part).

 

The past week has seen a large scale Syrian ground offensive, supported with Russian air cover, in precisely the Syrian-Turkish border region which is the death squads’ lifeline: a move which prompted the Turkish foreign ministry to warn of “serious consequences” if the Russian airstrikes continued. Simultaneously, Russia has embarked on a major campaign against ISIS’ reportedly 1000-strong oil tanker fleet which is so crucial to the group’s financial success. As the Institute for the Study of War reported, “Russian military chief of staff Col. Gen. Andrey Kartapolov announced on November 18 “Russian warplanes are now flying on a free hunt” against ISIS-operated oil tanker trucks traveling back and forth from Syria and Iraq, claiming that Russian strikes had destroyed over 500 ISIS-operated oil trucks in the past “several days.”” This massive dent in the group’s oil transporting capacity even shamed the US into belatedly and somewhat half-heartedly launching similar attacks of their own. The smashing of ISIS’ oil industry will not only be a blow to the entire death squad project, but will directly affect Turkey, widely thought to be involved in the transportation of ISIS-produced oil, and even Erdogan’s family itself, as it is the company run by his son Bilal that is believed to be running the illicit trade.

 

Finally, France yesterday announced a crackdown on ISIS’ financiers, and demanded other countries do the same. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin implied that the report to the G20 on the issue last month was a whitewash, and demanded that the international Financial Action Task Force be much more explicit in its report to the next G20 finance meeting in February about which countries are lax in terms of terror financing. The move is very likely to expose not only Turkey and Saudi Arabia but also, given HSBC’s links to Al Qaeda, the City of London. Indeed, as the Politico website noted, Sapin specifically “said that considering the reputation of the City of London, he would be “vigilant” on the U.K.’s implementation of EU-agreed measures to clamp down on money laundering and exchange financial information on shady transactions or individuals”.The reactions to his demands that implementation of tougher EU regulations be moved forward will also be instructive (in another move exposing the total lack of urgency given to the West’s supposed ‘war on ISIS’, they are currently not due to be implemented for another two years).

And on top of all this, the UN Security Council finally passed a resolution authorizing ‘all necessary measures’ to be used against ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Syria, effectively granting UN approval to Russia’s intervention. As Pepe Escobar has pointed out, French support for the resolution rendered it politically impossible for the US or UK to use their veto – although US ambassador Samantha Power, an extreme Russophobe and ‘regime changer’, registered her disapproval by failing to turn up for the vote and sending a junior official along instead.

 

In other words, on all sides the net is closing in on the West’s death squad project in Syria. Turkey’s actions today have merely demonstrated, again, the impotent rage of those who have thrown in their chips with a disastrous and bloody attempt to remake the Middle East. Syria is indeed becoming the Stalingrad of the regime changers – the rock on which the imperial folly of the West and it’s regional imitators may finally be broken.

 

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. Britain is still using ISIS to destroy Syria 

15th December 2015 

 

ON Wednesday December 2nd, the British House of Commons voted to launch airstrikes on Syria; within an hour of the vote being taken, British fighter jets were on the way to Syria. According to the government’s motion, the strikes were to be “exclusively against ISIL”, the leading force within the anti-government insurgency in Syria. 

 

 

 

And yet, in August 2013, David Cameron had proposed sending the RAF to Syria to support that insurgency. The proposal was defeated when it became clear that Syria’s key allies, Russia and Iran, were not going to back down; but the British government has been one of the most vocal and belligerent supporters of the insurgency since it began in 2011. Indeed, Cameron has arguably become its leading international spokesman, lobbyist and armourer-in-chief. So is it really credible that he has suddenly switched sides, and is now committed to wiping out the vanguard of the struggle he has done so much to promote?

 

 

 

Well, no. And to be fair to Cameron, he made it clear within minutes of his opening speech to that it is the destruction of the Syrian state, not ISIS, that remains the ultimate goal of British policy in Syria.

 

Of course, he didn’t put it quite like that. But after what is now sixteen years of British government dedication to the creation of one failed state after another – from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya – the euphemisms have become all too familiar. “The real plan”, Cameron noted, is to “get a transitional Government in Syria”. We have seen ‘transitional governments’ before: they are generally comprised of people who have spent more time in London, Paris or Washington than in the countries they are supposed to be governing, with no real support base in the country, airlifted in by NATO in order to sign contracts with the West, and in no position whatsoever to actually govern. The ‘transition’ in question, then, is from independent regional power, to dysfunctional failed state. “The first step”, he concludes, “is going after these terrorists today.”

 

 

 

Exactly how bombing ISIS is supposed to be the “first step” towards overthrowing the Syrian government was left to the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir Crispin Blunt, to explain.“The crucial issue,” he said, is “how would we, the United Kingdom, exercise the greatest influence? Everything that I have heard in the last month of taking evidence on this issue suggests that our role as a compromised and limited member of the coalition against ISIL, operating only in Iraq, weakens that influence.” This is very revealing. The “crucial issue” is nothing to do with ISIS, national security, or terrorism; but rather how to gain “greatest influence” in order to push the “real plan” of destroying the Syrian state. Blunt is arguing that Britain should bomb Syria in order to ensure that the coalition maintains its focus on regime change. The airstrikes have, it seems, been conceived primarily as a means of degrading not ISIS, but Russian influence on the US and France, lest the focus shifts to actually defeating terrorism.

 

Militarily, the latest phase of the British involvement in Syria has one key aim: to co-ordinate the various death squads – including ISIS – into a more effective fighting force for the destruction of the Syrian state. One group is to be given overt support – to be funded, trained, equipped and given air cover by the RAF. This is the 70,000 so-called ‘moderates’ that Cameron argued in parliament are to be the ‘ground force’ of Britain’s campaign. The definition of a moderate, here, was outlined by the government as anyone fulfilling two criteria – a) not being a member of Al Qaeda or ISIS, and b) “committed to a pluralistic Syria” – that is, willing to sign up to any old guff that guarantees Western support. Presumably (and no one in the government was willing to deny this), this group includes extremist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, along with all the other groups participating in the Al Qaeda-led Army of Conquest, and thus effectively acting as extensions of Al Qaeda without officially being Al Qaeda themselves. These forces cannot possibly serve as effective ground troops against ISIS; firstly because, whenever they have taken on ISIS in the past, they have lost (handing over all their Western-supplied weapons in the process); secondly, because, as Imran Hussein MP pointed out, they are now concentrated mainly “in the south-west of Syria while Daesh [ISIS] is in the north-east”, and as SNP parliamentary leader Angus Robertson noted “there is no evidence whatsoever that they would definitely deploy from other parts of the country to counter Daesh”; and thirdly, because, as Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute has argued, they “are not powerful enough to take on al-Qaeda or IS by themselves, or in many cases break their current alliances/ceasefires with them.” The raison d’etre of Cameron’s ’70,000 fighters’ is to overthrow the Syrian government, not ISIS, and in many cases they are in formal alliances with Al Qaeda and ISIS to achieve this. Clearly, then, if they are indeed to be the ground forces of Britain’s air war, this can only be a war against the Syrian government, not against ISIS.

 

The second group is the Al Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria (out of which ISIS emerged in January 2014). According to Cameron’s definition, they are not going to be provided with open and direct support from the British government. But the terms of the government’s motion, which vows airstrikes “exclusively against ISIL”, means they will not actually be targeted either. They will be given a free hand, in other words – whilst their allies in the Army of Conquest will be openly supplied and supported.

 

Finally, there is ISIS. How do airstrikes against ISIS help facilitate regime change? Labour MP Frank Field shed some light on this when he asked Cameron: “Is the Prime Minister aware of press reports that in the recent past 60,000 Syrian troops have been murdered by ISIL and our allies have waited until after those murderous acts have taken place to attack?…If ISIL is involved in attacking Syrian Government troops, will we be bombing ISIL in defence of those troops, or will we wait idly by, as our allies have done up to now, for ISIL to kill those troops, and then bomb?” Cameron’s answer – which was no answer at all – suggested that Britain will indeed continue the existing coalition policy of allowing ISIS to slaughter Syrian government troops at will.

 

Putting all this together, the strategy becomes clear: increase support and air cover to non-ISIS (and increasingly Al Qaeda led) anti-government fighters, whilst employing a carrot-and-stick policy towards ISIS itself: bombing them if they threaten other anti-government forces, but giving them a free hand when it comes to massacring Syrian soldiers – and in so doing, encouraging them to turn all their fire on the Syrian government. In this sense, the strategy is to unite all the anti-government death squads, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, in an all-out war of destruction against the Syrian state. Despite appearances, this is the same war Cameron wanted in 2013; but it is now being conducted under the name of fighting the very terrorism it aims to facilitate.

This article was originally published by Telesur 

 

  1. The only division between Turkey and the US is a division of labour 

19th February 2016 

 

No one should be fooled into thinking that recent Turkish shelling and pressure for a ‘no-fly zone’ put it at odds with the US – rather they fulfil US strategic goals whilst simultaneously providing ‘plausible deniability’.

One week ago, on Wednesday 10th February, units from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance captured Menagh airbase and several surrounding villages in Northwest Syria from the Al Qaeda franchise Jabhat Al Nusra and their allies Ahrar Al Sham, who had held it since August 2013. One might think that the liberation of such a significant asset would be a cause for celebration amongst the NATO powers who are, after all, supposedly facing an existential threat from Al Qaeda and its various offshoots.  

But apparently not. By the weekend, NATO member Turkey was shelling the base and its surrounding regions, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu vowing to render it “unusable” unless the SDF withdraw – that is to say, hand it back to Al Qaeda. Their bombardment has continued ever since, hitting Syrian government forces in the town of Deir Jamal, as well as the SDF. Davutoglu promised “the harshest reaction” if the SDF were to take the town of Azaz – currently controlled by, you guessed it, Ahrar al Sham and Al Qaeda – towards which they were rapidly advancing. “We will not allow Azaz to fall,” he said, ‘fall’ here being a euphemism for liberation from the Wahhabi death squads.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been regularly briefing the media about their desire to send their armies in to Syria, to establish a ‘safe zone’ on the Turkish-Syrian border aimed at keeping open the supply lines to rebel-controlled territories such as Aleppo (dominated , according to the Institute for the Study of War, by Al Qaeda, ISIS and Ahrar Al Sham). Turkish military sources have subsequently announced that eight to ten Saudi jets are to be deployed in the Incirlik airbase in Turkey within the coming weeks.

For some commentators, all of this demonstrates that Turkey has somehow gone ‘rogue’, putting it at odds with the US and straining the sinews of its alliance. Turkey is facilitating militant jihadis, it is argued, whilst the US is trying to fight them; and it is attacking the SDF, who the US is supporting. The SDF is, after all, an official ally of the US, who have been advancing thanks in part to US air support – yet are viewed by Turkey as a terrorist group due to the presence in their ranks of the Kurdish YPG, who have fraternal relations with the PKK, with whom the Turkish state has been at war for decades. For the Guardian, “the Turkish strikes…triggered alarm in Washington”, whilst a Reuters headline suggested that the “Kurdish advance in Syria divides US and Turkey”. “Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks calling on the US to choose between its ally Turkey and “the terrorists in Kobani,” wrote the Turkish newspaper Sunday’s Zaman “Ankara is now not on good terms with the US”.

The reality, however, is that Turkey appears to have had US approval every step of the way.

Take, for example, the official US reaction to the Turkish shelling. Statements by State Department spokesman Josh Kirby have generally been depicted as ‘admonishing’ Turkey for its actions. In fact, he called for “de-escalating tensions on all sides,” adding that “we have urged Syrian Kurdish and other forces affiliated with the YPG not to take advantage of a confused situation by seizing new territory”. In other words, he has repeated Turkey’s demands that Northwest Syria be left under Al Qaeda control. This hardly qualifies as a major dressing down. 

Also hugely important to note is that right between the seizure of Menagh on Wednesday and the beginning of Turkish shelling on Saturday, NATO had 2 important meetings: one formal, one informal. On  

Thursday, buried deep in an announcement about NATO operations in the Aegean Sea, General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg mentioned that NATO had also agreed “to intensify intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at the Turkish-Syrian border.” That was the formal meeting. Later that day – that is, just one day before the ‘International Syria Support Group’ announced its plans for a ‘cessation of hostilities’ – the defence secretaries of the US, the UK, Turkey and the Gulf states met at NATO HQ to discuss the possibility of inserting ground troops into Syria and establishing a “no fly zone” on the Syrian-Turkish border. Talking in advance of this meeting, US defence secretary Ash Carter appeared to relish such actions, welcoming the prospect of “strong contributions” from the Gulf states, which he said would be a “good thing”. “There are lots of different ways that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain can contribute,” he noted, “one of them is on the ground – and we’ll definitely be discussing that – but there are lots of other ways as well”. Two days later, Turkey began shelling Syria.

Ostensibly, these were meetings of the ‘anti-ISIS’ coalition. But, as the Guardian innocently noted, “Given that the US and its allies have been in action against Isis in Syria and Iraq since September 2014, it is remarkable that the meeting on Thursday afternoon is the first to be held by the defence ministers from the anti-Isis coalition.” What has really prompted their sense of urgency has nothing to do with the phoney ‘war against ISIS’, and everything to do with the growing military success of the Syrian government. 

Rhetorical nonsense about the need to ‘combat ISIS’ notwithstanding, it is clear that Turkey and the West remain very much on the same page over Syria. There is indeed a ‘red line’ for both, and that red line is the prospect of a Syrian government victory – which, following Russia’s decisive intervention, now seems like a very real possibility. The major rebel supply line to Aleppo was cut off on 3rd February, meaning that both the recapture of Aleppo and the sealing of the Turkish-Syrian border now lie visibly within the government’s grasp. As Reuters have correctly noted, “That would amount to its most decisive victory of the war so far, and probably put an end to rebel hopes of removing Assad by force, their goal throughout years of fighting that has driven 11 million people from their homes.”

Such an outcome would have monumental consequences for the entire globe. It would mark the first decisive defeat for a Western-sponsored regime change operation since the end of the Cold War, perhaps since Vietnam. It would demonstrate that the new ‘4+1’ alliance (of Iran, Iraq, Russia, Syria and Hezbollah) are able to inflict defeat on Western-backed forces, rendering US sponsorship and protection all but worthless. It would provide states the world over with the military rationale (the economic rationale is already obvious) for aligning themselves with the BRICS rather than the US. And it would make sectarian death squads throughout the region, for long the ‘cheap power’ arm of US and British foreign policy, wary of ever again relying on Western backing. In short, it would mark an unprecedented and irreversible shift in power from West to East.

There is no way that the Western powers are going to allow this to happen lying down. And plans are rapidly being drawn up to avoid this. The aim is to ensure the Syrian-Turkish border stays open, to guarantee that the rebels supply lines are not jeopardised; this is the only way to avoid defeat in, not only, Aleppo, but in Syria as a whole. How to do this?

First, Turkey is filling the Syrian side of its border crossing with refugees to act as human shields. Last week, for the first time, President Erdogan closed the border to fleeing refugees, instead setting up camps inside Syria. These will provide the ‘collateral damage’ necessary to paint any Syrian government-Kurdish – Russian moves to take the territory and seal the border as a massacre and humanitarian emergency. Erdogan’s comments last week that the United Nations needed to step in to prevent “ethnic cleansing” are clearly part of the ideological groundwork to prepare for a

‘humanitarian intervention’ which, in reality, will serve to create a NATO-backed, Turkish and Saudi-enforced, occupation zone in Northwest Syria designed to keep the border open, keep the death squads supplied with weapons and fighters, and, in short, keep the war going.

Far from angering Washington, Turkey’s actions put it right at the vanguard of US strategic designs. Make no mistake, the US is preparing to fight Russia – right down to the last Turk.

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. Getting intervention ‘just right’: The West’s Goldilocks strategy in Libya

 

5th March 2016 

 

A renewed Western military ‘commitment’ to Libya will not be enough to defeat ISIS – but it might be enough to establish a permanent military presence in North Africa for the first time since 1970.

On 19th February, the US launched an airstrike on an ISIS training camp in Sabratha, killing an estimated 40 people. Whilst the attack was widely reported as a ‘new front’ in the West’s ‘war on terror’, the reality is that the Western military presence inside Libya has been growing for some time. As an Oxford Research Group paper published last month noted, “US, British and French special operations forces are operating covertly with local allies across northern Libya and their aircraft fly quite openly on reconnaissance missions in Libyan airspace. US F-15E strike aircraft, operating from the UK, have launched ‘targeted killing’ attacks on alleged jihadist leaders and US commandos have abducted at least two others for trial in the US. In February Italy approved the use by US armed drones of its Sigonella air base in eastern Sicily, albeit with tight restrictions”. The paper added that all of this is in addition to the EU’s “Italian-commanded EUNAVFOR MED naval force with a ludicrous mission and no UN mandate” that was launched last October.

Meanwhile, preparations are well underway for a major escalation. The US government is considering “airstrikes, commando raids or advising vetted Libyan militias on the ground, as Special Operations forces are doing now in eastern Syria. Covert CIA paramilitary missions are also being considered”, as are “teams of commandos to work with Libyan fighters” in what would “most likely be a

Special Operations war”. Italy has ordered the deployment of four AMX fighter aircraft and one Predator drone to its Birgi base near Trapani, Sicily, as part of its preparations for a new Libya intervention, and British military figures have announced that “US and British Special Forces were in Libya gathering intelligence to prepare for a possible deployment of up to 6,000 US and European troops”.

Whilst the impact of such an escalation is hotly debated, what is not in doubt amongst serious analysts is that it will fail to defeat ISIS. Indeed, even the US military admit this, with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford explaining that the aim would be “to contain or disrupt” ISIS – not, that is, to defeat them – and certainly not to end the civil war and political violence that NATO’s destruction ignited in 2011.

 

Even this modest goal is unlikely to be met, however. As the Oxford Research Group paper explains, “while it would not be difficult to displace IS from central Libya, such attacks risk rallying many more Libyans to IS, shifting militants to other parts of Libya or the Sahel-Sahara, and would probably exacerbate the existing conflict between armed factions for control of the Libyan state and its resources. As in Syria, it does not answer the question of who would hold and govern any territory regained from IS.” Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow at ECFR writing for the journal Foreign Policy, elaborates: “This intervention is not radically different from other, limited campaigns Washington has undertaken, such as its offensive against Al Qaeda in Yemen. The focus of these attacks is always on the terrorist organization themselves, rather than on the countries in which they are based. Drones, air strikes, and special operations may be a cure for a specific disease, but they do not make any attempt to treat the patient. In other words, this is about the Islamic State, not about Libya. And that is why this approach is simply not enough. In order for a military response to work, it must be backed by a political strategy — which, so far, Western policymakers have completely failed to articulate.”

 

Let us take stock of these arguments. In the absence of a viable political entity to take over territory reclaimed from ISIS, the military strategy on the table is likely only to a) increase political violence between other factions, b) create perfect recruitment conditions for ISIS, c) encourage ISIS to fan out across the country and the region. But Western governments hardly need a ‘think tank’ to tell them that, let alone a crystal ball. A basic memory function would suffice: for using military force to create power vacuums, civil war and terrorist recruitment is exactly what the US and Britain have been doing across the region for the past fifteen years.

 

In the process, however, they are of course creating a market for their services. Destabilised countries quickly become dependent on military support from their ‘international backers’, and are unable to build up enough of a functioning economy to genuinely act as independent, sovereign nations. The next phase of the West’s recolonisation of Libya, then, is the insertion of military forces whose very presence reproduces the conditions justifying that presence. This process may well lead the US and Britain to establish what they have only been able to dream of since Colonel Gaddafi evicted their airbases – the biggest in Africa at the time – from Libyan soil in 1970: a permanent bridgehead for the projection of military power across the African continent. The US

African Command (AFRICOM) has already insinuated itself in Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon, as a direct result of the fallout from the Libyan war of 2011, and Libya was highlighted in its strategy document last autumn as one of the Command’s ‘five lines of effort’ for the next five years. AFRICOM, it should be noted, was effectively conceived by the African Oil Policy Initiative Group – made up of military officers, energy lobbyists and members of the US Congress – in their 2002 white paper “African oil: A priority for US National Security and African Development”. This paper noted that “The Gulf of Guinea, as part of the Atlantic oil-bearing basin, surpasses the Persian Gulf in oil supplies to the US by 2:1” and recommended “a new and vigorous focus on US military cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa, to include design of a sub-unified command structure which could produce significant dividends in the protection of US investments”, adding that “failure to address the issue of focusing and maximizing US diplomatic and military command organization …could…act as an inadvertent inventive for US rivals such as China [and] adversaries such as Libya…to secure political, diplomatic, and economic presence in parts of Africa.” In short, the best way to fight against Chinese and Libyan investment in Africa was through military force. And the ‘war on terror’ has turned out to be a great means of projecting it – regardless of the fact that it was NATO that created the terror threat in the first place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

The Western intervention currently underway in Libya, then, as well as its proposed escalation, is enough to exacerbate the underlying instability in the country, but not so much of a commitment as to actually have any prospect of defeating ISIS. Like Goldilocks’ (stolen) bowl of porridge, it is ‘just right’.

The story of Goldilocks, however, was not originally meant to be a tale about discovering what is ‘just right’ – it was supposed to be a moral fable warning of the dangers of wandering into another’s territory and stealing and breaking their property. But over time, this aspect of the story – of what the hell Goldilocks was doing there in the first place – has, it seems, been entirely lost. In the same manner, the humanitarian imperialists prefer us not to consider the basic lesson of the invasion of Libya (as of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam) – that is, not to wander into another’s territory and break and steal their property – but rather on how to make such invasions ‘just right’.

The problem, as ever, is that what is ‘just right’ for the ‘Empire of Chaos’ is diametrically opposed to the needs of the population. No wonder Libyans are not rushing to welcome yet more of the West’s tomahawk and hellfire salvation.

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. British troops enter Libya and Syria to ensure war outlives ISIS 

 

13th June 2016

 

Over the past three weeks, it has emerged that British special forces are now in direct combat roles in Libya and Syria. Ostensibly there to fight ISIS, the real goal is to prevent the Syrian and Libyan armies defeating ISIS themselves.

The Normandy landings, launched 72 years ago this week, saw the opening of a second front against the Nazis in Europe by the US and the UK after years of procrastination. Despite the signing of a ‘mutual assistance’ agreement with Britain in 1941, and the Anglo-Soviet alliance in 1942, for years very little was done by the US or Britain to actually fight the Nazi menace. In a joint communique issued in 1942, they agreed to open a second front in Europe that same year, an agreement they broke and then postponed repeatedly, leaving the Soviets to fight the strongest industrial power in Western Europe alone for three years – at an eventual cost of 27 million lives. The US and Britain, it seemed, were following what International Relations theorist John Mearsheimer has termed a ‘bait and bleed’ policy, allowing Germany and the Soviet Union to “bleed each other white” whilst they themselves stood on the sidelines. “If we see Germany winning, we ought to help Russia,” declared US Senator (and later President) Harry Truman in June 1941, “and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible.” The British Minister for Aircraft Production Colonel Moore-Brabazon echoed his views the following month, telling a lunch party of government officials that the best outcome on the Eastern front would have been the mutual exhaustion of Germany and the USSR in order that Britain could then move in to dominate Europe. He was eventually forced to resign following uproar from a public determined to see their government do more to help the embattled Soviets.

In the end, it was not until well after the Nazis’ fortunes had been decisively reversed at Stalingrad that the long promised ‘second front’ actually materialized. Indeed, by this point the outcome of the war had effectively already been determined. D Day, then, was waged not to defeat the Nazis but to ensure the Soviet Union, who had borne almost all of the sacrifice, would not reap the fruits of their victory. As Soviet Admiral Kharlamov, head of the Soviet Military Mission in Britain during the Second World War, wrote, “Certain circles, both in the United States and Britain, feared that should the Red Army defeat Germany single-handed, the Soviet Union would have enormous influence on the post-war development of and social progress in the European countries. The Allies could not allow that to happen. This is why they considered the opening of a second front in Europe not so much a military action but as a political measure aimed at preventing the progressive political forces from coming to power in European countries.” Documents declassified in 1998 revealed that Churchill had even ordered the drawing up of a plan that would see British and US troops push on beyond Berlin alongside a rearmed German army in a nuclear war against the Soviets.

History is now repeating itself, this time as farce. From 2014 until September 2015, ISIS appeared to sweep all before them, achieving hugely symbolic victories in Iraq’s Mosul and Fallujah, Syria’s Raqqa and Palmyra, and Libya’s Derna and Sirte. At the same time, under Saudi and Turkish tutelage, Al Qaeda’s ‘Al Nusra front’ was making gains in Syria, and the Ansar Sharia faction in Libya took Benghazi, paving the way for a major ISIS infiltration. The West did little to help. In Syria, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had been left to fight such groups not only bereft of support from the West, but facing a West apparently determined to destroy them. Similarly, the Libyan National Army – representing the elected Libyan parliament – was hamstrung by an arms embargo scrupulously observed in relation to them, but regularly violated by the West’s gulf allies when it came to the ‘Libya Dawn’ sectarian militias who were attacking them. And even the US’ supposedly closest allies in the Iraqi army, the elite ‘Golden Division’, had trouble getting effective US support when they needed it. 

Despite this, starting with last September’s Russian intervention in Syria, the tide has begun to turn

against ISIS and Al Qaeda, paving the way for a string of victories by the Syrian Arab Army and the Libyan National Army in particular, and pointing, potentially, towards the full restoration of governmental authority in both countries.

In Libya, the key moment was in February 2016, when the Libyan National Army finally regained control of Benghazi from ISIS and Ansar Sharia after 18 months of intense fighting. Both the ISIS presence in Benghazi and the city’s liberation were predictably downplayed in Western media, despite the city’s fate having been apparently so important to British and US leaders back in 2011. On May 3rd, the Libyan National Army began its march West from Benghazi towards ISIS’ last Libyan holdout in Sirte.

In February, too, a massive Syrian army offensive towards Aleppo began to make serious gains, taking territory from Al Qaeda, ISIS and Ahrar Al Sham. On February 3rd, the supply route to Aleppo was severed, breaking a rebel siege of two government-held towns south of Azaz. Mass surrenders to the SAA followed, including 1200 in Hama. Then, exactly one month later, the world-historic city of Palmyra was liberated from ISIS by Syrian government forces backed with Russian air support. In what was presumably an attempt to appear relevant, the US had also launched two token airstrikes on the city, illustrating, said journalist Robert Fisk, that the US “want to destroy iSIS – but not that much”.

Today, ISIS’ original stronghold, the capital of its self-declared caliphate, is itself under threat. The Times reported earlier this week that a massively re-moralised Syrian army, is “storming towards the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa” and that “the Syrian regime’s elite Desert Hawks unit, backed by the Russian airstrikes, crossed the southern border of Raqqa province at the weekend – the first time that any of Assad’s forces have set foot there since being driven out by isis nearly two years ago.” They have been making swift advances.

Throughout 2016, then, the national armed forces of Libya and Syria, representing the elected governments of both countries, have been on a roll; and the days of ISIS and their sectarian bedfellows may well be numbered. So it is interesting that it is precisely this moment – not when ISIS were making gains, but now that they are facing defeat – that British troops have deigned to openly enter the fray.

The same edition of the Times that reported that the SAA were “storming towards …Raqqa” also carried, as its front page story, the news that “British special forces are on the frontline in Syria defending a rebel unit”, noting that “the operation marks the first evidence of the troops’ direct involvement in the war-torn country rather than just training rebels in Jordan.” And the same newspaper had reported the previous week that British special forces undertook their first known combat mission in Libya on May 12th, in support of the ‘Libya Dawn’ faction of the Libyan civil war. Libya Dawn is an umbrella group of mainly Misrata-based militias that emerged following the elections of June 2014 under Qatari patronage to fight against the newly elected secular parliament, and its armed forces, the Libyan National Army (LNA). The Times tacitly acknowledged that, up until now, the LNA has been fighting ISIS alone, noting that “MIsrata had largely ignored the metastasis of ISIS in Sirte, 170 miles away, since the first terrorist cells embedded themselves there in 2013”. Now, however, alongside the British ‘boots on the ground’ that Cameron vowed would never step foot in Libya, they have suddenly found themselves the ‘chosen force’ to liberate the country.

As in 1945, having sat back whilst a vicious and genocidal group laid waste to thousands upon thousands of soldiers fighting alone against them, the Cameron regime now wants to deny those armies the fruits of their heroic sacrifices. Cameron would rather see Raqqa and Sirte liberated by a ragtag of militias with little to unite them other than their sectarianism, than to see the authority of the elected governments restored. With British troops now in combat roles alongside the insurgents in Syria, however, this raises

the prospect of a direct confrontation with Russian forces. Just like Churchill in 1945, it appears he is quite prepared to risk this. Back then, saner heads prevailed. The question is – where are those heads now?

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. The US is too dependent on Al Qaeda to give them up

 

3rd November 2016 

 

It was the big idea that was supposed to herald a new era of US-Russian co-operation in Syria: the separation of Western-backed ‘moderate rebels’ from groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, in order that the former could be brought into political negotiations whilst the latter were targeted by combined US and Russian military operations. Russia and Syria managed to get the UN Security Council to agree to a ban on the funding, training and arming of foreign fighters joining such groups back in September 2014, whilst the US-Russia ceasefire agreement this September reiterated that “separating moderate opposition forces from Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, now rebranded as Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham]” was “a key priority”. As Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov recalled at a press conference last week, “our agreements with the Americans linked this separation to a seven-day period of quiet. At the end of the period, the Americans undertook to show us on the map exactly where they believed there were terrorists and where there were none. On this basis, we should have jointly coordinated targets for effective engagement. To reiterate, they requested seven days for that, insisting that a seven-day pause should be a precondition. We announced this pause but it was violated with a strike against Syrian Army detachments three days later” – when, lest we forget, British and US bomber jets carried out a sustained attack on Syrian army troops fighting ISIS in Deir al-Zour, killing 62 and wounding over 100, effectively burying the ceasefire. Nevertheless, in response to Western demands, Syrian and Russian planes again suspended airstrikes on Aleppo two weeks ago, giving the US another chance to make good on its promises to ‘separate’ its favoured rebel factions from the Al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front. A fortnight later, however – and fully ten months after his initial public call (at an International Syria Support Group meeting in February) for so-called ‘moderates’ to separate themselves from Al Qaeda and co – Kerry was still pleading for them to have more time to do so.

 

Events on the ground, meanwhile, have been moving entirely in the other direction. More and more of the groups supposedly fighting under the West’s ‘Free Syrian Army’ banner (never much more than a fiction to which militias could pledge mythical allegiance in exchange for Western finance and weaponry) have been fighting with the Al Nusra-led Jaysh Al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) alliance since it was launched in March last year. Indeed, so successful has this formation been – both in terms of capturing territory, mainly in Idlib province, and in establishing Nusra’s hegemony over the various insurgent factions – that its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, apparently believes the ‘grand merger’ of rebel groups he has long dreamed of, fully integrated under a Nusra chain of command, is now a realistic possibility.

 

It is no surprise, then, that it is precisely this Nusra-led formation that has been leading the ‘rebel’ onslaught against government-held Western Aleppo launched last Friday, complete with car bombs, rockets and mortars directed against residential areas. These are thought to have killed at least 41 civilians, including 16 children, in “relentless and indiscriminate” raids that have “shocked and appalled” the UN Special Envoy to Syria Steffan de Mistura. The Independent’s Robert Fisk, reporting from the area following a rebel rocket attack, described “a younger boy [lying] on a hospital trolley, a doctor picking metal out of his face, all his limbs heavily bandaged. He was writhing in agony, moving his legs wildly, comforted by the director of the school”.

 

Will attacks like these, then, increase the urgency with which the US pursues its supposed desire to separate the groups in receipt of its largesse from their ‘Al Qaeda lite’ allies?

 

This is highly unlikely: Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem was probably correct when he stated last week that the US is unwilling to separate the factions its backs from Al Nusra, despite its repeated commitments to do so, for two main reasons.

 

Firstly, rebel groups have openly targeted civilians since 2011, often on the basis of ethnicity, religion or political beliefs, and this has never bothered their Western backers before. Indeed, the rebels – then operating under the banner of the pro-Western Free Syrian Army – heralded their entry in Aleppo in 2012 with two massive car bombs in the city centre and the burning down of the city’s centuries-old souks. This was followed up with a bomb attack on Aleppo University on January 15th 2013, killing 80, as part of the rebels’ ‘morale bombing’ campaign against supporters of the government. Two months later, one Syrian soldier and 19 civilians were killed in the village of Khan Al-Assal near Aleppo in a gas attack suspected by the UN Mission investigating it to have been carried out by the opposition. And as early as December 2012, Channel 4 News were reporting on suspected massacres of Alawite civilians by ‘Free Syrian Army’ fighters, massacres which have been a mainstay of rebel activities. Far from dampening Western enthusiasm for the rebel cause, this particular report was followed up with calls by David Cameron to step up its assistance to the insurgency, who promised a doubling of British aid to the rebels within months. The targeting of civilians has never damaged Western support in the past, and is unlikely to do so now.

 

Secondly, aside from ISIS and the Syrian army, Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham and Ahrar Al Sham are clearly the most effective fighting groups on the ground, and the other rebel factions and its Western backers clearly understand this. And again, this is nothing new; sectarian Salafist groups have been the leading force in the insurgency since the start, as the West has always been fully aware. The now notorious US Defence Intelligence Agency memo of 12th August 2012, for example – which was circulated to, amongst others, the State Department, the CIA, the FBI and Central Command – noted that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” And to prevent any ambiguity, DIA chief at the time, Michael Flynn, then confirmed in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan, that the US government’s backing of such forces was not based on ignorance, nor a mistake, but was rather a “willful decision”. Such groups have always been the driving force of the West’s anti-Syria operation, and the US government understands well that its insurgency would soon fizzle out without them. As the US’s primary aim remains the destruction of the Syrian state rather than the defeat of terrorism, therefore, they are unlikely to make any serious attempt to divide their proxies from the fighting forces of Al Qaeda. We can, instead, expect more pleas for time from the likes of John Kerry, and more spurious rhetoric about the US commitment to fighting terrorism, combined with continued material support for groups openly allied to Al Qaeda. In other words: more of the sordid same.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

Part 4 – Fascism abroad – the destruction of sovereignty and the creation of failed states

 

  1. Libya’s lesson for Iran: beware rapprochement 

 

10th November 2014 

 

3 years ago, in late October 2011, the world witnessed the final defeat of the Libyan Jamahiriya – the name by which the Libyan state was known until overthrown in 2011, meaning literally the ‘state of the masses’ – in the face of a massive onslaught from NATO, its regional allies and local collaborators.  

It took seven months for the world’s most powerful military alliance – with a combined military spending of just under $1 trillion per year – to fully destroy the Jamahiriya (a state with a population the size of Wales) and it took a joint British-French-Qatari special forces operation to finally win control of the capital. In total, 10,000 strike sorties were rained down on Libya, tens of thousands killed and injured, and the country left a battleground for hundreds of warring factions, armed to the teeth with weapons either looted from state armouries or provided directly by NATO and its allies. Britain, France and the US had led a war which had effectively transformed a peaceful, prosperous African country into a textbook example of a ‘failed state’.

Yet the common image of Libya in the months and years leading up to the invasion was that of a state that had ‘come in from the cold’ and was now enjoying friendly relations with the West. Tony Blair’s famous embrace of Gaddafi in his tent in 2004 was said to have ushered in a new period of ‘rapprochement’, with Western companies rushing to do business in the oil-rich African state, and Gaddafi’s abandonment of a nuclear deterrent apparently indicative of the new spirit of trust and co-operation between Libya and the West.

This image was largely a myth. Yes, sanctions were lifted and diplomatic relations restored; but this did not represent any newfound trust and friendship. Gaddafi himself never changed his opinion that the forces of old and new colonialism remained bitter enemies of African unity and independence, and for their part, the US, Britain and France continued to resent the assertiveness and autonomy of Libyan foreign policy under Gaddafi’s leadership. The African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG) – an elite US think tank comprising congressmen, military officers and energy industry lobbyists – warned in 2002 that the influence of “adversaries such as Libya” would only grow unless the US significantly increased its military presence on the continent. Yet, despite ‘rapprochement’, Gaddafi remained a staunch opponent of such a presence, as noted with anxiety in frequent diplomatic cables from the US Embassy. One, for example, from 2009, noted that “the presence of non-African military elements in Libya or elsewhere on the continent” was almost a “neuralgic issue” for Gaddafi. Another cable from 2008 quoted a pro-Western Libyan government official as saying that “there will be no real economic or political reform in Libya until al-Gaddafi passes from the political scene” which would “not happen while Gaddafi is alive”; hardly the image of a man bending to the will of the West. Gaddafi had clearly not been moved by the flattery towards Libya (or “appropriate deference” as another US Embassy cable put it) that was much in evidence during the period of ‘rapprochement’. Indeed, at the Arab League summit in March 2008, he warned the assembled heads of state that, following the execution of Saddam Hussein, a former “close friend” of the US, “in the future, it’s going to be your turn too…Even you, the friends of America – no, I will say we, we the friends of America – America may approve of our hanging one day”. So much for a new period of trust and co-operation. Whilst business deals were being signed, Gaddafi remained implacably opposed to the US and European military presence on the continent (as well as leading the fight to reduce their economic presence) and understood well that this might cost him his life. The US too understood this, and despite their outward flattery, behind the scenes were worried and resentful.

Given what we know now about what has taken place in Libya – both during the so-called ‘rapprochement’ between 2004 and 2011, and from 2011 onwards – it is appropriate to take stock of this experience in order to see what lessons can be learned about the West’s approach to its relations with other countries of the global South.

Lesson one: Beware rapprochement

As has beens seen, the so-called rapprochement period was anything but. The US continued to remain hostile to the independent spirit of Libya – as evidenced most obviously by Gaddafi’s opposition to the presence of US and European military forces in Africa – and it now seems that they and the British used this period to prepare the ground for the war that eventually took place in 2011.

The US, for example, used their newfound access to Libyan officials to cultivate relations with those who would become their key local allies during the war. Leaked diplomatic cables show that pro-Western Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul-Jalil arranged covert meetings between US and Libyan government officials that bypassed the usual official channels and were therefore ‘under the radar’ of the foreign ministry and central government. He was also able to speed up the prisoner release programme that led to the release of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group insurgents who ultimately acted as NATO’s shock troops during the 2011 war. The head of the LIFG – Al Qaeda’s franchise in Libya – eventually became head of Tripoli’s military council whilst Abdul-Jalil himself became head of the ‘Transitional National Council’ that was installed by NATO following the fall of the Jamahiriya.

Another key figure groomed by the US in the years preceding the invasion was Mahmoud Jibril, Head of the National Economic Development Board from 2007, who arranged six US training programmes for Libyan diplomats, many of whom subsequently resigned and sided with the US and Britain once the rebellion and invasion got underway.

Finally, the security and intelligence co-operation that was an element of the ‘rapprochement’ period was used to provide the CIA and MI6 with an unprecedented level of information about both Libyan security forces and opposition elements they could cultivate that would prove invaluable for the conduct of the war.

Lesson one therefore is – rapprochement, whilst appearing to be an improvement in relations, may actually be a ‘long game’ to lay the groundwork for naked aggression, by building up intelligence and sounding out possible collaborators, effectively building up a fifth column within the state itself. This does not mean it should not be done; it merely means it should be approached with extreme caution and scepticism on the part of states of the global South. It should be understood that, for the West, it is almost certainly a means of waging ‘war by other means’, to paraphrase Clausewitz. This is particularly pertinent to the case of Iran, a current recipient of the poisoned chalice that is ‘warmer relations’ with the West (although this ‘thaw’ may yet be scuppered by a rabid Congress with no patience for the long game).

Lesson two: For the West, regime change has become a euphemism for total societal destruction

I try to avoid the term ‘regime change’, as it implies a change of one ‘regime’ (usually understood as relatively functional and stable state, albeit a potentially ruthless one) to another. In the recent history of so-called ‘regime changes’ by the West, this has never happened. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, ‘regimes’ have not been replaced by other ‘regimes’, but rather states have been destroyed and

replaced instead by ‘failed states’, where security is largely non-existent, and no single armed force is strong enough to constitute itself as a ‘state’ in the traditional sense of establishing a monopoly of legitimate violence. This in turn leads to further societal and sectarian divisions emerging, as no group feels protected by the state, and each look instead to a militia who will defend their specific locality, tribe or sect – and thus the problem perpetuates itself, with the insecurity generated by the presence of some powerful militias leading to the creation of others. The result, therefore, is the total breakdown of national society, with not only security, but all government functions becoming increasingly difficult to carry out.

In Libya, not only were various sectarian militia such as LIFG armed and empowered by the US, Britain and France during the war against the Jamahiriya, but their power was then boosted by the new NATO-backed government that followed. In May 2012, Law 38 effectively granted impunity to the militias, making them immune for prosecution not only for crimes committed during the war against the Jamahiriya (such as the well documented slaughter of immigrants and black skinned Libyans), but also for ongoing crimes deemed “essential to the revolution”. This law effectively gave a free pass to the militias to murder their real or imagined opponents, building on the boost to the authority that they had already gained two months earlier. In March 2012, many of the militias had been incorporated into a new police force (the Supreme Security Committee) and a new army (the Libya Shield) – not only legitimising them, but providing them with further material resources with which to continue their violence and their ability to impose their will on the country’s legal – but largely powerless – authorities. Since then, the new militia-run police force has led violent campaigns against the country’s Sufi minority, destroying several shrines in 2013. The same year, they also besieged several government ministries, in a (successful) attempt to force the government to pass a law criminalising supporters of the former government (a move which will jeopardise security yet further by barring hundreds of thousands of experienced officials from government work). The Libyan Shield, meanwhile, carried out a massacre of 47 peaceful protesters in Tripoli in November last year, and later kidnapped the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. They are currently involved in a war to oust the newly elected government that has likely cost the lives of thousands since it started this June. This is not ‘regime change’ – what NATO has created is not a new regime, but conditions of permanent civil war.

Many in both Libya and Syria now regret having acted as NATO’s foot soldiers in sowing the seeds of destruction in their own countries. Anyone expecting future ‘regime change’ operations conducted by the West to result in stable democracies – or even stable theocracies for that matter – need look no further than Libya for their answer. Western military power cannot change regimes – it can only destroy societies.

Lesson three – Once Western military powers get their foot in the door, they won’t leave voluntarily until the state has been destroyed

Although the war on Libya was begun under the authorisation of UN Security Council resolution (1973), it is important to note that this resolution only authorised the establishment of a no-fly zone and the prevention of Libyan state forces entering Benghazi. This was achieved within days. Everything that NATO did subsequently was beyond the terms of the resolution and therefore illegal; a point that was made vehemently by many who had supported (or at least not opposed) the resolution, including Russia, China, South Africa and even elements within the Arab League.

Regardless of the pretext, once the US and UK are militarily involved in a country on their hit list, no one should expect to stick to that pretext. For them, UNSC 1973 allowed them to bomb Libya. The precise legal goals became immaterial – once they had been given the green light to bomb, they were not going to stop until the Jamahiriya was destroyed and Gaddafi dead, whatever the original legal reasoning that allowed them to go in.

A useful analogy here is that of a robber going to an old lady’s house posing as a gas man. Once he is inside, he is not going to stick to reading the gas meter – he is going to rob her house (as his track record would have made abundantly clear). 

Obviously, this lesson is most pertinent in Syria, where the US, likely to be soon joined by the UK, are conducting airstrikes ostensibly ‘to destroy ISIS’. Given their avowed long term aim to topple the Syrian state, and their only recent (and arguably half hearted at best), conversion to seeing ISIS fighters as enemies rather than valiant freedom fighting allies, this is to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Lesson four – State destruction cannot be achieved without ground forces

A little noted aspect of the Libyan war (which has, however, been covered in detail by Horace Campbell) is the fact that the capital, Tripoli, was taken largely by Qatari ground troops co-ordinated by French and British special forces (in direct contravention of UNSC 1973). Indeed, no part of Libya was held by the rebels alone for any significant length of time without massive NATO bombardment of Libyan state forces; after the first three weeks, once the Libyan army got on top of the insurgency, not a single battle was won by the rebels until NATO started bombing. Even then, rebels could generally only take towns if NATO forces had completely destroyed the resistance first – and would still often be chased out again by the Libyan army a few days later. This is despite the fact that many of the Misrata militias were under the direct command of British special forces.

This state of affairs meant the taking of the capital was always going to be deeply problematic. The solution was Operation Mermaid Dawn – an invasion of Tripoli in late August by Qatari ground forces, French intelligence and the British SAS, preceded by several days of intensified airstrikes. Whilst it is true that local collaborators joined in once the invasion was on the way, and indeed some rebel units had prior knowledge, the reality is that the fall of Tripoli was overwhelmingly a foreign planned and executed operation.

This is all highly relevant to the situation in Syria right now. For most of this year, momentum in the Syrian war had been on the side of the government, most obviously in its retaking of the former rebel stronghold of Homs in May. Whilst this momentum was to some extent reversed by ISIS following its gains in Iraq, nevertheless it remains clear that hopes of a rebel victory without a Western air campaign seem unlikely. What Libya shows, however, is that even WITH air support, rebel militias are unlikely to achieve victory without an accompanying ground occupation. In Syria’s case, this may be even more necessary, as switching airstrikes from ISIS to Syrian government forces will be far more difficult than in Libya given the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles provided by Russia last year. This may make ground occupation the more viable option. With Western media attempting to put pressure on Turkey to mount a ground occupation, there may be hopes that Turkish forces will play in Syria the role that Qatari forces played in Libya.

The Libya war opened the eyes of many – or should have. But the overriding lesson – if it needed reiterating – should be the realisation that the US, the UK, France and their allies will stop at nothing, including even the imposition of total societal collapse, in order to attempt to reverse their declining global economic position through military destruction. This is the reality behind all talk of protecting

civilians, humanitarianism, and democracy promotion, and all Western military intervention should be seen in this light.

An edited version of this article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. Israel’s target is not Hamas, but Palestinian statehood 

 

8th August 2014 

 

All colonial settler states are based on the violent dispossession of the native peoples – and as a result, their fundamental and overriding aim has always been to keep those native peoples as weak as possible. Israel’s aim for the Palestinians is no different.

Palestinian statehood is clearly an obstacle to this goal; a Palestinian state would strengthen the Palestinians. Genuine sovereignty would end Israel’s current presumed right to steal their land, control their borders, place them under siege, and bomb them at will. That is why Netanyahu’s Likud party platform “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”; that is why Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for even suggesting some limited self-governance for the Palestinians; and that is why every proposal for Palestinian statehood, however limited and conditional, has been wilfully sabotaged by successive Israeli governments of all hues.

Within three years of the 1993 Oslo declaration, for example, which promised self-governance for Palestinian areas, foreign minister Ariel Sharon was urging “everyone”  to “grab as many hilltops as they can” in order to minimise the size and viability of the area to be administered by Palestinian Authority. The 1999 election of a Labour Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, made no difference, ushering in “a sustained commitment by Israel’s government to avoid full compliance with the Oslo agreement”, according to Jimmy Carter, most notably in the form of the greatest increase in illegal Israeli settlements that had yet taken place. The popular story that Barak had made a ‘generous offer’ on Palestinian statehood at negotiations in Taba in 2001, turned out to be a complete myth.

In the 2000s, the stakes were raised by the discovery of 1.4trillion cubic metres of natural gas in Gaza’s territorial waters, leading Israel to immediately strengthen its maritime blockade of Gaza to prevent Palestinian access to the reserves. But Palestinian sovereignty over this gas would obviously enormously strengthen the economic position of any future Palestinian state – and thus made the Israelis more determined than ever to prevent such a state from coming into being.

The Saudi peace plan, then, in 2002, turned out to be something of a problem for Israel. Accepted by 22 members of the Arab League, and offering complete normalisation of Israeli-Arab relations in exchange for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders (just 22% of historic Palestine), it was welcomed by the US, and followed up with a statement by George W. Bush in support of a Palestinian state – the first such statement by any US president. This does not imply that the US is in any way committed to genuine Palestinian sovereignty. What the US seeks is rather a thoroughly compromised entity, devoid of all significant attributes of statehood (border control, airspace control, etc) and dependent on Israel, but which it would call a state – and thus would provide the Arab states with a pretext for overt collaboration with Israel . As Jeff Halper has explained, for the US, as for the Saudis, the idea behind the Saudi peace was actually to strengthen Israel, by facilitating Arab support for Israeli-US action against Iran, and thus establishing solid US-Israeli hegemony across the entire Middle East. In other words, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states wanted a (feeble) Palestinian state to come into existence, in order to justify the collaboration with Zionism being demanded of them by their US masters. But Israel does not particularly want or perceive the need for Arab support. Indeed, the image of the plucky little victim, besieged by ‘hostile enemies’ on all sides, is a fundamental plank of the Israeli national psyche, necessary to ensure the continued identification of the population with the militaristic state and its expansionist policies. And more importantly, in the zero-sum game of settler-vs-native politics, any Palestinian state, however toothless, represents an intolerable retreat for the Zionists.

This problem – of a growing consensus in support of a Palestinian state – was compounded for Israel in 2003, when the so-called “Quartet” (US, the UN, Russia and the EU) produced their ‘roadmap’ for peace, based, like the Saudi plan, on the principle of a Palestinian state being a fundamental prerequisite for lasting peace. Whilst the Israelis publicly accepted the ‘roadmap’, behind the scenes they listed 14 ‘caveats’ and preconditions which rendered it meaningless and unworkable – effectively refusing to make any concessions whatsoever until the Palestinians were completely disarmed and their major organisations dissolved, whilst other caveats stripped any ‘state’ that might somehow emerge of all major attributes of statehood and sovereignty, just in case.

Since then, there have been various attempts by the US at restarting ‘negotiations’ on this roadmap, despite Israel’s obvious hostility to its declared aim of Palestinian statehood. In the latest round, beginning in July 2013, the Palestinians – who had already conceded the 78% of historic Palestine conquered before 1967 – even agreed to drop their demand that talks should be based on the 1967 borders. Yet none of this made any difference to Israel, who worked hard to scupper the negotiations as best they could. As historian Avi Shlaim put it, “During the nine months of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks orchestrated by secretary of state John Kerry, Netanyahu did not put forward a single constructive proposal and all the while kept expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Kerry and his adviser, General John Allen, drew up a security plan that they thought would enable Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank. Israel’s serial refusnik dismissed it contemptuously as not worth the paper it was written on.” After nine months of this futile enterprise in self-humiliation, John Kerry threw in the towel in desperation, saying the two sides would have to work it out between themselves.

Israel’s excuse for its reluctance to take negotiations seriously has always rested on two planks: a) Palestinian ‘terrorism’ and b) Palestinian ‘disunity’. Both of these, Israel claims, means it has no ‘partner for peace’; no one to negotiate with – either because they are terrorists, or because there is no single entity representing the Palestinian population who they can talk to. In 2006, following the election of Hamas, the US and EU effectively supported this line, and joined forces with Israel in refusing to recognise Hamas as the governing body of the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, when a unity government was formed with Fatah the following year (combining the two parties who together represented 86% of the popular vote), it was not recognised as legitimate by Israel’s international backers who

instead supported a government led by Salam Fayyad, whose party had gained just 2% in the previous year’s election.

However, reaction to the recent unity government announced in April this year was very different. A government of ‘technocrats’ – comprising not a single Hamas member – was endorsed by both Fatah and Hamas in an attempt to end the isolation and strangulation of the Gaza strip. As noted in the Independent at the time, this “new government would “adhere to the conditions of the Middle East Quartet [the EU, UN Russia and US], recognise Israel, ratify all signed agreements and renounce violence” according to a “senior Palestinian official” quoted on the Times of Israel site. As such, it was welcomed by both the US and the EU. Israel no longer had ‘Palestinian disunity’ as an excuse for refusing to engage in peace talks. Nor did they have ‘terrorism’ as an excuse, as Hamas had steadfastly stood by the terms of the 2012 ceasefire, not only ceasing their own rocket fire, but also successfully preventing rocket attacks by other Palestinian groups in Gaza. And all this despite continuous violations of the ceasefire by Israel beginning before the ink was even dry – from a refusal to lift the blockade (as required by the ceasefire terms), to continued attacks on Palestinians, killing 4 and maiming nearly 100 within the first three months of the ‘ceasefire’ alone. Even after Israeli attacks were stepped up over the past year, with four Palestinian children shot dead by Israeli forces between December 2013 and May 2014, including a 15 year old shot in the back from 100m, Hamas held their fire.

Netanyahu’s narrative of negotiations being impossible due to Palestinian terrorism and disunity was being increasingly undermined by reality – and crucially, his US-EU backers were not buying it. The Israeli government responded to the unity government by “what can only be described as economic warfare. It prevented the 43,000 civil servants in Gaza from moving from the Hamas payroll to that of the Ramallah government and it tightened siege round Gaza’s borders thereby nullifying the two main benefits of the merger” (Avi Shlaim). Still Hamas held their fire.

What Netanyahu really needed was a provocation against Hamas to which they would be forced to respond. Such as response would again allow him to paint them as the bloodthirsty terrorists with whom one can never negotiate, would provide the opportunity for another wave of devastation in Gaza, and would exacerbate tensions within the unity government between Fatah and Hamas.

Nine days after the swearing in of the unity government, on June 11th, the IDF made a raid on Gaza in which they killed a 10 year old boy on a bicycle. But still Hamas held their fire.

The following day, however, the apparent kidnapping of three Israeli settlers in the West Bank provided the opportunity for a provocation on an altogether larger scale. Having blamed the kidnapping on Hamas (without ever producing a scrap of evidence), Netanyahu used it as an excuse for an attack on the entire Hamas leadership in the West Bank, while his economy minister Naftali Bennett announced that “We’re turning the membership card for Hamas into a ticket to hell”. Operation Brother’s Keeper did precisely that, with 335 Hamas

leaders arrested (including over 50 who had only just been released under a prisoner exchange scheme), and well over 1000 house raids (which left them looking “like an earthquake had taken place” according to one Palestinian activist). Noam Chomsky notes: “The 18-day rampage….did succeed in undermining the feared unity government, and sharply increasing Israeli repression. According to Israeli military sources, Israeli soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six Palestinians, also searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000. Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing 5 Hamas members on July 7. Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 19 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext for Operation Protective Edge on July 8.” Thus having killed eleven Palestinians in under a month, Israel then used retaliatory rocket attacks which killed no one as an excuse to launch the biggest slaughter of Palestinians in decades.

Operation Protective Edge went on to kill or maim over 12,000 Palestinians over the course of the month that followed. But for Israel, it allowed it to push forward its key aim – prevention the formation of a functioning Palestinian state – on a number of fronts. Firstly, it helped to rekindle tensions between Fatah and Hamas that the unity government had threatened to heal. Fatah’s existing co-operation agreements with Israeli security obliged them to cooperate with the crackdown on Hamas in West Bank that was supposedly a ‘hunt for kidnappers’, which obviously led to suspicion and mistrust between the two parties. Furthermore, as Fadi Elhusseini has pointed out, ““Protective Edge” gave the new Palestinian unity government that irked Israel a heavy blow. Any plans of this new government to implement the reconciliation deal and prepare for national elections have gone by the wayside as priorities have changed in the face of Israeli aggression. Also, Israel bet — as it has always done — on contradictory positions among Palestinians on how to deal with its aggression, increasing the chances for setback in Palestinian reconciliation.” A breakdown in the unity government, of course, would once again provide Israel with the pretext for avoiding negotiations with the Palestinians on the grounds that they are not united.

Secondly, even as it enraged global public opinion, Israel’s blitzkrieg succeeded in getting Western governments back in line behind its ‘Hamas terrorists can never be trusted’ propaganda line: Elhusseini wrote that “Tellingly, whereas most of the actors in the international community started to accept the Palestinian position and reprimand the adamant stands of Israel, which became a quasi-loner state, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli fold, announcing that Israel has the right to defend itself, regardless of its excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians.” Indeed, having in April faced a US government supporting the unity government, once the massacre of Gazans (and corresponding rocket fire) was under way, the US Senate instead voted unanimously in support of Israeli aggression against Gaza while condemning “the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel” by Hamas and calling on “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel.”

