Category Archives: Militarism

The Libya Model is a Distraction

On Fox News Sunday, United States national security advisor John Bolton brought up the Libya model as a template for the denuclearization of North Korea.

Following up, president Donald Trump noted, “In Libya, we decimated that country. That country was decimated.” However, Trump did assure North Korean chairman Kim Jong-un that he’d remain in power after denuclearization.

Then came US vice-president Michael Pence on Fox News:

There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.

When told that such a comparison could be viewed as a threat, Pence instead considered: “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

History tells a tale. After Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi gave up Libya’s nuclear weapons program, he was eventually deposed by NATO bombing in support of rebels who brutally murdered Gaddafi in cold blood. Hillary Clinton gleefully cackled about it on CBS News afterwards.

What kind of dunderhead would Kim have to be