Third, the onslaught was an opportunity to destroy as much as possible of the infrastructure that would provide the basis for a Palestinian state. Of course, as the Israelis openly stated, this includes the military defence infrastructure, primitive as it is, but also all the economic infrastructure necessary for a functioning society. Thus, Israeli shelling destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, cutting off electricity for 80% of Gaza’s 1.6 million inhabitants, as well as dozens of wells, reservoirs and water pipelines, according to a recent report by Oxfam. A summary by Middle East Monitor notes that  Oxfam “estimate that 15,000 tons of solid waste is rotting on the streets, wastewater pumping stations are on the verge of running out of fuel and many neighbourhoods have been without power for days, due to Israel’s bombing of the only power plant in Gaza. Oxfam said it was working in an environment that has a completely destroyed water infrastructure that prevents people in Gaza from cooking, flushing toilets, or washing hands, emphasising that the huge risk to public health. “Gaza’s infrastructure will take months or years to fully recover,” the head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel reported.” The head of UNICEF’s field office in Gaza, Pernille Ironside, added that “There is a very limited amount of water available and it is used for drinking which means that there is not enough water for sanitary purposes. We see children who come from shelters infected with scabies, lice and all kinds of infectious diseases. The worst thing is that most people outside the shelters did not receive water for several weeks now. It is horrible that they have not been able to receive any clean drinking water that is not contaminated by sewage which can lead to diarrhoea and increases child mortality, especially among those under five years old”.

In addition to attacks on water and electricity infrastructure, the private economy has also come under attack. The biggest factory in Gaza, a biscuit factory that had just won the contract to supply the UN in Gaza, was completely obliterated by Israeli shellfire, and even conservative British daily the Telegraph notes that “anecdotal evidence of the systematic destruction of Gaza’s civilian economy and infrastructure is compelling”. The report is worth quoting at length: “Outside central Gaza City, a string of businesses with no obvious links to militant activities lie in ruins after being demolished by missiles or shells. They include a plastics factory, a sponge-making plant and even the headquarters of the territory’s main fruit distribution near the northern town of Beit Hanoun, much of which has been levelled in the Israeli land invasion.

A few miles north of the Alawada plant, the headquarters of the El Majd Industrial and Trading Corporation – producing cardboard boxes, cartons and plastic bags – was reduced to a heap of concrete and twisted metal.

It had taken two direct hits from missiles fired by an Israeli war plane in the early hours of Monday morning, according to Hassan Jihad, 25, the factory caretaker, who survived fortuitously because he had moved to the company’s administrative headquarters outside the main factory for the duration of the conflict.

He too had little doubt about the reason behind the strike. “The Israelis are trying to destroy the economy and paralyse Gaza,” he said. “This is the only factory in the Gaza Strip producing cardboard containers. We don’t have any rockets in the place.”

Roward International, Gaza’s biggest dairy importer and distribution company, met a similar fate on Thursday afternoon. Its plant in the al-Karama neighbourhood was totally flattened by a missile after an Israeli army operator phoned in a warning in time for its 60 workers to be evacuated.

Majdi Abu Hamra, 35, accounts manager in the family-run business, said the firm bought milk from producers in the West Bank, before importing it into Gaza via Israel.

The territory’s main power plant – also on Salaheddin Road, not far from the Alawada factory – went up in flames last Tuesday after being struck by Israeli shells. Israel denied targeting the plant but experts say it is now out of commission for the next year, leaving Gaza virtually without any electricity other than that supplied by generators. The resulting shortage has already affected the water supply, with power now insufficient to pump water to homes located above ground level.

In addition, a public health crisis may be looming after two sewage pumping stations – one in the crowded Zeitoun area, the other near Gaza’s coastal road – were damaged in strikes on neighbouring targets, prompting UN officials to warn that raw sewage could flow onto the streets in the coming days.

Trond Husby, head of the UN’s development programme in Gaza, was non-committal when asked if he believed Israeli forces were deliberately targeting private businesses in Gaza.

But about the effects of the damage, he was unequivocal. “This is a humanitarian disaster,” he said. “I was in Somalia for two years, Sierra Leone for five, and also South Sudan and Uganda, and this beats them all for the level of destruction.””

Finally, as many commentators have noted, even if Israel were successful in its stated aim of destroying or weakening Hamas, this would only result in even more militant groups emerging, perhaps even Al Qaeda type groups such as ISIS, gaining support from a traumatised population by promising revenge attacks and uncompromising armed jihad. Whilst many have argued that this would somehow be against Israel’s interests, the reverse is likely to be true. Groups such as ISIS have played a key role in facilitating US and British policies in the Middle East in recent years, by weakening independent regional powers (or potential regional powers) such as Libya, Syria and now Iraq. They would likely have the same effect on Palestine, and would certainly set back the prospects for the emergence of a Palestinian state: they would never countenance, for example, unity with Fatah, and would rather serve to provide a permanent pretext for savage Israeli attacks which Western Europe and North America would be obliged to support. Moreover, if Gaza became an ungoverned and ungovernable disaster zone – which is what Israel is in the process of creating – there would of course be no question of its gaining sovereignty over its territory, and even less over its waters and gas reserves. Israel would remain free to bomb at will, just as the US and Britain remain free to bomb at will in the failed states they have created in Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Iraq.

The desire to destroy any potential for Palestinian statehood, then, explains why Israel have

launched their latest round of bloodletting. But to understand how it has become emboldened enough to launch their most destructive attack in decades requires an understanding of the regional context.

The Palestinian struggle for independence rises and falls with the overall Arab struggle for independence. Whilst many commentators have focused on the fall of President Morsi in Egypt to explain Hamas’ weakness and relative isolation, in fact the Western-sponsored wars against Libya, Syria and Hezbollah are of greater significance. These wars have either destroyed or seriously weakened three of the major independent and anti-Zionist forces in the region, and thus strengthened Israel’s ability to act with impunity. As George Friedman explains, “Currently, Israel is as secure as it is ever likely to be….Israel’s economy towers over its neighbours….Jordan is locked into a close relation with Israel, Egypt has its peace treaty and Hezbollah is bogged down in Syria. Apart from Gaza, which is a relatively minor threat, Israel’s position is difficult to improve.” Clearly, the ongoing transformation of Libya and Syria into failed states at the hands of Western-sponsored sectarian militias serves the long term Israeli goal of dividing and weakening all its regional foes (real or potential). Recognising this obvious point, an incendiary 1982 journal piece by Israeli academic Oded Yinon (notable not so much for its originality as for its blunt honesty) explicitly called for the region’s balkanisation: “Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. … This state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area [sic – he means Israel] in the long run, and that aim is already within our reach today”. He goes on to describe the coming break-up of Iraq with remarkable prescience: “Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel….Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.” Thus, the Western-backed offensive in Syria, and its current spillover into Iraq, directly serves Israeli goals by weakening all potential counterweights to Israeli dominion in the region – and thus directly facilitates Israel’s current slaughter.

In this respect, the overthrow of Egyptian President Morsi by the Egyptian army actually strengthened the Arab position, ending the divisive policies which were causing huge religious rifts internally, and ending the prospect of Egypt gratuitously tearing itself apart through direct military involvement in the Syrian civil war. Indeed, Morsi’s policies had been well on the way to realising Yinon’s dream of a balkanised Egypt. In 1982, he wrote that “Egypt, in its present domestic political picture, is already a corpse, all the more so if we take into account the growing Moslem-Christian rift. Breaking Egypt down territorially into distinct geographical regions is the political aim of Israel in the Nineteen Eighties on its

Western front.”By thoroughly alienating the country’s Christian communities, Morsi was paving the way for precisely such a scenario to unfold. Regardless of Hamas’ relationship with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation, the army’s move against Morsi, by ending Egypt’s trajectory towards state breakdown and failure, strengthened Egypt’s ability to act as a counterweight to Israeli domination in the region – a necessary precondition for any advance on the Palestinian front. As Ali Jarbawi put it after the Egyptian Presidential elections of April this year, “Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s election as the new Egyptian president has given Palestinians a sliver of hope that their cause will return to the forefront of Arab affairs — or that, at least, there will be a slight adjustment in the balance of power with Israel. This has nothing to do with any value judgments about the Egyptian revolution. It is a purely pragmatic stance, based on the fact that Mr. Sisi’s election will influence Palestinian affairs” positively, particularly by restoring the stability necessary for Egypt to act as a counterweight to Israeli power, but also by realigning Egypt more towards Russia and thus towards a less dependent relation with the US. Indeed, the desire on the part of Israel to destroy as much as possible of Gaza before Egypt fully regains its strength and independence may well have added urgency to their latest attack.

 

In sum, despite its current ability to rip thousands of Palestinians to shreds on the flimsiest of pretexts, all is not well for Israel. Even their short term goals have not been met in this latest attack. Despite everything, the unity government has not broken, and Fatah and Hamas are currently presenting a united front in the ceasefire negotiations. Likewise, Hamas has not been defeated, even militarily (let alone politically) by this attack, and has been able to continue its military resistance right up until the beginning of the various ceasefires that have taken place. If Kissinger is right that in asymmetrical warfare, “The conventional army loses if it does not win [whilst] the guerrilla wins if he does not lose”, then this is not a war that Israel has won. For all its delaying tactics, the Israelis cannot postpone forever Palestinian citizenship in some form or other – and if the Israelis make the creation of a separate Palestinian state impossible, they should not be surprised if demands shift instead to citizenship in a single state comprising the entirety of historic Palestine.

 

An edited version of this article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. Israelis vote against all pretence of peace 

 

18th March 2015 

 

Israelis went to the polls yesterday in an election which, as widely predicted, looks set to replace a ‘right wing’ Jewish supremacist with a ‘left wing’ Jewish supremacist.

As in all European-dominated white supremacist states – settler or otherwise – elections in Israel function more as a psychological mechanism by which a racist public can attempt to salve their consciences, than as a genuine means of resolving the country’s real and pressing dilemmas.

The list of policies which are not up for negotiation is predictably long. On Iran, there is little difference between the two main parties, with Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union declaring that “No Israeli leader will accept a nuclear Iran”- followed, naturally, by that most nonchalant of war-threats: “All options are on the table”. On Gaza, both sides supported last summer’s aerial bombardment, with Herzog giving his full support to Netanyahu’s slaughter. Of the seven week ‘campaign’ – which killed or maimed over 12,000 men, women and children and left over 100,000 homeless – Herzog said that he backed “the decisions of the political and military leadership, which were reasonable and sensible throughout the operation”. Al Monitor even commented  that “Given all the critical barbs that Netanyahu faced throughout the war not only from his coalition partners, but even from senior members of his own party, he could not have hoped for a more supportive and statesmanlike opposition leader”. And on Syria, both have consistently (and unsurprisingly) supported the armed insurgency against the Arab nationalist Ba’ath government: most recently both Herzog and his ZU partner Tzipi Livni declared their support for the January 18th airstrike on Syria which wiped out six leading Hezbollah commanders – that is to say, six of the most effective military leaders in Syria’s war against ISIS – but this comes on the back of years of support for the Syrian ‘rebels’ who, Herzog (correctly) noted in 2012, “want peace with Israel after Assad falls” and “wish to ‘be friends’ with the Jewish state”. Elsewhere Herzog is reported as having “built close ties with figures in the Syrian opposition” and called for a US war against Syria – a move which would very likely have led to a full ISIS takeover of the country by now.

Support for the crippling, if not total destruction, of Syria, Iran and Palestine – this is all a given in Israeli politics. On these issues, there is nothing to discuss. As Meron Rappoport has noted, “the Palestinian issue was almost totally absent from this campaign”. Veteran Israeli commentator Gideon Levy elaborated: “The horrible war that took place just a few months ago – which cost Israel 10 billion shekels and dozens of lives, as well as the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including hundreds of women and children, and which did not achieve anything or bring about change – hasn’t been discussed at all”.

Yet, we are led to believe that there are differences – significant ones – even on these so-called ‘foreign policy’ issues (yes, for European inhabitants of historic Palestine, it seems, even Palestine itself is considered ‘foreign policy’). As Avi Shlaim writes, “the Israeli voter is invited to choose between two starkly contrasting visions. For the Zionist Union, ending the occupation is a long-term strategic goal. It advocates negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, leading to a two-state solution to the conflict… [whereas] Netanyahu is doing

everything in his power to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. His long-standing and unswerving policy is to oppose Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and statehood. He is the unilateralist par excellence. Land confiscation, economic strangulation, and brutal repression are his chief policy instruments for consolidating Israel’s control over the West Bank.”

It seems, then, that there are fundamental differences on the conflict after all: Herzog’s desire for negotiations, leading to a Palestinian state, appears to contrast strongly with Netanyahu’s policy of sabotaging peace talks and making a Palestinian state impossible. Yet the reality is, these seemingly contradictory policies in fact work in tandem.

Is Herzog’s vision really that of the “Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and statehood” so vehemently opposed by Netanyahu? It is revealing that Ehud Barak has wholeheartedly given his public backing to Herzog. Barak, lest we forget, was in 2001 the architect of the so-called “generous offer” of a ‘Palestinian state’ divided into a series of discontiguous cantons, the abandonment of the right to return, and the forfeiting of most of East Jerusalem – in other words, a state pretty much shorn of all the meaningful attributes of statehood. That Barak now argues that Herzog “can be trusted to deal with the Palestinians”, suggests that he “can be trusted” to make just such an offer in any future negotiations – an offer that is virtually guaranteed to be rejected, but which allows the Israelis to embark on another round of war – and for US and Britain to support it – safe in the delusion that they ‘tried’ to resolve things, but those bloody-minded Palestinians rejected their magnanimity once again.

In other words, even this apparent difference on Palestinian statehood disguises another basic shared commitment to preventing a functioning, stable and genuinely independent Palestinian state. The difference is between offering the Palestinians a state bereft of the key attributes of statehood, or offering them nothing at all. But the relation between the two policies is cyclical and symbiotic: alternating between punishing the Palestinians, and offering them a chance to sell out. Once the sell-out is rejected, the next round of bloodletting – perhaps under a re-elected Netanyahu a few years down the line – can be undertaken with a clean conscience.

But the fact that the current election results are so indecisive reveals that the days when Israel feels the need to even pretend that it is interested in negotiating are drawing to a close in favour of outright and open genocide. That Netanyahu figured abandoning even any token commitment to Palestinian statehood the day before the election would help him win votes certainly points in this direction, as does Herzog’s TV ads depicting him as a hard man ready to face down the Arabs at any time.

But before those of us in the west get on our high horse of condemnation, we should remember that, just as Israel and Palestine is a microcosm of relations between the west and the global South as a whole, so is Israeli politics the mirror image of politics in Britain, the US, France and all those who ape them. Just as Israel is divided between those who like their wars openly racist and those who prefer to delude themselves that they only come

about after ‘everything else has been tried’, so the rest of the western world is divided between those who want to fight their wars openly using high tech weapons fired from battleships proudly waving their own flags, and those who would prefer to lurk in the background, sending over their ‘trainers’ and  ‘non-lethal’ weaponry whilst waging economic warfare against all those powers who refuse to submit to Western dictat. It is divided between the increasingly overt racism of UKIP, the Front National or the Tea Party, or the respectable racism of those whose immigration quotas, detention centres and police murders come couched in terms of regrettable necessities. What is not being contested in any of these elections is the commitment to a continuation of the war against the third world in some form – not in Israel, not in the US, and certainly not in Britain.

An edited version of this article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. Ukrainian fascist militias are US’s trump card 

 

16th October 2016 

 

Little noticed amongst all the Syria coverage, peace has been breaking out across Ukraine. After a faltering start, the so-called ‘Minsk II’ agreement – signed in February by the so-called ‘Normandy Four’ (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine) – now seems to be making serious headway. A new ceasefire, which began on September 1st, has been largely adhered to by all sides, paving the way for the withdrawal of weaponry from the frontline which was a key demand of the Minsk agreements.

On the political front, there have also been breakthroughs. One of the key sticking points was resolved two weeks ago when representatives of the self-declared People’s Republics in Lugansk and Donbass agreed to postpone elections to ensure they are held in line with Ukrainian law and international electoral standards. Meanwhile, in September the Ukrainian parliament – after a heated and tumultuous session – passed a law on decentralization that grants significant autonomy to the Eastern regions; another key demand of the Minsk agreements.

That the so-called ‘Normandy Four’ are keen for the peace to hold is no surprise. For, ultimately, the US-UK destabilization strategy in Ukraine aims at weakening all of them.

It is worth recalling the key US and UK role in fomenting the war in the East of Ukraine. Whilst both powers openly supported the fascist-led coup in February 2014 – British EU commissioner Catherine Ashton, for example, giving immediate recognition and finance to the new coup government – they have also been instrumental in stoking the war in the East of the country. When resistance to the coup began in the Donbas region in April, CIA director John Brennan was immediately flown to Kiev. By the time he left, the Ukrainian coup government’s bloody crackdown on the Eastern regions was well under way; it was pretty obvious he had been sent to push for precisely this response.

However, the crackdown did not go as hoped. Ukrainian tanks were met by angry crowds demanding the soldiers refuse to fire on their compatriots and give up their weapons. Many did precisely this, expressing sympathy for the resistance and fraternizing with the crowds; within days, a full scale mutiny appeared to be underway, with 21 armoured vehicles turned over to the resistance. The futility of a military solution became increasingly clear, and even the coup-installed Prime Minister Yatsenyuk began making noises about federalism and the need to respect the rights of ethnic Russians for the first time since coming to power. The door appeared to be opening for negotiations and some kind of peaceful compromise.

It was at this point that no less a figure than US Vice President Joe Biden was sent over – and, once again, the offensive was renewed the day he left. But this time the reliance was less on the regular army, and more on the ‘National Guard’, a new paramilitary formation created the month before by Andrei Parubiy. Parubiy, from the extreme Russophobic ‘Fatherland’ party, had been the ‘head of the security’ of the Maidan protests (and therefore directly implicated in the 56 sniper shootings of February 20) before being made National Security Chief of the new government following the coup. The National Guard was a crude means of putting ultra-nationalist militias on the government payroll – and following

visits by Biden and Brennan these militias became the spearhead of the US policy of war on Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population.

Within weeks, new militia such as the Azov, Donbas and Dnipro battalions were created, incorporated into the National Guard and thrown into battle. Azov’s founder, Biletsky, explained that “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival: a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.” The US has subsequently poured hundreds of millions into the training and equipping of such militias.

The result of this fascistic war has been to weaken Russia, Europe and Ukraine itself. On the one hand, it has been a wilful provocation of Russia, whose very modest attempts to defend the Eastern regions (allowing Russian volunteers to join the resistance, for example) have been characterised as aggression and used by the US as  means of maneuvering Europe into supporting self-destructive sanctions against Russia. At the same time, Ukraine – which had higher per-capita industrial output than Germany during Soviet times – has become an economic basketcase, facing massive inflation and economic contraction. Just last week, Ukrainian finance minister Natalie Jaresko requested a doubling of the $40billion IMF rescue package just to stay afloat.

All of this suits the US very well. On the one hand, it is fully in line with veteran Cold warrior (and Obama advisor) Brzezinski’s strategy to maintain US supremacy by keeping Europe and Russia divided. On the other, the sinking of the Ukrainian economy leaves the country utterly dependent on foreign loans and at the mercy of its Western creditors in the IMF, making the return of a genuinely non-aligned foreign policy along the lines of those followed by Yanukovych – and desired by the majority of Ukrainians – ever more unlikely. That is why the US has been at the forefront of pushing for this war.

It is also why not only Putin, but Hollande, Merkel and even Poroshenko are so keen for the war to end. So long as the ceasefire holds, European sanctions on Russia are due to expire at the end of the year. And as EU President Jean-Claude Juncker – well aware of the damage sanctions are doing to the European economy – said last week, “We must make efforts towards a practical relationship with Russia … we can’t go on  like this… We can’t let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington.” Likewise, even Poroshenko – despite all his tubthumping at the UN – knows that simple geographical reality dictates he needs to have a constructive relationship with Russia, and that continuation of the war will make economic recovery impossible.

For the US, however, the surest route to maintaining economic war against Russia, keeping Europe and Russia divided, and keeping Ukraine dependent, is for the war to continue. This is why the US policy of directly supplying and training the fascist militias is so worrying. For these militias will be the wild card in the months to come. They have already shown their willingness to violently challenge Ukrainian government authority, and have made no bones about their willingness to subvert any peace agreement that is not to their liking.

 

Three people were killed, for example, during ultra-nationalist demonstrations against the decentralization law last month, and in July Right Sector militias were involved in a firefight with Ukrainian police, leaving four dead. Following that incident, the Right Sector’s press spokesman commented that: “In the event of a new revolution, Ukrainian president Poroshenko and his associates will not be able to flee the country as the former president did. They can expect nothing but execution in some dark cellar, conducted by young Ukrainian military man or members of the National Guard.” A fascinating article by Nikolai Petro argued that, in the event of a full scale showdown between the paramilitaries and the official government forces, it is far from clear that the  

government would win.

 

The fascist militias, then, are the wild card who may threaten the peace that Russia, Europe and even the Ukrainian government are seemingly so committed. Could it be that the US has been developing its relationship with these forces for this very reason? The fact that the immediate US response to the success of the recent ceasefire has been to promise an additional $300 million worth of training and equipment to military “and other security forces” in Ukraine in a worrying step indeed.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. Back to the 1930s – Hitler, Da’esh and the West

 

24th December 2015 

 

BACK TO THE 1930s – Hitler, Da’esh and the West

Whilst Da’esh are constantly being compared to the Nazis, the real parallel – the West’s willingness to build up fascism in order to cripple Russia – is often forgotten.

The recent debate in the British House of Commons on bombing Syria saw the comparisons coming thick and fast. “Daesh are the fascists of our time”, said Labour MP Dan Jarvis; “this is the fascist war of our generation” opined Sarah Wollaston; whilst Hillary Benn rounded off the debate by explaining that “we are faced by fascists” and “what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated”.  

The parallels are real: the political worldview of Wahhabi’ism – the ideology of Da’esh, Al Qaeda, and Britain’s number one weapons buyer, Saudi Arabia – does indeed have much in common with that of Hitler and Mussolini. In essence, European fascism was an emotional response to national humiliation at the hands of the so-called ‘Great Powers’ – military defeat in the case of Germany, and a denial of the fruits of victory in the case of Italy. The fascists blamed this humiliation on an ‘enemy within’ whose presence was corrupting the nation and sapping its strength, and who therefore must be purged before rejuvenation could take place. We are all aware of the political programme that flowed from this.

Similarly, by the late 1700s, the Ottoman Empire – which just a century earlier had been ‘at the gates of Vienna’ – was also entering a phase of decline. European military prowess was becoming virtually unassailable, and a series of defeats at the hands of Russia led many Ottoman subjects to wonder what lay behind their apparent weakness. Muhammad ibn Al-Wahb, a radical Sunni preacher from the Nejd desert in central Arabia gave them an answer: the Muslims were being punished for their departure from true Islam. In particular, the presence of rival sects such as Sufism and Shiism – which, he argued, did not even count as Islamic at all – were weakening Muslim power. Only by eliminating them from the caliphate – along with any Sunnis who disagreed – could its strength be restored. It is this thinking that motivates the countless executions of Yazidis, Alawites, Christians and others at the hands of ibn Al-Wahb’s modern-day disciples. Just like fascism, Wahhabism is a politics of regaining strength through ethno-ideological purification.

But that is not the whole story. Neither fascism nor Da’esh drew their strength solely from the commitment of their fighters – rather, the rise of both is inextricable from the Western world’s response to its own economic and geopolitical crises.

In the 1930s, fascism was viewed much more favourably by Britain’s ruling elites than Benn’s statement that “this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini” would have us believe. “What has Hitler done of which we can reasonably complain?” asked Conservative MP CT Culverwell in 1938, a year after the Luftwaffe’s devastation of Guernica. Three years earlier, Mussolini had invaded Abyssinia. Hearing of the pending invasion, Labour Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald wrote to Il Duce to inform him that “England is a lady. A lady’s taste is for vigorous action by the male, but she likes things done discreetly – not in public. So be tactful, and we shall have no objection”. These views were not untypical; as historian J.T. Murphy has noted, “It was conspicuous that no government in the capitalist world quivered with apprehension when this new power (Fascism) arrived. The world’s conservatives hailed it with glee, and there was not a Tory who, as he nodded approval of the Hitler and Mussolini method of dealing with the “labour problem”, did not feel confident that in the bargain-basement of diplomacy, he could make a deal with the new anti-Bolshevik champion.” Sir Stafford Cripps,

British ambassador to the USSR during World War Two, noted of the interwar years that “throughout this period the major factor in European politics was the successive utilisation by Great Britain… of various fascist governments to check the power and danger and the rise of communism or socialism.” In particular, Hitler was seen as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and was supported by British and US elites throughout the 1930s for this reason.

 

And so, too, with Da’esh. The West and its regional allies have been the cheerleaders, patrons and armourers of the Wahhabi insurgency in Syria since its very inception: not despite its sectarian nature, but because of it. A recently declassified US Defence Intelligence Agency document from 2012 revealed that the Pentagon were well aware of the nature of the forces they were supporting, noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of DA’ESH] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”. The same report predicted the establishment of a “Salafist [Wahhabi’ist] principality” but noted this was “exactly what the supporting powers of the opposition [defined as “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey”] want”. Of course, none of this was revealed at the time – just as Hitler received early support from the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, the Western press was still trying to convince the world that the Syrian rebels were valiant freedom fighters, fighting for democracy and equality.

It was not only rhetorical support that Hitler received from Britain, however. The London Stock Exchange Gazette noted in May 1935 that “Without this country as a clearing house for payments and the ability to draw on credits… Germany could have not have pursued her plans… Time and again Germany has defaulted on her obligations, public and private; but she has gone on buying wool, cotton, nickel, rubber and petrol until her requirements were fulfilled, and the financing has been done directly or indirectly through London…” Indeed, British financing of the Nazi war machine was so extensive that German capitalist and Nazi financier Hjalmar Schacht pointed out after the war that “If you want to put on trial the industrialists who helped Germany arm itself you must put on trial your own industrialists.”

Da’esh, likewise, have been generously funded by the West. The US alone has directly provided well over $1 billion of military support to the insurgency in Syria in the form of training and weapons, much of which has found its way into the hands of Da’esh. And, in terms of its financial flows, London is likely to have played a particularly significant role. HSBC has been repeatedly taken to task by US Senators over its relationship with Al Qaeda’s main banking arm in Saudi Arabia, whilst French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, when announcing a new crackdown on terrorist funding last month, specifically singled out the City of London and demanded the world be “vigilant” with Britain given its reputation.  Alex Salmond, former Scottish National Party leader claimed in parliament that “Whenever I ask the Prime Minister about [cutting off Da’esh’s funding], he tells me that he is sitting on a Committee. For two years, we have heard nothing. Little or nothing has been done to interrupt the flow of funds and to identify and stop the financial institutions without which Daesh could not have lifted a finger against us or anyone else.”

But why? Why was Britain so keen to finance Hitler then, and so reluctant to crack down on

Da’esh’s financing today? The Nazis were supported, as we have seen, as a bulwark against communism, and in particular as a force to be hurled into action against the Soviet Union. The terrorist insurgency in Syria, meanwhile, was viewed by the West as a means of crippling an independent state with an independent foreign and monetary policy – and in the process, undermining its allies Iran and, once again, Russia. In both cases, the ultimate target was Russia, and by extension the entire non-Western geopolitical project of which Russia was and is a leading part.

This being the case, what lessons can be drawn from the experience of the 1930s and 40s? What policies should Russia pursue in the face of Western-sponsored fascism/ terrorism?

There were three main aspects to Russia’s anti-fascist policy in the 1930s – all of them correct in my view, and all with important lessons for today.

Firstly, the USSR clearly understood that fascism relied on foreign support, and tried to break the West away from supporting it. Proposals for a ‘grand alliance’ were constantly being put forward to Britain and France. France, especially, was seen as ‘wavering’ in its commitment to German fascism, for obvious reasons, and so particular effort was made to pull France into such an alliance – with some degree of success (the 1935 Franco-Soviet pact). Britain was more of a lost cause, but the spectacle of Britain repeatedly rejecting an anti-fascist alliance did at least help to cut through the rhetoric and expose the British government’s true attitude towards fascism. All of this applies as much to the Wahhabi death squads today as it did to fascism then.

Secondly, unable to convince the West to stop supporting fascism, Russia ultimately moved to militarily defeat it. Once Germany and Italy had made it clear they would not respect the non-intervention arrangements agreed by the League of Nations over the Spanish civil war, the USSR moved to crush the fascist uprising itself. Similarly, once it became clear that the West would not back away from its support for the Wahhabi’ist insurgency in Syria, Russia moved to smash it directly.   

The real masterstroke of Soviet diplomacy in that period, however – and the one that ultimately allowed Russia to defeat Germany – was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Doing the seemingly unthinkable – a peace treaty with Hitler – not only bought Russia time to prepare for war, but divided Hitler from his former British, French and American patrons. It ensured that Russia would not fight alone when the time came, and would not be fighting an enemy still supported by the West.

I am not advocating a peace treaty with Da’esh here (although Russia’s moves to divide the insurgents and bring as many as feasible to the table is laudable); it is too late for that. That would be like negotiating a peace treaty with Hitler in 1943. Molotov-Ribbentrop was based on the principle that the alliance between fascism and the West had to be broken, and so if the West could not be pulled away from fascism, then fascism would have to be pulled away from the West. By the same token, the alliance between Wahhabi terrorism and the West must be broken. In practical terms, the main regional state sponsors of Wahhabi’ism – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey – must be pulled from out of the West’s orbit. This is obviously easier said than done:  Erdogan has thrown in his chips with NATO, and Saudi Arabia was essentially a creation of the British Empire. Yet, their leaderships cannot be blind to the fact that there is no future in hitching their wagons to the West’s flaming chariot. That way lies only destruction – and it is becoming clearer by the day that the West is pushing Turkey to a frontline position in an ever-wider conflagration with Russia. This is not in Turkey’s interests. The true interests of the Turks, and indeed the Saudis – as of all humanity, ultimately – lie in realigning themselves with the global South and the BRICS, rather than continuing to act as the agents of its destruction: the minute they themselves realise this, and realign their diplomacy accordingly, the West’s war games are over.

This article was originally published by RT

  1. Kosovo: NATO’s humanitarian success story? 

 

31st December 2015

 

Kosovo is often cited by liberal interventionists as NATO’s success story. The ongoing lawlessness in the country shows nothing could be further from the truth.

 

In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days, culminating in the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from the Serbian province of Kosovo. Tens of thousands were killed or maimed by the airstrikes, and Kosovo was carved out as a NATO statelet under the control of UNMIK (the United Nations Mission in Kosovo) in alliance with its local quislings the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA). Last month’s parliamentary debate on British airstrikes in Syria witnessed several MPs citing the operation as a great success. Labour MP Ivan Lewis was “proud of the difficult choices that we made” in Kosovo and elsewhere, which he claimed “saved hundreds of thousands of lives”. Kosovo was particularly held up by those supporting British military action in Syria as an example of how airstrikes alone, without support from ground forces, can be victorious. Mocking those who argued that “coalition action which rests almost wholly on bombing…will have little effect”, Margaret Beckett responded “well, tell that to the Kosovans, and do not forget that if there had not been any bombing in Kosovo perhaps 1 million Albanian Muslim refugees would be seeking refuge in Europe.” Conservative MP Richard Benyon concurred, adding: “I asked one my constituents––someone who knows a bit about this, General Sir Mike Jackson––whether he could remember any conflict where air power alone made a difference. He thought and said one word: Kosovo.”

 

The argument is entirely fallacious. One obvious difference between the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999 and the British bombing of Syria today is the contrast in their stated aims. NATO were ostensibly bombing Yugoslavia to achieve a limited goal – the secession of Kosovo. In Syria today, however, the ostensible aim of airstrikes against ISIS is the destruction of ISIS. In other words, whilst the first aimed to force a concession from the force it was targeting; the other apparently aims at the total elimination of its target. Whilst enough punishment might persuade someone to concede a demand, it will not persuade anyone to agree to their own eradication. There is, thus, no parallel in the logic behind the two campaigns, and anyone trying to draw one is being entirely disingenuous.

 

Secondly, when the actual historical record is examined, it becomes clear that, even on its own terms, NATO did not actually achieve its demands. The Rambouillet ‘agreement’ was NATO’s eleventh hour diktat to Yugoslavia on the eve of bombing, designed to be rejected in order to justify the bombing raids. The key bone of contention for Yugoslavia in this document was that it demanded NATO troops be granted full access to air fields, roads, ports and railroads across the country – that is to say, an effective NATO occupation of the entire federal republic. Obviously, as Sara Flounders and John Catalinotto of the International Action Centre have written, “no self-respecting government could accept such an ultimatum”. Instead, the Yugoslav government offered to withdraw their troops from Kosovo. This was rejected by NATO, who began bombing within days. After nearly three months of heroic resistance from the Yugoslav people, the bombing ended with Yugoslav troops withdrawing from Kosovo – without any NATO occupation of the rest of the country. That is to say, the war was brought to a close on the terms originally offered by the Yugoslavs, and not on the terms demanded by NATO at the outset: hardly the overwhelming victory claimed by the likes of Mike Jackson.

What really gives the lie to the ‘Kosovo success’ narrative, however, is simply the condition of NATO’s statelet today. An in-depth piece by Vedat Xhymshiti in Foreign Policy Journal last month notes that “Kosovo is the poorest and most isolated country in Europe, with millionaire politicians steeped in crime. A third of the workforce is unemployed, and corruption is widespread. Youth unemployment (those aged 25 and under) stands at 2 in 3, and nearly half of the 1.8 million citizens of Kosovo are considered to be in poverty. From December 2014 until February 2015, about 5% of the population was forced to leave the country in an effort to find a better life, studies and more dignified jobs, on their uncertain path towards wealthier countries in the EU.”

Furthermore, the British MPs’ argument that NATO’s takeover of Kosovo was achieved by airstrikes alone, without ground forces, is a lie. NATO’s allies in 1999 were the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), a violent sectarian group who openly sought the establishment of an ethnically supremacist state – much like the forces supported by NATO in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Once NATO had destroyed the Yugoslav administration in Kosovo, effective power on the ground passed to the KLA, who set about implementing their vision of an ethnically pure Kosovo via a series of pogroms, massacres and persecutions of the province’s Serb, Jewish and Roma populations. They gained effective control of Kosovan politics, and used this power to guarantee themselves impunity both for their historic and ongoing war crimes, and for their massive expansion of organised criminality.

In December 2010, a Council of Europe report named Kosovan Prime Minister and former KLA leader Hashim Thaci “the head of a “mafia-like” Albanian group responsible for smuggling weapons, drugs and human organs through eastern Europe”, according the Guardian newspaper’s summary. Following NATO’s intervention, Thaci’s Drenica group within the KLA, according to the report, seized control of “most of the illicit criminal enterprises” in which Kosovans were involved in Albania. The report noted that “agencies dedicated to combating drug smuggling in at least five countries have named Hashim Thaçi and other members of his Drenica group as having exerted violent control over the trade in heroin and other narcotics.”  The human rights investigator who authored the report, Dick Marty, commented that: “Thaçi and these other Drenica group members are consistently named as ‘key players’ in intelligence reports on Kosovo’s mafia-like structures of organised crime.” In addition to their leading role in Europe’s heroin smuggling trade, Thaci and his group were also named as having been responsible for a professional organ smuggling operation involving the kidnapping and murder of Serb civilians in order to harvest and sell their kidneys. Currently serving as both Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Thaci’s NATO protection guarantees he has never been brought to justice for any of these crimes.

Indeed, NATO-sponsored impunity has been a consistent theme amongst the new Kosovan elite. A report by Amnesty International published in August 2013 noted that “the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) singularly failed to investigate the abduction and murders of Kosovo Serbs in the aftermath of the 1998-1999 conflict” adding that “UNMIK’s failure to investigate what constituted a widespread, as well as a systematic, attack on a civilian population and, potentially, crimes against humanity, has contributed to the climate of impunity prevailing in Kosovo.” Marty’s report, too, noted the “faltering political will on the part of the international community to effectively prosecute the former leaders of the KLA”, and Carla del Ponte, former chief war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, stated that she was barred from prosecuting KLA leaders.

UNMIK’s responsibilities for police and justice came to an end in December 2008, following Kosovo’s controversial declaration of independence. It was replaced by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which, according to Amnesty International, inherited 1,187 war crimes cases that UNMIK had failed to investigate. All the signs are that the overt impunity that has prevailed up until now will be replaced by lip service to the rule of law, accompanied by the prosecution of a few low level operatives, whilst maintaining the protection for those at the top. Following the Council of Europe’s damning report, EULEX spent three years investigating the claims, eventually publishing a verdict that was a textbook case of damage-limitation whitewash. EULEX concluded that the crimes were indeed real, and were linked to leading KLA members, but refused to corroborate the names of any specific individuals involved, despite copious evidence. Thaci’s protection, it seems, is absolute.

Nevertheless, in August of this year, the Kosovan parliament finally and grudgingly approved (after initially rejecting) the establishment of a special war crimes court to prosecute KLA leaders for crimes committed between 1998 and 2000. In moves highly reminiscent of scenes outside both the Libyan and Ukrainian parliaments when tentative and tokenistic legal moves were made to end the impunity of the sectarian death squads, the parliament has come under repeated attack ever since. Riots and six separate teargas attacks by the opposition have brought the normal functioning of the Kosovan parliament to a standstill. Failed state status surely beckons.

Meanwhile, the credibility of EULEX, whose officials will be overseeing the establishment of the new court, was further thrown into doubt in November 2014 when Andrea Capussela, former head of UNMIK’s economic unit, released the results of an in-depth analysis of the most significant cases in which EULEX had been involved. Seven of these she claimed had only been brought after intense international pressure, whilst in a further eight, no investigation was carried out at all, despite “credible and well-documented evidence strongly suggesting that serious crimes had been committed.” She noted that “Eulex’s conduct in these 15 cases – the eight ignored ones and the seven opened under pressure – suggests that the mission tended not to prosecute high-level crime, and, when it had to, it sought not to indict or convict prominent figures”. During its six years of operating, she noted, only four convictions had been secured – three of them against only secondary figures, whilst “higher-ranking figures linked to the same crimes were either not investigated or not  indicted”. A senior Kosovan investigator noted that “There are people killing people and getting away with it because of Unmik and Eulex,” adding that “The political elite and Eulex have fused. They are indivisible. The laws are just for poor people,” Indeed, Eulex seem to be operating increasingly like a mafia themselves, last year, putting “pressure”, according to Amnesty International, on “journalist, Vehbi Kajtazi, who had reported alleged corruption in EULEX”.

 

In a final twist to NATO’s ‘success story’, Kosovo has now become the largest per-capita provider of fighters for regime change in Syria. The official figure is 300 but more reliable estimates suggests the true figure is more than 1000 (from a population of 2 million), including one of the top ten ISIS commanders, Lavdrim Muhaxheri. As state education, along with most other social provision, has collapsed since 1999, Saudi-sponsored Madrasas have filled the gap, providing an extreme Wahhabi sectarian education now feeding its first generation of impoverished graduates into NATO’s new Syrian battlefields. No surprise, then, that Kosovan government’s efforts to prevent this have been “superficial and ineffective”, according to David Philips in the Huffington Post.

 

The ‘lesson’ of Kosovo, then, is not that “airpower works” or any other such nonsense. The real lesson is what it reveals about NATO’s formula for the destruction of independent regional powers – relying on a combination of aerial bombardment alongside the empowerment of local sectarian death squads, who come to dominate the political scene in the aftermath, obliterating the rule of law and guaranteeing a dysfunctional state incapable of providing either dignity or security to its citizens. This was the same formula that was used on Libya in 2011 and currently being attempted in Syria today. Of course, for NATO, all of this is indeed a success: Yugoslavia

dismembered; its resources plundered at the expense of its desperate and impoverished people; and Kosovo turned into a provider of shock troops for regime change in Syria, and transit hub for heroin and organ trafficking. If this is what NATO calls a success, we must all pray for failure.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. The new era of global famine: Made in the West 

 

16th July 2017 

 

In February of this year, the world’s first famine in six years was officially declared in South Sudan. A month later, the UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned the Security Council that three other countries – Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria – also stood on the brink of famine, with 20 million at risk of starving to death within months. The world, he said, was now “facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations”. Unless $4.4billion in emergency funds was raised by the end of March, warned UN Secretary General Antionio Guterres, 20 million would likely starve to death. When the deadline was reached, he had received less than a tenth of that,  $423million.

 

The amount raised has increased then, but still stands at little above one third of the target. It is almost certain not to met, with donations dropping sharply since mid-May.

 

For context, the New York Times helpfully pointed out, that $4.4billion is almost exactly the same amount as Britain has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia in the past two years – most of which have been used against the famine-stricken Yemenis – and less than 10% of the $54billion in additional spending Donald Trump just pledged for the US military. The amount actually received amounts to less than a quarter of 1% of the US’s total military budget of $700 billion. These sickening figures immediately put the lie to any claims that militarism somehow has something to do with humanitarianism. 

 

Yemen was in the news again this week, twice. First was the announcement by the Red Cross that cholera cases in Yemen have now reached 300,000. Then came the ruling by Britain’s High Court – choosing to believe private government assurances over volumes of first-handeyewitness accounts – that the UK government’s arming ofthe vicious Saudi war against the Yemeni people is perfectly above board. These two declarations are not unrelated. For it is precisely Britain’s proxy war against Yemen that has led to the medieval levels of famine and disease now sweeping the country.

 

Back in October 2015 the head of the International Red Cross wrote that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years”. Today, according to Save the Children, one Yemeni child is infected with cholera every 35 seconds. This epidemic comes hot on the heels of last year’s dengue fever outbreak, which the World Health Organisation said they struggled to control due to the “near collapse of the health system” and “disruption of water supplies” resulting from the Western-supplied bombing campaign.  Hospitals have been bombed regularly. Following Philip Hammond’s justification of bombing raids on three Yemeni hospitals in as many months, the MSF warned that targeting hospitals was now becoming the new normal”.

 

Bombing of hospitals and grain distribution centres, however, is just part of the story of the West’s genocide against the Yemeni people. Yemen is dependent on imports for more than 80% of its fuel, food and medicine, and 70%of these imports come through the Huydadeh port. This port was bombed in August 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition, and has been blockaded ever since, directly creating the current situation in which 21 million suffer food shortages, including 7 million facing famine. As theUN Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions has noted, this blockade is “one of the main causes of the humanitarian catastrophe”, helping to lead to what he called  “this man-made famine”. Needless to say, this blockade – along with every aspect of the Saudi genocide in the Yemen – is fully supported by the US and Britain.

 

Yet Yemen is not the only place where Western policy is leading to famine.

 

This week marks the sixth anniversary of the independence of South Sudan. Yet, for the second year in a row, the planned celebrations have been cancelled because, in the midst ofstarvation and civil war, there is nothing to celebrate.

 

The country’s descent into famine was officially announced on 20th February this year, with 100,000 starving and a further 1 million on the brink of famine. The official criteria for a famineare that 20% of a population must be suffering “extreme food shortages”, 30% suffering acute malnutrition, and at least 1 per 5000 dying each day. Whilst those criteria are no longer being met, acute hunger has now reached 6 million, up from 5 million in February – over half the population. As in Yemen, this is a crisisof biblical proportions. As in Yemen, it is man-made. And, as in Yemen, it is the thoroughly predictable outcome of Western militarism.

 

The US and Britain were instrumental to the partition of Sudan in 2011, and it is precisely this partition which has bequeathed the country’s current tragedy. Just as in Libya, in the same year, a loose coalition of rebels with no unified programme were effectively placed in power by Western largesse. And just as in Libya, the inevitable collapse of this coalition has brought total devastation to the country.

 

The Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was formed by rebel army colonel John Garang in 1983, and in the 1990s, under Clinton, the US began pouring millions ofdollars into the insurgent movement. Although formally an uprising against the government in Khartoum, it has often relied on an appeal to ethnic chauvanism to galvanise support. According to former national committee member Dr. Peter Nyaba, for example, the movement’s very first mobilisation “that took more than ten thousand Bor youth to SPLA training camps in 1983 was not for the national agenda of liberation but to settle local scores with their neighbours, the Murles or the Nuers.”Similarly, Riek Machar’s faction of the SPLM, based mainly within the Nuer community, conducted a massacreof thousands of Dinka civilians in 1991. Dr Nyaba argues that political training was neglected in favour of, often very brutal, military training, leading to often horrific excesses against the populations under their control. After liberating an area, saidNyaba, the Movement should have

instituted “democratic reforms: a popular justice system, anew system of

education, health and veterinary services.” Such a move, he says, “would have given the SPLM the opportunity to prove itself to the people and to the world and, therefore,

to build a solid popular power base making the SPLM/A the authentic

representative of the people….the ‘New Sudan’ would have been born in the

physical and objective reality of the people, allowing the SPLM/A to acquire

political sovereignty and diplomatic recognition”. These, indeed, are the normal steps taken by genuinely successful revolutionary movements the world over. But this is not what happened. Rather, says Nyaba, the SPLM degenerated “into an agent of plunder, pillage and destructive conquest”. It was at precisely this point that the US began funding the movement, with the initial $20 million provided by Clinton soon expanding to $100 million per year under Bush’s satirically-named “Sudan Peace Act” of 2002.

 

Just as in Libya, the impact of such US largesse has been to enable insurgent groups to achieve their aims without providing the visionary leadership or mass organisational skills necessary to galvanise genuine mass support. Put simply, US support has rendered mass support unnecessary. Genuine revolutions – that is, revolutions attained primarily through the efforts of the masses themselves, rather than through pressure applied by external patrons – can only succeed with a visionary programme capable of winning the total commitment ofthe masses. Yet in South Sudan, the SPLM, thanks to US support, were able to come to power without this. The long term impact of this lack of popular, inspirational leadership has been an ideological vacuum into which have poured power struggles over patronage and resource networks.

 

Confident of external support, the SPLM – and its leader since Garang’s death in 2005, Salva Kiir – had no pressing need to win the support of all the tribes of the South. WithoutWestern funding, Kiir would had to have reached out to the Nuer and the Murle and the other non-Dinka groups in order to secure enough support to force concessions from Sudan’s government. Had he done so, on the basis of a genuine mass programme capable of galvanising all the peoples of southern Sudan on a non-ethnic basis, this very programme would have formed the basis of a viable unity government following independence. However, confident of US backing, Kiir had no need to develop any of this. Instead, his clear patronage from the US enabled him to impose a false unity on his Nuer and Shilik rivals, in which his proximity to the US alone was enough to force them to fall in line if they did not want to be completely excluded from the power and the money coming his way. Political struggles for mass support were to be eclipsed by factional rivalries over who would control the flowof resources.

 

The same pattern has continued after independence. Assuming, correctly, that US support would continue to flow, President Kiir has had no particular need to endear himself to those outside his primary Dinka constituency, even going so far as to sack his Nuer deputy Riek Machar in 2013, triggering the latest round of civil war. This latest round of war has taken on particularly nasty ethnic dimensions, as the the SPLM’s rival factions, for years bound together by US dollars rather than by a genuine programme of unity, unravels.

 

Whilst Yemen’s near-famine was caused by the Western-directed bombing and blockade of that country, then, South Sudan’s actual famine is the result of years of proxy war funded by the West and the disastrous partition it produced. The situation in Nigeria is also a result of war, in this case the Boko Haram insurgency – an insurgency which owes its massive spread in recent years directly to the NATO destruction of Libya, which opened up the country’s weapons dumps to Boko Haram and its partners. Have no doubt, thelatest wave of famine is a direct by-product of Western aggression – creating another 20 million victims for whom US and British governments must be brought to justice.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. After Gaddafi: The reconquest of Africa 

 

20th October 2017

 

Exactly six years ago, on October 20th 2011, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was murdered, joining a long list of African revolutionaries martyred by the West for daring to dream of continental independence. Earlier that day,Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte had been occupied by Western-backed militias, following a month-long battle during which NATO and their ‘rebel’ allies pounded the city’s hospitals and residents with artillery, cut off its water and electricity, and publicly proclaimed their desire to ‘starve [the city] into submission’. The last defenders of the city, including Gaddafi, fled Sirte that morning, but their convoy was tracked and strafed by NATO jets, killing 95 people. Gaddafi escaped the wreckage but was captured shortly afterwards. I will spare you the gruesome details, which the Western media gloatingly broadcast across the world as a triumphant snuff movie, suffice to say that he was tortured and eventually shot dead. We now know, if testimony from NATO’s key Libyan ally Mahmoud Jibril is to be believed, that it was a foreign agent, likely French, who delivered the fatal bullet. His death was the culmination of not only seven months of NATO aggression, but of a campaign against Gaddafiand his movement that the West had been waging for over three decades.

 

Yet it was also the opening salvo in a new war – a war for the militarily recolonisation of Africa.

 

The year 2009, two years before Gaddafi’s murder, was a pivotal one for US-African relations. First, because China surpassed the US as the continent’s largest trading partner; and second, because Gaddafi was elected President of the African Union. The significance of both for the decline of US influence on the continent could not be clearer. Whilst Gaddafi was spearheadingattempts to unite Africa politically, committing serious amounts of Libyan oil wealth to make this dream a reality, China was quietly smashing the West’s monopoly over export markets and investment finance. Africa no longer had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF for loans, agreeing to whatever self-defeating terms were on offer, but could turn to China – or indeed Libya – for investment. And if the US threatened to cut them off from their markets, China would happily buy up whatever was on offer. Western economic domination of Africa was under threat as never before.

 

The response from the West, of course, was a military one. Economic dependence on the West – rapidly being shattered by Libya and China –  would be replaced by a new military dependence. If African countries would no longer come begging for Western loans, export markets and investment finance, they would have to be put in a position where they would come begging for Western military aid.

 

To this end, AFRICOM – the US army’s new ‘African command’ – had been launched the previous year, but humiliatingly for George W Bush, not a single African country would agree to host its HQ; instead, it was forced to open shop in Stuttgart, Germany. Gaddafi had led African opposition to AFRICOM, as exasperated US diplomatic memos later revealed by wikileaks made clear. And US pleas to African leaders to embrace AFRICOM in the ‘fight against terrorism’ fell on deaf ears.After all, as Muattisim Gaddafi, head of Libyan security, had explained to Hillary Clinton in 2009, North Africa already had an effective security system in place, through the African Union’s ‘standby forces’, on the one hand, and CEN-SAD on the other. CEN-SAD was a regional security organisation of Sahel and Saharan states, with a well-functioning security system, with Libya as the lynchpin. The sophisticated Libyan-led counter-terror structure meant there was simply no need for a US military presence. The job of Western planners, then, was to create such a need.

 

NATO’s destruction of Libya simultaneously achieved three strategic goals for the West’s plans for military expansion in Africa. Most obviously, it removed the biggest obstacle and opponent of such expansion,Gaddafi himself. With Gaddafi gone, and with a quiescent pro-NATO puppet government in charge of Libya, there was no longer any chance that Libya would any longer act as a powerful force against Western militarism: quite the contrary – Libya’s new government was utterly dependent on such militarism, and knew it. Secondly, NATO’s aggression served to bring about a total collapse of the delicate but effective North African security system, which had been underpinned by Libya. And finally, NATO’s annihilation of the Libyan state effectively turned the country over to the region’s death squads and terror groups. These groups were then able to loot Libya’s military arsenals and set up training camps at their leisure, using these to expand operations right across the region. It is no coincidence that almost all of the recent terror attacks in North Africa – not to mention Manchester – have been either prepared in Libya or perpetrated by fighters trained in Libya. Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, ISIS, Mali’s Ansar Dine, and literally dozens of others, have all greatly benefitted from the destruction of Libya. By ensuring the spread of terror groups across the region, the Western powers had magically created a demand for their military assistance which hitherto did not exist. They had literally created aprotection racket for Africa. In an excellent piece of research published last year, Nick Turse notes how the increase in AFRICOM operations across the continent has correlated precisely with the rise in terror threats: it’s growth, he notes, has been accompanied by “increasing numbers of lethal terror attacks across the continent including those in Burkina Faso, Burundi,Cameroon, Central African Republic,Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali,Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Tunisia. In fact, data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland shows that attacks have spiked over the last decade, roughly coinciding with AFRICOM’s establishment. In 2007, just before itbecame an independent command, there were fewer than 400 such incidents annually in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, the number reached nearly 2,000.” By AFRICOM’s own official standards, of course, this is a demonstration of massive failure. Viewed from the perspective of the protection racket, however, it is a resounding success, with US military power smoothly reproducing the conditions for its own expansion.

 

This is the Africa policy Trump has now inherited. But because this policy has rarely been understood as the protection racket it really is, many commentators have, as with so many of Trump’s policies, mistakenly believed he is somehow ‘ignoring’ or ‘reversing’ the approach of his predecessors. In fact, far from abandoning this approach, Trump is escalating it with relish.

 

What the Trump administration is doing, as it is doing in pretty much every policy area, is stripping the previous policy of its ‘soft power’ niceties to reveal and extend the iron fist which has in fact been in the driving seat all along. Trump, with his open disdain for Africa, has effectively ended US development aid for Africa – slashing overall African aid levels by one third, and transferring responsibility for much of the rest from the Agency for International Development to the Pentagon – whilst openly tying aid to the advancement of “US national security objectives”. In other words, the US has made a strategic decision to drop the carrot in favour of the stick. Given the overwhelming superiority of Chinese development assistance, this is unsurprising. The US has decided to stop trying to compete in this area, and instead to ruthlessly and unambiguously pursue the military approach which the Bush and Obama administrations had already mapped out.

 

To this end, Trump has stepped up drone attacks,removing the (limited) restrictions that had been in place during the Obama era. The result has been a ramping up of civilian casualties, and consequently of the resentment and hatred which fuels militant recruitment. It is unlikely to be a coincidence, for example, that the Al Shabaab truck bombing that killed over 300 people in Mogadishu last weekend was carried out by men from a town in which had suffered a major drone attack on civilians, including women and children, in August. Indeed, a detailed study by the United Nations recently concluded that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”. Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group. And so the cycle continues: drone attacks breed recruitment, which breeds further terror attacks, which leaves the states involved more dependent on US military support. Thus does the West create the demand for its own ‘products’.

 

It does so in another way as well. Alexander Cockburn, in his book ‘Kill Chain’, explains how the policy of ‘targeted killings’ – another Obama policy ramped up under Trump – also increases the militancy of insurgent groups. Cockburn, reporting on a discussion with US soldiers about the efficacy of targeted killings, wrote that: When the topic of conversation came round to ways of defeating the [roadside] bombs, everyone was in agreement. ‘They would have charts up on the wall showing the insurgent cells they were facing, often with the names and pictures of the guys running them,’ Rivolo remembers. ‘When we asked about going afterthe high-value individuals and what effect it was having, they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we killed that guy last month, and we’re getting more IEDs than ever.’ They all said the same thing, point blank: ‘[O]nce you knock them off, a day later you have a new guy who’s smarter, younger, more aggressive and is out for revenge.”’

 

Alex de Waal has noted how this is certainly true in Somalia, where, he notes, “each dead leader is followed by a more radical deputy. After a failed attempt in January 2007, the United States killed al Shabaab’s commander, Aden Hashi Farah Ayro, in a May 2008 air strike. Ayro’s successor, Ahmed Abdi Godane (alias Mukhtar Abu Zubair), was worse, affiliating the organization with al Qaeda. The United States succeeded in assassinating Godane in September 2014. In turn, Godane was succeeded by an even more determined extremist, Ahmad Omar (Abu Ubaidah).” It was presumably Omar who ordered the recent attack in Mogadishu, the worst in the country’s recent history. “If targeted killing remains a central strategy of the War on Terror”, De Waal wrote, “it is set to be an endless war.”

 

But endless war is the whole point. For not only does it force African countries, finally freeing themselves from dependence on the IMF, into dependence on AFRICOM; it also undermines China’s blossoming relationship with Africa.

 

Chinese trade and investment in Africa continues to grow apace. According to theChina-Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University, Chinese FDI stocks in Africa have risen from just 2% of the value of US stocks in 2003 to 55% in 2015, when they totalled US$35 billion. This proportion is likely to rapidly increase, given that “Between 2009 and 2012, China’s direct investment in Africa grew at an annual rate of 20.5%, while levels of US FDI flows to Africa declined by US$8 billion in the wake of the global financial crisis”. Chinese-African trade, meanwhile, topped $100billion in 2015.

 

China’s signature ‘One Belt One Road’ policy – to which President Xi Jinping has pledged$124billion  to create global trade routes designed to facilitate $2trillion worth of annual trade – will also help to improve African links with China. Trump’s policy towards the project was summarised by Steve Bannon, his ideological mentor and former chief strategist, in just eight words: “Let’s go screw up One Belt One Road”. The West’s deeply destabilising Africa policy – of simultaneously creating the conditions for armed groups to thrive whilst offering protection against them – goes some way towards realising this ambitious goal. Removing Gaddafi was just the first step.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. i) Government in Name Alone – How the West created a fictitious government to sabotage unity and reconciliation.

 

By late 2015, the West’s Libya policy was in total disarray.

 

To the untrained eye, of course, it looked as though it had been in disarray from the start. The 2011 intervention had, after all, turned the country into a death squad free-for-all, destroying state authority, and drawing militias from across the region – including Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and ISIS – to its vast territory to set up camps, loot state armouries, and train the fighters who went on to attack Tunisia, Nigeria, Algeria, Manchester and elsewhere. The 30,000-strong city of Tawergha – the only black African town on the Mediterranean – was completely ethnic cleansed by NATO’s proxies; it is now a ghost town, it’s former inhabitants scattered across refugee camps where they are still hunted down and killed to this day. Thousands of African migrants remain detained in illegal facilities by the country’s hundreds of militias, where they face regular torture and rape, and public slave auctions have been reintroduced. The country remains at war, without a functioning government, facing rampant inflation and regular power cuts. The criminal justice system has collapsed throughout much of the country, which remains under the control of ever more powerful and unaccountable armed groups. Per capita income has collapsed by more than a third, from $12,250 in 2010 to $7,820.28 in 2014, whilst the country has dropped 40 places in the UN’s human development index, from 53 in 2010 to 94 in 2015. Life expectancy has dropped by three years over the same time period.

 

If the goal was, as NATO proclaimed, to improve human rights, then, by any standards, the intervention was an utter disaster.

 

But no serious person ever believed it was really about that. NATO – with Britain leading the charge – was concerned about Gaddafi’s growing influence on the African continent, his role as a bulwark against US and UK military encroachment, and the money he was pouring into financial institutions explicitly designed to reduce African dependence on the IMF and World Bank. As with the previous intervention in Iraq, however, the goal was not only to remove this particular thorn-in-the-side but in fact to prevent the country from ever again re-emerging as a strong, unified independent power. The goal was not to change the government, then – but to prevent effective government altogether. To this end the leading NATO powers have consistently acted to ensure the country’s hundreds of rival militias are empowered and remain at war with one other. From this point of view, the West’s Libya policy has been a roaring success. But by 2015 it had come under serious threat.

 

Under the tutelage of the NATO-imposed government, the years following the 2011 bombardment saw the power of the militias entrenched. Rather than disbanding them, or attempting to bring them under a unified chain of command, the new regime began arming them and paying their salaries. Faced with few other prospects, young people flocked to join, and the number of militiamen grew from a maximum of 25,000 who fought in 2011 to 140,000 two years later. Naturally, those in charge of these armed gangs – accountable to no one but themselves – grew in power as their numbers and resources swelled, and turf warfare was common. The rule of the gun had become institutionalised.

 

By 2014, Libyans were sick of it. Seeing as the government was effectively toothless, hostage to the militias it had empowered, elections were largely seen as a waste of time at best, a process with no other function than to legitimise a dysfunctional status quo. Turnout in the 2014 elections was estimated at less than 20%, down from 60% two years earlier. Yet the result was nevertheless a blow to the militias, with their political sponsors – Libya’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood – the biggest losers. The militias’ parliamentary patrons had suffered a decisive defeat; and one they did not accept. In July 2014, they launched an attack on Tripoli to drive the new government out of the capital. By August they had succeeded, and the newly elected House of Representatives was forced to relocate to Tobruk in the east. But the House of Representatives had two major assets on their side. Firstly, the Libyan National Army (LNA), the country’s largest and most effective single fighting force – had pledged its allegiance to them. Over the year that followed, the LNA made steady gains, and by the end of 2015, after almost two years of fighting, were on the verge of retaking Benghazi from a coalition of militias led by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia. Secondly, as the elected parliament, they were internationally recognised as the legitimate government of Libya.

 

To add to NATO’s headaches, supporters of the pre-2011 government were growing in strength. Despite criminalisation – the notorious Law 37 had made open support for Gaddafi a crime punishable by life imprisonment – the ‘Green Resistance’, as it became known, was becoming ever more emboldened and popular. The stark difference between the relatively prosperous and stable lives people had led under Gaddafi, and the disaster which they were living now, became harder and harder to ignore. By August 2015, as a kangaroo court handed down death sentences to 8 former ministers, including Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, the green movement was openly leading large public demonstrations across the country, even in ISIS-occupied Sirte. At the same time, the east of the country was moving towards a reconciliation with the Green Movement, with the House of Representatives allowing Gaddafi’s widow to return from exile, and the LNA openly recruiting Gaddafi loyalists, including Gaddafi’s Tuareg commander General Ali Kanna, into its forces.

 

And finally – particularly worrying for the forces of disorder that had unleashed chaos on Libya – an end to the civil war between the two parliaments even seemed to be finally in sight. The two warring sides – Operation Dawn, which supported the General National Congress, the parliament of the defeated militias, and Operation Dignity, the Libyan National Army-led operation in support of the elected House of Representatives – had signed a ceasefire in January 2015, and by November of that year had made substantial progress towards a compromise resolution of their differences.

 

If NATO wanted to stop these moves towards unity, reconciliation, and defeat of the militias, they would have to act fast. That’s where the UN came in.

 

The UN had created UNSMIL (the UN ‘Support Mission in Libya’) in 2011, ostensibly to promote reconciliation between the various militias which had emerged, and UNSMIL had then set up the ‘Libya Dialogue’ in September 2014, following the fall of Tripoli to the Libya Dawn faction. Clearly dominated by Libya’s conquerors – its meetings often took place in London or Rome, under the watchful eye of British, Italian, US and IMF officials – it was rejected by Libyan nationalists, who instead favoured direct negotiations, without outside interference. Thus, in December 2015, there were two parallel sets of negotiations taking place – the UNSMIL Libya Dialogue (boycotted by the GNC parliament) and the the so-called ‘Libya-Libya Dialogue’ involving direct, unmediated discussions between the heads of the two parliaments. Whilst the UNSMIL version seemed to be getting nowhere – with both sides sceptical of its Western overlords – the direct negotiations were bearing serious fruit. Meeting in Malta and Muscat in December 2015, the heads of both warring parliaments endorsed an initiative to create a unity government appointed by a prime minister and two deputies chosen in turn by both parliaments. But a workable agreement between Libyan parties, based on a principled rejection of outside interference, was the exact opposite of what the UN’s controllers were seeking. For over a year, UNSMIL had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the two parliaments to support their own deeply flawed plan, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). Now, as the Libyans’ own process was gaining momentum, desperation was growing amongst Western officials that their plan was becoming marginalised.  As one EU diplomat candidly admitted, “the pressure to sign the accord came from Political Dialogue members who feared that the Libya-Libya initiative could gain popular traction”. Unsurprisingly, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), “the most engaged Security Council permanent members – the U.S., UK and France – were particularly vocal in pushing the UN to finalise the deal”. The very powers who had destroyed Libya four years earlier were desperate that they not be sidelined by an independent Libyan initiative.

 

Fear of the rival negotiations gaining momentum was not the only thing driving the west’s urgency to impose a ‘deal’, however. There was also real fear that the LNA might actually win the war. As one Western official told the ICG: “Not signing and endorsing the accord would have been a major defeat for those like us who had been advocating a negotiated power-sharing deal as the only solution to the Libya crisis. It would have meant a failure of the principle of negotiations, and that would have allowed those governments that throughout 2015 had advocated direct unilateral action in support of the HoR and its government to declare victory.” This is a clear admission that the LPA was aimed at giving a shot in the arm to the flailing militias, to bolster them and prevent their defeat in the face of a unified National Army representing the elected parliament.

 

The problem for supporters of the western-drafted LPA remained, however, its lack of support amongst Libyan stakeholders. For a start, neither parliament endorsed the agreement; indeed, said the ICG, “A substantial HoR majority opposed the military and security provisions” whilst the GNC were boycotting the talks altogether. Furthermore, the real powers on the ground – the armed groups actually in control of Libyan territory – were not consulted, and were mostly opposed to it. The ICG concluded that “In retrospect, proponents inflated support for the accord within the rival legislatures to justify going forward.  The claim of majority backing was factually dubious – many members supported an agreement in principle but differed widely on details – and politically misleading, since key opponents were outside the HoR and the GNC and had military power to intimidate supporters”.

 

Lacking support for its deal, but anxious to impose it to prevent the possibility of either a LNA victory or a Libyan-led negotiated settlement, the UN simply cobbled together a handpicked group of willing members from each parliament to sign up to their flawed blueprint (It was fitting that the man brought in to do this was named Martin Kobler). Thus, the Skhirat Agreement, as it became known, was signed by an arbitrary group of unrepresentative Libyans in Morocco on December 17th 2015. It was instantly anointed the holy bible of Libyan politics by the Western powers.  And yet, “There is no real political agreement”, a senior UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) official admitted. “This is an agreement to support those who seem trustworthy for the sake of saving the country”. Saving it, that is, from unity and independence. This was naked colonialism of the pure and shameless nineteenth century variety.

 

Nevertheless, the western-imposed LPA did initially manage to gain some degree of support, or at least acceptance, both within Libya, and amongst non-western powers abroad. Khalifa Haftar, leader of the LNA, whilst not officially endorsing the deal, did cooperate with it at first, meeting Kobler the day before its signing and proposing a close associate, Ali Qatrani, for the Presidency Council it created. Aguila Saleh, head of the House of Representatives, gave tentative support to the deal on 31st December 2015, two weeks after its signing. On the GNC side, the Misratan leader Abderrahman Swehli gave last minute support to the deal, bringing with him a large number of the Misratan militias, a move which, according the ICG, “changed the force balance in the deal’s favour”. And at the UN, Russian and Chinese support ensured the deal achieved Security Council endorsement on 23rd December.

 

The LPA’s support from Saleh and Haftar (briefly) and Russia (more long term) warrants closer scrutiny. After all, in hindsight at least, the LPA has functioned effectively to bolster and legitimise the very militias which Haftar’s Russian-backed LNA is fighting. In practice, the sole function of the GNA (Government of National Accord) which was created by the ‘agreement’ has been – much like that of its Syrian cousin, the erstwhile Free Syrian Army – the provision of international recognition, funding and weaponry to any militia that pledges nominal allegiance to it, without actually having to submit to any unified chain of command. The GNA truly is a Government in Name Alone.

 

Yet this was not necessarily obvious at the time. Not unlike Security Council 1973 which paved the way for NATO intervention in 2011, the LPA’s drafters made sure to include many tempting concessions to its potential opponents, safe in the knowledge they could simply be ignored once the deal was signed. In the case of UNSC 1973, provisions were made for negotiations to take place before any military action began, and for any intervention which did occur to be strictly limited to a no-fly zone and preventing the Libyan army retaking Benghazi. Much to the humiliation of the African Union, which had predicated its endorsement precisely on these measures, all of them were ignored by NATO even before the ink had dried.

 

In the case of the LPA, on paper, it looked like it was biased, if anything, towards the House of Representatives, not the militia-backed GNC. This was not entirely surprising, given that the HoR had participated in the ‘Libya Dialogue’ talks which preceded it, which the GNC had boycotted. Under the terms of the LPA, the HoR would remain the official Libyan parliament, and creation of any new government would be conditional on HoR ratification: effectively the HoR was granted power of veto over any arrangements which would emerge. For the HoR, and its supporters in the LNA and outside Libya, then, on the face of it, there was nothing to lose.

 

As with UNSC 1973, however, these provisions were to be entirely ignored. Under the terms of the agreement, a Presidency Council would be formed, made up of nominees from both parliaments. This Council would then appoint a government, which would be dependent on approval by the HoR. Yet, the UN Security Council itself violated the agreement within a week of its signing, by ‘recognising’ a government which had not only not yet been formed, but which, according to the terms of the LPA, could not be formed without HoR approval. This approval has neverbeen granted; yet the GNA’s Cabinet was nonetheless created on January 2nd (where, lacking support in Libya, it operated from Tunisia) by the Council President, Fayez al-Sarraj, triggering aboycott of the Council by two of its (eastern) members. Given that under the terms of the LPA security decisions could only be taken by the Council with the unanimous support of its five deputies, the PC thus no longer had the authority to make these decisions. This too was simply ignored.

 

Another sticking point emerged in March 2016, when the GNA moved to Tripoli, opposed by both the GNC and the HoR. According to the LPA, to be integrated into state security forces, militias were required to give up their weapons. Lacking any enforcement power of its own, however, the GNA simply ignored this provision too, and effectively paid a cartel of, mostly Misratan, militias to provide it with protection. Meanwhile British, Italian and German warships were stationed off the city’s coastto cow incalcitrant forces into acquiescence, reportedly sending text messages to the various militias warning them not to attempt to resist the GNA’s imposition. Nevertheless, the GNA still only managed to gain control of three of the country’s ministries, with most of the ‘government’ operating from the city’s naval base. Unsurprisingly, it was once again “Most notably the U.S. and UK,” notes the ICG, who “were lobbying for moving the Presidency Council to Tripoli and recognising the unity government as the legitimate government as soon as possible, even without formal HoR endorsement”.

 

A report in the UK newspaper The Independent later that month revealed why these governments were in such a rush. On 25th March 2016, it reported on a leaked briefing from King Abdullah in Jordan confirming that British and American special forces were on the ground in Libya, working with the Misratan militias. Granting such militias pseudo-legitimacy through their association with the GNA was crucial to provide a semblance of legality to these operations – which were, after all, military operations in support of armed gangs at war with the country’s elected parliament.

 

The following month the takeover of the GNA by the western militias was formalised by the appointment of Abderrahman Swehli, representing a bloc of Misratan militia, as President of the High State Council. The High State Council was created by the LPA as an ‘advisory body’ to the GNA, to be composed of former members of the GNC, the parliament which had lost the 2014 elections. Swehli, says the ICG, was viewed by “many Libyans… as the architect of the July 2014 “Libya Dawn” operation and the “Libya Sunrise” siege of eastern oil terminals later that year.” He was the man, in other words, who had initiated the armed overthrow of the elected government following the 2014 elections.

 

Thus, what looked on paper like an arrangement favouring the HoR – who would retain a veto over appointments – against the GNC – whose role was supposed to be ‘advisory’ – came in practice to be a means of transferring legitimacy from the elected HoR to the (electorally defeated) Tripoli and Misratan militias backing the GNA, with the provisions relating to the HoR’s role simply ignored.

 

It did not take long for the US and UK to utilise this transfer of legitimacy to start channelling arms to their favoured factions. Within days of Serraj announcing in May that the GNA was ready to start work (triggering the resignation of another four ministers, given the blatant illegality of operating without approval from the elected parliament), the UN Security Council declared it would start arming the GNA (that is, the militias now working under its banner, but not its command). It is worth noting here that the UNSC had consistently refused to lift the arms embargo on Libya when the HoR was the internationally-recognised government, battling Al Qaeda and ISIS-aligned forces in Benghazi (forces which often had tacit support from the GNA).

 

Indeed, the very next month, Britain successfully lobbied the UNSC to adopt a resolution mandating existing EU anti-migrant naval operations in the Mediterranean (‘Operation Sophia’) to also enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya. Now that the embargo on the GNA militias had been removed, this meant specifically cutting off arms to the LNA.

 

Thus the LPA, and the GNA it created, have served to legitimise the militias that have laid waste to Libya, whilst delegitimising the Libyan National Army and the elected parliament. Part of the reason for this was the desire to see that the LNA did not take Sirte.

 

For years, the LNA had been at the forefront of the fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya, and had completed its liberation of Benghazi from their affiliates in February 2016. The militias aligned to the GNA, meanwhile, had generally been at best ambivalent about such groups. If Britain and the US were to keep Libya out of the hands of the LNA, therefore, it needed to ensure its own favoured militias retook ISIS territory, and not the LNA. Top of the agenda was Sirte. The city had fallen to ISIS in May 2015, and, following its successful Benghazi operation, the LNA then began the march to retake Sirte. This was when British special forces were inserted to make sure this did not happen. Ultimately, Sirte did fall to the British-led Misratan militias and not to the LNA, in an operation more or less completed by the end of the year.

 

Thus, the LPA – and the Government in Name Alone it created – achieved NATO’s goals of both scuppering the Libyan-led dialogue then underway, and arresting the progress of the Libyan National Army. It has done so by transferring legitimacy from the elected parliament to the various rival militias vying for control of western Libya – and in the process, it has bolstered and entrenched militia rule.

 

A recent report by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs gave a stark outline of the impact this has had on Tripoli. Titled “Tripoli’s Militia Cartel: How Ill-Conceived Stabilisation Blocks Political Progress, and Risks Renewed War”, it is worth quoting at length. The report wrote that, on its arrival in Tripoli, “The Presidency Council rapidly fell under the influence of the militias protecting it and made little effort to reach out to others”. Within a year, a cartel of four militias had established themselves as an effective oligopoly, running most of central Tripoli. “The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) backed the militias’ expansion with its tacit approval,” the report adds, “as well as with advice to GNA officials who liaised with the armed groups…Under the Presidency Council’s watch, the militia oligopoly in Tripoli has consolidated into a cartel. The militias are no longer merely armed groups that exert their influence primarily through coercive force. They have grown into networks spanning politics, business, and the administration….To pursue [their] fraudulent practices, commanders in Tripoli’s large armed groups began placing agents throughout the administration. Since late 2016, new appointments in ministries and other government bodies have been overwhelmingly made under pressure from the militias. Through their representatives in the administration, the networks associated with the militias are increasingly able to operate in a coordinated manner across different institutions. According to politicians, militia leaders, and bureaucrats in Tripoli, the Presidency Council and the GNA have become a mere façade, behind which the armed groups and their associated interests are calling the shots.” By establishing protection rackets, kidnappings, and extorting local banks to help them operate black market currency rackets, these militias are becoming ever more wealthy. Yet these very wealth opportunities – created by the takeover of the GNA – make the ‘capture’ of Tripoli (and the GNA) an ever more attractive prize for the country’s other militias. Thus, concludes the report, “the militia cartel threatens to thwart the UN’s ongoing attempts at brokering a more viable political settlement and risks provoking a major new conflict over the capital”.

 

Indeed, it is pertinent that the report, published last April, predicted not only the recent bout of violence in Tripoli – when the Seventh Brigade of Tarhouna (also a creation of the GNA), allied to discontented Misratan militias, attacked the capital in an attempt to wrest control from the cartel – but also the very locations from which it would occur:

 

“The stranglehold over the administration exerted by the militia cartel means that the profits from the pillaging of state funds now benefits a smaller groups of actors than at any point since 2011.Unsurprisingly, this is fuelling serious tensions. A handful of Misratan militias are also present in Tripoli and support the status quo there, but the bulk of that city’s armed groups, and many of its politicians, increasingly resent their marginalisation by the Tripoli cartel. In Zintan, which hosts the second largest forces in western Libya, after Misrata, such resentment is combined with the long-held desire to return to the capital and efface the humiliation suffered in 2014, when Zintani forces were forcibly dislodged from the capital by a Misratan-led coalition. The recent appointments of Zintani figures in senior positions in Tripoli are not sufficient to assuage these ambitions. Yet another force with designs on the capital is based in Tarhuna. Throughout the first months of 2018, actors from these three cities have attempted to build an alliance to enter Tripoli by force. The complexity of the alliances around the capital and engagement by UNSMIL have, to date, prevented such an offensive from happening. But the longer the current situation in Tripoli persists, the more likely it is that such forces will start a new conflict over the capital.”

 

The GNA is absolutely not a Government of National Accord. It does not govern, it is not national, and it does not promote accord. Rather, it is a Government in Name Alone, a colonial imposition designed purely to legitimise western support for destabilising militias at the expense of the country’s elected parliament and most effective unified force. It is time for Libya’s factions to return to their own negotiations – and to reject, once and for all, the interference of the foreign powers which have destroyed, and continue to destroy, their country.

 

This article was originally published in Counterpunch magazine 

 

  1. i) Rambouillet ruse: Why Trump could be setting up North Korea talks to fail

 

6th June 2018

 

President Trump has set the bar of success so high for his forthcoming meeting with Kim Jong-Un, it is difficult to see how it could possibly be met. As the New York Times noted last month, “To meet his own definition of success, Mr. Trump will have to persuade Mr. Kim to accept ‘complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization’ of North Korea — something that Mr. Kim has shown no willingness to accept in the past, and few believe he will accede to in the future.” Such denuclearisation would involve “the actual dismantlement of weapons, the removal of stockpiled uranium and plutonium bomb fuel from the country and a verification program that will be one of the most complex in history, given the vastness of North Korea’s mountains.” Furthermore, Trump has suggested that the North Koreans will gain nothing in return for this one-sided destruction of their defences, until the process in all-but-complete; as one Trump official toldthe Wall Street Journal, “When the president says that he will not make the mistakes of the past, that means the U.S. will not be making substantial concessions, such as lifting sanctions, until North Korea has substantially dismantled its nuclear programs”. In other words – give up your leverage first; then we’ll see. What Trump appears to seek is nothing less than a completely disarmed Korea that will pave the way for the “Libya solution” his people have openly suggested is the goal.

 

Obviously, North Korea will not go for that. The whole point of their nuclear programme has been to ensure that their country avoids the fate of Iraq or Libya; which is why the intelligence community is generally united in their view that it will never be given up.  According to Ryan Hass of the Brookings Institution, “virtually no North Korea analyst inside or outside of the US government expect Kim Jong-un to relinquish his nuclear weapons”, quoting former CIA analyst Jung Pak that Kim views nuclear weapons as both “vital to the security of his regime and his legitimacy as leader of North Korea”. Meanwhile, the New York Timescomments: “ask the people who have seen past peace initiatives whether they think this one will work out any differently, and they have serious doubts that Mr. Kim will give up his nuclear program for any price”, whilst forStratfor, the complete denuclearisation of North Korea is “a lofty goal that will be nearly impossible to ensure”.

 

So what is Trump doing? Surely he knows what he is proposing would be completely unacceptable to any North Korean leader, let alone Kim Jong-Un?

 

But maybe this is the point. What if Trump, far from wanting to reach a deal, is actually deliberately pushing a proposal which is supposed to be rejected? After all, so long as he ensures his demands are unacceptable, he can offer the moon in return: recognition, technology, aid, lifting of sanctions, hell – why not? – even the removal of US troops from South Korea. Having such an offer rejected would allow Trump much more readily to be able to paint North Korea as the aggressor – unwilling to compromise, insincere in its desire for peace, etc etc.

 

This is, after all, a time honoured tactic.

 

In February 1999, in the French town ofRambouillet, a series of meetings were convened between representatives of Kosovo’s multiethnic population and the United States with the ostensible aim of resolving the conflict between Kosovan separatists and the Yugoslav government. For its part, the Yugoslavs had proposed a ceasefire, peace talks, the return of displaced citizens, and the establishment of a devolved assembly for the province, with a wide degree of autonomy. This would clearly have gone a long way to addressing the conflict; but that very fact made it completely unacceptable to the US, desperate to justify their coming onslaught against Yugoslavia. Instead, they needed a ‘peace deal’ that would be rejected by the Yugoslavs, who could then be painted as the aggressors, paving the way for war. To this end, the ‘Rambouillet Peace Agreement’ was formulated. Produced by the US State Department, the 90 page document demanded complete de facto independence for Kosovo, whilst still allowing the province to influence the rest of Yugoslavia by continuing to send representatives to its federal institutions. Yet, just in case even this one-sided arrangement was accepted by the Yugoslavs, in chapter seven of the agreement, the US inserted acrucial clause: that NATO “personnel shall enjoy . . . with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including associated airspace and territorial waters”, whilst at the same time be”immune from all legal process, whether civil, administrative or criminal, [and] under all circumstances and at all times, immune from [all laws] governing any criminal or disciplinary offences which may be committed by Nato personnel in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”. In other words, Yugoslavia would have to not only submit to a full-scale occupation by NATO, but also give the occupiers the absolute right to abuse the population with impunity. Such a demand could never have been accepted by any sovereign country. But that, of course, was the point: this was an agreement penned precisely to be rejected, in order to paint the Serbs as the unreasoning aggressors. It worked perfectly: the ‘agreement’ was duly rejected, and the planned blitzkrieg of Yugoslavia followed, with 78 days of unrelenting aerial bombardment.

 

The same ruse was repeated the following year by US President Bill Clinton. At Palestinian-Israeli peace talks at Camp David, he made a proposal for a ‘final settlement’ of the conflict which allowed Israel to keep 80% of their illegal settlements – 209 in total, housing almost 200,000 settlers – along with sovereignty over a patchwork of roads linking them together and thereby cutting the West Bank into unviable bantustans – with refugees permanently denied the right to return to their homes in Israel. As former US president Jimmy Carter commented, “There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive – but official statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful in placing the entire onus for failure on Yasir Arafat”. Indeed, through the distortions of western media, a narrative emerged that Israeli President Ehud Barak himself had made this so-called ‘generous offer’, the spurning of which demonstrated the Palestinians hatred for peace and unwillingness to settle for anything less than driving the Jews into the sea. In fact, the Israeli side themselves had never accepted Clinton’s proposal, and had issued twenty pages of concerns they had with it. On the last of the Clinton-chaired meetings – the one from which Barak’s supposed offer emerged, held in Taba in 2001 – Barak later said that “it was plain to me that there was no chance of reaching a settlement… Therefore I said there would be no negotiations and there would no delegation and there would be no official discussions and no documentation”. Nevertheless, the official narrative, to this day, recalls that the Palestinians rejected the Israelis’ ‘generous offer’ – and therefore only have themselves to blame for their continued slaughter.

 

The EU set up Yanukovych in the same way. In 2008, the EU and Ukraine agreed to negotiate what was supposed to be a trade agreement. Five years in the making, the EU Association Agreement was finally unveiled in 2013. But by then, the EU had included a clause on defence cooperation with the EU, effectively turning the country into a unofficial NATO member. Such a measure was guaranteed – and designed – to tear apart a country like Ukraine, a multiethnic polity with deep and historic ties to both Russia and Europe, whose unity rested on strict adherence to a policy of neutrality in terms of East-West rivalries. Furthermore, Yanokovych had an explicit democratic mandate for such neutrality, having been elected on precisely this basis. The Association agreement was duly rejected, as it was presumably intended to be – setting the stage for the western-backed ‘Maidan coup’ and civil war which followed and which continue to this day.

 

So western governments certainly have form in crafting proposals designed to be rejected, in order to justify escalation. And the US have every reason for doing so with North Korea today.

 

Trump’s North Korea policy throughout last year was one of warmongering rhetoric and the ratcheting up of tensions. Whilst this was to some extent successful in bullying China and others into agreeing to harsher sanctions, this ‘consensus’ began to fall apart as Trump’s team stepped up their war talk at the end of the year, with defence secretary Mattis warning of “storm clouds…gathering” and national security advisor McMaster claiming that the odds of war were “increasing every day”.

 

This ramping up of tension did not go down well in either of the Koreas, and rapid moves to de-escalate were undertaken, with North Korean involvement in the winter Olympics a symbolic, but important, signifier of greater North-South cooperation to come. Then, in his New Year address, Kim Jong-Un began a diplomatic charm offensive with the South which gained rapid results. A summit was set up between the leaders of the two Koreas, which eventually took place in April when Kim Jong-Un became the first North Korean leader to cross the border into the South since the Korean war. The summit agreed to pursue denuclearisation of the peninsula and to secure a formal Peace Treaty – with an outline peace arrangement to be reached by the end of the year.

 

This emerging detente between the two Koreas has hugely undermined Trump’s warmongering. In an article entitledAs Two Koreas Talk Peace, Trump’s Bargaining Chips Slip Away”, Mark Landlerpointed out that the talk of peace is likely to weaken the two levers that Mr. Trump used to pressure Mr. Kim… A resumption of regular diplomatic exchanges between the two Koreas, analysts said, will inevitably erode the crippling economic sanctions against the North, while Mr. Trump will find it hard to threaten military action against a country that is extending an olive branch”. Landler went on to quote Jeffrey A. Bader, a former Asia advisor to Barack Obama, that, following the North-South rapprochement, “It becomes awfully hard for Trump to return to the locked-and-loaded, ‘fire and fury’ phase of the relationship”. Worse, “Inside the White House, some worry that Mr. Kim will use promises of peace to peel South Korea away from the United States and blunt efforts to force him to give up his nuclear weapons”.

 

Trump, therefore, urgently needs to snuff out this rapprochement if he is to return to the bellicosity that marked his Korea policy hitherto. As Landler wrote, “Mr Kim…made a bold bet on diplomacy” – and Trump needs to ensure that it fails. The best way of doing so is by putting himself at the head of it.

 

If Trump is indeed planning to use theRambouillet ruse to reignite tensions against the North, it is important that he spin his designed-to-be-rejected offer as somehow incredibly generous. And in recent weeks there have indeed been moves in that direction.

 

First of all, Trump has appeared to accept that denuclearisation might not need happen in one fell swoop, telling reporters that whilst  “It would certainly be better if it were all in one…. I don’t think I want to totally commit myself.” Next, Trump went out of his way to guarantee Mr. Kim’s safety. “He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich,” the president said. You can already imagine Trump’s words when his ‘generous offer’ gets rejected: “we offered him security. We offered him prosperity. We offered him phased elimination. And he rejected all of it”.

 

Fascinatingly, it turns out that Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton has actually already suggested precisely theRambouillet ruse. According to the New York Times, “Two weeks before he was recruited as national security adviser, [Bolton] said a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim was useful only because it would inevitably fail, and then the United States could move swiftly on to the next phase — presumably a military confrontation… ‘It could be a long and unproductive meeting, or it could be a short and unproductive meeting,’ he said on Fox News. …Even among officials who worry about war, there is sympathy for his view that “failing quickly” would be valuable.” Meanwhile, Stratfor’s analysis of the likely prospects for the forthcoming summit concluded that “it may also reinforce the idea that if the two leaders can’t negotiate a way out of the conflict, then perhaps a diplomatic solution isn’t possible and talk of a military solution to the United States’ North Korea problem could return…Without some change, we’ll probably find ourselves back on the path to containment, if not on a course toward military action to end the North Korean nuclear and missile programme once and for all”.

 

Whether military action is realistically possible against North Korea, however, remains a serious question. Most analysts agree that the fallout from any retaliation – both against the 28,000 US soldiers stationed in South Korea, and against US allies in Seoul and Kyoto – would be unacceptably high.James Stavridis, former Nato supreme allied commander, is typical in his view that there are “no military options which would result in fewer than several hundred thousand casualties and perhaps as many as 2m to 3m”.

 

So if war is not on the cards, to what end would Trump seek the rejection of his offer?

 

One answer has already been suggested – to scupper the emerging North-South co-operation that threatens to erode US influence on the peninsula. Summit failure would give Trump a perceived ‘moral right’ to bully the South into ending its outreach and returning to the US position of isolating the North.

 

But another reason could lie in Trump’s trade war with China, the opening shots of which have only just been fired. Any supposed North Korean intransigence could provide Trump with cover for initiating secondary sanctions against North Korea’s supposed ‘allies’. Congressional law already allows Trump to initiate secondary sanctions against anyone trading with the victim of primary sanctions, but with the current atmosphere of rapprochement, it is difficult for Trump to justify using these against China at present. A North Korean ‘walk-out’ would provide the perfect excuse for stepping up economic warfare against China under the guise of sanctioning Korea. Indeed, Trump has already been setting up China as a potential scapegoat for any failure to reach a deal, claiming that Kim’s position had hardened following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “There was a different attitude by the North Korean folks after that meeting,” Trump told reporters recently, “I can’t say that I’m happy about it.”

 

The entire trajectory of Trump is, after all, not one of conciliation, but of escalation – on all fronts. Escalation against immigrants, against the working class, against Iran, against China, and even against his supposed chums in Moscow. There is absolutely no reason to think that North Korea is some kind of magical exception to this golden rule.

 

Setting up a deal guaranteed to be rejected, but which can be spun as incredibly generous, is, of course, no mean feat. This is especially true given that Kim has now repeatedly stated that he is willing to give up his nuclear weapons. Indeed, this possibility cannot be entirely ruled out: after all, North Korea’s conventional capacity alone – not to mention its mutual defence treaty with China – arguably provides as much deterrence as is necessary to prevent an invasion, as those casualty figures quoted above bear out. In this case, the devil will be in the detail – and more specifically in the timings of the granting of concessions. Trump is likely, in my view, to offer what appear to be very generous concessions, but make them contingent on unacceptably obtrusive verification measures or unachievable levels of ‘proof’ before any of them kick in. Perhaps they will just copy and paste chapter seven of the RambouilletAgreement in its entirety. A secret clause demanding NATO occupation of all of North Korea would probably do the trick. 

 

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. j) Yes, a new world war is imminent

 

17th April 2018 

 

Just over a quarter-century before the outbreak of the First World War, global capitalism was in the throes of a deep economic crisis. This original ‘Great Depression’, which lasted from 1873 to 1896, saw tens of millions perish from famine as the ‘great powers’ shifted the burden as far as possible onto their colonies; whilst, at home, anti-systemic movements such as the ‘New Unionism’ burst onto the scene in the capitalist heartlands, presenting a serious challenge to bourgeois rule. Africa was torn apart by imperial powers desperate to secure monopoly access to its riches, and rivalries between these powers constantly threatened to erupt into outright war. In the midst of all this, one particularly astute political commentator gave a disturbingly prophetic insight as to how the crisis would ultimately be resolved, predicting a: “world war of an extent and violence hitherto unimagined. Eight to ten million soldiers will be at each other’s throats and in the process they will strip Europe barer than a swarm of locusts. The depredations of the Thirty Years War compressed into three or four years and extended over the entire continent; famine, disease, the universal lapse into barbarism, both of the armies and people, in the wake of acute misery; irretrievable dislocation of our artificial system of trade, industry and credit, ending in general bankruptcy; collapse of the old states and their conventional political wisdom to the point where crowns will roll into the gutter by the dozen, and no one will be around to pick them up; the absolute impossibility of seeing where it will all end and who will emerge as victor from the battle; only one consequence is absolutely certain: general exhaustion and the conditions for the ultimate victory of the working class.”

 

The commentator was Marx’s lifelong collaborator Friedrich Engels. The accuracy of his prediction – right down to the numbers killed and the length of the war, not to mention the revolutions and collapse of empires that would result – is truly remarkable. Yet Engels had no crystal ball. What he foresaw was nothing more than the logical outcome of the workings of the global capitalist-imperialist system, which constantly and inexorably pushes towards world war. 

 

The logic is basically this. Capitalism, with its combination of rapid technological progress plus derisory wage payments – both tendencies a ‘natural’ result of competition – leads to a situation where markets cannot be found for its goods. This is because capital’s capacity to produce constantly outstrips the capacity of consumers to consume, as these consumers are, in the main, the very same workers whose wages are driven down, or who are made redundant altogether, by improved technology. Ultimately, this results in a crisis of overproduction, with markets glutted, and workers thrown out of work in their millions. Already in 1848, four decades before his prediction of world war, Engels (and Marx) had written that such crises tended to be “resolved” through “the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces” – in other words, the wholesale closure of industry. Through closures of the most inefficient industries, surplus production would eventually be reduced, and profitability restored. But in so doing, capitalists were effectively increasing the concentration of capital in the hands of the most ‘efficient’ industries, whose productive capacity in the future would render the underlying contradiction yet more insoluble still, and were thereby “paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and diminishing the means whereby crises are avoided”. For Engels, the crisis underway by the 1880s was so extensive that the destruction of capital required to overcome it would take more than mere closures – it would take all-out war. 

 

The destruction of capital, however, is not the only means by which to overcome overproduction crises. The other option, said Marx and Engels, is “the conquest of new markets or the more thorough exploitation of old ones”. The period of the late-nineteenth century saw a renewed ‘Scramble for Africa’ as each imperial power sought to grab territories which might one day serve as both sources of raw materials and markets for surplus capital. In North America, the USA was completing its own colonisation of the West and South in imperial wars against the Native Americans and Mexico. By the close of the century, however, all the ‘available’ territories had been conquered. From then on in, argued Lenin, the capture of new colonies could only be at the expense of another colonial power – ushering in a new, imperial, phase of capitalism with an inbuilt drive towards world war. 

 

We have now witnessed two episodes of this cycle of capitalist crisis mutating into world war, the second much more successful in terms of the destruction of capital than the first. Indeed it was so successful that it paved the way for a ‘Golden Era’ of capitalist prosperity lasting almost three decades. But then, once again, the inevitable crisis tendencies began to set in. 

 

The colonial, imperialist nature of postwar capitalism has, to some extent, been disguised by the formal political independence of most of the formerly colonised world. With an unambiguous and unrivalled lead in technological capacity, the Western nations have not required direct colonisation in order to guarantee essentially ‘captive’ markets for their goods and capital. The former colonies have largely been dependent on products, finance and technology from the imperial world without the need for formal political control – and this dependence has been backed up with economic blackmail through international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank where possible, and direct military force against resistant nations where necessary. 

 

Such dependence, however, has been decisively eroded since the beginning of the new millenium. The rise of China, in particular, has completely destroyed the West’s monopoly on finance and market access for the global South: African, Asian and Latin American countries no longer have to rely on US markets for their goods or on World Bank loans for their infrastructure development. China is now an alternative provider of all these, and generally on far superior terms of trade than those offered by the West. In times of continued economic stagnation, however, this loss of their (neo)colonies is entirely unacceptable to the Western capitalist nations, and threatens the entire carefully crafted system of global extortion on which their own prosperity is based. 

 

Increasingly unable to rely on economic coercion alone to keep countries within its ‘sphere of influence’, then, the West have been turning more and more to military force. Indeed, the US, UK and France have been permanently at war since the eve of the new millennium – starting with Yugoslavia, through Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria and Yemen (to say nothing of proxy wars such as that in the Congo, or the ‘drone wars’ waged in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere). In each case, the aim has been the same – to thwart the possibility of independent development. It is entirely indicative of this new era of decreasing economic power that several of these wars were waged against states whose leaders were once in the pocket of the US (Iraq and Afghanistan) or who they had hoped to buy off (Libya and Syria). 

 

Thus, where it was once, at least in part, the product of productive superiority, the continued supremacy of the West in international affairs is increasingly reliant on military force alone. And even this military superiority is diminishing daily. 

 

Predictions of the length of time left before the Chinese economy overtakes the US economy continue to shrink. In 2016, China’s share of the world economy had grown to 15%, compared to the USA’s 25%. But with a growth rate currently three times that of the USA, the difference is expected to decline rapidly; at this rate, the Chinese economy is on course to overtake that of the US by 2026. In fact, once adjustments are made for purchasing power parity and differential prices, the Chinese economy is already larger. Furthermore, Chinese manufacturing output has been higher than that of the US for over a decade, and exports are one third higher, whilst China produces double the number of graduates annually than the US. 

 

Such developments, however, are not of economic significance only: for it is only a matter of time before economic superiority is converted into military superiority. And this gives the US and its hangers-on an ever-diminishing window of opportunity in which to actually USE their military superiority in order to preserve their deteriorating global power. 

 

Clearly the strategy hitherto has been to avoid direct war with China and its key ally Russia, and instead to focus on ‘taking out’ their real or potential allies amongst states less able to defend themselves. But Russia’s role as a spoiler in the regime change operation in Syria has demonstrated to the US that this may no longer be possible. This has led to a split within the US ruling class on the issue of how to deal with Russia, with one side seeking to purchase Russian acquiescence to wars against Iran and China (advocated by the faction supporting Trump) and the other aiming to simply ‘regime change’ Russia itself (advocated by the Hillary faction). At the heart of both is the attempt to break the alliance between Russia and China, in the case of Hillary by pulling China away from Russia, and for Trump, pulling Russia away from China. 

 

The point is, however, that neither strategy is likely to work, as clearly the breaking of the China-Russia axis is aimed at weakening both of them. Furthermore, even if Putin were prepared to ditch Iran, or even China, for the right price (such as lifting sanctions, or recognising Russian sovereignty over Crimea), there is no way Congress would allow Trump to pay such a price. Trump would dearly love to offer to lift sanctions – but this is not within his gift; instead he can merely offer sops such as withdrawal from Syria, or pre-warning of missile attacks on Russia’s allies – hardly enough to lure Russia into the suicidal severing of alliances with its most important allies.

 

This conundrum puts the unthinkable squarely on the agenda: direct war with Russia. The last month has shown clearly how, and how rapidly, this is developing. Britain’s carefully calibrated efforts to create a worldwide diplomatic break with Russia can now clearly be seen as a prelude to what was almost certainly planned to be – and may yet become – an all-out war with Iran on the Syrian battlefield. This scenario appears to have been averted for now by Russia’s refusal to countenance it, and the West’s fear of launching such an operation in the face of direct Russian threats, but such incidents are only likely to increase. It is only a matter of time before Russia will be put to the test. 

 

It is easy to see how the Syrian war could lead to a major escalation: indeed, it is difficult to see how it could not. In Washington, there is much talk of the need to ‘confront’ Iran in Syria, and recent Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria indicate that they are itching to get this confrontation under way, with or without prior US approval. Once underway, however, an Iranian-Israeli conflict could very easily draw in Russia and the US. Russia could hardly be expected to stand back whilst Israel reversed all its hard fought gains of the past two and a half years – whilst demonstrating the feebleness of Russian ‘protection’ – and would likely retaliate, or at the very least (and more likely) provide its allies with the means to do so. Indeed, Putin reportedly warned Netanyahu last week that he can no longer expect to attack Syria with impunity. And once Israelis start getting killed by Russian hardware, it is hard to see how the US could not get involved.

 

This is just one possible scenario for the kind of escalation that would lead to war with Russia. Economic war with China is already underway, and US warships are already readying themselves to cut off China’s supply lines in the South China Sea. Each specific provocation and escalation may or may not lead to a direct showdown with one or both of these powers. What is clear, however, is that this is the direction in which Western imperialism is clearly headed. It has built up its unparalleled armoury for one reason only – to protect its dominant world position. The time is soon coming when it will have to use it – and use it against a power that can actually fight back – whilst it still has a chance of winning. 

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

Part 5 – Spillover – the consequences of state destruction 

 

  1. Western foreign policy has become a protection racket

 

12th February 2015

 

When George Bush set up AFRICOM – the US army’s ‘African command’ centre – in 2006, he was unable to find a single African country willing to host the organisation’s HQ. In the end, the nearest he could get was Stuttgart, Germany, where AFRICOM is still based to this day.

This was a time when Africa was rapidly pulling itself away from the West’s orbit: the African Union, formed in 2000, was formed explicitly in opposition to the ‘neoliberal globalisation’ that Western financial institutions had been foisting on the continent, and massive Chinese and Libyan investment was providing very real alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and its ‘structural adjustment programmes’ that had proved so debilitating during the 1990s.

This meant that the West’s key ‘leverage’ over Africa – its position as monopoly provider of loans and markets – was (and is) rapidly being destroyed. In the 90s, the West had been able to impose neoliberal policies – such as the abolition of tariffs, the ending of subsidies and the cutting of social provisions – because debt-ridden African countries were effectively at the mercy of Western financial institutions.  These institutions were able to demand the implementation of such policies in exchange for ‘debt restructuring’ – essentially the provision of new loans to pay off old (often fraudulent) ones. The problem for Africa was that such policies served to remove economic sovereignty and keep the continent tied into a neo-colonial division of labour, providing cheap minerals and crops whilst destroying its infant manufacturing industry and keeping wages low due to the resultant unemployment.

This arrangement was seriously challenged in the 2000s, as China moved in and began to offer both investment and infrastructure loans on terms that the West could not even begin to compete with. One example was the $6billion loan to the Democratic Republic of Congo arranged in 2010. As Boyce and Ndukamana have written in their excellent book, Africa’s Odious Debts, “In exchange for copper and cobalt…the DRC gets railways, roads and other public goods. For ordinary Congolese people, the near-barter trade arrangement means that they can see, feel and touch the proceeds of the transaction… [This] looks good compared to oil-backed loans from Western bankers to African governments, the counterparts of which are cash in secret offshore accounts and guns to suppress the regime’s opponents”.

With loan-dependency being undermined, however, the Western nations which have grown so wealthy on the back of African labour and resources are now attempting to foster a new type of dependency – but this time in the area of military security.

Following the African Union’s rejection of AFRICOM in 2006, African opposition to Western attempts to replace its waning economic influence with military muscle have intensified. The AU’s election to the Presidency of Colonel Gaddafi – the man whose first move on coming to power in 1969 was to immediately throw US and British military bases out of his country – in 2009 was hugely symbolic of the organisation’s determination to resist neo-colonial designs, and to push instead for greater integration and independence. In his year as leader of the AU, Gaddafi  began pushing for a single African currency, army and passport, as well as putting serious Libyan money ($30billion) behind the creation of three AU banking institutions which aimed to further disentangle the continent from Western financial manipulation. In 2010, the AU set up five regional ‘African Standby Forces’, designed to implement the Union’s 2004 Peace and Security Charter. Meanwhile, CEN-SAD, the 23 member Community of Sahel and Saharan states, under Libyan leadership, also facilitated security coordination across the region, which even the US ambassador (in a leaked memo in 2008)admitted was proving highly effective.

Thus, the US ‘offer’ to provide military and security ‘support’ via AFRICOM and initiatives such as the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) were invariably declined as unnecessary in the light of the increasingly effective security organisations of the African Union itself. Indeed, Libyan National Security Advisor Muatassim Gaddafi told Hillary Clinton bluntly in 2009 that the “Tripoli-based Community of Sahel-Saharan states (CEN-SAD) and the North Africa Standby Force obviated TSCTP’s mission”.

This was all before the invasion of Libya. Since 2011, these security gains have been put sharply into reverse, not only by the destruction of the Libyan Jamahiriya, the lynchpin of the Trans-Saharan security system, but also by the massive arming of dangerous sectarian militia groups in the process. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who acted as NATO’s foot soldiers in the battle to oust Gaddafi, were given advanced weaponry and training by Britain, France and Qatar, and were ultimately able to seize Libya itself as a safe haven for operations across the region as a result. LIFG’s close links to other regional militia such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram are well documented, and as early as January 2012, the UN were issuing reports warning that NATO’s actions in Libya had greatly boosted the fighting capacity of Boko Haram and their allies.

So it is no surprise that both AQIM and Boko Haram have been able to launch much more audacious attacks in the wake of the NATO’s destruction of Libya. These groups have been massively boosted by the support and territory they acquired both directly from NATO and as a result of its actions. In an excellent piece for spiked online, Brendan O’Neill has thoroughly documented the indisputable link between NATO’s arming of sectarian death squads in Libya and the subsequent growth in capacity of Boko Haram, which has empowered them to organise attacks such as the kidnapping of almost 300 schoolgirls earlier this year.

But this growing chaos has provided a much more fertile environment for the West’s latest attempt to convince Africa that its military forces are now ‘needed’ after all.

Effectively, Western foreign policy has become little more than a protection racket. In classic mafia style, the initial rejection of the US offer of AFRICOM ‘protection’ was  met with extreme violence (against Libya), and enabled destabilising militias to step up attacks on countries throughout the region, from Algeria to Mali to Nigeria. Now the West is able to repeat its offer – but this time hoping for a more sympathetic hearing, having just unleashed the very forces from which it is now offering protection.

The same is clearly the case in Iraq. Al-Maliki, Iraqi Prime Minister, has grown increasingly distant from the West in recent years, signing huge oil contracts with China, drawing closer to Iran and refusing to support Western-backed ‘regime change’ in Syria. Now he is facing a massive onslaught from the forces of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), a group not only empowered but created as a result of the West’s policy of sponsoring violent upheaval in neighbouring Syria. Now that upheaval has spilled over into Iraq, Maliki, like Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria, is being offered ‘protection’ by the US and the UK, the same governments that unleashed the forces they are now fighting.

In other words, when US and Britain offer ‘support’ for Nigeria against Boko Haram, or for Iraq against ISIS, they are offering protection against a threat which they themselves are responsible for.  The flooding of North Africa and the Middle East with armed militias – the overt and predictable consequence of NATO’s actions in Libya and Syria – aims to make Africa and the Arab world dependent on the West for its security needs.

African and Arab governments should not fall into the trap. The West aims to destabilise countries like Nigeria and Iraq not stabilise them. It would turn Nigeria into Libya if it could – a failed state unable to offer any kind of regional counterweight to Western influence, and whose resources are open to plunder by regional militias beholden to the West and protected by private Western security, rather than being a tool for national development. But this desperate policy only reveals that Western governments have nothing to offer the peoples of the world in the coming era of multipolarity. 

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. b) Britain, Libya and the drownings in the Med

 

May 1st 2015 

 

When George Bush set up AFRICOM – the US army’s ‘African command’ centre – in 2006, he was unable to find a single African country willing to host the organisation’s HQ. In the end, the nearest he could get was Stuttgart, Germany, where AFRICOM is still based to this day.

This was a time when Africa was rapidly pulling itself away from the West’s orbit: the African Union, formed in 2000, was formed explicitly in opposition to the ‘neoliberal globalisation’ that Western financial institutions had been foisting on the continent, and massive Chinese and Libyan investment was providing very real alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and its ‘structural adjustment programmes’ that had proved so debilitating during the 1990s.

This meant that the West’s key ‘leverage’ over Africa – its position as monopoly provider of loans and markets – was (and is) rapidly being destroyed. In the 90s, the West had been able to impose neoliberal policies – such as the abolition of tariffs, the ending of subsidies and the cutting of social provisions – because debt-ridden African countries were effectively at the mercy of Western financial institutions.  These institutions were able to demand the implementation of such policies in exchange for ‘debt restructuring’ – essentially the provision of new loans to pay off old (often fraudulent) ones. The problem for Africa was that such policies served to remove economic sovereignty and keep the continent tied into a neo-colonial division of labour, providing cheap minerals and crops whilst destroying its infant manufacturing industry and keeping wages low due to the resultant unemployment.

This arrangement was seriously challenged in the 2000s, as China moved in and began to offer both investment and infrastructure loans on terms that the West could not even begin to compete with. One example was the $6billion loan to the Democratic Republic of Congo arranged in 2010. As Boyce and Ndukamana have written in their excellent book, Africa’s Odious Debts, “In exchange for copper and cobalt…the DRC gets railways, roads and other public goods. For ordinary Congolese people, the near-barter trade arrangement means that they can see, feel and touch the proceeds of the transaction… [This] looks good compared to oil-backed loans from Western bankers to African governments, the counterparts of which are cash in secret offshore accounts and guns to suppress the regime’s opponents”.

With loan-dependency being undermined, however, the Western nations which have grown so wealthy on the back of African labour and resources are now attempting to foster a new type of dependency – but this time in the area of military security.

Following the African Union’s rejection of AFRICOM in 2006, African opposition to Western attempts to replace its waning economic influence with military muscle have intensified. The AU’s election to the Presidency of Colonel Gaddafi – the man whose first move on coming to power in 1969 was to immediately throw US and British military bases out of his country – in 2009 was hugely symbolic of the organisation’s determination to resist neo-colonial designs, and to push instead for greater integration and independence. In his year as leader of the AU, Gaddafi began pushing for a single African currency, army and passport, as well as putting serious Libyan money ($30billion) behind the creation of three AU banking institutions which aimed to further disentangle the continent from Western financial manipulation. In 2010, the AU set up five regional ‘African Standby Forces’, designed to implement the Union’s 2004 Peace and Security Charter. Meanwhile, CEN-SAD, the 23 member Community of Sahel and Saharan states, under Libyan leadership, also facilitated security

coordination across the region, which even the US ambassador (in a leaked memo in 2008)admitted was proving highly effective.

Thus, the US ‘offer’ to provide military and security ‘support’ via AFRICOM and initiatives such as the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) were invariably declined as unnecessary in the light of the increasingly effective security organisations of the African Union itself. Indeed, Libyan National Security Advisor Muatassim Gaddafi told Hillary Clinton bluntly in 2009 that the “Tripoli-based Community of Sahel-Saharan states (CEN-SAD) and the North Africa Standby Force obviated TSCTP’s mission”.

This was all before the invasion of Libya. Since 2011, these security gains have been put sharply into reverse, not only by the destruction of the Libyan Jamahiriya, the lynchpin of the Trans-Saharan security system, but also by the massive arming of dangerous sectarian militia groups in the process. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who acted as NATO’s foot soldiers in the battle to oust Gaddafi, were given advanced weaponry and training by Britain, France and Qatar, and were ultimately able to seize Libya itself as a safe haven for operations across the region as a result. LIFG’s close links to other regional militia such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram are well documented, and as early as January 2012, the UN were issuing reports warning that NATO’s actions in Libya had greatly boosted the fighting capacity of Boko Haram and their allies.

So it is no surprise that both AQIM and Boko Haram have been able to launch much more audacious attacks in the wake of the NATO’s destruction of Libya. These groups have been massively boosted by the support and territory they acquired both directly from NATO and as a result of its actions. In an excellent piece for spiked online, Brendan O’Neill has thoroughly documented the indisputable link between NATO’s arming of sectarian death squads in Libya and the subsequent growth in capacity of Boko Haram, which has empowered them to organise attacks such as the kidnapping of almost 300 schoolgirls earlier this year.

But this growing chaos has provided a much more fertile environment for the West’s latest attempt to convince Africa that its military forces are now ‘needed’ after all.

Effectively, Western foreign policy has become little more than a protection racket. In classic mafia style, the initial rejection of the US offer of AFRICOM ‘protection’ was  met with extreme violence (against Libya), and enabled destabilising militias to step up attacks on countries throughout the region, from Algeria to Mali to Nigeria. Now the West is able to repeat its offer – but this time hoping for a more sympathetic hearing, having just unleashed the very forces from which it is now offering protection.

The same is clearly the case in Iraq. Al-Maliki, Iraqi Prime Minister, has grown increasingly distant from the West in recent years, signing huge oil contracts with China, drawing closer to Iran and refusing to support Western-backed ‘regime change’ in Syria. Now he is facing a massive onslaught from the forces of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), a group not only empowered but created as a result of the West’s policy of sponsoring violent upheaval in neighbouring Syria. Now that upheaval has spilled over into Iraq, Maliki, like Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria, is being offered ‘protection’ by the US and the UK, the same governments that unleashed the forces they are now fighting.

In other words, when US and Britain offer ‘support’ for Nigeria against Boko Haram, or for Iraq against ISIS, they are offering protection against a threat which they themselves are responsible for.  The flooding of North Africa and the Middle East with armed militias – the overt and predictable

consequence of NATO’s actions in Libya and Syria – aims to make Africa and the Arab world dependent on the West for its security needs.

African and Arab governments should not fall into the trap. The West aims to destabilise countries like Nigeria and Iraq not stabilise them. It would turn Nigeria into Libya if it could – a failed state unable to offer any kind of regional counterweight to Western influence, and whose resources are open to plunder by regional militias beholden to the West and protected by private Western security, rather than being a tool for national development. But this desperate policy only reveals that Western governments have nothing to offer the peoples of the world in the coming era of multipolarity

This article was originally published by Counterpunch 

 

  1. c) The EU’s war on migrants will boost ISIS 

 

18th May 2015

 

In the wake of the appalling death toll in the Mediterranean at the end of last month – when up to 1300 refugees were estimated to have drowned in one week – the EU were quick to jump on the tragedy as an opportunity to ramp up military involvement in Africa. Resisting calls to restart search-and-rescue operations, the emergency European Council meeting on 23rd April instead called for the bombing of the boats on which the migrants were fleeing, vowing to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. A leaked ‘strategy paper’, presented to the UN Security Council last Wednesday by EU foreign representative Federica Mogherini, spelt out exactly what this would entail: “The operation would require a broad range of air, maritime and land capabilities. These could include: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units.” ‘Onshore activities’ might include “action along the coast, in harbour or at anchor of smugglers assets and vessels before their use”. In other words, another large scale assault on Libya, waged from air, sea and land. Needless to say it has been rejected by both Libyan ‘governments’ – the internationally-recognised one in Tobruk, and, in a rare display of unity, also by the Libyan Dawn government based in Tripoli.

 

Taken at face value, the approach is hard to understand. Experts have been queuing up to condemn the planned bombardment, arguing that not only will it be gratuitously cruel, but counter-productive as well. A joint statement issued by the UN’s human right experts on migrants, Francois Crepeau, and on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro  wrote that “Increasing repression of survival migration has not worked in the past and will not work now. Destroying boats is only a very short-sighted solution to combating smuggling. Smugglers continue to skillfully adapt, as long as there is a market to exploit.”

 

Indeed, the ‘war on drugs’ has shown again and again that militarised solutions aimed at the ‘supply side’ of criminal enterprises without addressing demand are invariably disastrous. As Ioan Grillo has brilliantly described in “El Narco”, the attempt in places like Mexico and Colombia to wipe out drug crops through aerial bombardment over the past four decades has had two main effects: firstly, pushing up the price – and therefore the profits – of the trade; and secondly, consolidating that trade in the hands of only the most ruthless, vicious and weaponised gangs. The result has been a massive concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the most ultra-violent drugs cartels, with the 100,000 killed in Mexico’s Jalisco province over the past eight years that latest bloody testament to this grim reality. Any attempt to deal with ‘people smuggling’ by bombing their boats out of existence would almost certainly have a similar result.

In Libya the ‘people smuggling trade’ is currently run by a plethora of small providers, some operating just occasional voyages in very small vessels hired from fishermen. These small providers would probably not withstand a concerted military assault. With prices going through the roof as a result of continued demand and declining supply, however, the trade would certainly continue. But it would do so in the hands only of those with the firepower necessary to run the operation in the newly militarised terrain – that is to say, in the hands of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. And they would be doing so in a market that would have become immeasurably more profitable. The almost guaranteed result, then, of the EU’s strategy, would be not to eliminate the ‘people smuggling’ trade, but to ensure that it helped concentrate massive wealth and firepower in the hands of Libya’s most violent gangs. This much should be obvious to any high school economics student with even a basic knowledge of supply and demand. No wonder, then, that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Russian government, and even, apparently, parts of the French military are opposed to the plans.

So why is the EU so firmly in favour of this self-defeating exercise in moral bankruptcy? Of course, one explanation goes that it is simply a way for governments outflank their far-right opponents by proving their ‘toughness on immigration’; ‘look’, Cameron and his ilk can argue, ‘even Nigel Farage never promised to actually blow refugees out of the water!’. This analysis makes some sense when we note that it is Britain, France and Italy in the forefront of the ‘war party’ on this issue – all of whom have witnessed massive rises in votes for anti-immigrant parties in recent years.

But seen in terms of the broad context of European capitalism’s deep, multi-layered, crisis, another explanation also suggests itself.

Myself and many others have argued over the past four years that the unleashing of sectarian violence across the Middle East and North Africa was not an accidental by-product of Western foreign policy in the region, but its very purpose. By the mid-2000s, the growing economic clout of the global South was presenting a very real threat to the continued European/ North American extortion of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Ever since these regions gained formal independence from colonialism, they had remained tied to former (and new) colonial powers through a million economic threads. Yet the rise of China (and to a lesser extent, India and Brazil) has smashed the West’s former monopoly of markets and finance, and has facilitated one country after another freeing themselves from economic dependence on Europe and the US, and towards a growing South-South cooperation in which the West has been edged out. The massive rise in Chinese investment in Africa – from $6billion in 2000 to an estimated $200billion today – is but the most vivid example of a global trend.

Terrorist destabilisation, then, has been the West’s way of using military means to claw back

that power it can no longer maintain through economic manipulation alone. For destabilised regional powers cannot contribute to the growing strength of the BRICS, cannot support their regions’ moves towards self-sufficiency, and are likely to be ever more reliant on both Western military aid and international finance. By creating one failed state after another – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo and Libya – the US and Britain have created the conditions in which terrorist activity can thrive; and then by directly supporting sectarian militias, in Libya and Syria in particular, they have ensured that these militia keep the affected countries in a state of violent chaos – that is to say, weak and dependent.

If this analysis is correct – if the West are pursuing a policy of destabilisation against the global South in order to keep it weak and dependent – then the apparently self-defeating strategy of concentrating the ‘people smuggling’ trade in the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda suddenly makes perfect sense. It may be a desperate measure to keep these groups alive.

Because the tide has now definitively turned against the sectarian death squads which the West has been fostering for the past five years. No longer seen as the ‘freedom fighters of the Arab Spring’, the West’s proxy militias – and their political apologists – now inspire little more than revulsion across much of the region. It began with the overthrow of Morsi in Egypt in 2013, and continued throughout 2014 with both the military gains made by President Assad and the ousting of the pro-militia parliament in Libyan elections. In Libya, in particular, which has been steeped in sectarian violence and civil war ever since NATO’s invasion in 2011, there are some encouraging signs that the death squads’ reign of terror might be on its last legs.

 

Last month, the UN envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon announced that the country’s two rival factions have reached a draft accord which is “very close to a final agreement”, and each side has begun putting forward their nominees for positions within a unity government. Of course, this may yet fall though. After all, the ‘’Libya Dawn” coalition – formed of militia supporters who lost the last election – has apparently rebuffed the agreement. Yet if it is rejected, this just makes it more likely that the ‘Libya Dawn’ militias will simply meet with outright military defeat – for two reasons. Firstly, they are intensely divided. The rise of ISIS in Libya has split the so-called ‘Islamists’, with the Libya Dawn now officially at war with ISIS, although this is a policy not all the Libya Dawn militias support. Furthermore, the Misrata militias, who broadly support the idea of a ‘unity government’ are increasingly fighting other more hardline groups who do not. Whilst there are also divisions on the elected government’s side, so far these are on the level of political faction-fighting rather than shooting battles. Clearly the violent divisions on the Misrata – Libya Dawn – ISIS side are likely to be more corrosive than political disputes. Secondly, the intervention of Egypt on the side of the elected, Tobruk government, has significantly altered the balance of power in that government’s favour. And according to intelligence reports from DebkaFile, Egypt is “preparing a large-scale ground and air assault along the Libyan border to

oust the Islamic State group from eastern Libya”. If Egypt does indeed wage such an assault, wiping out ISIS (along, most likely, with its allies and supporters from within Libya Dawn), that will again increase the pressure for the Libya Dawn to come to a compromise or risk total annihilation. Either of these outcomes would be a serious spanner in the works to British-US led ‘Divide and Ruin’ strategy – in which Libya is supposed to play the role of the base of destabilisation across the whole region.

 

Hence the urgency for a ‘new intervention’. Not only would ISIS and co see their smuggling profits boosted exponentially, but the EU plan would also pave the way for SAS involvement in revitalising the militias (just as they did in 2011) and to serve as a bulwark against Egyptian forces. The result would, of course, be a much more bloody conflict. But that is precisely the point.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. d) If the Sinai crash was terrorism, its timing was perfect for western geostrategy 

 

7t November 2015

 

Following the 1991 Gulf war, the late lamented US comedian Bill Hicks performed a routine of a US general at a press conference. “Iraq has incredible weapons. Incredible,” the general said. ‘How do you know that?,’ he was asked. “Oh, well, uh – we looked at the receipt”.

In the aftermath of the Russian plane crash in Egypt last week, Britain in particular has been quick to claim that the crash was the result of a “terrorist bomb”, presumably planted by ISIS. So what is it that makes Cameron so sure that the terrorist group created by his Syria policy has the necessary training, equipment and wherewithal to carry out that attack? Did he look at the receipt?

After all, the lame ‘evidence’ we have actually been graced with by the US and British governments so far is no evidence whatsoever. The British claim to have intercepted “chatter” about the attack between ISIS’s Syria and Sinai operations which even the Times admits was “probably deliberately planted to prove to the Americans and British that ISIS operatives were behind the bomb plot”. Of course ISIS would want to claim it; but such claims are far from confirming they actually did it. The US, for their part, claim that their satellite picked up a ‘heat flash’, suggesting an explosion. But, as the Times again points out, a bomb is not the only possible cause of such an explosion: “the aeroplane suffered a sudden violent event – probably a structural failure that snapped off the tail. The question is whether the cause was a bomb or a fracture in the fuselage. An exploding fuel tank is also an outside possibility”. The UK seem to be pretty sure it was terrorism and presumably they have reason to believe this. But whatever that reason is, it is not the reason we have been given.

What is clear is that if the plane was brought down by a bomb, and that bomb was planted by ISIS, it marks a major development for the group. According to Raffaello Pantucci of the Royal United Services Institute, an attack of this kind by ISIS would “herald an unseen level of sophistication in their bomb-making, as well as the ability to smuggle a device on board.” But as well as a new technical feat, such an attack would represent an alarming change in tactics. The Times yesterday argued that “If the plane crash did turn out to be the work of an Islamic State affiliate in Sinai, it would mark a significant departure for the jihadist group, which had yet to launch a large-scale attack against civilians”. So, if the plane was indeed brought down by an ISIS-in-Sinai bomb, either the group have suddenly been blessed with some amazing new technology, or they have suddenly decided to change tactics to mass killings of civilians. If the latter, isn’t it a little odd that, after more than a year of Western airstrikes apparently aimed at ISIS, the group has failed to launch such an attack against Western civilians – yet are able to respond within weeks to a campaign of Russian airstrikes which, according to the West, do not even target ISIS??

Either way, the crash couldn’t have been timed more perfectly from the point of view of Western geopolitics. After four years of setbacks, the West’s Syrian ‘regime change’ (that euphemism for wholesale state destruction) operation now faces the prospect of imminent total defeat courtesy of Russia’s intervention. And options for how to salvage that operation are very limited indeed. Full scale occupation is a non-starter; following Iraq and Afghanistan, both the US and British armies are now officially incapable of mounting such ventures. The Libya option – supporting death squads on the ground with NATO air cover – has always come up against Russian opposition, but has now been effectively rendered impossible. And relying on anti-government death squads alone is simply very unlikely to succeed, however many TOWs and manpads are feverishly thrown into the fire; after all, there are only so many terrorists and mercenaries who can be shipped in, and, as Mike Whitney put it, the world may have already reached “peak terrorist”. Forcing Russia out – and turning US and British airpower openly and decisively against the Syrian state – has thus become a key objective for Western planners. But how to do it? What would turn Russians against the intervention? The Times yesterday:

“So far the war in Syria has been quite popular….[but] if it turns out that the war prompts terrorists to wreak vengeance on ordinary Russians by secreting explosives on planes, that gung-ho attitude could change” – or, at least, that is presumably what the Times is hoping.

And downing the plane on Egyptian soil just before Sisi’s first state visit to Britain? It couldn’t have served British strategy better if the bomb had been planted directly by MI6 themselves (which certainly shouldn’t be ruled out by the way, and certainly not simply on the racist grounds that ‘of course we don’t do that sort of thing’ – in other words, that only brown people are capable of an atrocity so hideous). 

Egypt is at a historical crossroads. Having moved from the socialist camp into the West’s ‘orbit’ during the Sadat era in the 1970s, Egypt’s leadership has become ever less willing to be dictated to by Washington and London: a process that began in the latter part of Mubarak’s rule, and has continued under Sisi. Along with Russia, Egypt has played a leading “spoiler role”, as Sukant Chandan puts it, in the West’s regime change operation in Syria – and has not been forgiven for it. In addition, Mubarak’s government had been dragging its feet on the privatization and ‘structural adjustment’ demanded by the IMF: and tourism was and is a major source of income helping to reduce the country’s dependence on the international banksters. But since last Saturday, all that is now in the balance; as the Financial Times commented, suspicions that the crash was caused by a bomb “are likely to prove disastrous to the country’s struggling tourism industry”. “Of course this will have a huge negative impact on Egypt” announced British foreign secretary Philip Hammond matter-of-factly following Britain’s decision to stop British flights to Egypt – seemingly without an ounce of regret. It is interesting, in this regard, that early suggestions that the plane could have been brought down by a shoulder-to-air missile (of the type now being supplied by the CIA to the insurgency in Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal) – as ISIS themselves actually claimed to have done – were very quickly replaced with speculation that it must have been an onboard bomb. This was a very useful way to shift blame away from the equippers of terrorism, and onto ‘lazy, corrupt Egyptian airport staff’ who let the bomber through – all the better to humiliate Egypt and undermine its tourist industry. The likely massive loss of tourist income will force the Egyptians to go back to the IMF, who will, of course, demand their pound of flesh in the form of mass privatisations and ‘austerity’.

But it is not only Egypt’s economic dependency on the West that will be deepened by the crash – Britain, in particular, appears to be using the crash as leverage to reinsinuate itself into Egypt’s military and security apparatus. Firstly, British officials have been taking every opportunity to humiliate Egypt, trying to convince the world that Egypt is perilously unstable, and that only by outsourcing security to the West can it be safe again. When Sisi arrived in the country this week, noted the Times, “Britain openly contradicted the Egyptian leader and suggested that he was not in full control of the Sinai peninsula” whilst an Egyptian official “commented that the dispatch of six officials to check the security arrangements at Sharm el-Sheikh airport was ‘like treating us as children’”. And lo and behold, following Sisi’s visit, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that “the UK would establish a small military team in Egypt to counter terrorism and extremism.” As I have written about here, the spread of terrorism throughout the MENA region by NATO’s Libya operation has laid the groundwork for a renewed Western push to convince global South states that they need to deepen ‘military co-operation’ with the West. Thus, where economic dependence on Western finance and markets is in terminal decline (largely due to the rise of China), a new military dependence is being fostered. This is especially so for states such as Nigeria, Egypt and Iraq – one-time client states of the West gradually being pulled out of its orbit – with the West using the threat of terrorism as a means of forcing them back into the Western fold. A classic protection racket, in other words.

Finally, of course, the British government has not missed the opportunity to use the tragedy to push for

deeper British involvement in Syria. Michael Fallon, Britain’s Defence Minister, has been spending the last two days explaining how the case for bombing Syria would be strengthened if it were proven the plane was brought down by ISIS. Quite how more deeply insinuating one of the death squads’ leading state backers into Syria would somehow reduce the power of the death squads is, of course, not explained; such is the nature of imperialism.

In a world, then, where Western power is in steep decline, terrorism is fast becoming one of the last few viable options for extending its hegemony and undermining the rising power of the global South. If this attack was conducted by ISIS, then, how kind it was of them to take it upon themselves to act as the vanguard of Western imperial interests. And how obliging of the hundreds of Western agents in the organization not to do anything to stop them.

An edited version of this article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. e) “The deadliest terror group in the world”: The west’s latest gift to Africa 

 

27th November 2015 

 

Nigeria’s Boko Haram are now officially the deadliest terror group in the world. That they have reached this position is a direct consequence of Cameron and co’s war on Libya – and one that was perhaps not entirely unintended. 

According to a report just released by Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram were responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, compared to 6,073 attributed to ISIS, representing a quadrupling of their total killings in 2013. In the past week alone, bombings conducted by the group have killed eight people on a bus in Maiduguri; a family of five in Fotokol, Cameroon; fifteen people in a crowded marketplace in Kano; and thirty-two people outside a mosque in Yola.

 

In 2009, the year they took up arms, Boko Haram had nothing like the capacity to mount such operations, and their equipment remained primitive; but by 2011, that had begun to change. As Peter Weber noted in The Week, their weapons “shifted from relatively cheap AK-47s in the early days of its post-2009 embrace of violence to desert-ready combat vehicles and anti-aircraft/ anti-tank guns”. This dramatic turnaround in the group’s access to materiel was the direct result of NATO’s war on Libya. A UN report published in early 2012 warned that “large quantities of weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles were smuggled into the Sahel region”, including “rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns with anti-aircraft visors, automatic rifles, ammunition, grenades, explosives (Semtex), and light anti-aircraft artillery (light caliber bi-tubes) mounted on vehicles”, and probably also more advanced weapons such as surface-to-air missiles and MANPADS (man-portable air-defence systems). NATO had effectively turned over the entire armoury of an advanced industrial state to the region’s most sectarian militias: groups such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram.

 

The earliest casualty of NATO’s war outside Libya was Mali. Taureg fighters who had worked in Gaddafi’s security forces fled Libya soon after Gaddafi’s government was overthrown, and mounted an insurgency in Northern Mali. They in turn were overthrown, however, by Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates – flush with Libyan weaponry – who then turned Northern Mali into another base from which to train and launch attacks. Boko Haram was a key beneficiary. AS Brendan O’ Neill wrote in an excellent 2014 article worth quoting at length: “Boko Haram benefited enormously from the vacuum created in once-peaceful northern Mali following the West’s ousting of Gaddafi. In two ways: first, it honed its guerrilla skills by fighting alongside more practised Islamists in Mali, such as AQIM; and second, it accumulated some of the estimated 15,000 pieces of Libyan military hardware and weaponry that leaked across the country’s borders following the sweeping aside of Gaddafi. In April 2012, Agence France-Presse reported that ‘dozens of Boko Haram fighters’ were assisting AQIM and others in northern Mali. This had a devastating knock-on effect in Nigeria. As the Washington Post reported in early 2013, ‘The Islamist insurgency in northern Nigeria has entered a more violent phase as militants return to the fight with sophisticated weaponry and tactics learned on the battlefields of nearby Mali’. A Nigerian analyst said ‘Boko Haram’s level of audacity was high [in late 2012]’, immediately following the movement of some of its militants to the Mali region.”

 

That NATO’s Libya war would have such consequences was both thoroughly predictable, and widely predicted. As early as June 2011, African Union Chairman Jean Ping warned NATO that “Africa’s concern is that weapons that are delivered to one side or another…are already in the desert and will arm terrorists and fuel trafficking”. And both Mali and Algeria strongly opposed NATO’s destruction of Libya precisely because of the massive destabilisation it would bring to the region. They argued, wrote O’Neill, “that such a violent upheaval in a region like north Africa could have potentially catastrophic

consequences. The fallout from the bombing is ‘a real source of concern’, said the rulers of Mali in October 2011. In fact, as the BBC reported, they had been arguing since ‘the start of the conflict in Libya’ – that is, since the civil conflict between Benghazi-based militants and Gaddafi began – that ‘the fall of Gaddafi would have a destabilising effect in the region’.” In an op-ed following the collapse of Northern Mali, a former Chief of Staff of UK land forces, Major-General Jonathan Shaw, wrote that Colonel Gaddafi was a “lynchpin” of the “informal Sahel security plan”, whose removal therefore led to a foreseeable collapse of security across the entire region. The rise of Boko Haram has been but one result – and not without strategic benefits for the West.

 

Nigeria was once seen by the US as one of its most dependable allies on the African continent. Yet, following a pattern that is repeated across the entire global South, in recent years the country has been moving ever closer to China. The headline grabbing deal was the $23 billion contract signed in 2010 with the Chinese to construct three fuel refineries, adding an extra 750,000 barrels per day to Nigeria’s oil producing capacity. This was followed up in 2013 with an agreement to increase Nigerian oil exports to China tenfold by 2015 (from 20,000 to 200,000 barrels per day). But China’s economic interests go far beyond that. A Nigerian diplomat interviewed by China-Africa specialist Deborah Brautigam told her that “The Chinese are trying to get involved in every sector of our economy. If you look at the West, it’s oil, oil, oil and nothing else.” In 2006, China issued an $8.3billion low-interest loan to Nigeria to fund the building of a major new railway, and the following year China built a telecommunications satellite for Nigeria. Indeed, of last year’s $18 billion worth of bilateral trade between the two countries, over 88% was in the non-petroleum sector, and by 2012 Nigerian imports from China (it’s biggest import partner) totalled more than that of its second and third biggest import partners, the US and India, combined. This kind of trade and investment is of the type that is seriously aiding Africa’s ability to add value to its products – and is thereby undermining the Western global economic order, which relies on Africa remaining an under-developed exporter of cheap raw materials.

 

Not has China’s co-operation been limited to economics. In 2004, China supported Nigeria’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, and in 2006, Nigeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership with China – the first African country to do so. It is a partnership with a solid base of support – according to a BBC poll conducted in 2011, 85% of Nigerians have a positive view of China; perhaps not surprising when even pro-US security thinktanks like the Jamestown Foundation admit that “China’s links with Nigeria are qualitatively different from the West’s, and as a result, may potentially produce benefits for the ordinary people of Nigeria”. Symbolising the importance of the relationship, current Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made Nigeria his first foreign destination after taking up the role in 2013.

This growing South-South co-operation is not viewed positively by the US, which is witnessing what it once saw as a dependable client state edge increasingly out of its orbit. The African Oil Policy Initiative Group – a consortium of US Congressmen, military officials and energy lobbyists – had already concluded in a 2002 report that China was a rival of the US for influence in West Africa that would need to be deterred by military means, and China has been increasingly viewed by US policymakers as a strategic threat to be contained militarily ever since. A report by US Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey just this July highlighted China as one of the major ‘security threats’ to US domination, for example – although Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy had already made this clear back in 2013.

 

Is it such a stretch, then, to think that the US might actually want to cripple its strategic rival, China, by destabilising her allies, such as Nigeria? After all, despite continued US links to Nigeria, it is China, more than any other foreign partner, who has the most to lose from the Boko Hara insurgency, as the

Jamestown Foundation makes clear: Unlike most other foreign actors in the country, [the Chinese] are investing in fixed assets, such as refineries and factories, with the intention of developing a long-term economic relationship. Consequently, stability and good governance in Nigeria is advantageous for Beijing because it is the only way to guarantee that Chinese interests are protected”. If the US increasingly sees its own strategy in terms of undermining Chinese interests – and there is every sign that it does – the corollary of this statement is surely that instability in Nigeria is the only way to guarantee that Chinese interests are threatened – and, therefore, that US strategic goals are served. The US’s lacklustre efforts in backing Nigerian efforts against Boko Haram – from blocking arms deliveries last year, to funding the fight in all of Nigeria’s neighbours, but not Nigeria itself – as well as its suspension of Nigerian crude oil imports from July 2014 (“a decision that helped plunge Nigeria into one of its most severe financial crises”, according to one national daily) would certainly indicate that.

 

This article was originally pubished by RT 

 

  1. f) The EU’s war on people smugglers is repeating the disasters of the war on drugs 

 

30th May 2016

 

The EU’s “war on people smuggling”, escalated last week by David Cameron, appears to be modelled on the failed “war on drugs” – and a new House of Lords report shows it is already producing the same disastrous results.

On 19th April 2015, the sinking of a single refugee boat off the coast of Lampedusa led to the drowning of over 700 people. By the end of the month, an estimated 1300 had drowned in the same way, making it the deadliest month on record in the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The tragedy was the direct result of a successful British-led campaign to end the Italian search-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum, which had prevented such mass drownings before its closure in October 2014. Those events led to a public outcry and pressure to restart search-and-rescue operations; but resisting such pressure, on 23rd April 2015 the European Council instead adopted a British-drafted resolution vowing to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy [refugee] vessels”. The EU was giving notice that its response to the refugee crisis would no longer be based on humanitarian commitments, but on military force. It was, not coincidentally, a proposal originally made by the British fascist Nick Griffin five years earlier.

I wrote at the time that such a policy suffered all the basic economic flaws of the disastrous three-decades long ‘war on drugs’, and would lead to the same devastating results. Focusing on bombing supply without addressing demand, as any economics student could tell you, will push up prices, whilst concentrating the trade in the hands of the most ruthless and militarized providers. As a consequence, it would make the trade deadlier and more profitable but would not reduce it, as demand would remain unaffected. This has been precisely the outcome of the war on drugs, as the murder toll in Mexico’s Jalisco province – 100,000 in the eight years – grimly demonstrates. And, as a House of Lords report earlier this month shows, the same results are starting to emerge from the EU’s war on migration.

The EU’s ‘Operation Sophia’ entered into its second phase – the capture and destruction of refugee boats – last October. Since then, according to European border agency Frontex, it has destroyed 114 vessels and arrested 69 ‘suspected smugglers’. This is supposed to act as a deterrent to ‘people smugglers’, thereby limiting the opportunities for would-be refugees to flee to Europe. It has not worked. As noted by the House of Lords EU Committee’s report, “The mission does not… in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route. The arrests that Operation Sophia has made to date have been of low-level targets [and] …there are also significant limits to the intelligence that can be collected about onshore smuggling networks from the high seas. There is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling”, its stated goal. Indeed, whilst the numbers crossing the Mediterranean did decline by 9% between September 2015 and January 2016, this was probably due solely to the opening up of the ‘Balkans route’ into Europe. Since then, as border controls have been stepped up in the Balkans, the numbers crossing the Mediterranean have again grown, with three times as many thought to have crossed from Libya to Italy in March 2016 than March 2015.

 

That the EU’s military campaign would not deter refugee flows was entirely obvious to the witnesses interviewed by the House of Lords Committee, given that the policy does nothing to address the demand for ‘people smuggling’ services. The opening sentence of the report was a quote from Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute that “migrants in boats are symptoms, not causes, of the problem.” Another witness, Steve Symonds of Amnesty International’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme, agreed: “If you do not have an answer to the situation of those people, we are sceptical about the mere targeting of the smugglers”, adding that the conflicts from which refugees were fleeing were “becoming more protracted and intractable and they are spreading”. Summing up, the Committee wrote: We conclude that a military response can never, in itself, solve the problem of irregular migration. As long as there is need for asylum from refugees and demand from economic migrants, the business of people smuggling will continue to exist and the networks will adapt to changing circumstances.”

Whilst unable to reduce the numbers crossing the sea, however, Operation Sophia has had an effect on those crossings: it has made them more dangerous. In the words of the House of Lords report, “The smugglers have adapted. Lieutenant General Wosolsobe said that the mission had ‘forced the traffickers to amend their business model’: the more expensive wooden or fibre-glass boats were no longer used, as they represented a ‘significant financial loss’ when they were destroyed. Instead, smugglers and traffickers are bulk-buying inflatable rubber craft from China. These ‘have less carrying capacity and are more limited by sea conditions’; in other words, they are more unsafe.” In summary, they wrote, “the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe.” In addition, Cameron’s plans to return fleeing refugees to war-torn Libya is likely to escalate the death toll even further. On this proposal, made earlier this year, migration expert Professor Brad Blitz commented: “It’s just outrageous. Libya is a country that is divided, which cannot guarantee human rights, which has produced hundreds of thousands of displaced people…If the concern is to prevent deaths, as [Cameron] has said, then really he should be promoting safe passage, rather than diverting people so that they have to seek longer and more dangerous routes.”

The Committee also heard evidence that the EU’s militarized approach is changing the business model of refugee transport in other ways. According to Edward Hobart, the Migration Envoy for the British Foreign Office’s Europe Directorate, although there was “plenty of activity that [was] in the grey market or illegal or irresponsible”, at the moment there were no “large-scale organised crime groups.” This, however, was likely to change. Said the report: “Mr Hobart did see a likelihood of an ‘increase in criminal activity.’ He explained that ‘a symptom of better control … at the border, will be an increased opportunity for organised crime.’ As EU borders become more challenging to navigate, migrants will be more likely to turn to smugglers to facilitate their illegal crossings”. Criminal gangs, that is, are likely to be boosted, not deterred, by Operation Sophia. And in an ominous hint of what is to come, Lieutenant General Wosolsobe referred to one incident in which armed men had prevented the destruction of a boat. As the non-violent providers are put out of business, this is likely to become increasingly common. Just as the war on drugs has concentrated the trade in the hands of the most violent paramilitary groups, so too the war on

refugees will put nonviolent groups out of business whilst ensuring that only the best armed will thrive.

And these groups will find themselves amassing ever greater profits: noted the report, “Mr Symonds was sceptical of the EU’s efforts to barricade its external border. Analysis had shown that stronger policing of the EU’s external borders had effected only ‘the movement of ever larger numbers of people around different routes by different journeys, usually at greater danger and cost to them, so of greater profit to smugglers.’”

In Latin America, this combination of concentrating the trade in the hands of violent gangs, and increasing their profits, has given drug smuggling groups the financial and military muscle to buy police protection for their activities. In Mexico, for example, where the drug war has been massively stepped up since 2007, “Drug Trafficking Organisations have operated….with near total impunity in the face of compromised security forces” whilst “official corruption is widespread”. The quotes are from official US Embassy cables.

Again, the EU’s military approach is likely to have the same effects on the refugee transport business in Libya, entrenching corruption and providing the most violent paramilitary groups with the financial means to buy themselves police protection. The report noted that “smugglers are part of the fabric of Libyan political and economic life. Mr Patrick Kingsley, Migration Correspondent, Guardian Media Group, explained that smugglers are often ‘connected to militias’, ‘have important roles to play in their local communities’, and ‘provide quite a lot of money to the local community’. The ‘people at the top are going to be protected to some extent, even by people who are major players in Libyan politics.’”

In sum, then, the House of Lords is clear on the results of ‘Operation Sophia’: it has failed to deter migration, increased the risk of death for refugees, and is militarizing the trade whilst boosting its profits. The likely result will be a growth in the political and economic power of the most violent paramilitaries currently involved in the trade.

So why did David Cameron last week announce an escalation in the militarization strategy? Speaking at the G7 conference in Japan, he promised to send another warship to join Operation Sophia, this time hoping to extend its mission into Libyan territorial waters.

Does he not have access to the House of Lords’ report? Is he completely ignorant of the devastating consequences of the war on drugs? Does he lack even a schoolboy level understanding of the basic economic laws of supply and demand? The English ruling class, from India to Iraq, have always presented themselves as essentially well-meaning buffoons when it comes to foreign policy; “absent-minded imperialists” who, with the best will in the world, end up bumbling into the destruction of entire regions due to their misguided commitment to the civilizing mission or to  ‘faulty intelligence’. Personally, I don’t buy it.

More likely is that Cameron is pursuing this seemingly counter-productive strategy for two reasons: to justify the re-occupation of Libya, and to facilitate the boosting of his chosen death squads of the so-called ‘Libya Dawn’. Already British special forces are fighting alongside Libya Dawn, the paramilitary force at war with the elected government based in Tobruk. MI6 and the CIA learnt in

the 1980s that facilitating the mujahadeen’s takeover of the region’s heroin trade was a great way to allow their allies to fund themselves outside of Congressional approval. It looks like Cameron is planning to repeat the trick for the Libyan death squads’ people smuggling business.

 

This is an extended version of an article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. g) Gaddafi’s Ghosts: The Return of the Libyan Jamahiriya 

 

30th July 2016 

 

When NATO murdered Gaddafi and blitzed his country in 2011, they hoped the socialist ‘Jamahiriya’ movement he led would be dead and buried. Now his son has been released from prison to a hero’s welcome with his movement increasingly in the ascendancy.

 

There were various moments during NATO’s destruction of Libya that were supposed to symbolically crown Western supremacy over Libya and its institutions (and, by implication, over all African and Arab peoples): the ‘fall of Tripoli’ in August 2011; Cameron and Sarkozy’s victory speeches the following month; the lynch-mob execution of Muammar Gaddafi that came soon after. All of them were pyrrhic victories – but none more so than the death sentence handed down to Gaddafi’s son (and effective deputy leader) Saif al-Gaddafi in July 2015.

 

Saif had been captured by the Zintan militia shortly after his father and brother were killed by NATO’s death squads in late 2011. The ‘International’ Criminal Court – a neocolonial farce which has only ever indicted Africans – demanded he be handed over to them, but the Zintan – fiercely patriotic despite having fought with NATO against Gaddafi – refused. Over the next two years the country descended into the chaos and societal collapse that Gaddafi had predicted, sliding inexorably towards civil war. By 2014, the country’s militias had coalesced around two main groupings – the Libyan National Army, composed of those who supported the newly elected, and mainly secular, House of Representatives; and the Libya Dawn coalition, composed of the militias who supported the Islamist parties that had dominated the c

ountry’s previous parliament but refused to recognise their defeat at the polls in 2014. After fierce fighting, the Libya Dawn faction took control of Tripoli. It was there that Saif, along with dozens of other officials of the Jamahiriya – the Libyan ‘People’s State’ which Gaddafi had led – were put on trial for their life. However, once again the Zintan militia – allied to the Libyan National Army – refused to hand him over. After a trial condemned by human rights groups as “riddled with legal flaws”, in a court system dominated by the Libya Dawn militias, an absent Saif was sentenced to death, along with eight other former government officials. The trial was never recognised by the elected government, by then relocated to Tobruk. A gloating Western media made sure to inform the world of the death sentence, which they hoped would extinguish forever the Libyan people’s hopes for a restoration of the independence, peace and prosperity his family name had come to represent.

 

It was a hope that would soon be dashed. Less than a year later, the France 24 news agency arranged an interview with Saif Al Gaddafi’s lawyer Karim Khan in which he revealed to the world that Saif had in fact, “been given his liberty on April 12, 2016″, in accordance with the amnesty law passed by the Tobruk parliament the previous year. Given the crowing over Saif’s death sentence the previous year, and his indictment by the International Criminal Court, this was a major story. Yet, by and large, the it was one the Western media chose to steadfastly ignore – indeed, the BBC did not breathe a single word about it.

 

What is so significant about his release is what it represents: the recognition, by Libya’s elected authorities, that there is no future for Libya without the involvement of the Jamahiriya movement.

 

The truth is, this movement never went away. Rather, having been forced underground in 2011, it has been increasingly coming out into the open, building up its support amongst a population sick of the depravities and deprivations of the post-Gaddafi era.

 

Exactly five years ago, following the start of the NATO bombing campaign, Libyans came out onto the streets in massive demonstrations in support of their government in Tripoli, Sirte, Zlitan and elsewhere. Even the BBC admitted that “there is no discounting the genuine support that exists”, adding that “’Muammar is the love of millions’ was the message written on the hands of women in the square”.

Following the US-UK-Qatari invasion of Tripoli the following month, however, the reign of terror by NATO’s death squad militias ensured that public displays of such sentiments could end up costing one’s life. Tens of thousands of ‘suspected Gaddafi supporters’ were rounded up by the militias in makeshift ‘detention camps’ were torture and abuse was rife; around 7000 are estimated to be there still to this day, and hundreds have been summarily executed. Black people in particular were targeted, seen as symbolic of pro-African policies pursued by Gaddafi but hated by the supremacist militias, with the city of Tawergha, formerly home to 30,000 black Libyans, turned into a ghost town overnight as Misrata-based militias made good on their promise to kill all those who refused to leave. Such activities were effectively legalised by the NATO-imposed ‘Transitional National Council’ whose Laws 37 and 38 decreed that public support for Gaddafi could be punished by life imprisonment and activities taken ‘in defence of the revolution’ were exempt from prosecution.

Nevertheless, over the years that followed, as the militias turned on each other and the country rapidly fell apart, reports began to suggest that much of southern Libya was slowly coming under the control of Gaddafi’s supporters. On January 18th 2014, an air force base near the southern city of Sabha was taken by Gaddafi loyalists, frightening the new government enough to impose a state of emergency, ban Libya’s two pro-Gaddafi satellite stations, and embark on aerial bombing missions in the south of the country.

But it was, ironically, the passing of the death sentences themselves – intended to extinguish pro-Gaddafi sentiment for good – that triggered the most open and widespread demonstrations of support for the former government so far. Demonstrations were held in August 2015 in towns including Sabha, Brak, Benghazi, and even ISIS-held Sirte. Middle East Eye reported the following from the demonstration in Sabha:

Previous modest pro-Gaddafi celebrations in the town had been overlooked by the Misratan-led Third Force, stationed in Sabha for over a year – originally to act as a peacekeeping force following local clashes.

‘This time, I think the Third Force saw the seriousness of the pro-Gaddafi movement because a demonstration this big has not been seen in the last four years,’ said Mohamed. ‘There were a lot of people, including women and children, and people were not afraid to show their faces.’ …’IS had threatened to shoot anyone who protested on Friday, so there were no green flags in towns they control, apart from Sirte, although there are some green flags flying in remote desert areas,’ he said. ‘But if these protests get stronger across the whole of Libya, people will become braver and we will see more green flags. I know many people who are just waiting for the right time to protest.’”

In Sirte, demonstrators were fired at by ISIS fighters, who dispersed the group and took away seven people, including four women. The same Middle East Eye report made the following comment:

“The protests have been a public representation of a badly kept secret in Libya, that the pro-Gaddafi movement which has existed since the 2011 revolution has grown in strength, born out of dissatisfaction with the way life has worked out for many ordinary citizens in the last four years…In Libya’s more remote towns, daily life has become so difficult – with food and fuel prices skyrocketing, a shortage of cash and the payment of public-sector salaries routinely delayed by months – that pent-up frustration has pushed people into taking action, Mohamed said. “Everybody is fed up with this terrible situation and we can no longer keep quiet,” he said. “The green flag now hangs in many places in Sabha. Not in the central districts which are controlled by Misrata’s Third Force, but in known Gaddafi loyalist areas.” He added that some people who had originally supported the 2011 revolution had joined the protests. “Most Libyans just want a quiet life. They don’t care who takes over or who controls Libya’s money, they just want a comfortable life. That’s why Gaddafi stayed in power for 42 years. Salaries were paid on time, we had good subsidies on all the essentials and living was cheap.”

Mohammed Eljarh, writing in the conservative US journal Foreign Policy, added that “These pro-Qaddafi protests have the potential to turn into a national movement against the 2011 revolution, not least because a growing number of Libyans are deeply disillusioned by its outcome…there is now a building consensus that the atrocities and abuses committed by post-Qaddafi groups since the revolution exceed by far those committed by the Qaddafi regime during its rule.”

At the same time, the Green resistance is becoming an increasingly influential force within the Libyan National Army, representing the country’s elected House of Representatives. Earlier this year, the LNA made an alliance with pro-Gaddafi tribes in the country’s East, and began to welcome open supporters of Gaddafi into its military structures, as well as welcoming Gaddafi’s widow back into the country. Similarly, Gaddafi’s Tuareg commander General Ali Kanna, who fled Libya following Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, has also now been welcomed into the LNA.

This policy is already bearing fruit, with several territories near Sirte already seized from ISIS by the new allies.

The Green resistance is back. This is the first step to a genuine reconciliation that will, god willing, put an end to NATO’s destructive games once and for all.

 

This is an extended version of an article that was originally published on RT 

 

Part 6 – The war on Yemen 

 

  1. The Geneva talks failed because the aggressors wanted them to

 

24th June 2015 

 

The Yemen peace talks in Geneva broke down last week before they even got underway – indeed, the delegations never even made it into the same room, let alone reaching an agreement. That this was so came as no great surprise either to observers or participants of the disastrous war in Yemen. But in all the talk of ‘mutual recriminations’ and ‘intransigence on both sides’, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that these talks failed because the aggressors – that is, the Saudi-led and British-US sponsored ‘coalition’ bombing the country – wanted them to fail.

The central fact is that the ceasefire proposed by UN Secretary-general Ban-Ki Moon – a basic condition for peace talks everywhere – was blocked by the Saudis. The Houthis, naturally enough, refused to negotiate whilst the Saudis were still bombing. The Saudis refused to stop bombing until the Houthis withdrew from all the cities they captured during the war. In other words, whilst the Houthis sought a mutual ceasefire, the Saudis demanded nothing less than abject surrender as the precondition for negotiations. Given that the Houthis have suffered very few territorial losses since the Saudis began bombing in March, this was obviously never going to happen.

The Saudis’ Yemeni allies – forces loyal to exiled President Hadi (who came to power in 2012 following an election in which he was the sole candidate) – clearly shared their backers’ bad faith in relation to the talks. As Medhat al-Zahed writes in Al Ahram Weekly:

“In response to Ki-moon’s appeal for a two-week humanitarian truce on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Yemeni government in exile adopted a far from conciliatory tone. Ramadan was a month for jihad and did not require the fighting to stop, the foreign minister said … Opposition to a truce was stronger still from Ahmed Al-Masiri, the leader of the Southern Resistance forces that are fighting the Houthis and regiments from the Yemeni army loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on the ground… He rejected the idea of a humanitarian truce, saying it was “out of the question during Ramadan and after Ramadan”. “Ramadan is a holy month in which jihad is permissible,” he said…The conference got off to a heated start, with the Yemeni delegation brandishing Riyadh-inspired slogans. “We came to speak about implementing the UN Security Council Resolution, not to negotiate,” it said. “The task is to reinstate the government and withdraw the militias.” The rigidity of the Yemeni government and its Saudi backer stems from the fact that they have opposed the negotiations from the outset. They have insisted on the term “consultation” and originally pushed for Riyadh as the venue. “We agreed [to come to Geneva] to please the UN, so that they don’t say we are against peace or that we are stubborn,” Al-Masiri said.”

The anti-Houthi side, in other words, had no intention of either negotiating or accepting a ceasefire themselves, but went to Geneva simply to allow the ongoing war to be spun in such a way that places the blame solely on the Houthis.

In fact, this deliberate scuppering of any chance of a negotiated settlement in favour of continued war and chaos mirrors precisely the start of the Saudi bombing campaign itself. A month after the bombing began, it was revealed that “Operation Decisive Storm” had been initiated just as Yemen’s warring parties were on the verge of signing a power-sharing agreement that could have ended the country’s civil war. As Jamestown Foundation noted: “According to the former UN Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, negotiations between all major stakeholders in Yemen were nearing an interim conclusion on a power sharing agreement when Saudi Arabia and its allies launched Operation Decisive Storm on March 25 (Wall Street Journal, April 26). Despite the Houthis’ push into south Yemen, representatives from the south remained engaged in negotiations. The commencement of aerial strikes by Saudi Arabia and its partners ended the negotiations and led to a dramatic escalation of violence between the Houthis and southern militias, who, with the support of Saudi Arabia, were determined to reverse the gains made in the south by the Houthis and their allies.”

The question, then, is ‘why’? Why would Saudi Arabia gratuitously extend a destabilising war on  

their own Southern border – and continue to do so even when it had become thoroughly apparent that their ‘Decisive’ Storm was anything but?

The answer is not simply that they want to prevent ‘Shia’ influence in Yemen’s government, as is often claimed – as if it is self-evident that a ‘Sunni’ government would be against a ‘Shia’ one. This analysis is typical of the way in which orientalist Western journalism continues to attempt to ‘naturalise’ and reify religious and ethnic divisions in a way that suggests that sectarian intolerance is somehow in the DNA of non-Europeans. In fact, the ‘Sunni’ Saudi rulers have happily supported a Yemeni ‘Shia’ movement in the past – the forerunners of the Houthis no less – in the 1960s when the Zaydi Shia royalty was under threat from an Egyptian-backed republican movement: a conflict in which the Sunni Saudis and Shia Iran were on the same side. The Saudi involvement in Yemen is not about some kind of age-old sectarian identity – it is about strategy, a specific strategy that is in fact very new, dating back to the middle of the last decade, when the Saudi-Israeli-US-British alliance decided to channel billions of dollars into sectarian death squads that would be unleashed against the growing resistance axis spearheaded by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. The Houthis, by threatening the regional base of one of the most powerful of these groups – Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula – were a threat to this strategy. The chaos arising from the Saudi intervention, meanwhile, has provided the perfect conditions for its spread.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. b) Yemen – a very British war 

 

11th January 2016 

 

Britain is at the heart of a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions unfolding in the Yemen.

At least 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi bombing campaign against Yemen began in March 2015, including over 630 children. There has been a massive escalation in human rights violations to a level of around 43 per day and up to ten children per day are being killed, according to Unicef. 73% of child casualties are the direct result of airstrikes, say the UN.

Civilian targets have been hit again and again. Within days of the commencement of airstrikes, a refugee camp was bombed, killing 40 and maiming over 200, and in in October a Medicins San Frontier hospital was hit. Schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a ceramics factory have all been hit. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes under international law – as is the entire bombing campaign, lacking, as it does, any UN mandate.

Beyond their immediate victims, the airstrikes and accompanying blockade – a horrendous crime against a population which imports 90% of its basic needs – are creating a tragedy of epic proportions. Back in August 2015, Oxfam had already warned that around 13 million people were struggling to find enough to eat, the highest number of people living in hunger it had ever recorded. “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years,” the head of the International Red Cross commented in October. The following month, the UN reported that 14 million now lacked access to healthcare and 80% of the country’s 21-million population are dependent on humanitarian aid. “We estimate that over 19 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation; over 14 million people are food insecure, including 7.6 million who are severely food insecure; and nearly 320,000 children are acutely malnourished,” the UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator told reporters in November. He estimated that around 2.5 million have been made refugees by the war. In December, the UN warned that the country was on the brink of famine, with millions at risk of starvation.

Statements from British government ministers are crafted to give the impression of sympathy for the victims of this war, and opprobrium for those responsible. “We should be clear” said Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in September 2014, “the use of violence to make political gains, and the pointless loss of life it entails, are completely unacceptable. Not only does the recent violence damage Yemen’s political transition process, it could fuel new tensions and strengthen the hand of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – threatening the security of all of us…Those who threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, or violate human rights, need to pay the price for their actions.” Indeed. So presumably, one might have thought, when the Saudis began their massive escalation of the war six months after Hammond made this statement, the British government must have been outraged?  

Not quite. The day after the Saudis began ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, David Cameron phoned the Saudi king personally to emphasise “the UK’s firm political support for the Saudi action in Yemen”.  Over the months that followed, Britain, a long-term arms dealer to the Saudi monarchy, stepped up its delivery of war materiel to achieve the dubious honour of beating US to become its number one weapons supplier. Over hundred new arms export licences have been granted by the British government since the bombing began, and over the first six months of 2015 alone, Britain sold more than £1.75billion worth of weapons to the Saudis – more than triple Cameron’s usual, already obscene, bi-annual average. The vast majority of this equipment seems to be for combat

aircraft and air-delivered missiles, including more than 1000 bombs, and British-made jets now make up over half the Saudi air force. As the Independent has noted, “British supplied planes and British made missiles have been part of near-daily raids in Yemen carried out by [the] nine-country, Saudi Arabian led coalition”.

Charities and campaign groups are unanimous in their view that, without a shadow of a doubt, British patronage has greatly facilitated the carnage in the Yemen. “The [British] government is fuelling the conflict that is causing unbearable human suffering. It is time the government stopped supporting this war ” said chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring. The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: “The UK has fuelled this appalling conflict through reckless arms sales which break its own laws and the global arms trade treaty it once championed….legal opinion confirms our long-held view that the continued sale of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is illegal, immoral and indefensible”. For Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen, the UK’s “reluctance to publicly condemn the human cost of conflict in Yemen gives the impression that diplomatic relations and arms sales trump the lives of Yemen’s children,” whilst Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, has written that “UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the humanitarian catastrophe that is being unleashed on the people of Yemen”. Leading lawyers including Philippe Sands have argued that Britain is in clear breach of international law for selling weapons which it knows are being used to commit war crimes.

Now it has emerged that it is not only British weapons being used in this war, but British personnel as well. According to Sky News, six British military advisors are embedded with the Saudi airforce to help with targetting. In addition, there are 94 members of the UK armed forces serving abroad “carrying out duties for unknown forces, believed to be the Saudi led coalition”, according to The Week – although the government refuses to state exactly where they are.

Indeed, even British airstrikes in Syria may have been motivated in part by a desire to prop up the flagging war effort in Yemen. Questioning of Philip Hammond in parliament recently led him to admit that there had been a “decrease in air sorties by Arab allies” in Syria since Britain’s entry into the air campaign there due to the “challenges” of the Yemen conflict. For Scottish Nationalist MP Stephen Gethins this suggests that, by stepping up bombing in Syria, Western countries were effectively “cutting them [Arab states] a bit of slack to allow them to focus on the Yemen conflict”, especially needed given that support for the Yemen campaign has been flagging from states such as Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. It is particularly ironic that British MPs’ supposed commitment to destroying ISIS in Syria is actually facilitating a war in Yemen in which ISIS are the direct beneficiaries.

Finally, it is worth considering British support for the Saudi bid for membership of the UN Human Rights Council. The Council’s reports can be highly influential; indeed, it was this Council’s damning (and, we now know, fraudulent) condemnation of Gaddafi that provided the ‘humanitarian’ pretext for the 2011 NATO war against the Libyan Jamahiriya. And the Yemeni government’s recent expulsion of the UN Human Rights envoy shows just how sensitive the prosecutors of the Yemeni war are to criticism. It would, therefore, be particularly useful for those unleashing hell on Yemen to have the UN Council stacked with supporters in order to dampen any criticism from this quarter.

Britain, then, is the major external force facilitating the Saudi-fronted war against the people of Yemen. Britain, like the Saudis, is keen to isolate Iran and sees destroying the Houthis as a key means of achieving this. At the same time, Britain seems perfectly happy to see Al Qaeda and ISIS take over from the Houthi rebels they are bombing – presumably regarding a new base for terrorist destabilization operations across the region as an outcome serving British interests.

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. c) The UK’s century-long war on Yemen 

 

27th January 2017 

 

Britain is backing a Saudi invasion of Yemen that has cost thousands of innocent lives. It is providing advanced weaponry to the Saudis, training their military, and has soldiers embedded with the Saudis helping with targeting; and there is suspicion that British soldiers may even be directly involved on the battlefield.

This is true of today. But it also describes exactly what was happening in the 1960s, in a shameful episode which Britain has, like so much of its colonial past, been effectively whitewashed out of history.

In 1962, following the death of Yemeni King Ahmad, Arab nationalist army officers led by Colonel Abdullah Al-Sallal seized power and declared a Republic. The Royalists launched an insurgency to reclaim power, backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Britain, whilst Nasser’s Egypt sent troops to support the fledgling republican government.  

In his book ‘Unpeople’, historian Mark Curtis pieces together Britain’s ‘dirty war’ in Yemen between 1962 and 1969 using declassified files which – despite their public availability and the incendiary nature of their revelations – have only ever been examined by one other British historian. British involvement spanned both Conservative and Labour governments, and implicated leading members of the British government in war crimes.

Just as today, the side under attack from Britain clearly had popular support – as British officials were well aware. Christopher Gandy – Britain’s top official in Yemen’s cultural capital, Taiz – noted that the previous regime was “unpopular with large elements and those in many ways the best”, describing it as “an arbitrary autocracy”. Another British official, in the Prime Minister’s office, wrote that Nasser had been “able to capture most of the dynamic and modern forces in the area whilst we have been left, by our own choice, backing the forces which are not merely reactionary (that would not matter so much) but shifty, unreliable and treacherous” Even Prime Minister Harold Macmillan admitted it was “repugnant to political equality and prudence alike that we should so often appear to be supporting out of date and despotic regimes and to be opposing the growth of modern and more democratic forms of government”. Thus, wrote Curtis, “Britain decided to engage in a covert campaign to promote those forces recognised [by Britain itself] as ‘shifty’, ‘treacherous’ and ‘despotic’ to undermine those recognised as ‘popular’ and ‘democratic'”.

At the request of Mossad, MI6 appointed Conservative MP Neil MacLean to run a guerrilla war against the new Republican government. At first Britain’s role was primarily to support and equip Jordan’s involvement in the war; just as today, it was British fighter jets carrying out airstrikes on Yemen, with British military advisors embedded with their allies at the most senior level. This involvement stepped up a gear in March 1963, however, when Britain began covertly supplying weapons to the Royalist forces themselves via their Gulf allies. The following month, says MI6 biographer Stephen Dorrill, millions of pounds worth of light weapons were shipped from an RAF station in Wilstshire to the insurgents, including 50,000 rifles. At the same time, a decision was taken by Britain’s foreign minister (shortly to become Prime Minister) Alec Douglas-Home, MI6 chief Dick White and SAS founder David Stirling to send a British force to work directly with the insurgents. But to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and public accountability, this force would be comprised of mercenaries, rather than serving soldiers. SAS soldiers and paratroopers were given temporary leave to join this new force on a salary of £10,000 per year, paid by the Saudi Prince Sultan. An MI6 task force was also set up, to facilitate weapons and personnel supplies, and authorisation was given for British mercenaries to lay mines. The same time as these decisions were taken, Douglas-Home told parliament “our policy in Yemen is one of non-intervention in the affairs of that country. It is not therefore our policy to supply arms to the Royalists in the Yemen”. Foreign minister Rab Butler was more uneasy with such barefaced lying, especially when evidence began circulating of exactly what Britain was up to; a memo he sent to the PM in 1964 complained that his job of rebuffing UN claims that Britain was supplying the Royalists was made slightly more difficult “since we know that this is in fact true”.

British officials also knew that their insurgency had no chance of winning. But this was not the point. As Prime Minister Macmillan told President Kennedy at the time, “I quite realise that the Loyalists will probably not win in Yemen in the end but it would not suit us too badly if the new Yemeni regime were occupied with their own internal affairs during the next few years”. What Britain wanted, he added, was “a weak government in Yemen not able to make trouble”. Nor was this only Macmillan’s personal opinion; his foreign policy advisor Philip de Zulueta wrote that “All departments appear to be agreed that the present stalemate in the Yemen, with the Republicans and Royalists fighting each other and therefore having no time or energy left over to make trouble for us in Aden, suits our own interests very well…our interest is surely to have the maximum confusion in the tribal areas on the Aden frontier” with Yemen.

Labour came to power in the autumn of 1964, but the policy stayed the same; indeed, direct (but covert) RAF bombing of Yemen began soon after. In addition, another private British military company Airwork Services, signed a $26million contract to provide personnel for training Saudi pilots and ground crew involved in the war. This agreement later evolved into British pilots actually carrying out bombing missions themselves, with a foreign office memo dated March 1967 noting that “we have raised no objection to their being employed in operations, though we made it clear to the Saudis that we could not publicly acquiesce in any such arrangements”. By the time the war ended – with its inevitable Republican victory – an estimated 200,000 people had been killed.

At the same time as Britain was running the insurgency in North Yemen, it was fighting a vicious counter-insurgency campaign in South Yemen – then a colonial protectorate known as the Federation of Southern Arabia. This federation comprised the port city of Aden, under the direct colonial rule of the UK, and a series of sheikhdoms in the pay of the UK in the neighbouring hinterland. Its inhabitants were desperately poor, with one British commander noting that “there is barely enough subsistence to support the population”. These were the conditions behind a major revolt against British rule that broke out in the district of Radfan in April 1964 and would not be quelled for 7 months. The methods used to do so were typically brutal, with the British High Commissioner of Aden, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis suggesting that soldiers be sent to “put the fear of death into the villages”. If this didn’t work, he said “it would be necessary to deliver some gun attacks on livestock or men outside the villages”, adding that “we might be able to claim that our aircraft were shooting back of [sic] men who had fired at us from the ground”. The British use of airstrikes against the risen peasants was massive: historian John Newsinger writes that in just 3 months in 1964, British jets fired 2508 rockets and 200,000 cannon rounds, whilst British bombers dropped 3504 20-pound bombs and 14 1000-pound bombs and fired 20,000 cannon rounds. The government took Trevaskis’ advice and targeted crops in what Newsinger correctly described as a “deliberate, calculated attempt to terrorise and starve them into surrender.” Although the Radfan rebellion was eventually crushed, the British lost control of the hinterland to the National Liberation forces less than three years later, swiftly followed by Aden itself.

The 1960s was not the first time Britain had aided and abetted a Saudi war against the Yemenis, however. In 1934, Ibn Saud invaded and annexed Asir – “a Yemeni province by all historical accounts” in the words of the academic and Yemen specialist Elham Manea – and forced Yemen to sign a treaty deferring their claims to the territory for 20 years. It has never been returned to Yemen and remains occupied by the Saudis to this day. Britain’s role in facilitating this carve up was significant. As Manea explains, “During this period, the real power was Great Britain. Its role was crucial in either exacerbating or containing regional conflicts….[and] in the Yemeni-Saudi war they intensified the conflict to the detriment of Yemen”. When Ibn Saud claimed sovereignty over Asir in 1930, the British, who had been neutral towards disputes between the Peninsula’s various rulers hitherto, “shifted their position, perceiving Asir as ‘part of Saudi Arabia’… This was a terrible setback for [Yemeni leader] Yihia and drove him into an agreement with the British in 1934 which ultimately sealed his total defeat.” The agreement forced Yihia to recognise British sovereignty of Aden – Yemen’s major port – for 40 years. Britain then provided military vehicles for the Saudi suppression of the Asiri revolt and subsequent occupation that followed.

So the current British-Saudi war against Yemen is in fact the third in a century. But why is Britain so seemingly determined to see the country dismembered and its development sabotaged? Strange as it may seem, the answer is that Britain is scared of Yemen. For Yemen is the sole country on the Arab peninsula with the potential power to

challenge the colonial stitch-up reached between Britain and the Gulf monarchies it placed in power in the nineteenth century, and who continue to rule to this day. As Palestinian author Said Aburish has noted, the very “nature of the Yemen was a challenge to the Saudis: it was a populous country with more than half the population of the whole Arabian peninsula, had a solid urban history and was more advanced than its new neighbour. It also represented a thorn in the side of British colonialism, a possible springboard for action against their control of Saudi Arabia and all the makeshift tributary sheikhdoms and emirates of the Gulf. In particular, the Yemen represented a threat to the British colonisation of Aden, a territory which considered itself part of a greater Yemen which had been dismembered by colonialism”. The potential power of a united, peaceful, Yemen was also highlighted by Aden’s High Commissioner Kennedy Trevaskis, who noted that, if the Yemenis took Aden, “it would for the first time provide the Yemen with a large modern town and a port of international consequence” and “economically, it would offer the greatest advantages to so poor and ill developed a country”.  A peaceful, united Yemen – with over half the peninsula’s population – would threaten Saudi-British-US hegemony of the entire region. That is why Britain has, for over 80 years, sought to keep it divided and warring.  

An edited version of this article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. d) Culture of concealment: the UK’s brazen duplicity in the war on Yemen 

 

1st August 2017 

 

Last Thursday was the last day of the current UK parliamentary session, before its summer recess. This made it the date for a particularly obnoxious new British tradition called ‘take out the trash day’. The UK government is obliged to issue all its public reports before the end of the parliamentary year; but to avoid scrutiny from MPs, the government now regularly withholds any potentially embarrassing reports until the very last day of that session. Then it can release them safe in the knowledge that there will be no time left for MPs to examine them, and no opportunity to question ministers over them. 

 

So having issued very little information over the preceding weeks, once MPs were heading back to their constituencies, the government took the opportunity to release dozens of reports and ministerial statements detailing everything from cuts to police, to the revolving door between cabinet ministers and private corporations, to the millions in legal fees the government spent attempting to prevent parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. Buried deep amongst them was a Foreign Office report on the state of human rights in 30 countries deemed to be of ‘priority concern’. What makes the report embarrassing to Britain, however, is that 20 of these countries are major customers of British arms exports; with Saudi Arabia, of course, topping the list. The Saudis, whose mass

executions, public lashings and restrictions on women’s rights are all detailed in the report, increased their UK weapons purchases from Britain by 11,000% following the start of their bombing campaign against Yemen in March 2015, and have purchased more than £3.3billion worth since then. Those weapons have played a major role in pushing Yemen to its current catastrophic situation, facing the fastest-growing cholera epidemic since records began, with 7 million people on the verge of famine. No wonder the UK does not want to draw attention to what is being facilitated by its relationship with the Saudis. It is right to be ashamed.

 

As well as downplaying Saudi atrocities, however, we also learned last Thursday that the UK government has been exaggerating its aid contribution to Yemen. In the most recent Commons debate on Yemen on 5th July, International Development minister Rory Stewart gave a figure he had inflated by 30%; his department used ‘take out the trash day’ to issue a correction to that figure, presumably expecting that no one would notice. In that, they seem to have been correct; I have been unable to find a single press report mentioning it. But perhaps lying to parliament about Yemen no longer qualifies as news – after all, it seems to have become standard practice for ministers.

 

By early 2016, with atrocities mounting in Yemen – such as airstrikes against three Medicins Sans Frontiers hospitals in as many months – some MPs began challenging the government’s policy, concerned in particular that British weapons were being used to carry out war crimes. Every time he was questioned on the issue, however, then-UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond insisted, in the face of copious evidence, that “we have assessed there has not been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”. This claim, or variations of it, was repeated by ministers to parliament six times. But then, on ‘take out the trash day’ 2016, the Foreign Office effectively admitted that it had been a lie.  What Hammond should have said, said the FCO in the six ‘corrections’ they issued, was that “we have not assessed that there has been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”. And that was because such an assessment – an assessment the government had been claiming all year to have carried out and which exonerated the Saudis – had never been made.

 

Britain is up to its neck in Yemen: it is the major supplier of the bombs dropped on Yemen, and of the jets used to drop them; it provides diplomatic cover to the Saudis (such as repeatedly blocking an independent investigation into Saudi war crimes); it supports the starvation blockade of the country; it provides training and logistical assistance to the Saudi armed forces; and it has 125 soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia, including six officers based in the Saudi command and control HQ ‘assisting with target selection’. Indeed, Britain may well have officers embedded in the Saudi army itself, given 2015’s ‘take out the trash day’ admission that Britain has 177 military personnel embedded within the armed forces of several other, undisclosed, countries. Yet ministers continue to lie to parliament that Britain is ‘not a party’ to the war in Yemen. As Mark Curtis has noted, this line was even repeated on the very day the British government disclosed that the Saudis used five different types of British bombs and missiles on Yemen.

 

The brazenness of the UK’s lies about its role in Yemen is underpinned by a tight secrecy which it hopes will prevent most of its duplicity ever being discovered.

 

Britain’s relations with Saudi Arabia have always been kept as obscure as possible, with the government regularly suppressing its own investigations and reports into the matter; the current refusal to release a Home Office report on terrorism funding lest it embarrass the Saudi and British governments has many precedents. In 2006, Tony Blair personally shut down the Serious Fraud Office investigation into a billion-pound bribery case involving British Aerospace and a Saudi prince, on the grounds it could endanger ‘national security’. And in 2014 Theresa May signed a secret ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayaf which the UK has consistently refused to make public. This was just months before the British-Saudi war on Yemen was unleashed.

 

Secrecy surrounds every aspect of Britain’s Yemen operation. It was the Saudi foreign minister, not the UK, who admitted to the stationing of British officers in his country’s command and control centre. The government has refused to provide details of its export licences to Saudi Arabia. And the government informed neither public nor parliament of its decision to send the Royal Navy’s most advanced warship, HMS Daring, to the coast of Yemen last November, essentially to help shore up the blockade.  

 

When the truth does come out, government ministers see it as their job to try to rubbish it; Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood, for example, responded to a UN report documenting more than 100 coalition airstrikes which violated international law by claiming they had been either “mistakes” by the Saudis or, astoundingly, that they had been “fabricated” by the “media-savvy” Houthis.

 

But, as Ian Cobain has thoroughly documented in “The History Thieves: Secrets, lies and the shaping of a modern nation”, this culture of secrecy and deception is deeply-rooted in British political life – and nowhere more to than the Foreign Office.

 

In 2001, a group of elderly Kenyans began the process of taking the British government to court over their treatment. All of them alleged that they had been tortured by the British during the Mau-Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Writes Ian Cobain, “If the old people were telling the truth, hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu, the country’s largest ethnic group, had been incarcerated by the colonial government, abused, tortured, and not infrequently raped… [Jailers] had beaten inmates to death, and even burned men alive”. Yet the official documentation in Kenya seemed to be almost entirely lacking in anything covering the treatment of prisoners – and when the judge in the trial ordered the Foreign Office to disclose all relevants, they claimed they had nothing other than what was already held in the Kenyan archives. This was strange, as the colonial authorities had been meticulous record-keepers. Someone, it seemed, was not telling the truth.

 

Stories had long circulated of huge wooden crates being removed from the Kenyan archives to be flown to Gatwick nine days before independence. And then, during the trial, Oxford historian David Anderson introduced a 40-year old Foreign Office minute which suggested the Foreign Office were withholding around 1500 files on Kenyan which had never been disclosed. That was when the Foreign Office came clean. They had lied about not holding any relevant files; in fact, they finally admitted, they were indeed holding 1500 files on the last days of British rule in Kenya. Once these were handed over, they immediately corroborated all the Kenyans’ allegations; as Cobain

wrote, the files “detailed the way in which suspected insurgents had been beaten to death, burned alive, raped, castrated – like two of the High Court claimants – and kept in manacles for years. Even children had been killed.” The government settled the case and paid £20million compensation to 5,228 claimants.

 

The case had led to the discovery of an epic cover-up. For it soon emerged that it was not only Kenya from where documents had been secretly removed. Following a instruction issued by the British colonial secretary Iain Macleod on 3rd May 1961, a massive operation of file-destroying and removal had been initiated across the entire British Empire. All files that could potentially embarrass the British government were ordered to be destroyed or removed to London – and almost 9000 such files, the government admitted in 2011, from 37 former colonies, were still being secretly held in Hanslope Park, 40 miles North of London. The government said it would clear the files for declassification and transfer to the national archives, and appointed Cambridge historian Tony Badger to oversee the process. He established that the true number of secret files was in fact more than 20,000. Yet even these ‘purged’ files had clearly themselves been purged. The Yemen files were particularly thin on the ground: Aden, which had seen a four-year long rebellion repressed with vicious brutality immediately prior to independence, had just five boxes. And when these were opened, writes Cobain, “it was found that half the files inside were personnel records of law ranking officials, while most of the remaining papers concerned agriculture”. This was not surprising, given what we now know from British civil servants in Aden, who have described what one called an “orgy of burning”. The files sent to London were, he wrote, “severely weeded”, such that “details of tribal affrays, secret counter-insurgency operations funded out of the coded-worded money bags…and many examples of less sensitive ‘keeni meeni’ are all gone, and are not duplicated elsewhere”. Keeni Meeni is the Swahili term for the ‘slithering of a snake’. It is an apt description for this entire episode of empire white-washing, indeed, for the whole operation of British imperialism, both then and now.

 

In truth, British foreign policy has always been a matter decided behind closed doors, with public and parliament informed as little as possible, and consulted even less. Cobain explains how Britain’s eleven-year war in Oman, begun in 1965, was not even publicly admitted until 1972, with ministers lying about the situation to parliament almost compulsively, and journalists barred from entering the country at all. He also notes how Britain’s unique system of media self-censorship – enforced by the infamous D notice committee – which covers almost all aspects of war reporting, today results in an estimated 80-90% of all relevant news reports being submitted to the committee before publication. This is an amazing level of government control of information about its wars, covert or otherwise. Moreover, we now know that the 20,000 secret files from ‘Operation Legacy’ were but the tip of the iceberg: the Foreign Office is, it has recently been discovered, actually holding at least 170,000, and possibly up to 1.2 million secret files, dating back to 1662 and taking up 15 miles of floor-to-ceiling shelving. The Foreign Office has clearly never considered itself to be bound by the various Public Records Acts which supposedly make official documents accessible to all. In 1971, former Cabinet minister Richard Crossman claimed that “secretiveness is the real English disease and in particular the chronic ailment of British government” – and that it “ensures that the House of Commons is the worst informed legislature in the world”. Today’s war in Yemen shows he remains dismally right.

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. e) The US-UK war on Yemen enters a horrific new phase 

 

20th November 2017 

 

The war against Yemen – sponsored by the West and executed by their ever-loyal Saudi fall guys – is going badly. Very badly. 

 

When the Saudis began their bombardment of the Arab world’s poorest country, named ‘Decisive Storm’, in March 2015, they promised a ‘limited’ mission. In reality, it has proved to be seemingly limitless and completely indecisive. A Harvard study estimates the Saudis are spending $200million per day on this war, driving their military budget up to $87billion, the third highest in the world.  But they remain nowhere near achieving their stated goal of defeating the Houthi-led resistance and recapturing the capital, Sanaa. Indeed, Hadi, the ‘President’ the Saudis are supposedly supporting, is still holed up in Riyadh, apparently unable to set foot in his own country, such is the depth of popular animosity towards him. 

 

Meanwhile, the ‘coalition’ which Saudi Arabia purports to lead is falling apart. Qatar – the world’s richest country in terms of per capita income, who were supposed to bankroll a large chunk of the war – pulled out long ago; whilst the Pakistani parliament – whose allotted role was to provide the ground troops – unanimously vetoed the proposal last year. Meanwhile, in the South, the Emiratis are backing forces hostile to the very President the war purports to be defending. Indeed, Hadi’s own troops are now complaining that the Saudis and Emiratis are actually bombing them. Yes, the ‘legitimate government’ of President Hadi – the one the whole operation is supposedly being fought in support of – is now itself being targeted by the aggressors, with Hadi accusing the Emirati crown prince of acting like an occupier. Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel peace prize-winning activist, even suggested that “ the Saudi-led air strikes have killed more fighters of the national army than Houthis.” Furthermore, the war has massively expanded Al Qaeda’s base in the country, and provided a new one for ISIS. Whilst this is not an immediate problem for Saudi Arabia in itself – after all, the more sectarian forces come to the fore, the less likely Yemen will be able to unite and pose a threat to Al Saud – but is nevertheless a real potential danger for the future, should those forces decide to turn their experience and weaponry on the kingdom itself. The Saudis seem to be, belatedly, recognising this, recently branding as ‘Al Qaeda terrorists’ one of the biggest Salafi groups in the country, the Abu Abbas brigade – after years of arming its men. 

 

Indeed, the war is going so badly that even the Saudis themselves are now privately saying they want out. Leaked emails last August revealed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who as defence minister was responsible for initiating the war in March 2015 – is keen to end the war. Yet still the war continues. London-based Yemeni Safa al-Shami told me that “The Saudis are in trouble; they don’t want [the war] to continue anymore. But they are being told ‘you have to finish the mission to the end’.” By this analysis, far from ‘turning a blind eye’ to a ‘Saudi war’, the West are positively demanding that a reluctant Saudi Arabia continue its futile and murderous campaign. 

 

And this campaign, already characterised by a brutally callous attitude to the Yemeni population, has just reached a new level of terror. Humiliated by the firing of a Houthi missile into Riyadh on November 5th – demonstrating that, despite years of pummelling, the Houthis are now stronger than ever – the Saudis announced that their blockade would henceforth become total, with entry of all goods to the country – via land, sea or air – completely ended. Medicins san Frontier verified the following week, that all their humanitarian flights into the country had been blocked. The Saudis then announced that some of the minor ports would be reopened, but only those in government-held areas. The country’s biggest port, Hodeidah, on which 80% of the population depend, remains closed, and this week, the Saudis bombed the capital’s airport again, preventing aid delivery. 

 

Even in it’s previous, partial, form, the blockade’s results have been truly sickening. Hodeidah’s capacity has been massively crippled since its four cranes were destroyed by coalition airstrikes in 2015, and the ‘coalition’ has prevented replacements being installed ever since. In addition, ships have been delayed, often for months, or turned back altogether for no explicable reason other than to punish the populations of Houthi-controlled areas. This siege – against a country dependent on imports for over 80% of its food, fuel and medicine – is nothing less than genocidal. Save the Children reported this week that 130 Yemeni children are now dying every day from extreme hunger or disease, with 50,000 killed this year alone. Meanwhile, the cholera epidemic – triggered by a combination of the war’s crippling of water sanitation systems and the Hadi government’s decision to block payments to all waste, sewage and health workers in Houthi-controlled areas – became the biggest in recorded history last month, with almost 900,000 infected by the disease. The previous biggest epidemic, still underway in Haiti, took seven years to reach 800,000 cases. Yemen surpassed that number in just six months. 

 

Yet, with two-thirds of the population – over 18 million people – now dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival, even these shocking figures are set to escalate very quickly. Seven million people are at immediate risk of famine. If this new total ban on humanitarian aid to the country’s biggest air and sea ports is maintained, they will die. These are the depths to which the West is prepared to push Saudi Arabia in its futile drive to permanently destroy the ‘Yemeni threat’. 

 

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, has been very clear. “I have told the [UN Security] Council that unless those measures are lifted … there will be a famine in Yemen. It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year, where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims.” 

 

Britain and the USA are driving the Saudis to unleash the world’s biggest famine for years against a totally captive population. Yet, as far as Western media is concerned, this is all totally un-newsworthy. The wilful starving to death of 130 children per day for the whole of this year is a footnote, at best, to this week’s rumours about Brexit or Trump’s latest absurd vulgarity. When I met Safa Al-Shami, she asked me, “Where is the media in all of this? How many pictures have we seen from Syria, from Iraq; where is Yemen in all of that? The media should start talking about this!” But she was  also clear that this lack of coverage is no excuse for a lack of action, at least not in Britain. “Look at how the British people marched and demonstrated because Tony Blair declared war against Iraq. The British people need to realise that this war in Yemen is part of the same dirty game. They have to do something. I blame the British people because they are educated and they know. The Americans are ignorant.” The horrors inflicted on Yemen by the British have deep historical precedents – it was 50 years ago this month that British forces finally withdrew from Aden, the Yemeni port they had colonised in 1839. Indeed, the country is embedded enough in the national consciousness to be the subject of a new BBC drama, whitewashing and glorifying the British colonisation of Yemen just as they whitewash the British role there today. 

 

And yet the British still like to think of Boris Johnson as some kind of affable buffoon. The truth is, he and the entire UK cabinet are child murderers on the most monstrous level. They, along with all those parliamentarians who voted to continue this vicious war, must be stopped, held to account and brought to justice. 

 

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. f) 1000 days of war: the starvation plan for Yemen 

 

19th December 2017 

 

THE NEW PLAN FOR YEMEN

 

Plagued by division and defeat, those waging war on Yemen have embarked on a new strategy. Inaugurated by Theresa May and Boris Johnson on 29th November, it will, if not thwarted, push Yemen into total devastation.

 

The protagonists of the war on Yemen – the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have been beset by problems ever since they launched the operation in March 2015. But these problems seem to have reached breaking point in recent months.

 

First and foremost, is the total lack of military progress in the war. Originally conceived as a kind of blitzkrieg – or “decisive storm” as the initial bombing campaign was named – that would put a rapid end to the Houthi-led Ansarallah movement’s rebellion, almost three years later it has done nothing of the sort. The only significant territory recaptured has been the port city of Aden, and this was only by reliance on a secessionist movement largely hostile to ‘President’ Hadi, whose rule the war is supposedly being fought to restore. All attempts to recapture the capital Sanaa, meanwhile, have been exposed as futile pipe dreams.

 

Secondly, the belligerents have been increasingly at war with themselves. In February of this year, a fierce battle broke out between the Emiratis and Saudi-backed forces for control of Aden’s airport. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the struggle  “prevented an Emirati plan to move north to Taiz,” adding that “the risk of such confrontations remains…Lacking ground forces anywhere in Yemen, the Saudis worry that the UAE could be carving out strategic footholds for itself, undermining Saudi influence in the kingdom’s traditional backyard.” Notes intelligence analysts theJamestown Foundation, “The fight over Aden’s airport is being played out against a much larger and far more complex fight for Aden and southern Yemen. The fighting between rival factions backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE clearly shows that Yemen’s already complicated civil war is being made more so by what is essentially a war within a war: the fight between Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their proxies.” This tension flared up again in October, with Emirati troops arresting 10 members of the Saudi-aligned Islah movement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yemeni faction.

 

And finally, the war is undergoing a serious crisis of legitimacy. Aid agencies are usually doggedly silent on the political causes of the disasters they are supposed to ameliorate. Yet on the issue of the blockade – and especially since it was made total on November 6th this year – they have beenuncharacteristically vocal, placing the blame for the country’s famine – in which more than a quarter of the population are now starving – squarely on the blockade and its supporters. Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, put it starkly: “150,000 will die before the end of the year because of the impact of this blockade” he told ABC news last month. Save the Children had alreadystated back in March 2017 that “food and aid are being used as a weapon of war”, and called for an end to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, whilst in November 2017, Oxfam’s Shane Stevenson said: “All those with influence over the Saudi-led coalition are complicit in Yemen’s suffering unless they do all they can to push them to lift the blockade.” Paolo Cernuschi, of the International Rescue Committee,added that: “We are far beyond the need to raise an alarm. What is happening now is a complete disgrace.” The governments of Donald Trump and Theresa May were being painted – by the most establishment-aligned of charities – as essentially mass murderers, accomplices to what Alex de Waal has called “the worst famine crime of this decade”. Even the Financial Times carried a headline that Britain “risks complicity in the use of starvation as a weapon of war”. “Is complicit” would be more accurate than “risks complicity”, but nevertheless: still a pretty damning indictment.

 

To confront these problems, a new strategy has clearly emerged. It appears to have been inaugurated by Theresa May and Boris Johnson on November 29th.  On that date, whilst the British Prime Minister met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh, the Foreign Secretary was hosting a London meeting of the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the US under-secretary of state, representing all four of the belligerent powers in Yemen.

 

The first element of this strategy was for Britain and the US to pacify the NGO fraternity by distancing themselves from the blockade, as if it were somehow separate from the war in which they were so deeply involved. This actually came about in the days preceding those meetings, when Theresa May told the press she would “demand” the “immediate” lifting of the blockade during her forthcoming visit to the king. Of course, in reality she did no such thing; after all, had she really wanted the blockade ended, she could have achieved this immediately simply by threatening to cut military support for the Saudis until they ended it. In fact, the meeting seems to have been more about reassuring the Saudis that her words were meant purely as rhetoric for domestic consumption, not meant to be taken seriously at all. In the event, far from an “immediate” end, the UK government website reported that May and Salman merely “agreed that steps needed to be taken” and that “they would take forward more detailed discussions on how this could be achieved”. Just to make it absolutely clear that the UK’s support for the war was not in any way in doubt, the very next line of the statement was “They agreed the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia was strong and would endure”. A deeply complicit press ensured that none of the actual contents of this meeting was reported; the last word on the matter, as far as they were concerned, was May’s pledge to “demand” an end to the blockade. Donald Trump followed suit last week, likewise calling on the Saudis to “completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people” whilst doing nothing to bring this about. Thus have the UK and US governments attempted to manipulate the media narrative such that the blockade they continue to facilitate no longer reflects badly on them.

 

The next aspect of the strategy became obvious before the Johnson and May meetings had even finished, as fighting broke out between the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh the same day. Saleh had made an alliance with his erstwhile enemies the Houthis in 2015 in a presumed attempt to seize back power from his former deputy Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, to whom he was forced to abdicate power in 2012. But he had never been fully trusted by the Houthis, and their suspicions were to be fully confirmed when on Saturday 2nd December he formally turned on them and offered himself up to the Saudis. Saleh had always been close to the Saudis whilst in power, positioning himself largely as a conduit for their influence; now he was returning to his traditional role. The swiftness and intensity of the Saudi airstrikes supporting his forces against the Houthis following his announcement suggests some degree of foreknowledge and collaboration had preceded it, as does the Saudi’s reported house arrest of their former favourite Hadi the previous month. This restoration of the Saleh-Saudi alliance represents a victory for the UAE, who had been pushing the Saudis to rebuild its bridges with him for some time. Analyst Neil Partrick, for example, had written just weeks before the move that “The Emiratis are advising the Saudis to go back to the former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, believing his growing disputes with the Houthis, his tactical allies, can be encouraged to become a permanent breach.” Thus was the problem of the military stalemate supposed to be solved by splitting the Houthis alliance with Saleh, paving the way for a dramatic rebalancing of forces in favour of the belligerents. The execution of Saleh two days later has only partially scuppered this plan, with many of his forces either openly siding with the invaders or putting up no resistance to them.

 

The Saudis’ conversion to the UAE plan to welcome Saleh back into the fold suggests the two powers’ divisions were to some extent being overcome. But this rapprochement was formalised with theannouncement of a new military alliance between them on December 5th, the day after Saleh’s death.

 

Thus, within a week of the London and Riyadh meetings, the coalition’s three seemingly intractable problems – the paralysing divisions between UAE and Saudi Arabia, the military stalemate, and the West’s legitimacy crisis over the blockade – had all apparently been turned around. This readjustment was and is intended to pave the way for a decisive new page in the war: an all-out attack on the port city of Hodeidah, the lifeline on which the country is utterly dependent.

 

This new strategy is now well under way. On December 6th, the day after after the new UAE-Saudi alliance was announced, their Yemeni assetsmounted “a major push…to purge Al Houthis from major coastal posts on the Red Sea including the strategic city of Hodeida.” The Emiratis had been advocating an attack on Hodeidah for at least a year, but, according to the Emirati newspaper The National, President Obama had vetoed it in 2016, whilst in March 2017, the Saudis got cold feet due tofears that the plan was “an indication of [the Emirates’] attempt to carve out strategic footholds in Yemen”. Now, it seems, it is finally under way.

 

The following day, the red sea town of Khokha, in Hodeidah province, was captured by Emirati forces and their Yemeni proxies, backed by Saudi airstrikes. Gulf News reported that “Colonel Abdu Basit Al Baher, the deputy spokesperson of the Military Council in Taiz, told Gulf News that the liberation of Khokha would enable government forces and the Saudi-led coalition to circle Hodeida from land and sea”. The day after that, Houthi positions in Al Boqaa, between Khokha and Hodeidah, were taken by Emirati-backed forces.

 

The following Sunday, 10th December, Boris Johnson met with the Emirati crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi,where he “underlined the depth of strategic relations between the two countries and his country’s keenness on enhancing bilateral cooperation”, before attending another “Quartet committee” meeting with his Emirati and Saudi counterparts and the US acting secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. The four of them “agreed to hold their meetings periodically, with the next meeting scheduled for the first quarter of 2018.”

 

(picture here – http://gulftoday.ae/portal/d5a9cf4b-e7d6-4a72-beac-a60165b0c72d.aspx )

 

This intensive activity in the space of just two weeks, bookended by high-level meetings of the ‘quartet’ on either side, is clearly coordinated. But what it heralds is truly horrifying. Presenting themselves as shocked bystanders to the growing famine in Yemen, the US and UK are in fact prime movers in a new strategy that will massively escalate it.

 

When an attack on Hodeidah was being contemplated back in March 2017, aid agencies and security analysts alike were crystal clear about its impact. A press release from Oxfam read: “Reacting to concern that Hodeidah port in Yemen is about to be attacked by the Saudi-led coalition, international aid agency Oxfam warns that this is likely to be the final straw that pushes the country into near certain famine…Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive said: “If this attack goes ahead, a country that is already on the brink of famine will be starved further as yet another food route is destroyed…An estimated 70 percent of Yemen’s food comes into Hodeidah port. If it is attacked, this will be a deliberate act that will disrupt vital supplies – the Saudi-led coalition will not only breach International Humanitarian Law, they will be complicit in near certain famine.” The point was reiterated by the UN’s World Food Programme, whilst the UN International Organisation for Migration warned that 400,000 people would be displaced were Hodeidah to be attacked. In the Independent, Peter Salisbury  notedthat it is by no means certain that taking Hodeidah will be easy” as the (then) “Houthi-Saleh alliance is well aware of the plan” and preparing accordingly. He added that “While the Saudi-led coalition claims that taking the port would help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the medium term, aid agencies fret that the short-term effect of cutting off access to a major port could be a killing blow to some of Yemen’s starving millions. Nor is it clear that were the port to be taken, the Houthi-Saleh alliance would simply wilt away. Rather, it seems more likely that they and the population in areas under their control, facing further deprivation, will take a more hardline – and more radical – stance…This in turn will only serve to help Salafist leaders and, yes, al-Qaeda, sell a worrying, sectarian and anti-Western worldview. In the absence of a government able to impose itself on the ground or provide security and basic services like electricity and water, the discipline of radical groups becomes all too appealing. Two years in, something must be done to shake up the Yemen war. But the last thing the world needs is another Middle Eastern country torn to pieces and racked by sectarian violence, and in which radical Islamist groups vie for control.” The Jamestown foundation were even more wary, writing that the city’s capture would be impossible without major US involvement and that  “Even with U.S. assistance, the invasion will be costly and ineffective. The terrain to the east of Hodeidah is comprised of some of the most forbidding mountainous terrain in the world. The mountains, caves, and deep canyons are ideal for guerrilla warfare that would wear down even the finest and best disciplined military.” Yet the US’s current efforts to argue that Houthis are being supplied with Iranian missiles via Hodeidah may well be aimed at legitimising just such direct US involvement in an attack on the port. After all, continues Jamestown, “the Saudi effort in Yemen hinges on the invasion of Hodeidah. The reasoning behind the invasion is that without Hodeidah and its port — where supplies trickle through — the Houthis and their allies, along with millions of civilians, can be starved into submission.”

 

This, then – the ramping up of the ‘weapon of starvation’ – is the ultimate end of this new phase in the war. Basic humanity demands it be vigorously opposed.

 

An edited version of this article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. g) The $1.5 billion campaign to whitewash genocide in Yemen 

 

14th March 2018 

 

“The situation in Yemen – today, right now, to the population of the country,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told Al Jazeera last month, “looks like the apocalypse.”

150,000 people are thought to have starved to death in Yemen last year, with one child dying of starvation or preventable diseasesevery ten minutes, and another falling into extreme malnutrition every two minutes. The country is undergoing the world’s biggest cholera epidemic since records began with over one million now having contracted the disease, and new a diptheria epidemic “is going to spread like wildfire” according to Lowcock. “Unless the situation changes,” he concluded, “we’re going to have the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years”.

The cause is well known: the Saudi-led coalition’s bombardment and blockade of the country, with the full support of the US and UK, has destroyed over 50% of the country’s healthcare infrastructure, targeted water desalination plants, decimated transport routes and choked off essential imports, whilst the government all this is supposed to reinstall has blocked salaries of public sector workers across the majority of the country, leaving rubbish to go uncollected and sewage facilities to fall apart, and creating a public health crisis. A further eight million were cut off from clean water when the Saudi-led coalition blocked all fuel importslast November, forcing pumping stations to close. Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, Shane Stevenson, commented at the time that “The people of Yemen are already being starved to submission – unless the blockade is lifted quickly they will have their clean water taken away too. Taking clean water from millions of people in a country that is already suffering the world’s largest cholera outbreak and on the verge of famine would be an act of utmost barbarity.”

Since then, things have been getting worse. As of late January, fuel imports through the country’s main port Hodeidah were still being blocked, with cholera cases continuing to climb as a result. And on 23rd January, the UN reported that there are now 22.2 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance – 3.4 million more than the previous year – with eight million on the brink of famine, an increase of one million since 2017.

This is unsurprising, as both the bombardment and the blockade have intensified in recent months. For almost a month at the end of last year, the coalition blocked all imports into Hodeidah port, through which 70% of the country’s imports would otherwise enter. And since the death of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on 4th December, the air campaign has been stepped up, with massacres occurring on a near-daily basis. On 9th February, the UNannounced that 85,000 had been displaced in ten weeks due to “surging violence”, particularly on the Red Sea Coast, where the coalition have mounted a new campaign to capture the country’s strategically important Hodeidah port.

With the Hodeidah campaign now entering a new phase, this war on the Yemeni population is set to escalate still further. Since it launched in early December, the coalition and their Yemeni assets have taken several towns and villages on Hodeidah province, and are now poised to take the battle to the city itself. On 20th February, Emirati newspaper The National reportedthat, in the coming days, “more forces will be committed to Hodeidah as a new front is to be opened in the next few days by Maj Gen Tariq Mohammed Abdullah,” nephew of the deceased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This attack would put the almost completely-import dependent country’s most essential port out of action for months, leaving millions unable to survive. “If this attack goes ahead”, Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring told the press when a similar attack was proposed earlier last year, “this will be a deliberate act that will disrupt vital supplies – the Saudi-led coalition will not only breach International Humanitarian Law, they will be complicit in near certain famine.” His colleague Suze Vanmeegan added that “any attack on Hodeidah has the potential to blast an already alarming crisis into a complete horror show – and I’m not using hyperbole.”

There is no doubt the war’s British and American overseers have given their blessing to this escalation. In late 2016, the “Yemen Quartet” was formed by the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to co-ordinate strategy between the the war’s four main aggressors. Throughout 2017, they met sporadically, but since the end of the year their meetings have become more frequent and higher-level. At the end of November, just before the launch of operations in Hodeidah province, Boris Johnson hosted a meeting of the Quartet in London as Theresa May simultaneously met with King Salman in Riyadh, presumably to give the go-ahead to this new round of devastation for Yemen’s beleaguered population. They met again two weeks later, and then too on 23rd January, also at Johnson’s instigation, where the meeting was attended, for the first time, by Rex Tillerson. The “economic quartet” – also attended by officials from the IMF and World Bank – convened on 2nd February in Saudi Arabia, whilst Johnson and Tillerson once again met with their Saudi and Emirati counterparts to discuss Yemen in Bonn on 15th February. Of course, these meetings do not carry out the nitty-gritty of strategic war planning – civil servants in the military and intelligence services do that. The purpose of such high level forums is rather for each side to demonstrate to the others that any  strategic developments carry the blessing of each respective government at the highest level. That the “quartet” met just days before an announcement that the long-planned attack on Hodeidah port was imminent, then, speaks volumes about US-UK complicity in this coming new premeditated war crime.

These military and humanitarian ‘developments’ (if such a word can be applied to the deliberate reversal of a country’s living standards) form the backdrop to the Saudi-led coalition’s unveiling on 22nd January of their new plan to deliver “unprecedented relief to the people of Yemen”. YCHO – “Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations” – is a new ‘aid’ programme with the ostensible aim of “addressing immediate aid shortfalls while simultaneously building capacity for long-term improvement of humanitarian aid and commercial goods imports to Yemen”, primarily through increasing the “capacities of Yemeni ports to receive humanitarian as well as commercial imports” – and all sealed with a whopping $1.5billion in aid contributions. What could possibly be wrong with that?

The problem here is not only that the the funding required to meet the needs createdby the Saudi-led coalition is estimated by the UN to be twice that amount. The real problem is that the plan will not, in fact, increase the imports on which Yemen is utterly dependent, but reduce them still further. This is because the much-vaunted ‘improvements in port capacity’ will apply solely to “coalition-controlled ports”, excluding the ports outside their control – Hodeidah and Saleef – which, between them, handle about 80% of Yemen’s imports. For these, absolutely critical, ports, the plan explicitly states that it wants a reduction in the flow of cargo they handle: by around 200 metric tons per month, compared to mid-2017 levels. Yes, you heard correctly: cargo levels in mid-2017 – when 130 children were dying each day from malnutrition and other preventable diseases largely caused by the limits on imports already in place – are now deemed in need of further, major, reductions. This plan is nothing less than a systematisation of the starvation politics of which the Saudis were accused by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen in relation to their closure of Hodeidah and Saleef in November. Back then, noted the panel’s Final Report, all Yemen’s ports had been closed following a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh airport. But whilst coalition-controlled ports were quickly reopened, Hodeidah and Saleef remained closed for weeks. “This had the effect,” said the panel, “of using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war.” Today, the ‘Comprehensive Operations’ plan envisages making permanent the juxtaposition of wilful starvation of Houthi-controlled territory (in which the vast majority of Yemenis live) and ‘generous’ aid deliveries into coalition-controlled territories. These are the same ‘methods of barbarism’ as were employed by the British in the Boer war – when Boer-controlled territories were subjected to scorched earth policies of torching farms and destroying livestock – and then revived for Britain’s colonial wars in Malaya,  Kenya and, indeed, Yemen in the 1950s-60s. Small wonder Britain is so deeply involved today.

But such a strategy will surely be hard to sell in this day and age. Certainly, the Saudis seem to think so; which is presumably why they have employed a plethora of the world’s most notorious PR agencies to help them do so.

An exceptional investigation by the IRIN news agency reported that “the press release journalists received announcing the [YCHO] plan came neither from the coalition itself nor from Saudi aid officials. It came, along with an invitation to visit Yemen, straight from a British PR agency”. That agency was Pagefield Global Counsel, one of the successor companies to disgraced PR giant Bell Pottinger (employing over 20 former Pottinger staff).

The investigation also revealed that the powerpoint presentation used to introduce the YCHO to high level UN officials was authored by Nicholas Nahas, of Booz Allen Hamilton, a US management consultancy with long-established links to the US state – including involvement in the illegal SWIFT and PRISM mass surveillance programmes – and which currently has, says IRIN “35 job listings in Riyadh on its website, including “military planner”, a role that requires the applicant to: “Provide military and planning advice and expertise to support the coordination of Joint counter threat operations executed by coalition member nations and facilitate resourcing to enable operations.””

Another PR company involved in ‘selling’ the YCHO, long on the Saudi payroll, is Qorvis MSLGROUP, who, says IRIN, “booked US revenue of more than $6 million from the Saudi Arabian embassy [in the US] over a 12-month period up to September 2017”.

 

These masters of spin have certainly been busy: their work on the plan has been delivered to “the offices of major INGOs in the UK as well as to members of the UK parliament”, and YCHO accounts has been set up on facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube and gmail. The YCHO twitter account has around 10,000 followers; but, says the investigation, “almost half of YCHO’s followers have less than 10 followers themselves, while some 1,000 followers were accounts created on the same day in 2016 – signs that a significant number of bots or fakes are inflating YCHO’s popularity”.

 

 

“All of this,” concludes IRIN, “has fed suspicions that rather than a genuine attempt to help the people of Yemen, the plan is really intended more to gloss over the Hodeidah issue and improve Saudi Arabia’s battered image, or at least a bit of both.”

You would think a strategy aimed at starving the world’s most starving population still further would be a hard sell. But, then, money not only talks, it silences.  And $1.5 billion is a lot of money.

The UN’s own ‘Humanitarian Response Plan’ for Yemen, issued just two days before the YCHO, on 20th January, had noted that “Al Hudaydah port, which accounts for 70-80 per cent of commercial imports in Yemen, remains a critical lifeline, despite operating at reduced capacity after being hit by an airstrike in August 2015”, adding that “the extended blockade imposed on Al Hudaydah and Salif ports on 6 November 2017 significantly threatened this lifeline of Yemenis” and that “only a sustained flow of imports of essential basic goods can avert further catastrophe”. Yet the cash-strapped UN, facing dramatic budget cuts from the Trump administration, and presumably nervous of saying anything that might jeopardise Saudi-Emirati money as well,officially welcomed the announcement, despite its clear commitment to essentially tightening the very blockade of Hodeidah and Saleef ports which the UN had denounced just days earlier.

Thankfully, the aid agencies do not seem to have been fooled. A joint statement on the YCHO by a number of international NGOs, including Oxfam and Save the Children, stated that “We remain concerned that the blockade on Red Sea ports has still not been fully lifted and about the insufficient volume of fuel reaching these, which has led to an increase in the price of basic goods across the country. As a result, we are seeing families pushed into preventable disease and starvation because they cannot afford to buy food and clean water. Hodeidah port handles the majority of the country’s imports and cannot be substituted. It is vital that the warring parties commit to keep Hodeidah port fully open and functioning, including unfettered access for both humanitarian and commercial supplies.” Save the Children’s Caroline Anning explained that the plan “is a misconception – in the publicity around this new plan they say the blockade around Hodeida port has been fully lifted but actually what we’re seeing is that fuel is still being blocked coming into that port which is having a really horrendous knock-on effect around the country.” She added that if “they want to try and push the delivery of key important commercial supplies through other ports like Aden, Jazan and Saudi Arabia and cut off the Hodeida port, again that could be really problematic and again it means one of the warring parties in the conflict is controlling access routes for goods coming in…Improved humanitarian access is really important and that’s been a massive challenge – but in reality that’s not going to solve the humanitarian conflict in Yemen. We’ve seen increased violence, air strikes across the country in the last few months, civilians being killed every day, vital infrastructure like health clinics being hit all the time. While that’s happening and while the economy is collapsing and public sector salaries aren’t being paid, the humanitarian crisis is going to continue.”

And the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s scathing response – issued with the title “Yemen: Saudi ‘aid’ plan is war tactic” – is worth quoting at length:

“The Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO), announced on January 22, 2018, is neither comprehensive, nor reflective of clear, shared humanitarian priorities…The YCHO politicizes aid by attempting to consolidate control over access and transit points. Rather than endorsing a parallel plan, which was created without broad input from humanitarian actors, the Saudi Led Coalition (SLC) and its supporters, notably the US and UK, should work to ensure the full implementation of the existing UN humanitarian response plan.

“The name in itself is misleading: it is neither comprehensive, nor particularly humanitarian,” said Amanda Catanzano, senior policy and advocacy director at the International Rescue Committee. “The Saudi-led coalition is offering to fund a response to address the impact of a crisis it helped to create. The acute crisis in Yemen needs more than what appears to be a logistical operations plan, with token gestures of humanitarian aid”. The IRC go on to list a number of ‘red flags’ about the plan, first and foremost, that it does not end the blockade: “If the Saudis were serious about addressing the humanitarian crisis,” they point out,  “the most valuable step they could take would be to lift the blockade, permanently, which they and the international community should do without delay”. Furthermore, they add, the YCHO “severely threatens humanitarian access, endangering the lives of millions more civilians. The plan would move the main hub of the response from Hodeidah port to Aden port and would increase capacity of additional Southern ports of Mokha and Mukalla as additional alternatives. The development of additional Yemeni ports is welcome and laudable, but not at the expense of access to Red Sea ports like Hodeidah and Saleef. The southern ports are neither equipped for, nor well placed to service populations in need: they the lack basic infrastructure and capacity of the northern ports, through which 80% of all imports come into Yemen, and humanitarians would need to go through 70 checkpoints between Sanaa and Aden, complicating delivery and driving up costs”. They also note that it is precisely the Saudi-led coalition and its Yemeni stooges who have implemented a  policy of cutting off payments to public sector workers, leading to the current public health disaster: “The acute deprivation in Yemen is as much a function of the blockade as it is the absence of basic public services. The SLC is overfunding the war effort at the expense of governance and service delivery. The vague “economic stabilization” clause in the YCHO does not address the restoration of basic public services. These funds should be used to reinstate basic government services and pay government workers.” It concludes:

“A meaningful response to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis requires more access – not less. At best, this plan would shrink access and introduce new inefficiencies that would slow the response and keep aid from the neediest Yemenis, including the over 8 million on the brink of starvation,” said Catanzano. “At worst, it would dangerously politicize humanitarian aid by placing far too much control over the response in the hands of an active party to the conflict.”

Essentially, this is a plan to tighten the blockade whilst monopolising access to aid in the hands of the aggressors, presented as a great humanitarian effort, and unveiled just as the coalition begins an attack on the country’s “vital lifeline” which will lead to “a complete horror show” and “near-certain famine”. In the twisted minds of men like Mohammed bin Salman, Rex Tillerson and Boris Johnson – for whom even the liquidation of an entire people is a apparently a noble cause in the pursuit of containing Iran – this is what passes for humanitarianism today.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. h) Al Saud, Theresa May and the war on Yemen 

 

9th March 2018 

 

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman this week made his first visit to the Western world since being made crown prince by his ailing father last year. That the visit was to London was no coincidence. The UK has been deeply involved in the brutal war the Saudis are waging on Yemen ever since it began three years ago this month, when the then-foreign minister Philip Hammond explained that Britain’s policy was to support the war  “in every practical way short of engaging in combat.”

 

He has been true to his word. Since then, not only has Britain licenced over £6 billion worth of military equipment, but has supplied no less than 166 personnel to assist the Saudi arms forces, including several officers deployed in the airforce control room advising with targeting. Britain provides training to Saudi airforce pilots and battlefield skills to the Saudi infantry – including, it was recently revealed, training specifically tailored to Yemeni terrain. On the diplomatic front, the UK has repeatedly used its position on the UN Security Council to block UN investigations into war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition, much to the disgust of many of its European partners. In sum, Yemen is being destroyed by British-made missiles, dropped from British planes by British-trained pilots. As the eminent international lawyer Philippe Sands QC told a UK parliament select committee, it is impossible, on the basis of the evidence that is before us, to claim plausibly” – as the UK government continues to do –  “that the United Kingdom is not involved” in the Yemen war.

 

This involvement is not limited to mere support, however; what is becoming increasingly clear is that Britain is playing a leading role in the war’s strategic direction.  

 

In late 2016, the “Yemen quartet” was set up – a ministerial-level grouping of the four main powers responsible for the war – the UK, the US, the KSA and the UAE. Their meetings have been sporadic, but over the past four months, they have become much more frequent, usually at Britain’s behest. But what is particularly noteworthy is that every single major strategic shift in the war’s execution in recent months has coincided with a meeting of the Quartet called by Boris Johnson. Clearly, the foreign office mandarins responsible for planning the Yemen war have been working overtime.

 

On November 29th, Theresa May was in Riyadh, meeting with King Salman. At the same time, Johnson was hosting a meeting of the Quartet, attended by the foreign ministers of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with the US under-secretary of state. That very day, the forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh turned on their erstwhile allies in the Houthi-led Ansar Allah movement in what was heralded as the most significant shift in the war to date. A few days later, on December 2nd, Saleh announced his formal defection to the Saudis, a move immediately followed by the launching of a new offensive aimed at the Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah under the auspices of a newly-created military alliance between the UAE and the Saudis. Saleh’s defection was supposed to tip the balance against the Houthis, but his assassination two days later left his forces in disarray, allowing the Houthis to more firmly secure the areas under their control. Nevertheless, the move had clearly been well coordinated with the powers waging war on Yemen, with intense Saudi airstrikes immediately launched in support of Saleh’s move against the Houthis. Meanwhile, the Saudis wanted to know that the offensive on Hodeidah – which had been vigorously opposed by aid agencies as likely to create a famine, and had even been blocked by President Obama when suggested the previous year – had the blessing of their Anglo-American sponsors. The simultaneous meetings in London and Riyadh were precisely such a demonstration of that support.

 

Less than two weeks after this meeting, and just four days into the new Red Sea offensive, Boris Johnson was in Abu Dhabi, discussing the Yemen war with the most powerful figures in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, their crown princes Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, followed up with another meeting of the Quartet.

 

On January 23rd, the Quartet met again, this time in Paris, and again at the instigation of Boris Johnson. This came hot on the heels of the UN’s humanitarian response plan published three days earlier, which explained that the war had driven a further one million people to brink of famine since last year (making a total of 8 million facing extreme malnutrition), and pushed another 3 and a half million into dependence on aid, to reach a total of over 22 million, three-quarters of the population. Clearly a PR offensive was going to be necessary. The groundwork had already been laid by the Saudi’s “Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations” plan, announced to the media the day before the Quartet meeting by a British PR company made up of former employees of the disgraced Bell Pottinger. The plan, which proposes to tighten up the blockade of Houthi-controlled ports – a blockade which is already helping to starve 130 children to death every day – essentially dresses up new war crimes as nothing more than heartfelt philanthropy.

 

Just three weeks later, on February 15th, Johnson called another meeting of the Quartet – attended for the first time, by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This meeting occurred as coalition forces had been making slow but steady progress through Hodeidah province and were poised to take their battle to Hodeidah city itself. Once again, such a devastating move for the Yemeni population meant all four powers sought reassurance that the planned slaughter had the blessing of all the others at the highest governmental level. The following day the UK put forward a motion to the Security Council praising Saudi Arabia and the UAE for their humanitarian efforts in Yemen, and on 20th February the Emirati press announced that the push on Hodeidah city would begin within days, to be led by Saleh’s nephew. The four protagonists were united in their plans to intensify the strangulation of the Yemeni people.

 

The reasons for this deep British determination to wage war on Yemen go back over a century, when Britain decided to help the Saudi family secure their rule of the peninsula in the knowledge that their sectarianism and lack of popular legitimacy would make them forever dependent on outside colonial support. The one potential thorn in the side to this plan has always been Yemen, whose population outnumber those of every other country on the peninsula put together, and whose historic civilisation appears to give the Sauds an inferiority complex. The British have always understood that an independent Yemen is the greatest threat to western domination of the Arab peninsula, and have consistently sought to smash the possibility every time it rears its head. This week’s meeting shows that even the obliteration of the entire country is deemed acceptable in pursuit of this goal.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. i) Yemen’s resistance will not be subdued 

 

23rd June 2018

 

Today, the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah is under ferocious attack in the latest stage of the west’s aggression against the indomitable people of Yemen. This war was initiated as a ‘proxy’ war to be fought by their Gulfi underlings, but defeats and setbacks have increasingly led western countries to more direct involvement. Already deeply implicated from the start – through not only the arming and training of the Saudi and Emirati militaries, but also the leading role of western officers embedded in the targeting rooms, not to mention the high-level “Yemen quartet” for war planning – western forces now appear to be openly involved in the latest escalation. Le Figaro recently revealed that French secret service personnel are deployed on the ground in Yemen, whilst US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly greenlighted the operation on the port, something the US has – until now – held back from doing. Britain, meanwhile, has coordinated the diplomatic charade, helping torpaedo the Swedish call for a ceasefire at the UN, and claiming instead to support the ‘peacemaking efforts’ of the ‘UN special envoy’ to Yemen, British diplomat Martin Griffiths. His ‘efforts’ have consisted of calling for the popular Ansar Allah movement to leave Hodeidah. In other words, this is the ‘Geneva conference’ for Syria all over again – a demand for unconditional surrender, dressed up as a ‘diplomatic initiative’. Griffiths’ job is nothing more than provision of a diplomatic figleaf for the demands of the aggressors, the equivalent of a mafiosi bosses’ pinstriped lawyer. Unsurprisingly, his ‘initiative’ was met with short thrift in Sanaa.

 

As is well known, the latest escalation threatens the lives of millions. The UN have suggested 250,000 could be killed in the battle for Hodeidah, but this is before factoring in the disruption of supplies caused by attacking a port which provides, literally, almost two-thirds of the basic needs of the entire country. Hodeidah is known as Yemen’s lifeline for good reason – it supplies 70% of imports in a country dependent on imports for 90% of its food, fuel and medicine. Given that 8.4 million already starving, with a further 14 million dependent on food aid for survival, it is not hard to see how even a temporary disruption to this ‘lifeline’ could result in millions of deaths.

 

But what makes the western powers – and their Arab proxies – so willing to contemplate such a genocidal level of killing, just to ensure a Saudi-Emirati victory over their impoverished neighbour?

 

Ultimately, the answer to this question lies not in ‘fear of Iranian influence’ – which has been vastly overstated, and is little more than an attempt to demonise an authentic indigenous resistance movement –  nor in the desire to ‘restore the legitimate government’ – a hideous joke of a pretext, given that Hadi’s so-called ‘mandate’ expired in 2014, having failed to achieve – nor even pursue – any of what he was cautiously mandated to do in 2012 (in an election in which his was the only name on the ballot). Rather, what the west and its Arab stooges are truly terrified of is a genuinely independent Yemen. And this is precisely what the AnsarAllah movement represent.

 

In his superb new book, Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About the World, Professor Isa Blumi shows how the war on AnsarAllah now underway is but the latest in 100 years of futile attempts to crush Yemen’s indomitable resistance to the forces of global capital. The latest chapter of this resistance began in the year 2000, when Yemenis of the northwest region in and around Sa’adah province found their ancestral homelands under threat from two sources: the Saudis, and the IMF. In 1934, a treaty was forced on Yemen in which the historic Yemen province of Asir was annexed by Saudi Arabia. But whilst it was agreed the new border would be marked out (with stones), it was also agreed that the peoples of the region would be able to freely move across this border. This arrangement ended when a new treaty was signed in 2000, which replaced the stone border with walls, fences and checkpoints, and prevented the free passage of locals. Just like the illegal Israel wall, whose construction began at the same time, the Saudis were using ‘border enforcement’ as a means of separating indigenous people from their agricultural (and other) resources – and, also just like Israel, they decided to create a “buffer zone” 10km deep into Yemeni territory in the process. Blumi notes that the zone conceded to the Saudis (not to mention the extra that was then stolen) contained “some of the best farming and grazing land in Yemen, with considerable water resources available”. At the same time, President Saleh was busily privatising what land was left, in line with the demands of the IMF’s ‘structural adjustment’ programme. Former MP Husayn al-Huthi emerged as the spokesman of the budding resistance movement that this theft provoked, and which soon claimed 3000 armed men for its cause. Its popularity was assured – after all, this was literally a life-and-death struggle over the right to subsist. The struggle led to the so-called’ Sa’adah wars’ of 2000-2009, although, as Blumi points out, “The nature of the struggle soon expanded beyond Sa’adah itself, reviving old Yemeni irredentist claims to Najran, Asir and Jizan lent out in 1934 to Saudi Arabia”. Five rounds of armed struggle, ceasefire, and (failed) negotiations followed, but  “with each confrontation with locals, the state created a larger group of antagonists who gravitated around the charismatic leadership of al-Huthi”.

 

Despite his ruthless crackdowns, President Saleh was utterly unable to repress the movement, which merely grew from strength to strength. With the protests of 2011, the resistance – now know as AnsarAllah – became even more of a significant voice for those Yemenis angry at decades of their country being looted by imperial interests under the guise of ‘neoliberalism’, and facilitated by Saleh. Saleh, in power since 1978, had, says Blumi, overseen the transformation of the Yemeni state from a “mechanism for protect rural Yemen from global capitalism” to a conduit for channeling Yemen’s wealth into the coffers of western financial institutions.

 

Yet ultimately, even Saleh was not considered efficient enough at turning over his country’s resources to the west. Not only had he failed to subdue the spirited resistance in Sa’adah, but he had started to push back on some of the more obscene western demands – such as a call by corporate lobby groups in 2010 that foreign investors be exempt from tax altogether – correctly fearing that his rule might not survive such an orgy of obsequiousness. But what really frightened the west was the growing levels of investment in Yemen by China, who had since the early 2000s, pumped billions into developing Yemeni oil, infrastructure and fishing. The danger here, as everywhere, was that the existence of alternative sources of investment would give Yemen some leverage – and even independence – in its relations with western corporate interests.

 

Yet the leading role of AnsarAllah, with their consistent focus on resisting Yemen’s political and economic subordination, derailed any attempts to turn the protest movement into a liberal charade. If Yemen’s immense resources were to be turned into liquidity for global capital at the rate required – and in the wake of the financial crisis, this had become all but an existential requirement – some deft manoeuvring would be needed. Enter Hadi – “empire’s man”, as Blumi puts it. Vice President under Saleh for almost two decades, Hadi was a reliable regime stooge, but without Saleh’s growing impertinence. Ordained by the priesthood of global capital, his official mandate was to embark on a process of reconciliation and prepare the country for elections. Instead, he made a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood which allowed him to sideline the country’s two main popular movements – AnsarAllah in the north, and Hirak, the separatist movement in the South, and proceeded to steamroller the country into membership of the WTO. This process required the usual – and long discredited – ‘shock therapy’ of unrestrained privatisation. Hadi immediately privatised 11 of the 12 main sectors of the economy, with 78 of 160 ‘subsectors’ listed for immediate ‘liberalisation’. At the same time, he exposed Yemen’s private sector to instant ‘free market’ competition from global multinationals, costing thousands of jobs. In other words, says Blumi, Hadi “proceeded to literally sell off Yemen to Saudi and Qatari interests…under no legal or electoral pressure, Hadi’s interim government was the ideal vehicle to plunder Yemen”. By 2014, when his so-called ‘mandate’ ended, the country had had enough, and AnsarAllah’s entry into Sanaa was met with little resistance. Since then, the movement has controlled territory comprising 80% of the country’s population. The fact that it has been able to withstand now over three years of the most devastating war against it, waged by a ten-country coalition directed and armed by the world’s most formidable military powers, should alone demonstrate that it is this extraordinary movement, not the so-called ‘President’ who cannot even set foot in his own country, who have the real claim to legitimacy. 

 

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. j) The threat of an independent Yemen 

 

4th July 2018 

 

So the long-dreaded invasion of the port city of Hodeidah is, since the early hours of June 13th, now underway. Hodeidah is literally Yemen’s lifeline, through which 70% of the country’s supplies arrive (in a country dependent on imports for 90% of its food, fuel and medicine); the battle now underway will likely completely knock out its capacity for months, potentially tipping the country into all-out famine. The port has already long been subject to an on-off blockade by the ‘Saudi-led coalition’, with shipments arbitrarily delayed for months or simply turned back altogether. Combined with the disruption to food supplies caused by aerial bombardment – with one-third of airstrikes carried out against civilian targets such as roads, bridges, hospitals, farms and fishing boats – this has led to 8.4 million Yemenis now officially at imminent risk of starving to death. The attack on the port may well see them perish; already 1 child starves to death every 10 minutes in what has long been the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, one that is utterly man-made, the result of a criminal aggression carried out by the gulf states at the behest of their western backers.

 

Why is this happening? Why is the world – not only the ten-power coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but the US, Britain, France and others – so willing, desperate even, to sacrifice the lives of potentially millions of men, women and children, in order that the Saudis prevail over their impoverished neighbour to the South?

 

Explanations – or, more often, pretexts – abound. Some can be dismissed out of hand. The official line, for example, that this is about restoring the ‘legitimate government’ of President Hadi, is a grotesque joke. Hadi was imposed on Yemen in 2012 in what soon became clear was a ‘transition’ stage-managed by the US and Saudi Arabia which aimed to ensure popular demands did not get in the way of the imperial plunder of the country. As Ginny Hill has noted in her book Yemen Endures, in October of that year “White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan revealed that he had personally played a prominent role in crafting a ‘join US-Saudi policy’ to bring a ‘more cooperative government to power’ in Yemen, by replacing Saleh with Hadi”. A referendum took place in which Yemenis cautiously gave their approval to the new leader – whose name was the only one on the ballot – on the strict understanding that his mandate was to oversee a process of national dialogue and reconciliation, and would be limited to a two-year term. He broke this mandate immediately, cutting a deal with the Saudi-backed Muslim Brotherhood faction, the Islah party, and rejecting talks with either of the country’s major popular resistance movements, the Houthi-led AnsarAllah movement, which emerged in the northwest in opposition to land theft both by the Saudis and IMF-imposed privatisation programmes, and the Southern separatist movement Hirak. He then proceeded to implement a programme of neoliberalism on steroids, fast-tracking the country towards WTO membership and privatising 11 of the country’s 12 major service sectors – literally selling off the country, largely to – guess who? – Saudi companies. Needless to say, this was a programme for which he had no mandate whatsoever. Then, in 2014, he refused to step down or to organise new elections; as even former Conservative Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell has admitted, whatever supposed legitimacy Hadi may have once claimed ended decisively in 2014, when his two-year term ended. It was at that point that AnsarAllah made their move and entered Sanaa, where they did not, in fact, immediately remove Hadi from power, but rather put forward three demands: the immediate establishment of a timeframe for elections; an immediate half to the firesale of Yemen’s assets; and a review of all the new laws imposed by the Hadi administration. Demands, in other words, with a damn sight more popular legitimacy than Hadi’s policy of stripping the country bare. Hadi’s response was to flee the country and initiate the bloodbath now underway. Whatever motives his backers may have had, ‘democratic legitimacy’ was certainly not amongst them.

 

Other explanations put forward for the western-gulfi pulverising of Yemen include the fear of Iranian influence; the profits of western arms countries (who have, after all, made billions from the slaughter of Yemenis); the strategic importance of Yemen’s location on the Red Sea; the fear of the ‘domino effect’ of a successful republican movement on the region’s monarchies; and so on. All contain at least a kernel of truth (although the ‘Iranian influence’ card is vastly overstated, and is generally utilised as a crude way to demonise a legitimate indigenous resistance movement). But in fact all of these factors are but secondary aspects of the war’s one overarching strategic objective – to prevent an independent Yemen at all costs.

 

Exactly one hundred years ago, as the First World War neared its indecisive conclusion, the port city of Hodeidah was subject to another naval blockade. Then, like now, the belligerent powers were Britain and the al-Saud family. Whilst British troops besieged and ultimately occupied the city, forces loyal to Ibn Saud embarked on an orgy of violence throughout the city, conducting pogroms which would scar popular attitudes towards both Britain and the Sauds for generations. Once again, the motive was to strangle an independent movement which had taken root in Yemen.

 

Back then, Britain’s main rival for control of Southern Arabia following the fall of the Ottomans was Imam Yahya, a powerful Zaydi ruler who had taken on his rivals and established his authority across the region which came to be known as North Yemen – and who proved himself an adept thorn in the side of the British for years to come.

 

His insubordination marks the start of a century-long history of Yemeni resistance to western diktat, a story which is the subject of a masterful new study by Professor Isa Blumi, Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About the World. Blumi’s work provides an invaluable service to those seeking to understand the current war on Yemen in its historical context, placing the attack underway today as part of an effort to thwart Yememi independence which has now been going on for a century (at least).

 

Yet, far from painting a picture of Yemenis as simply victims of great power machinations, Destroying Yemenbrings out the degree to which Yemeni agency has shaped the history of not only their country, but the wider region, and even the world beyond. Indeed, despite its title, Blumi’s book is in many ways a celebration of 100 years of irrepressible resistance as much as it is a lament for those subject to empire’s desperate violence.

 

Yemen, you see, has always posed a particular problem for empire. Historically, its paramount position at the hub of the Afro-Asian trading system (the precursor to today’s global economy) gave it an unrivalled strategic importance. At the same time, it created a vast diaspora network of Yemeni merchants who by the nineteenth century, writes Blumi, “invested their wealth both locally and back in their Arabian homeland to strengthen resistance to global capitalism as much as to service it”. By the time Imam Yahya came to power in 1904, he was able to unify the most powerful families and networks under his leadership in a way that made the young Kingdom a formidable entity for the British empire to contend with. For a start, he refused to recognise British sovereignty over Aden, and worked hard to ‘balance’ other Great Power suitors – such as Italy and the US – against Britain, without allowing himself to become anyone’s vassal. Indeed, for Blumi, Yahya is an early master of what became the Third World’s Cold War strategy par excellence – playing off rival great powers against one another. This soon succeeded in gaining diplomatic recognition – along with arms – from Italy, helping him both to unify North and Middle Yemen, and to challenge the British-approved annexation of Yemeni Asir by the Saudis. This defiance won Yahya new swathes of support from those under the jackboot of Saudi rule, including from former sworn rivals the Idrisis, and ultimately scared the British into ceding much of the Red Sea coast to the Yemeni kingdom, breaking their attempt to isolate it from the rest of the world.  

 

After the Second World War, Yahya was again able to marshal inter-imperialist rivalries to his advantage, this time between Britain and a USA who no longer saw the need to respect British ‘spheres of influence’ in the formation of its own expansionist foreign policy. Again, this he was able to do without compromising his independence, gaining much-sought diplomatic recognition from the US in 1946, for example – much to the horror of the British – but denying them any actual diplomatic presence in the country until 1959! In the meantime, his son Abdullah – representing Yemen at the 1947 world trade conference in Havana – also demonstrated that Yemen was no pushover, grilling his US handler for over an hour about the ‘trade charter’ they were pressuring him to sign. Foreshadowing the anti-globalisation movement of half a century later, Abdullah articulated “an apprehension that signing such agreements seemed to favour big industrial powers like the USA while punishing small countries like Yemen who would have to lower tariffs and undermine their workers’ ability to negotiate salaries abroad”, and insisted he would have to take the details back to Yemen for consultation before agreeing to anything.

 

Although ultimately assassinated in a coup in 1948, the power base he had knitted together refused to recognise his deposers, and just 24 days later his son Ahmad was able to storm to power. Ahmad continued his father’s strategy of playing off rival imperialists against one another to secure Yemen’s independence from empire. This independence allowed him to use Yemen’s considerable strategic leverage to support not only Palestine and the South Yemeni anti-colonial forces, but also Nasser’s revolution in Egypt, and the resulting short-lived United Arab Republic (UAR) between Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Indeed, Yemen even briefly joined an extension of the UAR, the United Arab States.  At the same time, whilst making hard-bargains with the US, he nevertheless moved “full speed ahead” developing relations with the Communist bloc as well, signing a trade treaty with the Soviets in 1956. Writes Blumi, “With open arms, Imam Ahmad welcomed the Soviet Union and its allies, who all participated in an impressive period of ‘development’ for North Yemen”, providing massive ports, military training (and weapons), a sophisticated civilian transport infrastructure, and, in the case of China, major road construction projects which brought tens of thousands of jobs and scholarships to Peking which educated hundreds of Yemenis. Blumi comments that “For a critically-located, potentially mineral rich country, this ‘neutrality’ constituted a major defeat for empire. Perhaps the most humiliating aspect for the engineers of the US branch of this globalist empire, however, was the fact that they had to ingratiate themselves to Ahmad’s regime…white men in crew cuts and a history of bossing around Third World leaders did not take kindly to being told in no uncertain terms NO.” But what could they do? After all, “Yahya and his sons were unmoved by offers of fancy cars, women, booze, interstate highways, airplanes, and more direct forms of persuasion” – in other words, they appeared impervious to “all the tools of American expansion so regularly in use in other parts of the world, especially the KSA”.

 

Unfortunately, however, Ahmad’s Yemen and Nasser’s Egypt, who had, by 1955 “become joined at the hip”, fell out in 1961. The resulting seizure of power by Nasserists in Yemen following Ahmad’s death in 1962 triggered an Egyptian intervention to shore up the new government in what was, at least in part, an attempt to boost its flagging revolutionary credentials following the collapse of the UAR amidst allegations of Egyptian chauvanism.

 

Initially the coup was welcomed by both the US and the KSA, who had long sought to rid themselves of this troublesome imamate. But, for Britain, still licking its Nasser-imposed wounds following the Suez crisis, Egypt’s intervention – and especially its establishment of a National Liberation Army in Yemen – was “a sign that London’s worst strategic nightmare was unfolding in Aden’s neighbourhood”. This could not be tolerated – and Britain seized the chance to finally bring their erstwhile worst enemy to heel – by offering the new imam support, with strings attached. Ultimately, the Egyptian occupation offered Britain and Saudi Arabia leverage with the imamate, by backing it against Egypt; in Blumi’s words, it gave them “a chance to secure influence over a previously inaccessible political theatre”, ultimately pushing the new imam into the hands of the British and the Sauds.

 

Since then, the country has rarely been left alone for long, with attempt after attempt to open up its resources to global capital. To this end, empire has used the Saudis, sectarian militias, IMF austerity and liberalisation, and – as we are witnessing today – outright war. Yet, time after time, they have failed to achieve their goals. And this time will be no different. For, in Blumi’s words once again, “As the coalition of more than ten nations fighting their war on behalf of empire already discovered, Yemenis will bend but not break, and more still, Yemenis will prove to be the deadliest, unflagging enemy empire has ever known. And because Yemenis will not succumb, this war will one day be the point to which empire forever changes and Saudi Arabia itself will disappear. For this, we owe it to Yemenis to honour the sacrifice of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands who will die to save us from what it, in the end, our empire”

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. k) The media blackout on Yemen 

 

10th August 2018 

 

YEMEN’S MEDIA BLACKOUT

 

The shameful lack of coverage given to US-UK backed atrocities in Yemen is but one aspect of western media’s blackout of the truth about the conflict.

 

Even by the depraved standards of the US-UK-Saudi-UAE aggression against Yemen, yesterday’s bombing of a school bus was a new low. The bus had stopped at a market whilst taking the children back to school from a picnic when it was targeted, according to Save the Children. Health officials have informed the world that the strike killed 47 people with 77 more injured, but that that number was likely to rise. Most of those victims, tweeted the Red Cross, were less than ten years old. Following the attack, Frank McManus, Yemen country director for the International Red Cross, whose workers are treated the wounded, pleaded that: “Today should be the day the world wakes up to the atrocities going on in Yemen … a bus full of school children cannot be viewed as mere collateral damage. Even wars have rules, but rules without consequences mean nothing.”

 

It is hard to see how the world will wake up, however, when western media remains so committed to its refusal to give anything like adequate coverage to the ongoing aggression. You might have thought that the targeted bombing of a bus full of children parked in a market far from any military activity, by forces enjoying full military, diplomatic and strategic support from the UK, would make headlines. Yet this is not the case. Take the Guardian, for example, supposedly a bastion of liberal values and humanitarian concern. Their report on the incident went online shortly before 7pm last night. Yet this morning, it does not feature amongst their 13 headline stories, which include such gripping items as  “the chips are down in Belgium at heatwave hits supply of fries”. Click on the ‘world news’ section, and Yemen is not even amongst the 11 headlines there, bumped by earth-shattering stories such as “New Zealand – Jacinda Ardern says country will ban plastic bags”. Only if you specifically click on the Middle East section would you find the story – fourth of that section’s six headlines, just behind “Mauritian presidential hopeful arrested” and “Looted Iraqi antiquities return home”.

 

The Independent, now online only and perhaps, you might have thought, less subject to the pressure from advertisers that drives some of the self-censorship of its loss-leading print-edition cousins, is little different. Yemen was among neither its eight ‘top stories’ this morning, which included headlines such as “British campers flee as flash floods batter France”, nor the eight pieces in its ‘more stories’ section, which included items titled “summer not over yet, despite thunderstorms and heavy rain” and “Pochettino blames Brexit for Spurs’ failure to sign any new players”

 

Of course, in a sense, these outlets are entirely correct not to consider the story as news – for there is nothing really new about yesterday’s atrocity. Indeed, only last week, an airstrike on a market and hospital killed at least 60 people; such slaughter has become routine. Even the killing of children is standard practice: in fact, the 29 children killed in the bus bombing yesterday are but a fraction of the 130 children killed in Yemen every day by the famine and disease which the aggression has brought to the country.

 

Indeed, alongside the straightforward lack of coverage, the downplaying of the level of killing in Yemen constitutes a second, more subtle, form of media blackout. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that 10,000 was the death toll to be forever associated with the Yemen war, and this number has appeared in virtually every article on the subject for years. In truth, this figure is a massive underestimate, given that at least150,000 are believed to have died from starvation and preventable diseases last year alone, a direct consequence of the aggression on Yemen, the blockade of its ports, and the targeting of its civilian and agricultural infrastructure. Thus the ‘death toll’ endlessly repeated in the media – and shamefully, this often includes alternative media – is in truth but a tiny fraction of the true level of suffering being rained down on that country by the west and its proxies.

 

Another form of blackout is the presentation of the conflict as a civil war. There was a civil war in Yemen, the endgame of which was reached when the Ansar Allah movement captured the capital city and President Hadi fled the country. Since then, beginning in March 2015, what has been occurring is a foreign aggression against the country. In the words of Professor Isa Blumi, what is ”Strategically left out of the discussion” here “are those outside facilitators of empire whose war has created new opportunities to plunder Yemen’s resources. Rather than seeing the heavy hand of empire, the outsider is expected to believe the media and think tank experts that it is Yemenis’ own pathologies, their social and economic backwardness, that leave them susceptible to violence and thus ‘civil war’. The ‘they are at war with themselves’ trope continuously repeated in various media and academic circles ultimately obfuscates who are guilty, laying blame on eighty percent of a country’s population currently being starved to death”.

 

Even when foreign aggression is admitted, however, the agency for this is often misrepresented. Thus a fourth form of blackout consists of presenting the war as somehow an independent initiative of the Saudis, which the west are, at best, merely ‘backing’ or ‘going along with’ for the sake of arms sales or oil supplies. This is truly putting the cart before the horse. The truth is thatthis is a US-UK war, planned in the corridors of Whitehall and Washington, but executed by their faithful Gulf proxies. We know now, from emails leaked by Wikileakslast year, that even Crown Prince Salman himself wants out of the war. But he knows that his family’s grip on power is utterly dependent on western support. And the price of that support is that their foreign policy is not their own. The deal, stretching back to the days of the British empire, is that the west provide security to the al-Saud family – but in return, the al-Sauds relinquish their foreign policy to the west. And right now, the west’s order of the day is to destroy Yemen.

 

Make no mistake, the war on Yemen is a UK-US war, and to present it as anything else is a dangerous misrepresentation of reality which attempts to lay the blame solely at the door of their oriental fall guys. Of course, it plays very well in countries like Britain, still drenched in its colonial and orientalist mentality, to shift the blame for Yemen’s genocide onto crooked and mischievous Arabs. Groups like Stop the War, I am sorry to say, tend to play into this narrative, portraying the recent visit to Britain by Crown Prince Bin Salman, for example, in terms of an otherwise pristine Britain sullying itself by association with a bloody Arab ‘despot’. This is a complete inversion of reality; the truth, of course, is that the Saudis’ greatest crime is their collaboration with the genocidal ruling class in Britain and the USA.

 

But there is also another form of media blackout on Yemen, one which even the alternative media (and here I would have to include some of my own past writings on the conflict) often succumbs to. This is the presentation of Yemenis as simply passive victims, lacking all agency, the hapless recipients of bombing raids and starvation policies. In fact, Yemen’s struggle is not essentially a story of victimhood, but of resistance. When we lament three years of Yemen’s bombardment, we should not forget that we are also celebrating three years of truly extraordinary and heroic resistance. To have survived these punishing raids for this long should demonstrate beyond all doubt that the Ansar Allah movement, against whom this devastating war is being waged, is a genuinely popular and representative movement – for if it were not, it would have collapsed years ago. The constant media refrain of Houthis being merely Iranian proxies fighting the ‘legitimate government’ turns reality square on its head. Legitimacy does not come from being ordained by the priesthood of global capital, as Hadi was, but from the kind of popular support that alone allows a movement to face down a ten-country coalition supported by the most powerful militaries in the world.

 

And where does the Ansar Allah movement’s popularity come from? It comes from putting itself at the forefront of resistance to the western project of selling off Yemen, opening up Yemen’s resources to looting by western financial corporations, and turning over Yemen’s political system to Saudi stooges. Indeed, in so doing, Ansar Allah are merely the latest incarnation of a spirit of Yemeni resistance to western capitalism going back over 100 years. It is this spirit which the current bombardment is trying – in an act of the most brutal futility – to crush. It is this spirit that the media desperately want to black out. And it is this spirit that will ultimately see empire, and all its stooges and apologists, crumble into dust. 

 

An edited version of this article was originally published by Middle East Eye. It is based on a statement delivered to the Yemen’s Media Blackout conference on 20th June 2018, organised by the Journalist Support Committee. 

 

US calls for a Yemen ceasefire is a cynical piece of political theatre

 

The UK appears now to be gearing up towards authoring a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Yemen, following years of blocking any resolutions on the issue. The UK has been the official ‘penholder’ on Yemen, meaning that it has been up to the UK to table resolutions, which it has steadfastly refused to do, whilst simultaneously blocking anyone else’s attempts to do so. The apparent about-turn is a response to last week’s statements from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis calling for a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days, to be followed up with UN-facilitated peace talks. The UK dutifully followed suit shortly afterwards, expressing their support for the initiative. This was somewhat ironic given that minister Alistair Burt, obviously not privy to the seeming about-turn, had just spent the day providing MPs with excruciatingly contorted explanations of why calling for a ceasefire was not a good idea in the circumstances. “Passing a ceasefire resolution risks undercutting the UN envoy’s efforts to reach a political deal and undermining the credibility of the Council” he told the House of Commons at midday; yet within 36 hours, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was telling Newsnight that the US call for a ceasefire was “an extremely welcome announcement because we have been working towards a cessation of hostilities in Yemen for a long time.” In the parallel universe of British double-speak, it is of course natural that unrelenting support for what is fast turning into a war of national annihilation gets recast as “working towards a cessation of hostilities”.

 

Yet this latest call does appear to be at odds with the hitherto existing strategy; it was only in June, after all, when the US and UK torpedoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the face of impending famine. Many commentaries (such as this one in the Telegraph, for example), have suggested that the US is now taking advantage of pressure on Saudi Arabia following the murder of Saudi insider-turned-dissident Khashoggi to push the kingdom towards a less belligerent position in the disastrous Yemen war. The ever-more desperate humanitarian situation is giving the war a bad name and – so the story goes – the US are now keen to end it. David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary and now president of the International Rescue Committee, even called the US announcement “the most significant breakthrough in the war in Yemen for four years”.

 

Unfortunately, it is likely to prove nothing of the sort. The detail of the announcement makes clear that, far from representing some kind of Damascene change of heart, the ‘call for a ceasefire’ is little more than yet another rebranding exercise, a cynical attempt to whitewash escalating carnage with the rhetoric of peace. 

 

With every passing day, the war in Yemen becomes harder to defend. The airstrike on a bus full of schoolchildren in early August briefly caused international outrage, but it was sadly not exceptional; indeed, at least 55 civilians had been killed during the bombardment of a hospital and fish market just the week before, and the bus itself was but one of over fifty civilian vehiclestargeted by Saudi airstrikes during the first half of this year. For most of the war, around a third of coalition airstrikes have hit civilian sites; but according to the Yemen Data Project, this ratio reached 48% in September.

 

More grim news emerged on 29th October, when a detailed research project concluded that over five times as many people have met violent deaths in the conflict than previously estimated. For years, the media have consistently claimed a death toll of 10,000, but the true figure is closer to 56,000 since the start of 2016 according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, as the earlier estimate only covered deaths reported to official medical centres. The death toll from the start of the bombing campaign until the end of this year is expected to lie between 70,000 and 80,000.

 

Yet even this number, horrific as it is, is dwarfed by the deaths from the starvation and disease which have been the coalition’s weapon of choice against the population of Houthi-controlled areas. The bombing of water treatment systems, fishing boats, roads and bridges, the naval blockade of the country’s imports, and the coalition regime’s decision to stop paying salaries to health and sanitation workers in Houthi areas two years ago have combined to create mass starvation and the world’s biggest cholera outbreak since the end of WW2. An average of 130 children die of disease and malnutrition every day (Although “they are not starving”, noted a tweet from the Norwegian Refugee Council, “they are being starved”), with around 150,000 people thought to have died from such causes last year alone. And this aspect of the conflict is set to deteriorate exponentially.

 

On 15th October, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande warned that Yemen could face the world’s worst famine for one hundred years if the airstrikes are not stopped, with 12 to 13 million at risk of starvation. Nine days later, the agency’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock said that the risk was actually worse than they previously predicted with 14 million close to “pre-famine conditions” – half the country’s population. He noted that the UN was currently only able to feed 8 million of these, although these too would be at risk if the country’s main port Hodeidah – responsible for over 70% of imports – is attacked by the coalition.

 

Earlier this week, just as Mattis and Pompeo delivered their soothing words, 30,000 troops began massing to launch precisely that attack. The problem for the war’s backers in London, Paris and Washington is how to justify the holocaust this is almost certain to unleash on Yemen’s population in the delusional pursuit of reimposing an impotent and discredited quisling.

 

The ceasefire announcement, then, is about providing cover for the impending attack. Just at the moment the aid agencies have been warning against its devastating consequences, and calling for an immediate end to the bombing, the ‘ceasefire proposal’ gives the Saudis a month’s free pass to conduct their famine-inducing operation on Hodeidah. Rather than demanding the offensive be halted or delayed, the ‘30-day’ call eggs it on. Nor is the 30-day timeframe any kind of limit on the operation. Pompeo stated that“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen”. The term ‘subsequently’ is crucial, implying that the Saudis continued bombardment – including in “populated areas” – would be perfectly justified unless the Houthis had implemented a unilateral ceasefire first. This is little more than a call for unconditional surrender by the Houthis, dressed up as a peace initiative. By the same token, it sets the scene for laying all the blame for any continued fighting at the door of the Houthis

 

The reality is that the US and UK could end the war tomorrow, simply by threatening to cut off military supplies, intelligence, and training to the Saudis until the airstrikes stop, a point made by Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council to a UK Parliamentary Select Committee earlier this week. Yet the US are precisely NOT calling for an end to the bombing, nor threatening to use their leverage to bring it about. Instead, this so-called initiative is yet another cynical PR exercise designed to justify, rather than to reign in, this brutal war.

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye

Part 7 – Trump, Russia and the strangulation of Iran 

 

  1. The West’s sights are now clearly set on Iran 

18th March 2017 

 

The British-US plan to weaken Iran via proxy war on Syria has spectacularly backfired. Now they are more desperate than ever to bring Iran to its knees.

 

Western thinktanks and ‘strategic institutes’ have been getting themselves in a cold sweat about Iranian influence for some time. Back in 2012, Frederick Kagan (former Bush advisor and Project for a New American Century neo-con) co-authored a report for the Institute for the Study of War warning that “The US and its allies and partners in the region and beyond must not only understand Iran’s regional strategy and influence but also develop a coherent strategy of their own with which to confront them. Considering the religious, economic, political and diplomatic power of the two sides, it is simply unacceptable for the US and its allies to allow even such progress as it has [already] made in these realms”. Since Kagan made those comments four years ago, Iran’s “unacceptable…progress” has continued apace. It’s military cooperation with Russia, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah has developed into an increasingly formalised alliance (the so-called “4+1”), in which it played a leading role in the liberation of the Syrian city of Aleppo earlier this year. In Iraq, the Shi’ite militias it sponsors have been the indispensable vanguard of many of the battles against Islamic State, and it wields considerable influence over the rebel forces in both Bahrain and (supposedly) Yemen. The fall of Mosul will only consolidate this influence. Indeed, according to the Guardian, the territory West of Mosul currently being secured by the Iranian-baked Popular Mobilisation forces form one of the final pieces of a jigsaw completing an arc of influencestretching all the way from Tehran to the Mediterranean. Such a ‘land bridge’ to the Mediterranean would greatly strengthen Iran’s independence and ability to withstand, for example, any future blockades or sieges. This is making Western planners particularly nervous, as it greatly weakens the West’s ability to control and corral the Iranians;  with long time Centcom advisor Ali Khedery, for example, claiming that such a development “should trouble every western leader and our regional allies because this will further embolden Iran”.

Forbes, meanwhile, wrote that “Iranian influence in Iraq has the potential to destabilise global oil policy and the global oil market” given that the two countries combined oil reserves almost equal those of Saudi Arabia.

For here, as ever, lies the empire’s real fear – that the people of the Middle East might actually gain control over their own resources, and start using them strategically for their own development. Genuine independence has always been the fear of the region’s British, US and Israeli overlords. And Iran’s potential makes this independence a greater threat than most. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons spelt this out in a reportin 2014: “Iran has the potential to be a major international power… it could be the “engine room” of the Middle East. It lies in a very significant strategic position, with Iraq to the west, former Soviet states to the north which have only relatively recently gained independence, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, and the Persian Gulf—a prime route for oil exports—to the south. It has a large and youthful population—75 million or more, 4 of whom 55% are aged under 30. 5…. Iran ranks 76th out of the 187 countries classified under the UNDP Human Development Index, based upon assessments of life expectancy, access to knowledge and standard of living, placing it higher than any of its land neighbours. Youth literacy is near-universal. The country’s economy is relatively diverse, with supplies of key commodities and an engineering, research and manufacturing base. Iran has substantial resources of natural gas (second only to the Russian Federation) and enough oil to enable it to be a leading exporter.” “Unacceptable progress” indeed!

 

Clearly, the US has been rattled by Iran for some time. Contrary to Trump’s assertions, for example, the Iranian ‘nuclear deal’ was less a ‘gift’ to Iran than a changing of tack to a longer game allowing the West to cultivate a fifth column in the country in preparation for a future attack. Yet, US belligerence has clearly been stepped up under Trump, with new sanctions, a huge ramping up of hostile rhetoric and the dispatch of another warship to Iran’s borders in January following a perfectly legal Iranian missile test. But most worryingly, the US has been sending large numbers of US troops to Iran’s neighbours in recent weeks. The original deployment of 500 US troops in Syria was followed on March 9th by a further 400, with the Washington Post announcingon March 15th that another 1000 are on the way. These are just part of a huge flotilla of almost 5000 US soldiers currently en route to the region, with troops from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE also being considered. This was revealed just one day after Trump met with Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the White House, following meetings earlier in the week between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the foreign ministers of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These troops are ostensibly going to aid the fight to oust ISIS from their stronghold in Raqqa. The real reason is to cement US influence and confront the Iranians. This is the US ground invasion which the Gulfis have been calling for for years. Its aim is keep the civil war alive by keeping the Syrian Arab Army out of Raqqa.

 

In Iraq, Secretary of Defence James Mattis (an avowed anti-Iran hawk who has claimed that the country is a bigger problem than ISIS) announced that he plans to keep his almost 6000 US troops in Mosul long after the city is captured from ISIS. Again, this is nothing to do with ‘stability’ but all about countering Iranian influence.  Indeed, according to Iraq Prime Minister Abadi, Trump promised that he would “double US support, not just continue it” following Mosul’s capture; support here meaning the deployment of occupation troops.

 

But deploying troops to Iraq and Syria to contain Iranian influence is just the start of it. Ultimately, Trump’s Cabinet of anti-Iran warmongers seek to destroy the Islamic Republic itself. Their difficulty is how to convince Russia to go along with this: Syria has taught them that without Russian acquiescence, regime change can be very difficult indeed. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on Trump’s plans to “drive a wedge” between Iran and Russia, quoting a European official that there was “daylight” between the two countries. Indeed, differences do seem to have emerged over, for example, Assad’s future in Syria and, as political analyst Eric Draitser has pointed out, the two countries have a certain rivalry over supplying Europe’s energy markets.

 

Nevertheless, it would be utter suicide for Russia to go along with any US attempts to undermine its number one Middle Eastern ally. As the deputy director of the institute of the CIS, Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Euseev told Sputnik, “the logic of the White House is simple: any deterioration of relations, whether Russian-Iranian or Russian-Turkish is strengthening the US position in the region”. Neither side has an interest in that. Indeed, Obama’s so-called ‘reset’ of US-Russian relations did not end well for Russia: Then Prime Minister Medvedev supported tough UN sanctions on Iran and delayed the delivery of antimissile batteries to Iran, not to mention acquiescing to NATO aggression against Libya, only to find the US going back on its commitments to rollback its missile defences in Eastern Europe, organising an anti-Russian coup in Ukraine, initiating a major sanctions regime, and sponsoring a proxy war against Russia’s ally Syria. So much for gratitude!

 

Thankfully, Iranian and Russian interests are deeply converged and a split highly unlikely. As the Institute for the Study of War has pointed out, the list of shared interests is long, ranging from support for the Syrian government, the desire to limit US influence in the Middle East and support for Armenia against Azerbaijan and Turkey, forming a relationship that “rests on a deep foundation of common strategic objectives and interests”. The key, however, is to approach matters with eyes wide open. Trump’s rushing of troops to Syria is nothing to do with any ‘common front’ against ISIS and everything to do with weakening Iran. And in the end, this means weakening Russia too.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

  1. b) Trump’s Grand Strategy and the Coming War with Iran 

 

7th March 2017 

 

In his 2009 book “The Next 100 Years”, George Friedman, of intelligence analysts STRATFOR pointed out, at the risk of stating the obvious, that “the United States is, historically, a warlike country”. But the number crunching that followed was particularly revealing. “The United States has been at war for about 10% of its existence” he wrote, adding that this only included major wars, not “minor conflicts like the Spanish-American war or Desert Storm” (the latter ‘minor conflict’ killing over 80,000 Iraqis). He continued: “during the twentieth century, the United States was at war 15% of the time. In the second half of the twentieth century, it was 22% of the time. And since the beginning of the twenty first century, in 2001, the United States has been constantly at war. War is central to the American experience, and its frequency is constantly increasing. It is built into American culture and deeply rooted in American geopolitics.”

The truth of this statement was revealed in a now notorious interview with former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, by Democracy Now in March 2007. In this interview, Clark revealed, for the first time, the existence of a top-secret memo circulating in the Pentagon, issued by the US Defence Department in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks. This memo, he said, “describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” The 9/11 attack was being used as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to destroy every regional power with the potential to challenge US-British-Israeli hegemony in the entire Middle East/ North African/ Red Sea region.

The West’s war juggernaut has been rolling through this list ever since, though never without resistance. The US suffered over 35,000 casualties in Iraq, according to official figures, including over 4000 fatalities, with the true fallout (including, for example, trauma-related mental problems and suicides) likely to be far, far higher. The military and financial costs of this war, and the backlash it provoked, meant that different methods were adopted for the other targeted nations. The attack on Lebanon, when it came in 2006, was launched by Israel rather than the US – but it, too, did not go as planned. Rather than the hoped-for destruction of Hezbollah, it resulted in a victory for the group and a skyrocketing of its popularity across the entire region. Others on the list, however, have indeed been ‘taken out’. The same year as the Lebanon invasion, Somalia – then on the verge of coming under one single central authority for the first time since 1991 – was destabilised by a US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion, followed five years later by another invasion by British client state Kenya, ensuring the civil war has continued to rage to this day. Then in 2011, after years spent arming the country’s various armed factions, the US oversaw the breakup of Sudan. The new breakaway republic of South Sudan almost immediately collapsed into civil war, and is now undergoing what has been officially declared the world’s first famine in six years. And in 2011, too, the NATO bombardment of Libya, in coordination with Al Qaeda splinter group the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and the Qatari armed forces, led to the collapse of the Libyan state. Libya, too, remains at war, with the various pro-NATO rebel groups now fighting one another for control.

Indeed, Libya provided the blueprint for what was supposed to take place in Syria – a violent, sectarian insurgency, armed, trained and sponsored by the West and its Gulf allies, overthrowing state authority with NATO air support if necessary. It didn’t turn out this way, of course, and the victory of Syrian government forces in Aleppo last December marks what many now see as the decisive defeat of this latest attempt at ‘regime change’. And this defeat is in no small part down to the final country on that list – Iran.

It was, after all, Iran that provided the experienced, battle-hardened troops which – alongside their proteges, Hezbollah, and the Syrian Arab Army itself – acted as the ground forces against the West’s proxies. As a result, Iran’s influence in Syria has been cemented, as it had already been in Iraq following 2003, and is likely to be even further following the defeat of ISIS in Mosul. As Iranian-Canadian analyst Shahir Shahidsaless has written, “Iran challenges US hegemony in every corner of the region. The fall of Aleppo was a clear manifestation of the decline of American influence in the region and the emergence of a new order in which Iran will play a major role as a regional power.”

For US war planners, this growing influence only pushes Iran even further up the target list. George Friedman, discussing the US invasion of Iraq, wrote that whilst “there is no question” it was “clumsy, graceless and in many ways unsophisticated”, nevertheless “on a broader, more strategic level, that does not matter. So long as the Muslims are fighting each other, the United States has won its war”. However, he adds a warning: the instability engendered by the war “does raise the possibility of a Muslim nation-state taking advantage of the instability, and therefore the weaknesses within other states, to assert itself as a regional power”. In the eyes of many US strategists, this is precisely what Iran has done. Regardless of the fact that Iran’s only Arab ally Syria was, until the NATO-backed insurgency began in 2011, a beacon of stability in the region, and that Iran has been attempting to restore its stability since then, an influential faction within the US is intent on blaming Iran for all the region’s woes. And it is precisely this faction that has just come to power under Trump.

If there is one thing that unites ‘Team Trump’, it is their hostility to Iran, their hatred of the Iran nuclear deal, and their willingness – or even eagerness – to go to war with Iran. Secretary of Defence General Mattis told his Senate confirmation hearing that“Iranian malign influence in the region is growing. Iran is the biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East and its policies are contrary to our interests.” Last April, at a speech in Washington DC, Mattis clearly stated that he would prioritise ‘dealing with’ Iran ahead of tackling Al Qaeda and ISIS:  “The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” he said. “For all the talk of ISIS and Al Qaida everywhere right now… they’re a very serious threat. But nothing is as serious in the long term enduring ramifications, in terms of stability and prosperity and some hope for a better future for the young people out there, than Iran.” Indeed, his speech went on to attempt to actually pin the rise of ISIS on Iran. “I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief. Iran is not an enemy of ISIS; they have a lot to gain from the turmoil that ISIS creates.” “What,” he asked, “is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One. And it’s Iran. That is just more than happenstance, I’m sure.” This is a little conspiratorial, even by Trump’s standards. But Mattis’ approach is not untypical of the new administration.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s original National Security Advisor, recently forced to resign over his contacts with Russia, has been a vocal and consistent advocate of ‘regime change’ in Iran. His 2016 book, The Field of Fight, described Iran as the head of “an international alliance of evil countries” which “extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua”, with Iran itself “the linchpin of this alliance, its centerpiece.” At the time of the 2012 attack on the CIA compound in Benghazi, Flynn was head of the Defence Intelligence Agency. But, according to the New York Times, Flynn’s  focus at the time was not on tracking the culprits but instead on obsessively ordering his staff to find a nonexistent ‘Iran connection’ to the attacks. The NYT noted that they found “no evidence of any links” but “the general’s stubborn insistence reminded some officials at the agency of how the Bush administration had once relentlessly sought to connect Saddam Hussein and Iraq to the September 11th 2001, attacks”.

Mike Pompeo, the new CIA director shares Flynn’s views. He has called for “trashing the nuclear agreement”, arguing that it “strengthens Muslim extremists”.

This list goes on. Vice President Mike Pence has called Iran the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and promised to “rip up the Iran deal” on the campaign trail, going further than even Trump himself had at the time.  John Bolton, who advised Trump on foreign policy during the campaign has repeatedlycalled for Iran to be bombed.  Other Iran hawks in Trump’s team include Jeff Sessions (Attorney General), Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy), Ben Carson (Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development), Nikki Haley (U.S. Ambassador the United Nations), Tom Price (Health & Human Services Secretary), and Ryan Zinke (Secretary of the Interior).

And their rhetoric is increasingly warlike. Already, following a missile test fully in line with Iran’s commitments under the nuclear deal, Trump’s administration has stepped up sanctions against Iran (a move it called an “initial step”), declaring that the country is now “on notice” and “playing with fire”. As Rasool Nafisi, an Iran expert at Washington DC’s Strayer University, has said, the new US government appear to be “itching for some kind of conflict in the Middle East, and especially against Iran, given all the rhetoric they used during the election campaign.” If the nuclear deal unravels, such a war is far from unlikely – and according to Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Evseev, a defence analyst at the Commonwealth of Independent States, Trump is pushing for exactly this: “The US can’t block this agreement because it is supported by the corresponding resolution of the UN Security Council and is a multipartite deal. However it will try to create conditions so that the deal cannot be implemented”, he told Sputnik.. And, as Shahir Shahidsaless has convincingly argued, “The collapse of the nuclear deal will inevitably push the Trump administration into conflict with Iran” . This is because whatever act of US belligerence (such as restored sanctions) actually buries the deal will force Iran to take a defiant stand in response, such as, for example, renewing its uranium enrichment programme. To such a move, the US would ultimately respond with force.

This, then, is the direction in which the US is moving: towards an all out confrontation with Iran, the last country on Wesley Clark’s list. But they face a major problem. Russia.

In August 2013, when the US and Britain were declaring that airstrikes against Syrian government targets were imminent, Russia immediately sent three warships to the Mediterranean, stepped up their shipments of powerful anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, and made it very clear that they were standing by the Syrian government. This would not be a repeat of 2011 Libya: NATO planes would be shot down, and body bags would flow back home. In the end, Britain and the US backed down. Just over two years later, in September 2015, Russia launched its own military intervention in Syria, at the request of the Syrian government, giving renewed momentum to the push-back against Western-backed insurgents. The US-British war plan for Syria was in tatters, and the lesson was clear: taking out governments supported by Russia is extremely difficult.

Herein lies the purpose of the much-touted ‘Trump-Putin deal’ that is supposedly in the pipeline. Trump and co know very well that Russian acquiescence will be key to the success of any future attack on Iran. Even without Russian support, a war on Iran will not be easy; with Russian support, Iran, like Syria, may well emerge triumphant. At the very least, the cost, in blood and treasure, of attacking an Iran backed by Russia would make it political suicide. Breaking the alliance between Iran and Russia is therefore crucial to the next phase of the US war. And time is of the essence, as Iran is learning from Russia all the time. As the Institute for the Study of War have noted, “Iranian military cooperation with Russia in Syria is dramatically increasing Tehran’s ability to plan and conduct complex conventional operations. Iranians are learning by seeing and by doing, and are consciously trying to capture lessons-learned in Syria for use throughout their military and para-military forces. Iran is fielding a conventional force capability to complement and in some cases supplant its reliance on asymmetric means of combat. Russia is assisting Iran’s military leadership conduct this effort. It is introducing Iran and its proxies to signature Russian campaign-design concepts such as cauldron battles, multiple simultaneous and successive operations, and frontal aviation in Syria. These concepts are the fruit of almost a century of advanced Soviet and Russian thought and hard-won experience in conventional military operations. This knowledge-transfer can help the Iranian military advance its understanding of conventional war far more rapidly than it might otherwise be able to do. It can help Iran become a formidable conventional military power in the Middle East in relatively short order, permanently changing the balance of power and the security environment in the region…Iranian conventional military capabilities will continue to increase rapidly as long as Russian and Iranian forces continue to operate alongside each other in Syria simply by learning the best practices for developing, deploying, and using such forces in combat. Russia is poised to teach Iran additional methods of warfare as it prepares for the next phase of the pro-regime campaign in Syria.” The report concludes that “The U.S. and its regional partners must recognize that the deep Russo-Iranian military cooperation in Syria is in itself a major threat to the balance of power within the Middle East.”

 

This, then, is the grand strategy that so many commentators have failed to discern in the Trump administration: to break the Russian-Iranian alliance and effectively buy Russian acquiescence for the forthcoming US/ Israeli/ British attack on Iran.

Of course, such a strategy does, at first, sound absurd. Iran and Russia – as Flynn himself noted in  despair – are allies. They have just emerged as triumphant partners in the battle to thwart regime change in Syria, and Russia has already provided Iran with the powerful S-300 anti-aircraft missile system that so put the jitters up NATO when it arrived in Syria in 2013. Moreover, last August, Russia moved the airbases used for its Syria operations from southern Russia to Iran, in what the National Interest called “an expression of Russian solidarity with Iran”.

Yet Trump has a lot to offer Russia in return for its ending this ‘solidarity’. Most obviously, he could lift sanctions. Russia’s economy was plunged into recession in 2015 following the onset of US-EU sanctions the previous year, which coincided with a collapse in the global price of oil, Russia’s major export. Russia has been keen to downplay the impact of sanctions, but even Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has admitted that they have cost the country tens of billions of dollars. Trump is particularly well placed to offer Russia lucrative deals, especially in the oil sector, should these sanctions be lifted. Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, already signed a deal with Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft estimated to be worth up to $500 billion back in 2012. The comprehensive agreement covered Arctic and Black Sea oil exploration and development, as well as providing Rosneft with a 30% share in Exxon projects in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico; it also promised to transfer technology developed in hard-to-access parts of America to western Siberia, to allow Russia to tap into an estimated 1.7billion barrels of light oil currently trapped in non-porous rock. “In terms of its ambitions”, said Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin at the time, the project, “exceeds sending man into outer space or flying to the moon”. But US sanctions imposed following the Russian annexation of Crimea put the deal on ice. Lifting them would allow the Exxon-Rosneft project to finally go ahead, potentially reversing Russia’s dwindling economic woes. Tillerson, unsurprisingly, is on record as being opposed to the sanctions. His $218million personal stake in Exxon Mobil would immediately ramp up in value were the 2012 deal to be unfrozen.

Trump has, indeed, already stated that he would be willing to reconsider sanctions if Moscow “was really helping us” to achieve US policy goals.

However, lifting sanctions requires some kind of, at least nominal, resolution of the Ukraine conflict, as this was ostensibly the reason for imposing them in the first place. Interestingly, itemerged this February that two of Trump’s close colleagues – his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and business associate Felix Sater – had discussed a proposal to lift Russian sanctions and recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea , in exchange for a withdrawal of Russian forces from eastern Ukraine, with an opposition politician in Ukraine last year.

Lifting sanctions and easing tension in Ukraine might well be tempting enough for Putin to consider ditching his Iranian allies. But Trump has much more than this to offer: ending NATO expansion (for example, by persuading Senate Republicans to vote against Montenegrin membership later this year), pulling back NATO forces from Eastern Europe (easily justified following any deal over Ukraine), ending calls for regime change in Syria and even military cooperation there against Al Qaeda and ISIS.

And Trump not only has carrots aplenty – he also has sticks. From this point of view, the supposed split in the administration, between supposedly ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-’ Russian figures actually works to Trump’s advantage, providing him with not only ‘good cops’ like Tillerson, willing to cooperate and negotiate with Russia, but also bad cops (like Russia ‘hawk’ HR McMaster) who illustrate Trump’s willingness to continue with NATO expansion, ramp up sanctions, and push Russia into a crippling arms race should they refuse to play ball.

Ultimately, of course, any Russian decision to sell out its Iranian ally would be utterly self-defeating. China would be next, and ultimately Russia would find itself totally isolated once the US finally set its sights on them. Ultimately, there are no shared interests between the US and Russia – whatever goodies might be dangled beneath their eyes.

This piece was originally published by Counterpunch 

 

  1. c) Flynn may be gone, but his Russia policy lives on 

 

24th February 2017 

 

Amid demonstrations against his choice, Trump named Lieutenant General Herbert McMaster – whose book claiming the US was too soft on Vietnam is now required reading for US officers – as his new national security adviser this week.

McMaster’s appointment came after Michael Flynn, Trump’s original choice, was forced to resign earlier this month after it emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador back in December. 

The Washington Post revealed that these conversations, which occurred before Flynn had taken up his government role, had involved discussions of discussed US sanctions on Russia. Such a discussion not only broke the ‘one president at a time’ protocol – that members of an incoming administration should not discuss policy with foreign powers – but also flatly contradicted his own earlier denials, made to both Pence and to the FBI.   

As Flynn had supposedly been one of the key ‘pro-Putin’ figures in Trump’s administration, his removal has been interpreted by some as a victory for the anti-Russia ‘hawks’ in the US foreign policy establishment. This is a misreading of the situation on two levels.

First, characterising members of Trump’s team as ‘pro-Russia’ is incorrect; rather, they have, as Tom Hardy’s character in Taboo might put it, a “use” for Russia. Secondly, this plan for Russia is likely to remain intact regardless of Flynn’s removal – or McMaster’s well-publicised anti-Russia stance.

Improving relations with Russia was only one of Flynn’s two major foreign policy obsessions: the other was and is “regime change” in Iran. In his 2016 book The Field of Fight, he wrote that “Iran has been a major threat to the US for decades due to its sponsorship of international terrorism – but the US has prioritised diplomatic relations over national security”. Instead, he argued, “the US must change course. These countries must be prepared to face military action”. 

In fact, it is highly likely that the so-called ‘pro-Russia’ position of Flynn, and indeed Trump, is part of a broader foreign policy initiative aimed ultimately at destroying Iran. The broad outlines of this position could already be discerned in the testimony Flynn gave to the Joint Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services Committee back in June 2015. Like so many now in Trump’s team, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the nuclear deal negotiated the year before.

“Iran represents a clear and present danger to the region, and eventually to the world,” he told the committee. When asked what he believed should be done about the prospect of Iranian nuclear development, he was unequivocal, replying that regime change in Tehran “is the best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons programme”.

Since then, of course, Syria has taught the West a painful lesson about ‘regime change’, namely that Russia can make it extremely difficult. 

Later in his testimony, Flynn argued that there was an ‘anti-US’ alliance being developed between China, Iran and Russia: “Just look at the [Iranian] cooperation with North Korea, China and Russia. Connect those dots and you get the outline of a global alliance aimed at the US, our friends and our allies”. He continued: “Russian assistance is part of a broader pattern. After all, the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr is Russian-built, the two countries work very closely together in Syria, and Russia is providing Iran with an effective anti-aircraft system that could be deployed against any aircraft seeking to destroy the nuclear programme”. 

The message is clear: if you want to attack Iran, you’d better break their alliance with Russia first. Michael Ledeen, who co-authored Flynn’s book, put it simply: “The issue is whether Putin is prepared to abandon Khamenei”. This is what those phone calls, and all Trump’s flattery of Putin, are really about: attempting to draw Russia away from its alliance with Iran (and China) – and ultimately to buy Russian acquiescence for the next war.

The restoration of governmental authority in Syria currently underway, however, is not the first time that the US has suffered a military defeat at the hands of a foreign government supported by Russia. Nor is it the first time the US have responded to such a failure with a renewed attempt to split Russia from her allies.

In 1969, Richard Milhous Nixon became 37th President of the United States, and the 5th to lead US attempts to crush Vietnamese independence, inheriting what had by then become a full-scale, and disastrous, military commitment. The Tet offensive the previous year had decisively blown apart the lie that the US was winning the war, and Nixon was elected on a promise to bring about “peace with honour”. 

He would achieve neither, and in fact embarked on a massive escalation of the war, including a secret carpet bombing campaign in Cambodia which led to famine and ultimately the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Yet the US’s ongoing defeat could not be abated. This led Nixon and his advisors towards a radical rethink of US strategy. 

“By the time Nixon came into office,” wrote his own National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, “East-West relations were themselves in obvious need of reassessment”. Indeed, he said, the USA’s entire Cold War strategy “needed to be reconsidered in light of the trauma of Vietnam”. 

The Vietnamese victory over the US was aided significantly by support, at different times, from both Russia and China, and Kissinger’s greatest fear was the restoration of “dreaded Sino-Soviet bloc…which had inspired so much fear in the 1950s”. He added that while it was “far from clear” that the USSR was “capable of realising so vast a project…what was obvious…was that the risk could not be run”. 

“If the balance of power is taken seriously,” he continued, “then the very prospect of

geopolitical upheaval must be resisted; by the time the change has occurred, it may well be too late to oppose it.”

In today’s terms, this formula translates into two specific policy requirements for the US: 1) Russian-Chinese unity must be resisted and 2) Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East must be reversed (ideally, one presumes, before the recapture of Mosul by largely Iranian-allied militias solidifies such influence).

Like Trump and Flynn today, Nixon and Kissinger sought nothing less than the breakup of the non-Western alliance spearheaded by Russia and China that had stymied US attempts to destroy governments challenging their hegemony. And, as today, they believed US cooperation with Russia to be both possible and desirable for both parties. 

Said Kissinger, “America needed breathing room in order to extricate itself from Vietnam and to construct a new policy for the post-Vietnam era, while the Soviet Union had perhaps even stronger reasons for seeking a respite”. In particular, “the idea was to emphasise those areas in which cooperation was possible, and to use that cooperation as leverage to modify Soviet behaviour in areas where the two countries were at loggerheads”, a policy that became known as ‘linkage’. 

The linkage being sought today – the deal Trump wishes to make with Russia – is precisely to use potential “cooperation” over Syria, Ukraine and sanctions as “leverage” to secure Russian acquiescence for renewed hostilities towards Iran and China.

With this in mind, it is particularly interesting to note Kissinger’s role in shaping Trump’s foreign policy today. Germany’s Bild newspaper reported in December 2016 that Kissinger was a key architect of Trump’s ‘rapprochement’ policy with Russia, advising him to lift sanctions and recognise Russian ownership of Crimea. These will not be free gifts – reciprocity will be expected and demanded, and Trump is making it abundantly clear that he wants a free hand in confronting Iran and China. 

Furthermore, as journalist Nafeez Ahmed has noted, “Kissinger’s ‘unofficial’ advisory role in the Trump regime is solidified through the direct influence of one of his longtime acolytes: K.T. McFarland, an aide to Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration on the National Security Council from 1970 to 1976.” 

KT McFarland, it may be recalled, was appointed by Trump as Michael Flynn’s deputy. Robert Harward, a former Navy seal, reportedly turned down the national security adviser post because Trump insisted that she stay on rather than allowing Harward to bring his own team.

In his book Diplomacy, Kissinger wrote that “Nixon had managed, despite the tragedy of Indochina, to maneuver his country into a dominant international position”, snatching a victory of sorts from the jaws of defeat, by playing Russia and China off against one another. 

In this light, McMaster’s apparently conflicting views on Russia make sense. According to

Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the defense and security affairs committee of Russia’s Federation Council, McMaster is a “100% hawk” on Russia. This appears to contrast with Flynn’s approach, putting him closer to other so-called ‘Russophobes’ in the Trump team, such as the ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who told the Security Council last month that “Russian actions” in the Ukraine “demand clear and strong condemnation”, and Vice President Mike Pense, who condemned Russia at the recent Munich Security Conference. Yet these figures, and their veiled and less veiled threats, are as much a part of the strategy as dangling the prospect of lifting sanctions. As Kissinger put it, “The statesman’s role is….to create a network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favourable outcome”. To pull off his ‘deal’ Trump needs his ‘bad cops’ just as much as he needs to flatter and offer inducements – to warn Russia of what they will be up against should they choose to ignore his overtures and maintain their existing alliances. The question today is: will Russia snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Syria by allowing itself to be played off against Iran and China?

The stakes could not be higher.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. d) The Qatar blockade, the petro-yuan, and the coming war on Iran 

 

14th June 2017 

 

Trump’s speech to the assembled Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia on May 21st is worth reading in full. It is deeply disturbing.

 

Having praised himself for his $110billion arms deal with the Saudis, he goes on to talk about the threat posed by terrorism, and what a wonderful job the US and the Gulfis – that is, the leading state sponsor of the region’s supremacist death squads, and its assembled proxies – are doing in combating it. He then goes on to claim that at the root of the region’s terrorism lurks – guess who? The power leading the regional pushback against ISIS and Al Qaeda – Iran.

 

“Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology, will be the basis for defeating them” he says, “But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment”. This is pretty much exactly how Joe Biden – in his own attempt to whitewash US involvement – described Trump’s Saudi hosts two years earlier. But Trump is not talking about IS’s Saudi backers; he is talking about Iran – the same Iran responsible, with its Syrian and Russian allies, for that fact that the IS flag is NOT today flying over Damascus.

 

It gets worse. Look at the following passage, just after he calls on “all nations of conscience to work together to isolate Iran”:

“Will we be indifferent in the presence of evil? Will we protect our citizens from its violent ideology? Will we let its venom spread through our societies? Will we let it destroy the most holy sites on earth? If we do not confront this deadly terror, we know what the future will bring—more suffering and despair. But if we act—if we leave this magnificent room unified and determined to do what it takes to destroy the terror that threatens the world—then there is no limit to the great future our citizens will have.

The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance. Just imagine what tomorrow could bring. Glorious wonders of science, art, medicine and commerce to inspire humankind. Great cities built on the ruins of shattered towns. New jobs and industries that will lift up millions of people.”

This is the language of genocide. Heroism and genocide have always gone hand-in-hand in the settler-colonial ideology internalised by the likes of Trump, for which ‘building great cities on the ruins of shattered towns’, be they native American, Palestinian, or, it seems, Iranian, has always been the highest accolade. Some have accused Trump of making novice blunders during his first lumbering foray into the Middle Eastern maelstrom. But I think he knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows very well that the loosely-defined ‘ideology’ he speaks of as ‘spreading venom’ will be much more readily interpreted by his hosts as Shi’ism – the creed to which Iran actually subscribes – than as Wahhabi’ism, the sectarian ideology behind ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Saudi state. And just to make clear what he is demanding be done to this ill-defined – but, nudge-wink, understood – enemy, he spells it out: “The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.

It is a choice between two futures — and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.

A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and

DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.”

 

Doesn’t this sound horribly like Trump giving the green light to an all-out war of eradication against the region’s Shia – that is, a war very similar to the one actually being waged, in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, by Trump’s government, his hosts, and their proxies?

 

At the same time, having found it harder than expected to rip up the Iran deal, Trump is instead hoping to render it null and void by simply blackmailing individual nations into not dealing with Iran, ensuring the formal lifting of sanctions is replaced by an informal blockade.

 

This is where Qatar comes in. Qatar  has clearly not been playing ball with the US-approved, Saudi-led ‘isolate Iran’ programme. This is partly because, ever since the current Emir toppled his pro-Saudi father in 1995, the country has made independence from Saudi Arabia a hallmark of its foreign policy. But it is mostly because Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest natural gas field – known in Qatar as North Field and in Iran as South Pars.

 

In fact, the two countries have had decent relations for some time: in May 2010, for example, in stark contrast to the hardline attitude of his Gulf neighbours, the Qatari Emir Al-Thani joined forces with President Assad of Syria, no less, to support Turkey’s diplomatic proposals over Iran’s nuclear programme. Then, in 2014, in a ‘dry run’ of today’s crisis, the Saudis, UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha following a Qatari proposal to help Iran develop its side of the North Field/ South Pars gas field. But what’s taking place now is much more serious. And that is largely because of the likely earth-shattering impact of the decisions surely now being considered by the two powers over where their gas will go, how it will get there – and in what currency it will be sold.

 

In April of this year, a self-imposed 12-year moratorium on the development of Qatar’s share of North Field came to an end, potentially opening up a flood of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) onto the market in the years to come. But where will it go? Qatar had originally been hoping to build an LNG pipeline to the Mediterranean via Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey; indeed, many have speculated that Assad’s blocking of this proposal in favour of an Iran-Iraq-Turkey route was a major reason for Qatar’s support of the anti-government insurgency there. The failure of this insurgency, however, has spelled the death of this proposal, leaving Qatar bound to look East to Asia – already their biggest customers – for their LNG markets. But most of the existing Eastbound LNG pipeline infrastructure is controlled by Iran. For Qatar, then, cutting its Iran links would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. This is why the Saudis aim to demonstrate that the alternative is having their entire face cut off. 

 

For the US, the stakes couldn’t be higher. In 2012, Iran began to accept yuan for its oil and gas payments, followed by Russia in 2015. If this takes off, this could literally spell the beginning of the end of US global power. The dollar is the world’s leading reserve currency, in the main, only because oil is currently traded in dollars. Countries seeking foreign exchange reserves as insurance against crises within their own currencies tend to look to the dollar precisely because it is effectively ‘convertible’ into oil, the world’s number one commodity. This global thirst for dollars is what allows the US to print endless amounts of them, virtually for free, which it can then exchange for real goods and services with other countries. This is what is known as ‘seignorage privileges’; that is, the ability to absorb ever-increasing amounts of goods and services from other countries without having to provide anything of equivalent value in return. In turn, it is this privilege which helps to finance the staggering costs of the US military machine.

 

Yet, this whole system falls apart once other countries stop using the dollar as their prime reserve currency. And they stop doing this once oil stops being traded in dollars. This is one reason why the US were do keen for Saddam Hussein to go after he began trading Iraqi oil in Euros.

 

And, slowly but surely, this change is already occurring. In 2012, the People’s Bank of China announced it would no longer be increasing its holdings of US dollars, and two years later, Nigeria increased its holdings of yuan from 2% to 7% of its total foreign exchange reserves. Many other countries are moving in the same direction.

 

At the same time, China has been on a gold-buying spree, setting up its own twice-daily  pricing of gold in yuan in 2012 as part of what the chair of the Shanghai Gold Exchange called the “internationalisation of renminbi”, ultimately aiming towards making yuan fully convertible to gold. Once this happens, the choice for oil-producing countries between trading oil for ever-more-worthless paper dollars, or trading it for convertible-to-gold renminbi will be a no-brainer. For Qatar, the pull may already be irresistible.

 

Hence the urgency to pre-emptively punish Qatar for its likely move towards a joint venture with Iran to supply Asia with LNG priced in yuan, and to warn them against any such moves. The aim is to demonstrate that, however economically suicidal it may be in the long term to snub Iran and continue trading in the dollar, it will be politically suicidal in the immediate term to do anything else. Just how far Trump and his Arab friends are prepared to take this remains to be seen. But Trump has repeatedly stated that the only point of having a military is to if you are going to use it.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. e) The war on Iran has begun: Russia must end it 

 

3rd May 2018 

 

Things are escalating again in one of Syria’s many wars. Last Sunday, 29th April, two massive strikes – presumed by Israel – reportedly hit the Syrian Arab Army’s 47th Brigade military base and arms depots near Hama, as well as Nairab Military Airport in Aleppo. The attack, thought to have been carried out using powerful ‘bunker-buster’ missiles, created a fireball which could be seen for miles, and triggered a shock measuring 2.6 on the Richter scale, felt as far as Turkey and Lebanon.  It is thought the strikes targeted Iranian surface-to-surface missiles intended for deployment in Syria, and killed 26 – 38 people, including 11 Iranians.

 

The attack appears to have been coordinated with the USA, coming just hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Jerusalem – where, according to Haaretz, he had “thrilled Netanyahu with hawkish talk on Iran”. That same day, noted the Times of Israel, “news also broke of a phone call between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump”, whilst Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was meeting his US counterpart James Mattis in Washington. This feverish activity came less than a week after “Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of the US army’s Central Command, or CENTCOM, whose sphere of responsibility includes Syria and Iran, made a largely unpublicized visit to Israel.” The article concluded that “All this is beginning to look rather like a coordinated Israeli-American operation to limit Iran’s military activities in Syria — simultaneously conveying the message to Moscow that Russia’s green light for Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria is not acceptable in Jerusalem and Washington.” The war on Iran, in other words, has begun.

 

In hindsight, it has been underway for some time. Israel has reportedly conducted over 100 airstrikes in Syria since 2011, but a stepchange occurred last July. On July 9th 2017, Russia and the US agreed on a de-escalation zone in Southwest Syria, which, according to Foreign Policy journal analyst Jonathan Spyer, Israel believed “could seriously complicate the de facto Israeli safeguards in place against Iranian infiltration of the border”. In the four months which followed this agreement, Israeli jets made over 750 incursions into Syrian airspace, an average of six per day, and totalling 3200 hours in the country. Clearly, some serious reconnaissance activity was taking place. Then on October 16th, Israeli jets struck a Russian-supplied S-200 air defense battery in the Damascus area. The attack took place during a meeting in Tel Aviv between the Israeli and Russian Defence Ministers, and was perhaps calculated to send a message to Syria that they can not rely on Russian protection.

 

Then, in January 2018, with the battle against IS almost won, Rex Tillerson announced new goals for the 2000 US troops in Syria, vowing that they would remain until “Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, and Syria’s neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria.” This was followed in February by calls by the French foreign minister for Iran to ‘leave Syria’, and a warning from the International Crisis Group that Israel had “updated its red lines – signalling it would take matters into its own hands if necessary to keep Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria”.

 

Since then, Israel has moved from targeting Syrian army and Hezbollah convoys to the directly targeting of Iranian personnel and facilities.It’s shooting down of an Iranian drone on February 9th led to one of its own F-16s being downed by the Syrian army after it bombed the drone’s command centre, the first time an Israeli warplane had been shot down since the 1980s. Yet, in a very rare admission of responsibility, Israel still called the mission a success, claiming that between one third and one half of Syria’s air defences had been destroyed in the strikes.

 

Two months later, on April 9th, Israeli missiles again struck the same ‘T4’ military base they hit in February. The target this time, however, was specifically Iranian installations and equipment, and 14 Iranian soldiers were killed. According to one Israeli official, this was first time Israel had attacked ‘live Iranian targets’. It was also, apparently, the first time Israel had failed to inform Russia to provide advance warning of an upcoming strike, breaking the ‘de-confliction’ agreement made between Israel and Russia right at the start of Russian entry into the Syrian conflict in 2015.

 

Russia’s response was similarly unprecedented, with Russia immediately revealing Israel’s role in the attack, and Putin calling Netanyahu to warn him that Israel can no longer expect to be able to attack Syria with impunity. Then, following the US-UK-French airstrikes on Syria on 13th April, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s main operations directorate, Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, floated the idea of providing Syria with the powerful Russian-made S300 air defence system. The S300, capable of tracking up to 100 targets simultaneously over a range of 200km, “would create a no-go situation for Israel if allowed to be made operational by the Syrian regime”, according to former US naval officer Jennifer Dyer, adding that “The kinds of low-level, preemptive strikes (in Syria) the IAF [Israeli Air Force] has executed in the last few years, against Hezbollah targets and the special weapons targets of Iran and the Assad regime, would become virtually impossible. Israel would lose the ability to preempt the ‘build-up’ to war ”. Russia had originally signed a contract with Syria to deliver the S300 system in 2010, but this was scrapped after pressure from Israel. But, on April 23rd, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that the decision to reverse that suspension and supply the S300 had now been made, with only the technical details left to iron out. Two days later, the Syrian embassy in Moscow claimed that the S300 had in fact already arrived a month ago and was being deployed. The Russian authorities immediately denied this, and reiterated that no final decision on whether or not to supply the S300 had in fact been taken. A few days later, the Israelis struck again, this time with their earth-shaking bunker busters, directly targeting Iranian troops and equipment for the second time. No S300, you see.

 

Media reports, both mainstream and alternative (my own included!), are increasingly nervous about the scenario now unfolding, and rightly so. Yet, whilst the danger of escalation and miscalculation – and specifically, the drawing in of Russia into the Israeli-Iranian conflict developing in Syria – remains real, many analysts have overstated the friction between Russia and Israel – and, indeed, the convergence of interests between Russia and Iran.

 

Despite both being opposed to western-backed regime change in Syria, Russian and Iranian objectives in the region are in fact very different. According to intelligence analysts Stratfor, “Russia’s strategic vision is chiefly focused on eliminating sources of instability and preventing U.S.-led military interventions”, with a “broader goal of establishing itself as an indispensable guarantor of collective security in the Middle East”. In Syria, therefore, the Russians have the “limited objective of ensuring that Assad controls enough territory to negotiate with Syrian opposition factions from a position of strength” in order to create a mediated, negotiated settlement, overseen and guaranteed by Russia.

 

The Iranians, however, are more focused on “containing Saudi Arabia’s power projection capacity across the Arab world”, leading to an “unwillingness to suspend military operations in Syria until Assad has completely vanquished opposition forces….Iran’s belief in the feasibility of a military solution in Syria has made it less willing than Russia to diplomatically engage with Syrian opposition or Kurdish factions during diplomatic negotiations, limiting the scope of the Moscow-Tehran partnership.” Furthermore, “Iran’s use of Syrian territory to create a permanent transit point of weaponry to Hezbollah has alarmed Russian policymakers who seek to preserve strong relations with Israel.”

 

From this point of view, far from seeking to protect Iranian entrenchment in Syria, Russia has a direct interest in restricting it. Israel’s strikes may thus serve a function for Russia, putting pressure on Iran to ‘rein in’ the activities Russia views as disruptive to its own aims. Furthermore, Russia may believe that the Iranian presence in Iran – as an alternative source of support for President Assad – makes the Syrian government itself less willing to sign up to Russia’s diplomatic initiatives. Indeed, on a very basic level, a reduced Iranian presence leaves Assad more thoroughly dependent on Russia – a point, no doubt, made by Netanyahu on at least one of his seven meetings with Putin over the last year. And anyway, a cynic might argue, now the rebellion has been all but quashed, haven’t the Iranians served their purpose?

 

Many people claim that the alliance with Iran is too important for Russia to risk a gambit like this. And no doubt it is. But what if there is no risk? Whilst the Russian-Iranian alliance remains crucial for Moscow’s projection of power into the Middle East, Russia may well calculate that Iran has no interest in jeopardising this however poorly they are treated by their Russian ‘ally’ in Syria. After all, the provision of protection against a US attack on Iran is hardly a buyer’s market – Russia is a monopoly supplier. Safe in the knowledge that Iran really has no-one else to turn to, Russia can afford to let Israel loose on them.

 

Certainly, Israel’s belligerent Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman does not appear to see Russia as an obstacle to Israeli plans for Syria. “What is important to understand is that the Russians, they are very pragmatic players,” he said in Washington recently, “At the end of the day, they are reasonable guys, it’s possible to close deals with them and we understand what is their interest,”. He certainly doesn’t sound like he is referring to a steadfast ally of Israel’s number one foe.

 

It may even be that Russia are still, against all hope, expecting to get something out of the Trump administration, in the form of sanctions relief, or at least some recognition of their security concerns in Ukraine and eastern Europe. Such hopes are surely forlorn.

 

I would like to think Russia is not so cynical as to stand back and allow Israeli aggression against Iran in order to gain leverage in its own relationship with both the Iranians and Syrians, nor so naive as to expect anything from the US. But the omens are not good. The failure to deliver the S300s, or to create any other meaningful deterrent, even after the opening shots in this new war on Iran were fired on April 9th, suggests either cowardice or collusion. And the Russians are not cowards.

 

Yet acquiescing to western aggression has not turned out well for the Russians in the past. Their failure to veto the UN-blessed crucifixion of Iraq in 1991, let’s not forget, was rewarded with nothing more than an economic straitjacket leading to the biggest collapse of living standards (outside of war) in recorded history. Twenty years later, when Russia agreed not to veto the west’s destruction of Libya, what followed was not gratitude, or acceptance, or respect, but western support for an anti-Russian fascist coup on Russia’s western flank, followed by the imposition of a vicious sanctions regime.

 

If Russia really are going to allow their erstwhile Iranian comrades to get wiped out, they really should understand that this is not simply a matter of Israel’s ‘legitimate security concerns’. This is about eliminating Iran’s chance of building up a deterrent in advance of an all-out war against Iran itself. And the destruction of states such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Iran is, in turn, about isolating Russia when its own turn comes. This year will see the 80th anniversary of the Munich agreement, another occasion when major powers sacrificed supposed allies in the hope of saving their own skins. That didn’t go so well. Never mind the S300s, Russia need to provide S400s to the Syrian Arab Army and put a stop to this new war before its too late.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. f) Trump’s delusional oil gambit is decades too late 

 

9th July 2018 

 

Last week, a senior State Department official announced the US’ intention to cut Iranian oil exports “to zero” by November 4th this year, by threatening to impose sanctions on any company still trading beyond that date. Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the State Department, told reporters on July 2nd that “Our goal is to increase pressure on the Iranian regime by reducing to zero its revenue on crude oil sales”.

Hitherto, experts had predicted US sanctions would see a reduction of around 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) by the end of the year – barely one fifth of the country’s current export of 2.4 million bpd. Even the sanctions that preceded the 2015 nuclear deal – which, unlike today’s unilateral effort, were supported by a broad alliance of world powers, including Russia and China – only succeeded in removing half Iran’s oil (1.2m bdp) from the market.

Hook reassured the world that “We are confident there is sufficient global spare oil capacity”, claiming Saudi Arabia alone could produce an additional 2 million bpd. Saudi Arabia and Russia have already agreed to increase production by 1 million bpd reversing the production quotas imposed in the wake of the oil price slump in 2016.

This determination to destroy Iran by any means necessary has, of course, been the Trump administration’s signature foreign policy since day one, with almost every member of his team harbouring a long-held and well documented vendetta against the Islamic Republic. What is new with Trump, however, is not this determination as such – let’s not forget that Iran has been on the official Pentagon hitlist since at least 2001 – as the means used to pursue it. As I argued in 2014, the nuclear deal was not, on the part of the west, a genuine rapprochement so much as a long term programme of western infiltration, based on the ‘Libya model’, aimed at building a pro-imperialist fifth column within the Iranian state in order to prepare the ground for ‘regime change’ in the future. The Trump team, of course, has no patience for the long game, and want to simply cut to the chase. The reason for this obsession with destroying Iran – shared by all factions of the western ruling class, despite their differences over means – is obvious: Iran’s very existence as an independent state threatens imperial control of the region – which in turns underpins both US military power and the global role of the dollar. And as South-South cooperation continues to develop, this threat grows every day, whilst the means to diminish it are reduced by the same measure.

At the same time, the US military encirclement of China – begun in earnest as Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’, but, like so much else, undergoing major escalation under Trump – is intimately linked to a policy of cutting off China from its suppliers. In this sense, a policy of ‘isolating’ of Iran is aimed at isolating China also, as China is the largest market for Iranian crude.

Trump’s policy, however, is likely to get few buyers. Pepe Escobar has explained the likely response to Trump’s plans from each of Iran’s top customers: “India will buy Iranian oil with rupees. China also will be totally impervious to the Trump administration’s command. Sinopec, for instance, badly needs Iranian oil for new refineries in assorted Chinese provinces, and won’t stop buying. Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci has been blunt: “The decisions taken by the United States on this issue are not binding for us.” He added that: “We recognize no other [country’s] interests other than our own.” Iran is Turkey’s number-one oil supplier, accounting for almost 50% of total imports. Russia won’t back down from its intention to invest $50 billion in Iran’s energy infrastructure.. And Iraq won’t abandon strategic energy cooperation with Iran. Supply chains rule; Baghdad sends oil from Kirkuk to a refinery in Kermanshah in Iran, and gets refined Iranian oil for southern Iraq.”

With European companies likely to be more nervous about insubordination to US diktat, this merely leaves more tantalising investments open to Russian and Chinese companies.  As Philip K. Verleger noted, “It’s a huge opportunity for China and Russia to cement relationships with Iran”.

At the same time, all this activity and uncertainty is bound to push oil prices higher, meaning that any reductions in export quantities may well be compensated by increased revenues.

Trump’s attempts to persuade the rest of the world to cut off its nose to spite its face, then, are likely to all on deaf ears. It is in this light that Trump’s igniting of a global trade war must be seen.

At midnight on July 5th, US tariffs on $34billion worth of Chinese imports went into effect, at a rate of 25%. Trump told reporters that tariffs on a further $16 billion worth were likely to follow in two weeks, fulfilling a pledge made in April to slap tariffs on 1300 products totalling $50 billion annually. These tariffs were designed to target the Chinese aerospace, tech and machinery industries, as well as medical equipment, medicine and educational material. The final total, however, he added, could eventually reach $550 billion – “a figure”, noted Industry Week, “that exceeds all of U.S. goods imports from China in 2017”. These China-specific tariffs follow tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminium (10%) imports imposed on the EU, Mexico and Canada four days earlier.

According to Fox Business, Canada stands to lose around $2billion per year as a result of these tariffs, with Brazil, Russia, China and South Korea each set to lose at least $500 million annually.

But this may be precisely the point: not only to ‘bring jobs back to the US’, but also to create new forms of leverage to be used against rivals and allies (and is there really a distinction between the two anyway these days?) alike. So far, of course, Trump has famously refused to offer waivers to his allies. But with Trump, nothing is forever – everything is leverage, to be played and bartered as seen fit. Could it be, then, that waivers may yet be offered to countries who manage to wean themselves off Iranian oil by the November deadline? And even if not, the very willingness to use trade as a weapon so openly and brazenly is a reminder that there may be further punishments on the way for those who do not toe the line on the strangulation of Iran. After all, as Louis Kuijs, chief economist at Oxford Economics, has pointed out, this ‘new era’ has only just begun: “Clearly the first salvos have been exchanged,” he said, “and in that sense, the trade war has started. There is no obvious end to this”.

Nevertheless, Trump’s bark may yet be well worse than his bite. For on thing, the counter-measures employed by the Chinese – a reciprocal 25% tariff on $50billion of US goods – will hit the US hard. One product subject to the new tariff, for example, is soybeans. China is the market for 25% of all soybeans grown in the US. Grant Kimberley, a soybean farmer with the Iowa Soybean Association, estimates that this tariff alone could lead to a 70% drop in exports.

But even, even apart from the Chinese counter-measures, the US-imposed tariffs themselves are likely to hurt the US as much as China. A report on NPR suggests thatfor now, the blows are threatening to land hardest on non-Chinese companies like New Jersey-based Snow Joe/Sun Joe”, which – like so many other US companies, relies on Chinese imports for crucial parts of its supply chain. And in the end, of course, all of these increased costs will be passed on to the US consumer, directly depressing their real wages.

For China, however, the impact is likely to be – in the words of Ethan Harris, head of economic research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch – “quite small”.  Industry Week noted that whilst “In the past, the U.S. used its economic clout to win trade skirmishes with developing countries… China, whose economy has grown tenfold since it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, poses a much more formidable adversary.” James Boughton, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario, told the site that  “The dynamic is different from anything we’ve seen. China has an ability to ride out this kind of pressure, to weather the storm, that a lot of countries didn’t have in the past.”

 

Indeed, Trump has already been forced into retreat in some areas, given the likely repercussions. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group consultancy, told CBSthat  “Trump backed off a couple weeks ago on implementing what would have been significant measures against them. You’re familiar with the Chinese telecom firm ZTE. They were going to be made bankrupt by White House regulations what were being put in place. Trump himself intervened with a tweet saying, we don’t want to lose all of those Chinese jobs… [Trump] knows that China can hit back really hard and they can hit back in a targeted way against red states, against American farmers. So I would be very surprised if we saw significant escalation as opposed to significant rhetoric before elections in the U.S. in November, which is what we’re really talking about here.” Other possible Chinese retaliatory measures include limits on exports of rare-earth metals, essential for technologies such as smartphones, and of course the zero-option of dumping its holdings of US treasuries (although this would not be without serious pain to itself of course).

So the idea that trade war will somehow pressure China (and others) to dump Iran seems ultimately fanciful. The process of ‘delinking’ has already gone too far. China is already Iran’s biggest trading partner, and – with Chinese tariffs on US oil looming – is more likely to increase Iranian imports to replace that no longer coming from the US rather than vice versa. Iran already sells its oil to China in yuan, rather than US dollars, meaning that the entire US-controlled financial system is completely circumvented for the countries’ bilateral trade, and therefore outside the control of US-imposed financial sanctions. Looking forward, Iran is set to play a crucial role in the development of China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative, with a high speed railway planned to provide sea access to landlocked central Asia. And with French oil giant Total’s planned investment in the massive South Pars oil field in jeopardy, the contract is likely to now go to a Chinese company.

Economics professor Danny Quah noted back in 2009 that the dependence of China on US markets tended to be greatly overestimated in the west. By 2006, only 20% of Chinese exports were to the USA, with a far higher proportion going elsewhere in East Asia. In 2013, the US was not even the largest single customer for Chinese goods (it came second to Hong Kong). By 2o15, only 18% of Chinese exports were to the US; with almost half (48.5%) going elsewhere in Asia, 19.9% to Europe, 4.2% to Latin America, and 4.1% to Africa. In other words, the global South accounted for more Chinese exports than US and Europe combined. And, as is becoming clearer by the day, US and Europe are not combined.

According to the CIA’s world factbook, Chinese exports in total represent just under 20% of GDP. If we do the maths, then – 20% of 20% – it turns out that just 4% of Chinese GDP comes from exports to the US. Significant, but hardly the economic gun to the head that Trump seems to believe.

The days when loss of market access to the US meant oblivion for countries like China are long gone. The future now lies in South-South cooperation precisely along the lines of the multibillion Belt and Road Initiative. The US government understand that, and their attempts to simultaneously sabotage both China and Iran are last-ditch attempts to prevent the inevitable – further delinking, and a global economy in which the US is becoming increasingly peripheral. But the truth is, this effort is already too late.

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. g) Is Russia facilitating Trump’s strangulation of Iran? 

 

31st July 2018 

 

Since the earliest days on the campaign trail, it has never been in doubt who Trump and his team have had in their sights. “Iran is the biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East and its policies are contrary to our interests,” Defence Secretary Mattis told his Senate confirmation hearing, having previously claimed the country posed a bigger security threat than either ISIS or Al Qaeda. Mike Pence called Iran the“leading state sponsor of terrorism” whilst new National Security Advisor John Bolton has for years called for Iran to be bombed. Trump himself, in his own little remix of Pence’s phrase, has called Iran “The Number One State of Sponsored Terror”, which presumably means something derogatory.

 

China, of course, was famously accused of “raping our country” by Trump in 2016, whilst White House aide Peter Navarro claimed the country was waging “economic aggression” against the US. Former National Security Advisor Steve Bannon announced this week that “we are at war with China”.

 

Iran and China, then, have been favoured rhetorical targets since day one – but this year that rhetoric has morphed into all-out economic warfare. This month alone, Trump has unleashed tariffs on $60 billion of Chinese goods, threatened to do so on $500billion more, and announced his intention to cut Iranian oil exports to zero by November. These weapons of financial destruction are openly aimed at crippling and sabotaging China and Iran in order to stymie their development and bring them to their knees. Yet at the same time as this is happening, the leader of Iran and China’s major geopolitical ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has continued to be courted and flattered by Trump. What is going on?

 

On the face of it, these hostile acts against two of Russia’s key allies have, as one might expect, been condemned by Putin’s government. Prior to Trump’s May announcement that he would intended to violate the Iranian nuclear deal by restoring sanctions, the Kremlin warned of “harmful consequences” should he do so. And following the recent Helsinki summit between the two leaders, Putin continued to back the deal (albeit on the grounds of limiting Iranian sovereignty rather than defending it) stating that “The Russian position remains unchanged regarding the Iranian nuclear program, and we believe that the JCPOA is an instrument that makes it possible to guarantee the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in general and in the region in particular,” adding that the deal had turned Iran into one of the most heavily IAEA-monitored countries in the world. Russia similarly denounced the tariffs slapped on China earlier this month.

 

Yet, behind the rhetorical opposition, Russian actions are facilitating Trump’s aggression. Following 18 months of oil production cuts agreed by Russia and Saudi Arabia in 2016, which had successfully raised oil prices out of the slump into which they had fallen, Russia last month proposed an unexpected and immediate reversal of this policy. The low oil prices which had plagued oil markets before the 2016 cuts were agreed had caused huge problems for producer countries such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela, leading many to believe that the Saudis had been ordered by the US to flood the market in order to sabotage the economies of its geopolitical foes. The new production quotas, then, had given these countries some much-needed breathing space; yet, this June, Russia put forward a proposal to OPEC to increase production by 1.8million barrels per day (bpd) – and, unusually, proposed that these increases were to start kicking in within weeks. In the end, a pact to increase production by 1 million barrels per day – spearheaded by Russia and Saudi Arabia – was agreed by OPEC and non-OPEC countries in late June. The rise was opposed by Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Algeria, with Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh commenting ahead of the meeting that “OPEC is not the organization to receive instruction from President Trump … OPEC is not part of the Department of Energy of the United States”.

 

Within days of the adoption of the Russian-led production increase, the Trump administration announced its plans to “reduce Iranian oil exports to zero” by November 4th. Questioned on whether such a policy might cause disruption as countries scrambled to replace supplies, State Department policy director Brian Hooks remarked that “we are confident there is sufficient global spare oil capacity.” Russia’s push for increased production had, in effect, smoothed the path for the next round of Trump’s strangulation of Iran. It was precisely this deal which lay behind Trump’s brazen claim that world oil supplies would plug the gap created by the loss of Iranian crude; without the end to Russian-Saudi production limits, this would have been unthinkable. As things stand, however, all the pieces are in place for Trump to apply serious pressure on all importers of Iranian oil. Whilst the Russian-Saudi deal offers alternative sources of supply, the trade war now underway demonstrates Trump’s willingness to use tariffs against those who do not bend to his geopolitical will. Whilst Trump has openly threatened sanctions against those who do not heed his call to end their dealings with Iran, it is quite possible that those who do heed it will be rewarded with tariff exemptions. China, in particular – Iran’s biggest trading partner, and now threatened with tariffs on all $500bilion of their exports to the US – will be particularly under pressure.

 

On the surface, then, Russia’s actions appear self-defeating. The end to the, hugely successful, production quotas of the previous 18 months immediately triggered a drop in oil prices – Russia’s main export commodity – whilst facilitating the escalation of US economic warfare against key Russian ally Iran. Yet there are several reasons Russia may be supporting Trump’s moves.

 

Most obviously, Iran is a major competitor with Russia for oil export markets – especially in Europe. European hopes to reduce dependence on Russian energy supplies are likely to be seriously dashed if they can no longer turn to Iran as an alternative supplier. Quite simply, Russia will sell more oil without Iranian competition.

 

More than this, however, even Trump’s use of tariffs as leverage to push countries away from Iran could be to Russia’s benefit. If Trump does indeed make tariff-free access to the US market conditional on cutting investment and trade with Iran, China would face a major dilemma.

 

China has for some years been not only Iran’s major trading partner, but investment financier as well. In 2011, China  signed a  $20 billion  agreement  to  boost  bilateral  cooperation  in Iran’s industrial and mining sectors. Today, China is poised to take over development of the massive South Pars oil and gas field should the French company TOTAL pull out, as they are widely expected to do, whilst a $3billion deal was recently signed giving SINOPEC the right to expand the Abadan oil refinery in Khuzestan Province. Meanwhile, reports Fox News, “With the U.S. Treasury putting pressure on Western banks to not make any deals with Iran, the Chinese state-owned CITIC bank is extending lines of credit worth $10 billion for Iranian banks. This funding will finance water, energy and transport projects. To bypass U.S. sanctions, the lines of credit will use euros and yuan currencies”.

But most significant for Russia is the 2017 $1.5 billion deal made by the Chinese Export-Import Bank to finance a high-speed railway between Tehran and Mashhad. The railway is envisioned to become part of China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ , creating a high-speed transit route between central Asia and Europe that will shave weeks off current travel times.

This May – in a clear act of defiance to the US – China opened a new train linebetween China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Tehran, shortening travel time by 20 days compared to cargo ship. Once the full vision of  a Chinese built high-tech, high-speed rail network across central Asia is realised, however, the current ‘Northern route’ through Russia is likely to be rendered all but redundant.

 

Could it be, then, that Russia sees it as in its own interests to facilitate Trump’s quest to chase Chinese investment out of Iran in order to preserve its trade routes and access to European oil markets?

 

If so, it is likely to be disappointed. For Iran is central not only to the Belt and Road Initiative – China’s multi-trillion, multi-decade long ‘geoeconomic’ programme – but also to its defence strategy. As correctly observed in a recent piece published by The Diplomat, “Iran constitutes [China’s] true priority. China has nurtured bilateral relations with Tehran for decades, leveraging a common resentment toward Western dominance. This partnership has great geostrategic importance to both nations. Thanks to its oil and gas reserves, Iran could help Beijing withstand a U.S. attack on its SLOCs (Sea Lines of Communication).”

For China, much as it naturally seeks to avoid further punishment from the US, Iran is simply too important to be bargained away. Unfortunately not so, it seems, for Moscow.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye 

 

  1. h) Turkey and Qatar are being punished for refusing to do Washington’s bidding on Iran 

 

27th August 2018 

 

A NATO member since 1952 (following Turkish involvement in the Korean war on the side of the US), Turkey has hosted a major US airbase at Incirlik since 1954, essential to US operations in the region, and even housed the US nuclear missiles which triggered the Cuban missile crisis. Incirlik was crucial to the US-UK terror bombing of Iraq in 1991, and, although the Turkish parliament narrowly prevented its use for the 2003 redux, Turkey has been the launchpad for subsequent US strikes both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

 

Qatar, meanwhile, is, to this day, run by the family – the al-Thanis – appointed as Britain’s proxies in the nineteenth century. Granted formal independence only in 1971, the country has remained deeply tied into western foreign policy since then. Both its ‘post-independence’ rulers were educated at the UK’s Sandhurst military academy, and it, like Turkey, hosts a major US base, whilst it’s ruling family, like those of the other Gulf monarchies, are dependent on western arms transfers to maintain their power. In 2011, Qatar played a major role in NATO’s Libya operation, providing airstrikes, military training, over $100million of funding to insurgent groups, and even ground forces – not to mention the major propaganda role played by the Qatari-owned network Al Jazeera.

 

Then, in mid-2011, both countries threw themselves headlong into the war to overthrow the Syrian government. Turkish president Erdogan had previously enjoyed relatively warm relations with his Southern neighbour, but at some stage decided that the western-backed rebellion was going to win, and he wanted in on it. Turkey’s collaboration was crucial for the London-Washington Syria project, not only to give it a semblance of regional legitimacy, but more importantly because its 800km border with the country was to be the conduit for the thousands of armed fighters on which the insurgency would depend.

 

Unwilling – and, following the decimation of their armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, probably unable – to provide the ground forces necessary to destroy the Syrian Arab Army themselves, the ‘regime-change regimes’ of the west relied on states like Qatar and Turkey to act as intermediaries – to facilitate weapons transfers, provide finance and smooth the passage of foreign fighters. Both states, heady with the prospects of the economic and geopolitical rewards that would follow Assad’s removal, and believing their own networks’ fantasies about an imminent collapse, were more than happy to act as accomplices. Over the years that followed, the resources they committed – and the devastation that resulted – were immense. In the case of Turkey, in particular, the spillover would prove disastrous.

 

Less than three years into the war, the International Crisis Group estimated that Turkey had spent $3billion on the war on Syria. Yet this figure, high as it is, represents a fraction of the true costs involved. Adetailed report in Newsweek in 2015 noted the huge increase in military spending following the start of the Syria war, rising from $17 billion per year in 2010, to $22.6 billion in 2014, an increase of 25%. The report added that “Before the war in Syria broke out in March 2011, Turkey’s yearly average growth rate stood at 9.2 percent in 2010, followed by 8.8 percent in 2011—the second largest growth rate after China that year. By 2012, the growth rate declined drastically to 2.2 percent.” Whilst not being the only factor behind this drastic decline – the report specifically mentioned the spillover from European banking and debt problems – nonetheless, the war in Syria in which Turkey had become so deeply involved had caused “border clashes and political uncertainty that imposed additional costs on the Turkish economy”. For a start, Turkey has been the first port of call for millions of Syrians fleeing the war. This alone cost the country billions. Notes the Newsweek report, Officials state that Turkey has currentlyspent approximately $8 billion hosting 2.1 million Syrian refugees within its borders, which accounts for some 0.5 percent of Turkey’s current gross domestic product. Of this amount, only $418 million of support came from the international community.” Added to this, the report says, are the ‘collateral costs’ resulting from the deterioration of relations with Russia following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in 2015, which it estimated could be as high as $3.7 billion due to lost Russian tourism, investment and trade. Trade with Syria, of course, also slumped by “70 percent as a direct effect from the Syrian war,” from $1.8billion worth of exports in 2010 to $497 million two years later. In place of this legitimate trade – much of it in energy resources – however, came a flourishing new illicit trade. This new trade imposed “an additional cost to the Turkish economy: a growing, untaxed, hard-to-control black market economy. To combat its effect on government revenue, Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Agency declared an increase in inspections and control mechanisms in Turkey.” Ultimately, however, the government opted to facilitate, rather than attempt to control, this burgeoning black market, issuing in April 2015 “new border regulations that enabled Turkey to open its borders to uncontrolled cash inflow and remittances. According to the new law, travelers no longer had to declare transported currency or profit amounts at the customs booth.” This policy would, noted former governor of Turkey’s central bank Durmus Yilmaz, “attract black money to flow into Turkey.”

 

“In sum”, concluded the report, “as Turkey incrementally left its prior foreign policy agenda of “Zero Problems with Neighbors” and moved towards an Assad-centric policy, the costs imposed on its economy multiplied. This can be observed directly from the refugee costs, military spending, border security costs and the changing composition of trade volume and quality of liquidity flows in the economy. Collateral damage on regional tourism, the construction, logistics and transportation sectors in Turkey’s southeastern cities, increasing debt volume on Turkish companies imposed by Syrian companies that go bankrupt and decreasing foreign direct investments to Turkey add their fair share of economic burdens.” Furthermore,The data suggest…that the more aggressive Turkey gets in its Syria policy in terms of military involvement, the more aggressively these costs rise.” Erdogan’s enthusiastic collaboration with the regime-changers in Washington and London had crippled his country’s economy – not to mention spawning a new era of sectarian militancy in the form of ISIS, which would launch multiple terror attacks within Turkey itself.

 

Being far removed from the conflict, the Syrian war’s impact on Qatar was not nearly as severe. Nevertheless, Qatar, too, pumped billions into the insurgency: noted the Financial Times in 2013, “The gas-rich state of Qatar has spent as much as $3bn over the past two years supporting the rebellion in Syria, far exceeding any other government”  It added that “Qatar has sent the most weapons deliveries to Syria, with more than 70 military cargo flights into neighbouring Turkey between April 2012 and March this year,” showing clearly the division of labour between Qatari finance and Turkish logistics.

 

Turkey and Qatar have thus put themselves right at the forefront of western efforts to overthrow the Syrian state. To date, however – other than an ever-growing pile of burnt Syrian corpses and a huge hole in their own finances – they have nothing to show for it.

 

In hindsight, the Turkish downing of a Russian jet in November 2015 can be seen as a last-ditch attempt to test the resolve, not of Russia, but of the west. Erdogan wanted to know whether or not the US was going to put their money where their mouth was and put some decisive muscle into the conflict. In the escalation that followed the attack, Turkey immediately put forward plans for a ‘no fly zone’ – euphemism for the sort of all-out aerial bombardment that befell Libya. But nothing came of it. That was the moment Turkey realised the west were not about to commit anything like the resources necessary to actually bring about victory. Assad was here to stay. Turkey would have to deal with that. And that meant dealing with Russia. The slow realignment of Turkish foreign policy had begun. And earlier this year, with tails no doubt firmly between their legs, evenQatar re-established relations with the Syrian government.

 

So when Trump came knocking for buyers for the west’s next brilliant idea – war on Iran, beginning with a brutal economic siege  – neither Turkey nor Qatar were exactly chomping at the bit to sign up. The suggestion was even less appealing than the disastrous Syria gambit, targeting an even more important trading partner, and with even less chance of influence over some mythical future government. Qatar shares a major gas field – South Pars – with Iran, and is dependent on Iran for accessing eastern energy markets, whilst Iran is the major source of Turkish energy imports. Following Syria, neither country has much nose left to cut off, even if they had wanted to spite their own face. Trump’s merciless attack on their economies is yet another sign of the increasing US inability to bend once-pliable clients to its will. For all his bluster, it is a clear admission of weakness and failure.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. i) Was Trump’s attack on the lira Putin’s idea? 

 

Trump’s critics warn us that his belligerent policies towards Iran and Turkey are pushing them into Moscow’s arms, even as they seek evidence of ‘Russian collusion’ in all the wrong places. This collusion is not to be found in shady backroom campaign meetings; it is hiding in plain sight.

“He does things the right way” Trump said of Erdogan last month. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; the two men have much in common after all: nationalist tubthumping autocrats with a contempt for constitutional limits on presidential might, who see few problems which cannot be solved through the right combination of willpower and firepower. His comment specifically referred to Erdogan’s ability to ignore his own parliament, and was followed up with a mutually aggrandising fistbump. Yet the budding bromance was to be short-lived.

 

Days later, Trump entered his now infamous two-hour private meeting with Putin in Helsinki. According to their own account, one of the main items on the agenda was Syria, which for seven years has been the battleground for a proxy war between (among others) the two men’s respective countries. In this war, Turkey and the US were supposed to be on the same side; yet Trump, on Syria as so many issues, has been ambivalent as to US goals in the conflict. The original objective, of course, was to transform Syria – an independent regional power allied to both Iran and Hezbollah – into a failed state on the Iraqi/ Libyan/ Afghan model. Yet the Syrian state – with a level of popular support surprising to those western observers susceptible to their own propaganda – stubbornly refused to be destroyed. Russian intervention helped turn the tide in September 2015, and since then, one victory after another – most notably in Aleppo – has made it clear that not only will the Syrian government survive, but that it will very likely restore its authority nationwide. Most rebel-held cities have now been retaken by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), whilst the Kurdish YPG – who have always, correctly, feared the US-backed sectarian insurgency far more than they have feared Assad – have entered into negotiations with the government, leading to a growing role for the SAA in YPG-held areas as well. The only major population centre still fully outside government control, then, is Idlib, home to almost 3 million, and largely under the control of Hay’et Tahrir Al Sham, the latest rebrand of Syria’s Al Qaeda franchise.

 

All the signs are that a government offensive on this last rebel stronghold is imminent, with government forces amassing at the western edge of the province near Jisr al Shughour. Yet one major obstacle remains. Turkey.

 

Turkish troops are now present on the ground in Idlib at around a dozen ‘observation posts’ set up under the terms of the ‘de-escalation zones’ agreed by Iran, Turkey and Russia at the Astana conference, making a direct assault on the governorate very difficult without risking a major escalation with Turkey – still, despite everything, a NATO member. Furthermore, Turkey wields extensive influence over many of the rebel groups present in Idlib. Back in May, Turkey formed a coalition of around a dozen anti-government militias there under the banner of the ‘National Liberation Front’. Earlier this month, they persuaded two HTS splinters – Nour al-Din al-Zenki, the US-UK-funded group infamous for their livestream beheading of an 11 year old, and Ahrar al-Sham, another Al-Qaeda in all but name and attitude to the west – to sign up. Through this force, Turkey now claims to control up to 100,000 fighters in Idlib, in addition to its own troops on the ground. In other words – Turkey has positioned itself to act as a major spoiler to any forthcoming Idlib operation.

 

Russia, then, seeks to pressure Turkey into agreeing to, if not a surrender of the province, then at least the removal of its troops, and a negotiated settlement with its NLF proxies – perhaps even a joint operation against HTS by the SAA, the NLF and Russia. This might be acceptable to Turkey – given a guarantee of influence in the aftermath – and Russia, but would be very hard to swallow for the Syrian government, who have no desire to share power with Al Qaeda lite. What Russia needs, then, in order to oversee an Idlib settlement on its own terms, is some kind of leverage over Turkey.

 

Enter Trump. Trump’s attack on the Turkish currency – already under pressure from the rising dollar due to its huge mountain of debt – precipitated an unprecedented decline in its value, only stemmed by a $15 billion loan from Qatar. But this is likely to only be a temporary solution. Cut out of US markets, and facing further sanctions over its purchases of Iranian oil, what Erdogan needs is a new, more dependable ally than his volatile erstwhile buddy in the White House.

 

Enter Putin. On August 10th, following the Trump tweet that triggered the lira’s plunge, Erdogan immediately spoke to Putin to discuss “trade and economic cooperation”. 3 days later, Erdogan explained that he had “made advancements in our ties with Russia in accordance to our benefits and interests”. This was followed up with a visit to Ankara by Foreign Minister Lavrov the next day and then, at the end of last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was received in Moscow by Putin himself. Russia had already reaffirmed its commitment to the delivery of its much-feared S-400 missile system by early next year, and made some vague promises to use the lira in its transactions with Turkey at some unspecified point in the future. But nothing new, nothing concrete. Russia was signalling that it was ready to come to Turkey’s aid; but at a price. That price may well be Turkish support for Russian proposals in Idlib, which Putin will be hoping to finalise in the forthcoming Syria summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran next week. Already, the statements coming out of Turkey following the various meetings which have taken place have indicated something of a shift in the Turkish position, with Cavusoglu admitting the presence of “terrorist groups” in Idlib, which need to “neutralised” – “to alleviate the concerns of our Russian counterparts”. At the same time, Putin can use the prospect of Turkish acquiescence to an operation in Idlib as leverage on the Syrian government to accept both its own proposals for recognition of Kurdish autonomy and Israeli demands on the Iranian presence in Syria. Such an outcome would allow both Netanyahu and Trump to claim a much-needed victory in their campaign to ‘rollback’ Iran, whilst simultaneously increasing Iranian and Syrian dependence on Russia. Trump’s attack on the lira, in other words, by throwing Turkey into Moscow’s arms, may have been the key to unlock the final stages of a Syria settlement under Russian tutelage. This is the real Trump-Russia collusion: not in backroom campaign meetings, but hiding in plain sight.

This article was originally published on Middle East Eye 

Part 10 – Fascism at home – preparing the ground 

 

  1. Refugees don’t cause fascism, Mr Timmermann – you do 

 

2nd October 2015

 

Europe needs to fascisise its policies, because if it doesn’t – fascism will grow. This was the message from Frans Timmerman, Vice-President of the European Commission following last week’s fraught negotiations over the so-called refugee crisis. “We have to patrol our borders better”, he told reporters on Thursday. “If we’re not able to tackle this issue, if we’re not able to find sustainable solutions, you will see a surge of the extreme right across the European continent.”

Sustainable solutions are, of course, available, and always have been; namely 1) stop destabilising Africa and the Middle East: which means, precisely, stop arming sectarian insurgencies (Syria, Libya and Somalia), stop sabotaging diplomatic solutions by insisting on one side’s surrender as a precondition to talks (‘Assad must go’) and stop forcing vulnerable economies to adopt regressive neoliberal policies which impoverish small producers (‘structural adjustment programmes’ and ‘free trade areas’); and 2) implement the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and give refuge to all those fleeing persecution and war. If tiny Lebanon – with its population of 4.5 million and a GDP of less than one third of one percent of that of the EU – can take in 1.5million refugees, one would have thought the EU – more populous and wealthier than any country on the planet – could manage a few hundred thousand.

But this is not what Timmerman is talking about. Having failed to reach consensus on taking in even a token fraction of the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores, the talk is now of a more or less formal acceptance of the ‘Hungarian solution’ – razor wire fences surrounding fortress Europe. “After weeks of condemnation over the border fence,” noted the Daily Telegraph last week, “EU officials now appear to concede that [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban has a point”.

Using the spectre of the far right to justify the wholesale adoption of their policies is nothing new, with elections across Europe increasingly resembling ‘racist auctions’: each party trying to outbid the others in their hostility to migrants, and always on the grounds that, if they do not, the far right will reap the benefits. ‘We will ban their benefits for two years’ announced the Labour party manifesto before this year’s election in the UK, ‘Well we will ban them for FOUR years’ rebuffed the Conservatives – neither divulging that the proportion of migrants actually on benefits is barely 1/20, compared to 2/3 of all British families.

Besides, Timmerman is profoundly wrong. Refugees do not cause the growth of the far-right any more than Jews ‘caused’ Nazism. In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton argues that fascism restson“popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot and their rightful predominance over inferior people.” More precisely, he describes it as a mass emotional response to national humiliation and decline which blames internal enemies for weakening the nation’s power. This humiliation is usually caused by military defeat and a decline in global status and power, and is accompanied by economic upheaval for previously privileged sections of the ‘masses’, who resent being pushed into the ranks of the proletariat, and seek to restore their previous position.

This was obviously the situation in 1930s Germany and Italy. Italy, although on the winning side of World War One at that war’s conclusion, was denied the fruits of victory it had been promised by its allies – an outcome blamed by the nascent fascist movement on the socialists and communists who had weakened the nation sufficiently to make it ripe for bullying by the other ‘Great Powers’. At the same time, it was suffering from economic crisis and unemployment – especially amongst former soldiers – again blamed on ‘communist disruption’. Germany was in a similar position, forced by its vanquishers to sign a humiliating peace treaty, and was by the 1930s suffering some of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe. Both calamities were blamed on ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’ who had, the Nazis claimed, stabbed the army in the back with their ‘unnecessary’ surrender at Versailles, and then subsequently wrecked the country’s economy with their control of both high finance and the trade unions.

The key in both cases was that fascism tapped into an emotional pride that could not accept that national decline was simply the result of the nation’s relative weakness. There had to be another explanation – an enemy within that had weakened the nation by diluting its inherent strength. National strength could, following this logic, be rejuvenated so long as the internal enemy was extinguished. This is the core of fascism. And very similar objective conditions to those that facilitated the growth of fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930s are also present across Europe today.

Europe today – having spent five hundred years building up a self-aggrandising mythology of itself as the font of civilization and all that is good in the world – is now in the throes of a multi-pronged crisis, at once political, economic, military and ideological. On the political level, the rise of the BRICS countries, and especially China, is threatening the world’s domination by Europe and the European settler states (the US, Australia and Canada), and this threat is increasingly manifest in every global institution – from the IMF to the World Bank and the UN. On the economic level, global capitalism is still in the throes of the crisis whose latest phase began in 2007-8, with the result that long term mass unemployment is now a permanent and growing feature of every European country at the same time as the welfare safety net for the jobless is being ever more viciously slashed away. And whilst the military defeat of Britain and some of its European allies in Afghanistan and Iraq is hardly the same level of trauma as defeat in world war, it is worth noting that the main fascist street movement in Britain today, the English Defence League, has its roots precisely in the rituals around returning soldiers from Afghanistan.

The result is that the masses of Western Europe – who have, since at least 1945, enjoyed a highly privileged position amongst the global working class – are now seeing their economic privileges evaporating, their nations’ power being challenged across the globe, and their armies being forced into unseemly retreats everywhere they venture.

All of this is the inexorable unfolding of global capitalism – whose development compels the whole world to simultaneously adopt its techniques (resulting in national competition and the rise of new global powers), lower its costs, cut its workforce – and thereby also cut the demand that underpins the whole system. This ultimately is what caused the dislocations both in the 1930s and today.

Not to the fascist, though. For the fascist, national decline must be caused by the presence of the enemy within – a ‘foreign body’ infecting the national purity which, if regained, will again restore the nation to its rightfully privileged global status. A scapegoat is essential to fascist ideology.

But this scapegoat has to be very precisely chosen. It must at once symbolize the new powers deemed to be usurping the chosen people’s rightful place in the global hierarchy, but simultaneously be vulnerable enough to be the target of attacks at home. For Hitler, the Jew met both these criteria, representing the powerful external ‘Soviet threat’ (of ‘Jewish Bolshevism’) whilst being a group easy to persecute on home soil. Likewise, the scapegoat must represent the middle class fear of expropriation from both ‘above’ and ‘below’ – once again, for Hitler, the Jew worked perfectly, symbolizing the threat to small businesses represented by big business and banking and by communism – for, in Nazi mythology, the Jew controlled both.

In today’s Europe, the Muslim plays precisely the role played by the Jew in the 1930s. The Muslim fills the ranks of the despised poor in Europe’s inner cities – always on the verge of rebellion and political radicalism, the ‘Jewish Bolshevik’ of his day – but is also the ‘Arab tycoon’ – buying up London, pricing out ordinary folks, and manipulating oil prices. The Muslim is the internal enemy, weakening the national spirit from within, whilst also representing the rising powers abroad.

This is the fascist worldview. The objective conditions for its acceptance are relative national decline; economic crisis, poverty and unemployment; and military defeat. The subjective conditions are hundreds of years of ideological brainwashing that Europe is the font of civilisation, uniquely innovative and progressive, destined to dominate the world and entitled to permanently privileged living standards. Refugees are not responsible for any of these conditions, Mr Timmerman. But you, and your entire political class, have exacerbated all of them.

This article was originally published by Counterpunch

 

  1. b) The extremism of David Cameron 

 

4th July 2015

 

Last week’s attacks by ISIS and Al Qaeda killed almost 300 people across six countries: Syria (145), Somalia (over 50), Tunisia (37), Kuwait (30), China (18), France (1). Another 70 were killed in Egypt earlier this week.

That ISIS are now in a position to launch such coordinated attacks is a direct consequence of the policies pursued by Cameron and his predecessors – in Syria, in Iraq, in Somalia, and most of all in Libya. Unsurprisingly, his article in the Telegraph the following Monday reflected on none of this. Instead he suggested a series of measures that will boost their capacity even further.

Firstly, he said, “we must give our police and security services the tools they need to root out this poison”. This might make sense if the police and security services were genuinely committed to tackling the death squads. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is precisely the security services that have been facilitating the passage of fighters to Syria. Moazzam Begg’s trial for terrorism offences  collapsed spectacularly last year when MI5 admitted they had given him the “green light” for his training of fighters in Syria. The Guardian noted that MI5 had “extensive contacts with him before and after his trips to Syria” during which “he discussed his travel plans and explained he was assisting opposition fighters in their war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime”. MI5 then assured Begg that “no attempt would be made to hinder him if he wanted to return to Syria.” According to Begg, around half a dozen other trials have collapsed since then, and for the same reason – that the fighters had left with the full approval of the security services. That the intelligence services should be playing the role of facilitating British Muslims to fight in Syria is, of course, no surprise, given that it was government policy to support the Syrian insurgency from the very beginning, providing it with diplomatic support, finance, training and military equipment, and downplaying the brutality and sectarianism of the fighters. In November 2012, William Hague, then British Foreign Secretary, met with rebel leader Moaz al-Khatb, an anti-Shia sectarian who has described Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Jabhat al-Nusra, as an important ally in the struggle to destroy the Syrian government. Four days later, the British government officially recognized Khatb’s organization, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, as the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, despite overwhelming hostility to the insurgency across large swathes of Syria.

There is no way that Britain was unaware of Al Qaeda’s leading role in the insurgency they were supporting and arming.  Last month, US courts ordered the declassification of documents issued by the Defence Intelligence Agency – widely distributed within the US at the time and almost certainly shared with the British government – which highlighted the leading role of Al Qaeda in the Syrian insurgency back in August 2012. The documents even predicted the rise of a “Salafist principality” stretching from Syria into Mosul and Ramadi in Iraq – predicting, in other words, not only the formation of ‘Islamic State’, but also the precise extent of its territorial conquests. It also noted that such a principality was “precisely what the supporting powers to the opposition want”. Yet, following this report, British greatly increased its support to the rebels. Since then, the British government have been implicated in the supply of 75 planeloads of heavy weaponry to the insurgents via Croatia, much of which has ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda. Britain later successfully lobbied the EU to end its arms embargo on Syrian rebels, and directly provided millions of pounds worth of military equipment as well as contributing to a joint British-US $30 million programme to train the rebels in public relations. If anyone ever wondered where ISIS

learnt their slick video production techniques, this programme may provide part of the answer.

It should be no surprise, then, that another terrorism trial collapsed last month when Bherlin Gildo’s lawyers pointed out that the groups he was fighting with in Syria were being armed and trained by British intelligence.

But it is not just British intelligence that has been supporting terrorism in Syria. Lawyers for the families of three sisters from Bradford who were suspected of joining ISIS last month claimed that the North-East Counter Terror Unit of the British police were “complicit” in the “grooming and radicalising” of the sisters by “allowing, encouraging and promoting contact with somebody believed to be in Syria”.

All this adds up to nothing less than a scandalous level of collusion between British security and police and the various terror cells in Syria. Quite how giving “increased powers” to these agencies is supposed to help stem the rise of the terror groups they have been supporting, then, is unclear. Indeed, what is more likely is that the security services and police will be able to use their ever more draconian powers as tools of entrapment to aid their recruitment of young British Muslims into the death squads. After all, it is already known that MI5 use existing anti-terror laws to blackmail British Muslims into working for them: the Independent reported back in 2009 that MI5 have been threatening to treat those they approached as ‘terror suspects’ unless they worked for the organization, and it has subsequently been revealed that they had tried to recruit both ‘Jihadi John’ and Michael Adebolajo, one of the killers of Lee Rigby. Giving more power to the police and security will simply make it easier for them to continue with their recruitment of young Muslims as tools of Britain’s foreign policy of destabilizing the independent states of the Arab world.

Cameron’s next concern is with the “ungoverned spaces…in which the terrorist groups thrive”. This requires governments, he argues, to “strengthen weak political institutions and tackle political instability”. Once again, to someone from Mars without the faintest knowledge of Cameron’s actual political record, this might sound quite plausible. But the undisputed, universally known and blindingly obvious reality, is that it is precisely British wars or British-backed insurgencies – every one supported or even led by Cameron – that have created these “ungoverned spaces” – from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria to Libya. So is this admission a sign of humility from the Prime Minister, an admission that his policies of destabilisation have been a disastrous failure which have paved the way for ISIS? Not a bit of it. Rather, he is proposing more of the same, just this January announcing that 400 British troops would be sent to help train another 5000 Syrian insurgents, which even the BBC admits are likely to be “linked to… extremist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front”. Cameron is also pushing for a further bombardment of Libya, under the guise of a ‘war against people smugglers’. Following the model of the ‘war against drugs’ – a militarised approach to the supply of a criminal enterprise for which there is an almost limitless demand – it is likely to have much the same effects: namely, the monopolisation of the trade by the most vicious and well armed groups; the sky-rocketing of the prices and profits of the enterprise; and its widespread geographic dispersal. In other words, the war on ‘people smuggling’ is likely to massively increase the violence, capacity and spread of ISIS and Al Qaeda throughout North Africa. Thoroughly in line with the last decade and a half of British foreign policy, this is a recipe for spreading, not stemming, the “ungoverned spaces…in which terrorism thrives”.

Cameron’s final and “perhaps…most important” proposal is “confronting the poisonous ideology that is driving terrible actions like those we saw on Friday”. One might suspect he is referring to Wahhabism, the viciously sectarian ideology followed by both ISIS and Al Qaeda that considers the Shia – 10% of the world’s Muslim population – to be infidels, and largely blames them for all the woes of the Arab and Muslim world. The sect is named after its eighteenth century founder, Abd al-Wahhab, who wrote that “any doubt or hesitation” by a Muslim over Wahhab’s personal interpretation of Islam should “deprive a man of immunity of his property and his life.” According to Alistair Crooke, al-Wahhab “argued that all Muslims must individually pledge their allegiance to a single Muslim leader (a Caliph, if there were one). Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated, he wrote. The list of apostates meriting death included the Shiite, Sufis and other Muslim denominations, whom Abd al-Wahhab did not consider to be Muslim at all.” In many ways, Wahhabism is the mirror image of European fascism – a supremacist response to military defeat and humiliation, which blames defeat on an internal enemy weakening society from within, which must therefore be purged in order for that society to rebuild its strength. “Confronting” this “poisonous ideology” is indeed an excellent idea.

Once again, however, Cameron’s words are the exact polar opposite of his actions. The world’s biggest sponsor of Wahhabism is Britain’s number Arab ally – the Saudi Arabian state. This state – established between the wars with the help of Winston Churchill – has spent no less than $70 billion promoting Wahhabism worldwide over 25 years, according to a US Congressional Committee. Every conceivable means has been adopted to spread the Wahhabi message of vicious sectarianism to as many Muslims as possible, and from the youngest age possible – from the creation of satellite channels, radio stations and magazines, to the establishment of mosques and madrassas. Is Cameron, then, proposing an end to the alliance with Saudi Arabia? Of course not; indeed, his government has surpassed even its predecessor in the spectacular quantities of weaponry it sends to the Saudis every year, last year reaching 1.75billion. And the Saudis remain honoured VIPs at every exclusive event held by the British royal family, from weddings to birthday parties.

As it turns out, Cameron was not talking about Wahhabism. Indeed, what is notably absent from his definition of extremism is anything relating to hostility to Shias: that is, the actual supremacism that drove not only the suicide bombing in Shia mosque in Kuwait, but is also a major driving force of the entire British-supported insurgency in Syria (the very insurgency which, as it happens, also radicalised the Tunisian gunman). Nor does Cameron mention anything about violent hostility towards black Africans, one of the prime motivations of the rebel movement he brought to power in Libya. His definition of “extremism” is in fact extremely vague: the first indicator of extremism he mentioned, for example, is – I kid you not – saying “that the West is bad”.  Other indicators include saying that “freedom is wrong”, that “women are inferior” or that “homosexuality is evil”, particularly ironic given that these last two criteria would probably apply to half of his own backbenchers. Indeed, this vagueness is precisely the point; by keeping the definitions vague enough, it gives the government blanket authority to act against almost anyone they choose; after all who has not criticised at least some aspect of ‘the West’ at some point? And only anarchists believe in total, unrestricted freedom. The other 99% of the country, then, do indeed believe that at least in some cases, that “freedom is wrong”. This sloppy definition, then, is nothing less than a

black cheque for cracking down on dissidents. And what happens once the Home Office labels you an extremist? Here are some of the things that have been proposed:

The ‘blacklisting’ of extremists by the Home Office – meaning they will be banned from publishing, broadcasting or speaking at Universities.

‘Extremist disruption orders’ to restrict the movement of ‘extremists’

Powers to close down premises used to host extremist meetings (likely to intimidate venues into shying away from hosting political meetings at all)

TV programmes to be “vetted for extremist content” before they are broadcast

Local authorities, prisons, NHS trusts, schools, universities and further education institutions to be placed under a new statutory duty to prevent extremist radicalisation taking place within their walls.

Universities to give the government “sufficient notice of booking [of external speakers] (generally at least 14 days) to allow for checks to be made and cancellation to take place if necessary”, including the submission of any talks to be given and any presentations to be shown.

A ‘snoopers charter’ to allow the government blanket access to all online activity of the entire population.

This raft of measures to use against extremists, then, could potentially be used against anyone; it is a blatant attempt by the government to use public revulsion at the very terrorism it itself has sponsored, to ram through measures giving it unprecedented power to repress views it does not want to be aired. At the same time, it will give that much more leverage to the very security agencies recruiting vulnerable Muslims to the Syrian insurgency. A greater cynicism would be hard to imagine.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. c) Cameron’s European demands: impunity plus apartheid 

 

15th November 2015 

 

David Cameron has long claimed that the EU needs “fundamental reform”, and has been promising for months that his negotiation strategy will deliver exactly that. But when this strategy was finally unveiled this week, in the form of a letter to EU President Donald Tusk, most of it in fact amounted to a demand that things stay exactly as they are.

The first part insisted that the Eurozone countries should not do anything that adversely affects other EU members. According to the BBC, the aim here is “To prevent eurozone countries ganging up on Britain to discriminate against the City of London – and protect its status as Europe’s leading financial centre”. Cameron, that is, wants both to prevent the emergence of any rival financial centre, and to prevent any of those affected by London’s financial chicanery from influencing its operations. Britain, or rather the City of London, plays a leading role in the world’s currency markets, and wants to keep it that way – especially when the EU keep threatening such things as a ‘Tobin tax’ (a tax of 0.01% on currency transactions – considered by the British government to be a hideous assault on the sacrosanct principle of free trade in other people’s means of exchange). The BBC, as so often, has the matter on its head – it is not that the poor old City billionaires are victims of “ganging up” by EU bullies intent on “discriminating” against them; but rather that the British government seek to enshrine a means by which they can block any attempts by the Eurozone to break away from London’s stranglehold. Given the part played by the City in creating the Greek crisis (amongst others), the demand that Britain is exempt from any attempts to limit its destructive role amounts to an insistence that its existing financial impunity becomes permanent and guaranteed.

The second point in Cameron’s letter – on the need to enshrine ‘competitiveness’ within the EU – is another demand for more of the same: after all, the EU has been on a distinctly neoliberal trajectory anyway for at least two decades. The only potential obstacle to its continuation is the possibility of anti-neoliberal movements coming to power and seeking to reverse decades of privatization, deregulation and crippling of public services. In this sense, what Cameron hopes to do is ensure that the EU Constitution itself bars such a reversal – meaning that the taking of railways or energy companies back into public ownership, for example, would become illegal, not only under EU directives (which it already is), but under the very Constitution of the Union. The aim is nothing less than to render the EU permanently immune to democratic pressure to follow any course that differs from the destructive one it is currently on; for all his talk of ‘reclaiming sovereignty’, such a measure would effectively abolish sovereignty forever.

It is ironic, then, that Cameron’s third point is supposedly a demand for the restoration of sovereignty. And it is unsurprising that the demand is purely symbolic and utterly meaningless: an insistence that Britain be ‘exempted’ from the EU’s commitment to “ever closer union”.

This only leaves the fourth issue raised by Cameron: immigration. Specifically, he wants to ban migrants from receiving in-work benefits for the first four years they are in the country. Being as migrants don’t generally come to the UK for benefits but for work, this would have no discernible effect on the numbers coming into the country. Nor would it particularly save much money, given that the money involved is so small anyway (and will be even smaller following the cuts Osborne is planning). So, on the face of it, this demand would produce as little actual change as the others.

But this would be to underestimate both the significance of the precedent that would be set, and the ideological power of making the demand itself.

Ideologically, the demand to cut migrant benefits is an insidious means of searing onto the popular

consciousness a link between migration, economic crisis and the erosion of public services. Needless to say, this link doesn’t exist in reality – endless studies have demonstrated the positive net gain to public finances generated by immigration.  But the holding of the referendum itself has ensured that ‘public’ (read – elite media-controlled) debate will be dominated by ‘immigration’, not austerity, for the next two years; and this latest demand is a crude means of trying to ensure that it is migrants, rather than Cameron’s austerity policies, who end up getting the blame for collapsing public services. This demand too, then, is an attempt to gain impunity, in this case the impunity to attack public services without being held to account.

Meanwhile, were the EU actually to allow Britain to start introducing discriminatory measures against EU migrants – contradicting the fundamental principles of the Union itself – there is no reason to think that stopping benefits would be the end of the matter. Nigel Farage pointed the way forward in a BBC interview this week, when he argued that it was not migrant benefits that were the “real problem”, but rather the “thousands of migrants putting pressure on our health and education services”. Could we, further down the line, – following the next financial collapse, bankers’ bailout and subsequent slashing of public spending to pay for it, for example – see EU migrants excluded from these services as well? Perhaps they could be exempted from worker’s rights, such as the minimum wage, too, to stop these so-called ‘pull factors’ attracting migrants to Britain?

Were the EU to cave in on this point, it would, therefore, set a very dangerous precedent, paving the way for a two-tier, apartheid-style, migrant labour economy. Ironically, far from deterring immigration, this would in fact create a massive incentive for employers to hire migrants they could discriminate against rather than locals whose rights would have to be respected.

Cameron’s demands, then, are nothing to do with sovereignty, saving money or even reducing immigration. They are about granting permanent immunity to the City billionaires he represents – immunity from popular sovereignty, from regulation, and – by diverting anger towards the immigrant – from public outrage against their policies. Cameron claims that his demands boil down to one thing – flexibility. In fact, what they boil down to is the only ‘British value’ Cameron really holds dear – impunity.  

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. d) Cameron is sowing the seeds of fascism 

 

6th February 2016 

 

David Cameron has long claimed that the EU needs “fundamental reform”, and has been promising for months that his negotiation strategy will deliver exactly that. But when this strategy was finally unveiled this week, in the form of a letter to EU President Donald Tusk, most of it in fact amounted to a demand that things stay exactly as they are.

The first part insisted that the Eurozone countries should not do anything that adversely affects other EU members. According to the BBC, the aim here is “To prevent eurozone countries ganging up on Britain to discriminate against the City of London – and protect its status as Europe’s leading financial centre”. Cameron, that is, wants both to prevent the emergence of any rival financial centre, and to prevent any of those affected by London’s financial chicanery from influencing its operations. Britain, or rather the City of London, plays a leading role in the world’s currency markets, and wants to keep it that way – especially when the EU keep threatening such things as a ‘Tobin tax’ (a tax of 0.01% on currency transactions – considered by the British government to be a hideous assault on the sacrosanct principle of free trade in other people’s means of exchange). The BBC, as so often, has the matter on its head – it is not that the poor old City billionaires are victims of “ganging up” by EU bullies intent on “discriminating” against them; but rather that the British government seek to enshrine a means by which they can block any attempts by the Eurozone to break away from London’s stranglehold. Given the part played by the City in creating the Greek crisis (amongst others), the demand that Britain is exempt from any attempts to limit its destructive role amounts to an insistence that its existing financial impunity becomes permanent and guaranteed.

The second point in Cameron’s letter – on the need to enshrine ‘competitiveness’ within the EU – is another demand for more of the same: after all, the EU has been on a distinctly neoliberal trajectory anyway for at least two decades. The only potential obstacle to its continuation is the possibility of anti-neoliberal movements coming to power and seeking to reverse decades of privatization, deregulation and crippling of public services. In this sense, what Cameron hopes to do is ensure that the EU Constitution itself bars such a reversal – meaning that the taking of railways or energy companies back into public ownership, for example, would become illegal, not only under EU directives (which it already is), but under the very Constitution of the Union. The aim is nothing less than to render the EU permanently immune to democratic pressure to follow any course that differs from the destructive one it is currently on; for all his talk of ‘reclaiming sovereignty’, such a measure would effectively abolish sovereignty forever.

It is ironic, then, that Cameron’s third point is supposedly a demand for the restoration of sovereignty. And it is unsurprising that the demand is purely symbolic and utterly meaningless: an insistence that Britain be ‘exempted’ from the EU’s commitment to “ever closer union”.

This only leaves the fourth issue raised by Cameron: immigration. Specifically, he wants to ban migrants from receiving in-work benefits for the first four years they are in the country. Being as migrants don’t generally come to the UK for benefits but for work, this would have no discernible effect on the numbers coming into the country. Nor would it particularly save much money, given that the money involved is so small anyway (and will be even smaller following the cuts Osborne is planning). So, on the face of it, this demand would produce as little actual change as the others.

But this would be to underestimate both the significance of the precedent that would be set, and the ideological power of making the demand itself.

Ideologically, the demand to cut migrant benefits is an insidious means of searing onto the popular

consciousness a link between migration, economic crisis and the erosion of public services. Needless to say, this link doesn’t exist in reality – endless studies have demonstrated the positive net gain to public finances generated by immigration.  But the holding of the referendum itself has ensured that ‘public’ (read – elite media-controlled) debate will be dominated by ‘immigration’, not austerity, for the next two years; and this latest demand is a crude means of trying to ensure that it is migrants, rather than Cameron’s austerity policies, who end up getting the blame for collapsing public services. This demand too, then, is an attempt to gain impunity, in this case the impunity to attack public services without being held to account.

Meanwhile, were the EU actually to allow Britain to start introducing discriminatory measures against EU migrants – contradicting the fundamental principles of the Union itself – there is no reason to think that stopping benefits would be the end of the matter. Nigel Farage pointed the way forward in a BBC interview this week, when he argued that it was not migrant benefits that were the “real problem”, but rather the “thousands of migrants putting pressure on our health and education services”. Could we, further down the line, – following the next financial collapse, bankers’ bailout and subsequent slashing of public spending to pay for it, for example – see EU migrants excluded from these services as well? Perhaps they could be exempted from worker’s rights, such as the minimum wage, too, to stop these so-called ‘pull factors’ attracting migrants to Britain?

Were the EU to cave in on this point, it would, therefore, set a very dangerous precedent, paving the way for a two-tier, apartheid-style, migrant labour economy. Ironically, far from deterring immigration, this would in fact create a massive incentive for employers to hire migrants they could discriminate against rather than locals whose rights would have to be respected.

Cameron’s demands, then, are nothing to do with sovereignty, saving money or even reducing immigration. They are about granting permanent immunity to the City billionaires he represents – immunity from popular sovereignty, from regulation, and – by diverting anger towards the immigrant – from public outrage against their policies. Cameron claims that his demands boil down to one thing – flexibility. In fact, what they boil down to is the only ‘British value’ Cameron really holds dear – impunity.  

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. e) The far right are no threat to the establishment 

 

16th April 2016 

 

The European ruling class and its media love to present the far right as a threat to the established order. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The far right are on the rise in Europe. In the British general election last year, UKIP beat the Liberal Democrats into fourth place in terms of vote share, whilst in the elections to the German Lander earlier this year, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) came second in Saxony, achieving 25% of the vote. The rise of the Front National in France also seems unassailable, with the party coming first in regional elections last year, having achieved their big breakthrough back in 2002 when Jean Marie Le Pen made it to the run-off in the Presidential elections. Hostility to immigration and to Islam are the common themes.

But, much as the mainstream parties like to portray such groups as ‘beyond the pale’, outside the boundaries of respectable political discourse, the truth is the reverse – that is, it is precisely the mainstream parties themselves that are providing respectability to the discourses pursued by the far right.

Let me give some examples. In January of this year, the AfD leader Frauke Petry caused a stir when she suggested that refugees should be shot at the German borders – a position also voiced by AfD MEP Beatrix von Storch. But who is it that not only advocates, but also actually implements, a policy of drowning refugees before they even arrive in Europe? None other than the ‘respectable’ British Prime Minister David Cameron. It was Cameron’s government that successfully lobbied for an end to Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, which rescued an estimated 150,000 refugees during the time it was operational (October 2013 – October 2014), arguing that they should instead be left to drown so as to send a message to anyone else attempting to flee his glorious new democratic Libya. And drowning they have been. Since the end of Mare Nostrum and its replacement by Operation Triton – with a third of the budget, and a remit extending only 12 miles from the Italian coast – refugees have been drowning in the Med at a rate of over 1000 every four months, up from 10 per month whilst Mare Nostrum was operating. So suck on that Petry. The AfD are going to have to do a lot of shooting to come anywhere close to Cameron’s murder rate.

Likewise, who is it that has effectively torn up the 1951 Refugee Convention in order to forcibly return Syrian refugees to Turkey, a country which already does shoot refugees at the border? Not Le Pen, Farage or Petry – but the supposed ‘refugee-lover’ Angela Merkel. Everywhere you look, it is mainstream European governments themselves which are rolling out the very fascisation of which they accuse the far right.

In this sense, the far right perform a very useful role for these governments – as a bogeyman to whom they can claim to be ‘moderate’ in comparison. And, at the same time, the rise of the far right justifies their own reactionary policies – ‘if we do not clamp down on immigrants/ welfare recipients/ Muslims etc – then we will lose votes to the fascists!’. What a convenient excuse for vicious policies. But the far right also play a more fundamental role for the liberal establishment – diverting public anger away from the wealthy, the bankers, and indeed the socio-economic system itself, which produces and reproduces ever growing unemployment and inequality – and towards the most readily available scapegoat: the refugee.

No wonder, then, that it has been the Western European ruling class and its media that so vilifies the far right that has done so much to facilitate their rise. In the first place, it has given them false credibility by always giving them a ‘badboy’ image when reporting on them, promoting the myth that such groups are ‘anti-establishment’. Just as ISIS are effectively given free advertising by Western media – which dutifully reproduces all their propaganda, publicises their foreign fighters, and constantly projects a false image of them as being ‘anti-Western’ (when in fact they are the vanguard of Western-sponsored regime change) – so too with the far right. Both gain recruits every time the ‘establishment’ pretends to be against them, as both rely on a false image of being anti- establishment: and the establishment know this!

The truth is, capitalism employs a division of labour between its liberal governments and its far right ‘opponents’. The liberals’ job is to actually wage the wars, cut the services, and channel the wealth upwards. The far right’s job is to shoehorn all the social frustration and anger this generates away from the underlying economic system and those who control it, and towards whatever scapegoat is most readily available (the Muslim immigrant in the contemporary case). But the whole charade relies on the promotion of the far right as a ‘genuine threat’ to the established order. Because the reality is, they are part and parcel of it.

In 2006, for example, it was Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw who went on the offensive over Muslim women wearing the veil. He aimed, he claimed, to “start a debate”. This he did: in the words of Gary Younge, “Muslim women passed, in the public imagination, from being actually among the group most likely to be racially attacked to ostensibly being a primary cause of social strife”.

This article was originally published on RT 

 

  1. f) The Brexit referendum: a historic moment in Europe’s slide to fascism 

 

26th June 2016 

 

This is indeed a ‘historic moment’, and will be seen as a key date in future histories of Europe’s current descent into open fascism. The Brexit movement was driven, first and foremost, by hostility to foreigners (immigrants), supplemented on occasion by some pseudo-leftist rhetoric, with an overall narrative framework emphasizing the decline of national supremacy and the need to reverse this. The three main elements, that is, constituent of fascism.

 

Some of my leftist friends tell me this kind of characterization of Brexit doesn’t help, that it puts the backs up of sections of the white working class. But the requirements of political activism cannot be made secondary to intellectual honesty; and any strategy lacking an honest assessment of the real situation is doomed to failure anyhow, however nicely we put things.

 

This proto-fascist movement, then, as I shall continue to call it, will provide – and clearly, judging by their elated statements, has already provided – a major boost to all the far right and proto-fascist forces on the continent. As these forces are empowered ‘on the streets’ this will, obviously, increase the physical threat already faced by immigrants and refugees across the continent. At the same time, it will push European governments, and the EU itself, in the direction of ever more hostile policies towards immigrants and refugees, to show they have ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’ the ‘message’ of the Brexit vote. This trajectory already exists within the EU, as evident in the rapid turnaround, under far right pressure, from the initial, fairly humane, principle proposed by the EU in response to the Syrian refugee crisis two years ago – to disperse refugees across the continent according to a quota based on the wealth and population of host countries – to the policy of allowing refugees to drown, sinking their boats, or sending them back to Turkey. All these tendencies will now be greatly strengthened.

 

On an ideological level, Brexit has deepened, legitimized and popularized the scapegoating of immigrants for the economic consequences of neoliberal capitalism. Poverty, low wages, unemployment, and declining public services are all now associated, in the public mind, with immigration. This ideological work, of course, did not begin with Brexit, but has been greatly boosted and developed by it. By drawing attention away from failures of government policy and the economic system – cuts to public services, housing and wage markets heavily skewed in favour of powerful investors, anti-union laws, failed and costly privatisations, and the unemployment-inducing impact of technology under capitalism, for example – it actually allows the further, unimpeded, development of the neoliberal agenda. And whilst Jeremy Corbyn made a valiant effort at refocusing attention on such policies every time he discussed the issue, this narrative was completely overwhelmed by the deluge of anti-immigrant analysis coming from every other quarter, the Remain camp included. Intriguingly, he is now being hounded from within his own party for being ‘too timid’ in his campaigning: code for not lining up strongly enough with the anti-immigration agenda in order to ‘show the grassroots he is listening’. Unfortunately, centuries of colonial supremacist brainwashing has taken its toll on the collective psyche of this nation, and that worldview continues to be backed up by material privileges accruing to the British section of the global working class. Indeed, it is precisely the defence of declining privileges which is the guiding principle of fascism (as opposed to socialism, which advocates liberation of the entire proletariat, rather than the privileges of one section of it).  

 

We are told this vote is the democratic will of the people. Yet, my understanding of democracy is that those affected by political decisions are able to exert some influence over those decisions. In this case, millions of those affected – indeed, the most affected, the immigrants themselves (British taxpayers, no less) – were barred from voting. By the by, their combined vote would certainly have tipped the vote the  

other way, by quite a margin.

 

We often hear the refrain that this was a ‘blow to the establishment’. The truth is, there was a split in the establishment – a civil war in the Tory party, between the centre right and the far right. The far right wing of the establishment (led by a banker and two Etonian Cabinet members no less) won by mobilising latent anti-immigrant sentiment, peppered with the occasional pseudo-left policy gimmick; as I said, straight out of the textbook definition of fascism.

 

None of this, please note, is a defence of the EU. Most of the ‘leftist’ arguments I have heard against the EU (ie, apart from the anti-immigrant ones) have been essentially correct. It is neoliberal, it is militarist, it is, yes, even fascist, at least in elements of its foreign policy (drowning refugees, supporting supremacist death squads in Libya and Ukraine). But this trajectory will not be reversed by Brexit, either within the EU, or within Britain. Brexit is a part of the same movement: capitalist crisis driving a section of the establishment towards outright fascism, mobilizing the alienated masses in the process. Just as the British hand is now freed up to crack down on immigrants, rip up (what remains of) workers rights and environmental standards, avoid banking regulations, arm proxies without worrying about EU arms embargoes, etc – so too will other member states be given similar freedoms in order to bribe them to stay within the EU. And the argument that the EU itself will be weakened also seems to miss the point. The EU is merely the co-ordinated actions of its members. There is no reason to think that, even if it collapses entirely, its constituent elements will be any less destructive. Historically, there is no basis for the belief that fascism is any less warlike than ‘ordinary’ imperialism.

 

Of course, this referendum was rigged. A meaningful choice would have between three broad suggestions: no change; a shift to the right; or shift to the left. Obviously this one only included the first two. And who ever wants to vote for the status quo? Certainly not those who have been battered by an increasingly vicious economic system implemented by an equally vicious political class. The British working class have been neglected, mocked, or demonized for years whilst their jobs have disappeared, their wages stagnated and their public services been axed. The tragedy is that this anger has been channeled towards the movement it has.

 

The most compelling argument I have heard in favour of Brexit – the only potential silver lining, really – is that, by providing new grounds for Scottish independence, it may lead to the break-up of the UK. Such a turn of events would certainly be welcome. But it is far from inevitable. If Scots did not vote for independence in the middle of an oil price boom, it is unlikely they will see independence as economically viable now prices are barely a third of what they were then. And a new far right Brexit government is likely to put the boot in even harder than last time to prevent such an outcome.

 

It is time for socialists to give up on the illusion that a genuinely internationalist socialist movement can ever take power in the West under anything like the current conditions. It is this illusion that leads them up such disastrous blind alleys as supporting far right takeovers ‘just in case’ a socialist government one day inexplicably comes about and uses that newly found ‘sovereignty’ for something other than hounding foreigners. Rather, we need to organize a genuinely internationalist socialist movement that is realistic about what it can and can’t achieve, and provides whatever it can in the way of ideological resistance and practical solidarity to those under attack – from either ‘wing’ of the ruling class.

 

  1. g)  So this is how the US revolution will unfold 

 

12th November 2016 

 

In late 2012, Peter Turchin, a professor at the University of Connecticut made a startling claim. Based on an analysis of revolutionary upheavals across history, he found that there were 3 social conditions in place shortly before all major outbreaks of social violence: an increase in the elite population; a decrease in the living standards of the masses; and huge levels of government indebtedness. The statistical model his team developed suggested that, on this basis, a major wave of social upheaval and revolutionary violence is set to take place in the US in 2020. His model had no way to predict who would lead the charge; but this week’s election gives an indication of how it is likely to unfold. 

 

Let’s take the first condition, which Turchin calls “elite overproduction”, defined as “an increased number of aspirants for the limited supply of elite positions”. The US has clearly been heading in this direction for some time, with the number of billionairres increasing more than tenfold from 1987 (41 billionairres) to 2012 (425 billionairres). But the ruling class split between, for example, industrialists and financiers, has apparently reached fever pitch with Trump vs Clinton. As Turchin explains, “increased intra-elite competition leads to the formation of rival patronage networks vying for state rewards. As a result, elites become riven by increasing rivalry and factionalism.” Indeed, based on analysis of thousands of incidents of civil violence across world history, Turchin concluded that “the most reliable predictor of state

collapse and high political instability was elite overproduction”. 

 

The second condition, popular immiseration, is also well advanced. 46 million US citizens live in poverty (defined as receiving an income less than is required to cover their basic needs), whilst over 12 million US households are now considered food insecure. Whilst this figure has been coming down consistently since 2011 (when it reached over 15 million), it remains above its pre-recession (per-2007) levels. Trump’s policies are likely to sharply reverse this decrease. Trump’s second promise in his ‘contract with voters’ is a “hiring freeze on all federal employees”, amounting to a new onslaught on public sector jobs. This is in addition to what seems to be a promise to end the direct funding of state education (to, in his words, “redirect education dollars to…parents”), and to end all federal funding to so-called ‘sanctuary cities’, that is cities which do not order the state harassment of immigrants or force employers to reveal the nationalities of their workers. These cities are some of the most populated in the country, including NYC, LA, Dallas, Minneapolis and over two dozen others. 

 

In concert with his avowed intention to lower taxes on the wealthy, including slashing business tax from 35 to 15%; to smash hard fought workers’ rights (under the mantra of ‘deregulation’); and to scrap what little access to healthcare was made available to the poor throgh Obamacare – not to mention his threat to start a trade war with China – poverty looks set to skyrocket. It is not hard to see how social unrest will follow. 

 

As for the third condition – government indebtedness – it is hard to see how the massive tax breaks Trump has proposed can lead to anything else. 

 

Turchin writes that “As all these trends

intensify, the end result is state fiscal crisis and bankruptcy and consequent loss of the

military control; elite movements of regional and national rebellion; and a combination of

elite-mobilized and popular uprisings that manifest the breakdown of central authority.”

 

But Trump is also preparing for that. Exempt from his public spending cuts, of course, are police and military budgets, both of which he promises to increase. And when questioned on the issue of police brutality last year, Trump said he wanted to see the police be given more powers. In other words, the tacit impunity which currently exists for police violence looks set to be legalised.  And history shows that there is nothing like police impunity to spark a riot. 

 

Meanwhile, as his policies fail to deliver the land of milk and honey he has promised, the demonisation of scapegoats will continue. Having already vowed to round up and deport two million immigrants, and to ban Muslims from entering the US, it is already clear who these scapegoats will be. However, as well as migrants, popular anger will also be directed towards whatever namby-pamby liberals have blocked him from waging his promised war against them: be it Congressmen, judges, trade unions, pressure groups, or whoever. A combination of increased executive powers plus the use of his newly mobilised mass constituency will be directed towards purging these ‘enemies within’. 

 

“My model suggests that the next [peak in violence] will be worse than the one in 1970” says Turhcin, “because demographic variables such as wages, standards of living and a number of measures of intra-elite confrontation are all much worse this time”. All that remains to be seen is – who will win. 

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. h) Theresa May’s manifesto: a promise, a u-turn, and the grimmest of dead cats

 

27th May 2017 

 

What a week for the Tories: a promise, a U-turn and the grimmest of deadcats.

 

So the British Conservatives finally published their much anticipated election manifesto last week. Unlike the Labour manifesto, people had not already seen its contents; indeed, there were no chances of it being leaked in advance, as practically no one aside from May herself had seen the damn thing. Even her Cabinet ministers were apparently a little shocked at some of its contents, which had been largely dreamed up by May and Nick Timothy, her own little Rasputin, who, it seems, never communicates with anyone other than to bark May’s orders at them. No chance of a leak from him, then.

 

Following her theft of the ‘strong and stable’ slogan from Mein Kampf, she gave her manifesto the suitably Mussolini-esque title of “Forward, together!” All that was missing was an accompanying picture of a valiant Aryan soldier, chest puffed out, hands on the drone control unit, ready for the next crusade. The strange thing is, though, the Tories would much rather not have a manifesto at all: or at at least, just a two line version reading “it’s your patriotic duty to vote Tory. Now fuck off and leave us alone”.

 

The Tories’ clear aim is a repeat of 1931. Held in the wake of a run on the pound and the near collapse of the banking system, this was the last time any party received a majority of votes in a general election, and it delivered 470 seats to the Tories. Labour were left with 52 (down from 287). One of the major factors behind this victory was a Labour party bitterly divided between its leadership and the vast majority of its MPs. In a mirror reversal of today’s situation, Ramsey MacDonald – Prime Minister of a minority Labour administration elected in 1929 – had invited the Tories into government to implement a brutal austerity budget of wage and benefit cuts opposed by most of his own party. This was the most gratuitous self-destruction of the Labour party at the hands of its own right wing until – well until this June 8th I imagine.

 

The Tories, of course, massively capitalised on this disarray: their 1931 manifesto (comprised of a few skimpy paragraphs) wrote that: “to complete this work [of dealing with the economic emergency] it is imperative that the Government should have a national mandate giving it freedom to use whatever means may be found necessary after careful examination to effect the end in view. It is necessary that in place of a small Parliamentary majority we should have a stable Government with a large majority backed by the resolution of a great majority of the electors. The country must show in no uncertain matter that it will have nothing to do with a party whose programme could only convert a situation grave already into one of chaos andcatastrophe.” The Tories would provide a “stable government”, which Labour would threaten with its “chaos”; therefore it is in the national interest that the Tories get the biggest majority possible. Sound familiar?

 

The Tories were demanding from the electorate what became known as a ‘doctor’s mandate’: a mandate, that is, not to implement any specific policies declared in advance, but rather to do whatever they ‘diagnosed’ as being necessary; that is to say, precisely the blank cheque that Theresa May is now demanding. The electors gave the Tories what they wanted; and the result was mass unemployment, a viciously cruel ‘means test’ for benefit recipients, and total devastation of working class communities; not to mention support for growing fascism on the continent, including secret support for

 

Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, the appeasement of Hitler, a blockade of the Spanish republic and mass City financing of the Nazi government.

 

Clearly, the Tories don’t really want to give too much away about what’s coming next this time around. In fact, they would much rather just focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s peacenikery, his suits, and his outrageous sympathy for oppressed Irishcatholics.

 

After all, this strategy had worked wonders for the Tories in 2015. Then, the claim was that a Labour victory could, horror of horrors, lead to the democratic representatives of the Scottish people actually having some influence in government. Worse: the Tories claimed, with zero evidence, that Miliband was not sufficiently committed to Britain’s weapons of mass destruction programme. And besides, on a personal level he was a rotter. Michael Fallon helpfully brought together all three strands of this story in his comment that “Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister.” What he meant was that Miliband could offer to scrap Trident in order to lure the SNP (who have a longstanding policy of opposition to nuclear weapons) into a coalition.

 

Total fantasy, of course, but the English went nuts for it; the Conservatives, against all expectations, won 60% of all English seats.

 

Replace the Scottish for the Irish, and ‘Miliband the rotter’ for ‘Corbyn the loser’ and the exact same strategy is in place today; no surprise, as the Tory campaign is being managed by the same Mr Lynton Crosby who masterminded the 2015 victory. And there is no reason to suspect it won’t work again.

 

It is a simple formula, but an effective one: collective attacks on one of the UK’s minority nationalities (I guess it will be Wales’ turn in 2020) combined with personal attacks on the leader; but most importantly, all underpinned with the central message: WE ARE A FUCKING EMPIRE, the rest of the world had better not forget it, and these Labour losers must not be given a chance to fuck it all up. None of this requires a manifesto, simply a series of attacks on the opposition and a few dogwhistles to English chauvanism.

 

So why did they bother with a manifesto at all? The simple answer is the House of Lords. Incredibly, it was the Lords, more than anyone else, who managed to put some kind of spanner in the works of the Tories’ ‘austerity’ drive. In October 2015, they defeated then-Treasurer George Osborne’s bill to slash £4.4billion from tax credits – benefits paid to workers on low incomes. According to the Salisbury convention – one of the archaic unwritten rules which make up Britain’s non-constitution – the Lords should not block legislation arising from the government’s manifesto commitments. But this particular policy had not appeared in the manifesto, and so the Lords had the right to throw it out.

 

Theresa May wants to make damn sure this does not happen again. Whilst she would love a ‘blank cheque’ to do whatever she wants, regardless of whether or not it breaks a manifesto promise, the only way she can be sure to quieten Lords opposition is to spell out her intentions in the manifesto. That way, under the rules of the ‘Salisbury convention’, they will have to let it pass. Hence her inclusion of a social care policy –

 

promising to end to state-provided social care for the elderly for nine-tenths of homeowners. Just the sort of the thing that would normally give the Lords a fit.

 

The policy is only in part about saving money for the state. More importantly, it reflects the desperate need to create markets in an economic situation in which the mega-rich are flush with unprecedented piles of cash, but have nowhere to invest it. No one is investing in actual productive industry anymore, as markets are already glutted and we are in the midst of a severe overproduction crisis. Yet companies have more money to invest than ever before. UK Corporate profits in the United Kingdom reached an all-time high at the end of last year, with over £105billion registered in the last quarter of 2016 alone. The situation is the same in the US, where just one company, Apple, now has $250billion of cash in its reserves. As Vox recently pointed out, the company “would have to launch about 25 iPhone-sized projects every month just to avoid having its cash pile continue to grow.” – that is to say, without even denting this massive hoard of wealth. https://www.vox.com/new-money/2017/5/2/15500842/apple-250-billion-cash

 

Poor old western corporations, eh? Record hoards of cash and nowhere to invest it. And kids in South Sudan think they’ve got problems.

 

May’s social care plans, along with all her other austerity measures and privatisations are mainly aimed at addressing this problem, the only problem with which they are genuinely concerned. Where the state steps back, private companies will step in to provide the service – at inflated prices and reduced quality, if previous experiences of privatisation are anything to go by. But the point, the purpose, is that it creates investment opportunities for billionaires seeking to make more profits from their cash.

 

So far, so good. Or at least it was until Theresa May learnt that, surprise surprise, this ingenious measure did not go down well with the major part of her support base – the actual pensioners themselves now expected to foot the bill for this massive withdrawal of the state’s responsibilities. Indeed, this so-called ‘dementia tax’ (as it would particularly penalise those with long term care needs such as dementia) was all the papers could talk about last weekend. So, on Sunday night, she did as all poll-hungry politicians do in such circumstances, and did a U-turn, promising now to ‘cap’ the levels of funding which individuals would have to stump up themselves. But all that did was guarantee the negative headlines continued, not only attacking the policy itself, but now also the U-turn, demonstrating, in the words of one commentator, that May was now looking, not so much “strong and stable” as “weak and wobbly”. The entire thrust of May’s campaign was being undermined, as papers competed to run lists of May’s other U-turns, and Andrew Neil gave her a bruising interview, noting that “this must be the first time that a party has broken a manifesto policybefore the election”. The story of ‘shaky May’, her indecisiveness and incompetence completely dominated Monday and Tuesday’s headlines and news bulletins.

 

Of course, no one is talking about that now. Indeed, the story may as well have been from last century rather than earlier this week.

 

You see, another of Crosby’s signature electoral techniques is what he calls the ‘dead cat‘ manoeuvre. Boris Johnson, who employed Crosby for his two mayoral election

 

campaigns, described it like this: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead caton the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend [Crosby], is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s adead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about thedead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.” This was precisely the impact of Michael Fallon’s statement about Ed Miliband back in 2015; up to that moment, Labour’s poll ratings had been improving, and media coverage was focused on Miliband’s pledge to crack down on tax avoidance. Fallon’s comment was so wilfully provocative that it ensured that, from then on, his allegations would dominate the agenda, and the tax issue was effectively buried and forgotten.

 

It looks like ISIS have just handed the Conservatives the most disgusting ‘dead cat‘ imaginable. Repayment, perhaps, for services rendered to their campaign against independent secular governments in the Middle East.

 

This article was originally published by RT 

 

  1. i) Theresa May’s war on the internet

 

17th June 2017 

 

Last night, barely covered in the British media, Theresa May was in France for a joint press conference with the new French President Emmanuel Macron. As far as I could tell, it was only Al Jazeera that broadcast it live in Britain, and the only time it was mentioned during BBC radio 4’s flagship news show, the Today programme, this morning was during the 5-minute religious slot Thought for the Day. It was not covered in the news section at all. 

 

But this should be major, major news. This was Theresa May’s first policy announcement since last week’s election. And it wasn’t on Brexit, the reason she supposedly called the election. It wasn’t on austerity, which she apparently told her own MPs two days ago, in a private session, was over. No, her first major public policy announcement was – the end of internet freedom.  

 

 Specifically, what was announced was that both countries would be introducing heavy fines for internet companies that failed to remove what they, very loosely, defined as ‘extremist content’. 

 

Now, taken at face value, this might seem to be referring to ISIS recruitment videos, or online suicide bombing training videos or whatever. But the direct encouragement of violence is already illegal. So what exactly is being proposed? Who exactly will be targeted?

 

It was former PM David Cameron who originally came up with the idea that ‘nonviolent extremism‘ should be criminalised, alongside violent extremism. Intriguingly, as an example of what he meant, he included the idea that the “west is bad”, as well as elsewhere arguing that the promotion of “wild conspiracy theories” would also qualify.

 

Well, the collusion between, for example, British intelligence and Al Qaeda might sound like a wild conspiracy theory. But, in the context of Britain and Al Qaeda’s shared enemies in the form of Gaddafi and Assad, this collusion did actually take place. MI5 was facilitating the passage of fighters betweem Britain, Syria and Libya, the SAS were training them, and MI6 was equipping them. Indeed, this collusion is not even secret: as late as 2016 the British government openly pledged to send further British troops to Syria to train rebel groups which even the BBC admitted were likely to be allied to Al Qaeda. 

 

So is the publication of this information going to be barred now as extremist? Will youtube and facebook and goodle and twitter pull these revelations in fear of getting fined for promoting the ‘wild conspiracy theories’ that, according to Cameron, qualify as extremism? 

 

It is clear why the British state is so keen to clampdown on the internet once this kind of information starts going viral. But the election just gone have raised the stakes even further, demonstrating that, if the government does not reassert its authority over the internet, it may well have lost control of the political narrative for good. Let’s review what’s just happened:

 

A month ago, almost everybody was predicting a wipeout for the Labour party, a repeat of the disastrous 1983 election, in which Margaret Thatcher really did win the landlside Theresa May had been predicted. Oh how times have changed.

 

Back in 1983, pretty much everyone got their political information from either the newspapers or the BBC. In other words, between them, the big press barons – about 4 or 5 of them – and the British state had total monopoly control of political information. 

This meant that they when they portrayed Labour leader Michael Foot as a bumbling 

Oaf, that became the abiding image of him. A tiny handful of millionairre tories effectively had total control over the public image of every politician in the land.

 

 This time around, it’s a different story. The newspapers and the TV threw everything they could at Corbyn – he’s a terror-supporting, magic money tree-mongering, Brexit-frustrating remainiac – but people weren’t buying. And why weren’t they buying? Because they’re not reading the newspapers, and they’re not watching terrestrial TV. This time around, people, young people in particularly, were increasingly getting their political information from social media – and on social media, the conservatives did not control the narrative. 

 

For example: an RT interview I did about British collusion with terrorism shortly before the election got over one and half million views on facebook – higher than the daily readership of the Daily Mail. Jonathan Pie’s fantastic piecetearing apart the Tory’s ‘strong and stable’ nonsense, got 11 million views – that is, 2 and half million more than the combined circulation of the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Guardian, Sun, Daily Star, Times, Telegraph, Evening Standard, the Mirror and Metro (the country’s ten leading newspapers).  And hilariously, when I had just watched one of Theresa May’s speeches on youtube during the campaign, immediately afterwards, youtube automatically played ‘Liar Liar‘, the anti-May anthem that reached number 4 in the UK pop charts last week. And I suspect youtube auto played that video after anyone watchedanything about Theresa May, due to the algorithms that they employ. 

 

So you can see why the Tories are furious about the internet. They, and the British state more generally, have totally lost control of the narrative. And that’s what cost them this election. 

 

So that’s what this new crackdown on the internet is really about; it’s about regaining control of that narrative. It’s about turning the CEOs of youtube, facebook, twitter and google into the Rupert Murdochs of the 21st century – the political allies and mouthpieces of the British state and the capitalist class, and doing this by forging a new relationship which explicitly punishes them if they refuse to play ball. 

 

Even the government’s own ‘reviewer of terrorism laws’, Max Hill, has come out against the move, explaining that“my view is that… we do have the appropriate laws in place, and that essentially the police and security services, and those whose job it is to keep us safe, do have the powers at their disposal.” He noted that, in his experience, the police unit responsible for identifying online extremist material receive full co-operation from the tech companies already.

 

Similarly, The Open Rights Group have warned that “To push on with these extreme proposals for internet clampdowns would appear to be a distraction from the current political situation and from effective measures against terror.

The government already has extensive surveillance powers. Conservative proposals for automated censorship of the internet would see decisions about what British citizens can see online being placed in the hands of computer algorithms, with judgments ultimately made by private companies rather than courts. Home Office plans to force companies to weaken the security of their communications products could put all of us at a greater risk of crime.”

 

Those who are worried about extremism should be calling for an end to the British intelligence services’ collaboration and facilitation of terrorism, the extradition of those who have carried out or facilitated attacks abroad, and an international investigation and prosecutions of all those involved. Theresa May’s new proposals do nothing to end the impunity of her own government in the grooming and facilitation of terrorism. Rather, they serve to extend this impunity. They must be resisted.

 

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. j) How Trump will use the Las Vegas shooting 

 

8th October 2017 

 

Last weekend, the world witnessed the biggest gun massacre in modern US history. But whilst coverage of the horrific events has been wall-to-wall, there has been very little discussion of how the government could seize on this moment to advance its agenda. That’s the question I seek to address in this article.

 

To answer it, it is important to be clear on what Trump’s agenda actually is. On the domestic level, there are two main aspects to this agenda: Firstly, the institution of a police state. And secondly, propping up corporate profits by any means necessary – in particular, through plundering the public sector.

 

On the first, Trump has made his plans for the police very clear. He wants to step up their transformation into a paramilitary force; and he wants to provide them with complete impunity, by stripping whatever meagre semblance of accountability currently exists.

 

Let’s just look at how this agenda is advancing so far. In February of this year, Trump’s attorney-general Jeff Sessions vowed to “pull back” on investigations and lawsuits against the police. He soon made good on this promise when the Justice Department announced itsrefusal to prosecute police over the death of Alton Sterling, who was shot dead at point blank range whilst pinned immobile to the floor. Then, in a speech to Chicago police in July, Trump said he wanted police to be freer to rough up prisoners, specifically saying they should feel free to smash their prisoner’s heads on the side of the car as they put them inside their vehicles.

And on 28th August, Trump issued an executive orderrepealing Obama-era restrictions on the supply of military equipment from the Pentagon to the police. These restrictions were already pretty limited, and some were fairly easy to get around, but at least they prevented police from obtaining, for example, grenade-launchers, bayonets, and “tracked armoured vehicles” (tanks to you and me). All of this will now be made available to the police, ramping up their transformation into a fully militarised operation, essentially modelled on an occupying army.

 

This is not about tackling crime or terrorism so much as it is about preparing the police to deal with the social fallout from Trump’s other policies. This year’s budget was an indication of the wholesale destruction of social provisions now underway – a destruction which coincides with permanent and growing mass unemployment and job insecurity. Robots are expected to take 47% of existing US jobs over the next 20 years. But at the same time, programmes to help those without jobs or on low incomes to survive, such as food aid and medicaid, are being dismantled. This year’s budget proposed $800bn cuts to Medicaid over the next 10 years, and over $270bn bn cuts from welfare, including almost £200bn from nutritional assistance. All of this will inevitably create serious social upheaval – and this would be so even if there were not another financial collapse looming, which there almost certainly is. Trump’s job is to ensure the police are prepared to deal with the massive fallout from all this, in the most brutal way possible.

 

From this point of view, it is clear how the Las Vegas attack could easily be utilised to build on this agenda. I would expect us to start hearing arguments very soon about how this attack demonstrates that more armed police are necessary, how they need much better weapons, greater powers, and on and on. It’s about getting the police tooled up and legally unbound ready for the next wave of crisis.  

 

The second aspect of Trump’s domestic agenda is propping up corporate profits by any means necessary, and especially through the use of public funds. So, on the campaign trail, for example, there was a lot of talk of Trump’s $1 trillion investment programme, based on luring private capital to finance new infrastructure with the promise of using public funds to rent it back from those companies for ever after. Essentially the aim is toguarantee a permanent and continuous fleecing of the public purse by the corporate sector. This is basically a hugely scaled-up version of the discredited and hugely expensive PFI programme that exists in Britain.

 

Less has been heard of this project since Trump actually came to office, but it indicates the willingness, and eagerness, of Trump to find ways to use public funds to prop up private profits.

 

Another way of doing this, however, is by pushing for more armed police, with taxpayers money being used to pay for heavily armed police to protect corporate buildings and entities, for example. Furthermore, tragedies such as that which just occurred in Vegas can create lucrative opportunities for private security provision. Private security is one of the few industries left in which the western world is still a world leader, with the US market alone said to be worth $350bn. Thus anything that helps create or develop markets for private security is good for the US corporate sector Trump represents. And following this attack, clearly, armed security guards are going to be very much more in demand – from hotels, from organisers of music festivals, and generally from anyone with a business which involves large numbers of people congregating together. But it could be that Trump might take the opportunity to start getting the federal government to step up its hiring of private security as well. This would, of course, fit in with the broader goal of privatising even the most basic functions of the state – such as security.

 

With so many elements of Trump’s agenda poised to benefit from this attack, many are tempted to speculatethat perhaps it was an ‘inside job’. But the point is, the state does not need to carry out these attacks themselves – because they have already created a culture that guarantees they will take place. Think about it. The advertising industry and corporate media are pushing society in a certain direction, towards an ultimate destination in which a) everyone wants to be a celebrity and b) everyone is completely depressed (because they are constantly being told that they don’t have enough and that that therefore they are losers until they have the next product – and there is always a next product to get). These are the messages with which US society is constantly bombarded.

 

Then, into this toxic mix, is thrown saturation coverage of terror attacks and mass shootings every time they take place. Thus the message goes out to suicidal, depressed people – ‘look, you can be a celebrity! We’ll make you into a celebrity: your face will be headline news, you’ll become a household name, your diaries and thoughts and photos will be pored over….on one condition. You’ve got to go out and kill as many people as possible’. And if you do that, you are guaranteed instant fame and notoriety.

 

So the ruling class don’t need actually to organise these massacres themselves, because they’ve already created, and continually reproduce, the conditions which ensure they take place. All they have to do is sit back and wait for someone to take the bait. And they never have to wait too long.

 

So this is where we are. The root causes of the frustration that leads to these attacks: the bland, alienating consumer society in which work becomes ever more meaningless; the endless messages that fame is what makes you worth something; and the saturation coverage and instant notoriety that is given to these murderers – these are the things that should be tackled. But if we are not putting these things on the agenda – then you can be sure that those in power will use these disasters for their own ends.  

 

This article was originally published by RT

 

  1. k) 21st century fascism 

 

13th May 2017

 

It is the contention of this article that we are entering into a new fascist epoch. Movements with outright fascist roots are winning elections and referendums in Britain and the USA, and mainstream electoral parties too are being ‘fascisised’ in the process. Even the left are being fascisised, with the movements against war and neolioberal globalisation increasingly falling under the hegemony of the new fascists. And yet, the term ‘fascism’ has for so long been used as a byword for any kind of brutality or state control to which one takes exception, that many seem not only to have forgotten what it means, but also to be failing to notice it how it is unfolding before their very eyes.

Part of the problem is that fascism has too often been conflated with particular elements of one or other of its historical manifestations, or even with perceived elements that have never, in reality, existed. Many, for example, conflate fascism with military dictatorship. Yet, dictatorships existed for centuries – if not millennia – before fascism, and, as Robert Paxton has noted, “most military dictatorships have acted simply as tyrants, without daring to unleash the popular excitement of fascism”: fascism, unlike most military dictatorships, is a genuine mass movement. Furthermore, fascist movements can still be properly be described as such before they have established any dictatorship. Hitler was a fascist for long before he became a dictator.

Others confuse fascism with ‘totalitarianism’; total state control of all aspects of social life. The very term is a deliberate piece of Cold War propaganda, brought into scholarly use by imperialist strategist Zbigniew Brzenzski in 1956 in order to besmirch communism by drawing a superficial – and, in my view, unsustainable – parallel with fascism. Yet not only is the term an anachronistic piece of propaganda, it, on closer inspection, cannot even be said to apply to fascism at all: fascist governments never gained ‘total control’, but rather, as Paxton has pointed out, “jostled with the state bureaucracy, industrial and agricultural proprietors, churches and other traditional elites for power”.

Even worse, some seem to think that to use the term fascist for anything less than industrial genocide is somehow an insult to the victims of the Nazi holocaust. This definition of fascism, therefore, excludes from its scope not only the entire pre-governing period of the Nazi party, but also the first nine years of Hitler’s premiership: fascism, by this definition, began not with the establishment of Mussolini’s party in 1919, nor with his coming to power in 1922, nor with Hitler’s ascendancy to the German chancellorship in January 1933, but on 20th January 1942, with the advent of the “final solution” at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. This definition is the most dangerous, as it effectively serves to give a free ‘non-fascist’ pass to anything below the level of mass extermination.

Furthermore, whilst fascism is necessarily anti-liberal, it is not strictly ‘anti-democratic’. Dylan Riley has described fascism as ‘authoritarian democracy’, noting “the paradoxical incorporation of democratic themes into the fascist project”. Riley argues that democracy fundamentally boils down to “a claim that a certain type of political institution “represents” the people.” Fascists certainly made this claim, arguing that their institutions represented “the people” more perfectly than those they replaced. Indeed, the use of referendums and plebiscites by both the Italian and German fascist governments demonstrated that they took the claim seriously.

So what is fascism then? Let me offer a definition. Fascism is a mass movement, predominantly rooted in a middle class whose privileges are being undermined by capitalist crisis, and whose ‘national pride’ has been wounded by national decline and military defeat and humiliation. It is based on a promise to restore these privileges and national pride through, on a domestic level, purging ‘impure elements’ within the polity blamed for national weakness, and on an international level, restoring military prowess and ‘great power’ status. It is a ‘pseudo-revolutionary’ movement inasmuch as, whilst it adopts much in the way of imagery and policies from the radical left, it does not threaten fundamental property relations: rather, it redirects popular anger away from the capitalist class and towards vulnerable scapegoats in a way that actually serves the ‘elites’ it claims to oppose. It is sponsored and helped to power by powerful elements of the dominant political and economic classes. It opposes liberalism on the grounds that liberalism is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with those internal and external enemies deemed responsible for weakening the national polity.

Yet, first and foremost, as Mussolini’s magazine The Fascist, put it, fascism is “less a policy than a state of mind”. For communist theoretician Rajani Palme Dutt, “there is no theory of fascism, there is only its practice”. But what is the fascist state of mind, and what is it’s practice? Its’ state of mind is one of hatred towards those deemed responsible for ‘national decline’, however defined, and for the declining privileges of the (racially or nationally defined) ‘in-group’. And its practice is attacking these people. As Mussolini put it, “The democrats of [left-liberal newspaper] Il Mundo want to know our programme. Our programme is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mundo”.

Italy’s fascist movement was founded in Milan on March 23rd 1919. It’s first ‘action’, three weeks later, was to attack the offices of the socialist newspaper Avanti, destroying its printing press, injuring 39 people and killing 4. Said Mussolini, the fascists had “declare[d] war against socialism…because it has opposed nationalism”. This war went into full throttle in 1921, when fascist squadristi went on a countrywide rampage against trade unions, farmers co-operatives and the socialist party, attacking their premises and beating – or killing – their members. These gangs, in an early demonstration of the complicity between fascism and the conservative establishment, were often hired by landowners and businessmen to destroy the wave of land and factory occupations that had gripped Italy in the aftermath of the first world war.

The German Nazis, too, considered the eradication of socialism – and specifically Marxism, “the fiercest enemy of all German and European culture” according to the Nazi professor H. Ludat – to be their principal aim. “I wished to be the destroyer of Marxism” Hitler told the jury in his trial following the failed Munich putsch, “and I will achieve this task”. Nine years later, on the eve of his accession to power, he reiterated this commitment at a meeting of leading German industrialists in Dusseldorf: “Yes,” he told them, “we have taken the unalterable decision to tear Marxism out by its roots”. The Nazis, like the Italian fascists, regularly indulged in the killing of communists, particularly in drive-by shootings, long before controlling the levers of power. Fascism, then, first and foremost, means the crushing of proletarian revolution by any means necessary.

On February 8th of this year, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a 36-year old mother of two who had lived in the US for 22 years, was arrested during her standard bi-annual check-in with immigration officials. She was immediately deported, leaving her two children (both US citizens) stranded. “I don’t think it’s fair that she was taken away from us,” her 14 year old daughter Jacqueline said. “Her only crime was to work here so she could support us”. Of course, working in the US of itself is not a crime; it is only criminal for certain nationalities. Her real crime, committed when she herself was a 14 year old in Mexico, was to have refused to accept the diktat of modern-day feudalism: that those born into high-unemployment, low wage economies ravaged by imperialism must also be condemned to die there. In this sense, the 14 year old Guadalupe was committing a revolutionary act. And it is a revolution which Trump is determined to crush at any cost.

In Reece Jones’ excellent book “Violent borders: refugees and the right to move”, he argues that ‘illegal’ migration constitutes a refusal “to abide by the global border regime… in the same way that Harriet Tubman refused to abide by the system of slavery and fugitive slave laws, Mahatma Gandhi refused to abide by the laws of British colonialism, and Nelson Mandela refused to abide by the South African system of apartheid”. For what are borders, after all? For Jones, they are nothing more than “artificial lines drawn on maps to exclude other people from access to resources and the right to move”.  “One day,” he writes, “denying equal protection based on birthplace may well seem just as anachronistic and wrong as denying civil rights based on skin colour, gender or sexual orientation.” Moreover, it is precisely the system of state borders that creates the wage differentials underpinning the extreme levels of global inequality in the world today, in which, for example, a taxi driver in London is paid around 50 times a taxi driver in Delhi, whilst the average wage in Norway is around 300 times that in the Congo: “Restricting the movement of workers creates artificially low wages. If workers could move, wages would stabilise between the high wage in the US and the low wage elsewhere. This would allow the economy to produce goods based on the real value of work, without a low wage subsidy artificially produced by borders” (Jones, 140). Put another way, the global border regime sustains the split in the global working class, with that section ‘contained’ in the third world forced to subsist on artificially low wages, whilst the section in the western world are able to preserve their monopoly access to high-paid work. This divide has become so pronounced, argues professor Zak Cope, that we can no longer legitimately speak of a ‘proletariat’ amongst the citizenry of the western world at all, but rather a “middle class working class” which is paid well above the value of its labour power (that is, the cost of reproduction of labour power) and “which benefits materially from imperialism and the attendant super-exploitation of oppressed nation workers”.

Yet the proletariat – that section of the working class paid subsistence wages: that is to say, the working class of the global South – are revolting. They are revolting by refusing to accept the global border regime which keeps them in subjection, and they are doing so on an unprecedented scale: the UN estimated that there were 244 million international migrants in 2015, a 41% increase as compared to 2000. Around 350,000 attempt to cross the Mexican border into the US each year, and around one million tried to reach the shores of Europe in 2015. This, then, is a mass proletarian revolutionary movement, driven – like all revolutionary movements – by a realisation that playing by the existing rules will not put food on the table or allow a dignified peaceful future for one’s children. Yet, just like it did the middle classes who flocked to fascism in Italy and Germany, proletarian revolution disgusts the “middle class working class” of the West, who see it as a threat to their privileged monopoly of high waged work. That is why they elected Trump to crush it.

Garcia de Rayos’ arrest came about following an executive order stepping up the deportation of undocumented immigrants in the USA signed by Donald Trump two weeks earlier. This was his third executive order targeting immigrants, the others banning immigration from seven Muslim countries and ordering the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico, along with a further 15,000 border staff to patrol it. “We are living in a new era now,” said Garcia de Rayos’ lawyer, Ray Maldonado, following her arrest: “an era of war on immigrants.”

To be fair, today’s neo-fascists did not start this war. Deportations reached new heights under Obama, who deported a record 2 million undocumented immigrants. The much-hyped ‘wall’ between the US and Mexico effectively already exists, at least in the sense of a hard border, enforced with violence. And it was Britain’s Theresa May, along with her chancellor Philip Hammond, who played the major role in pressuring Italy to terminate its successful search and rescue programme in the Mediterranean in 2014 to ensure that refugees were left to drown as a message to others. Around 10,000 men, women and children have so far been drowned as a result of the policy – which was, significantly, first advocated by the British National Party, Britain’s main overtly fascist party, some years earlier.  In total, Reece Jones estimates that no less than 40,000 people have been killed – shot, drowned or starved in the desert – at the borders of Europe and North America over the past ten years. This already marks the beginnings of a descent into fascism, which can also be viewed as a collapsing of indirect structural violence (in this case the structural violence of poverty wages imposed by the global border regime) into direct,

physical violence (shooting, drowning and starving migrants at the border) under pressure of proletarian revolution. Yet what Obama and the ‘mainstream’ parties did shamefacedly, ‘on-the-quiet’ and to the embarrassment of their supporters, Trump does openly, brazenly and with gusto, to the untrammelled delight of the movement that brought him to power. Again, this is fully in line with classical fascism, which did not, after all, invent the purging of communists, jew-baiting, rule by decree and so on, but rather turned all of this into a mass movement, stepped it up and systematised it –  marking a qualitative difference in what had gone before in so doing.

Once we understand that all citizens of the western world are effectively bourgeois – net beneficiaries of (global) exploitation living, at least in part, off the labour of others – the parallels with fascism become clear. If the working class of the west is, properly speaking, a section of the global middle class, as Cope argues, then for all the ‘workerism’ espoused by Trump and his European bedfellows, their electoral basis is, just like the classical fascists, primarily middle class. Fascism has always had a special appeal to the middle class in periods of capitalist crisis, as it promises redemption from both the threat from ‘below’ – proletarian revolt threatening their privileged class position – and the threat from ‘above’ –  the big capitalist industries and finance capital. Hitler chose the Jew as a very specific symbol designed to represent both of these threats simultaneously – the poor ghetto jew representing the communist threat, and the wealthy jew symbolising the ‘greedy banker’. By the same token, the Jew also represented both the internal enemy, ‘weakening the enemy from within’, as well as the external enemy – the Soviet Union, standing in the way of German lebensraum, and the ‘Jewish-controlled’ capitalist victors of Versailles – responsible for Germany’s decline. For today’s neo-fascists, the Muslim plays the same role. Whilst the poor Muslim immigrant represents the unwanted intrusion of the global proletariat into the white westerner’s monopoly of privileged access to jobs and services, the wealthy Arab sheikh represents the (foreign) capitalist responsible for pushing up house prices and rents etc. Likewise, the internal threat posed by the ‘jihadi terrorist’ is mirrored by the external threat of the rising global So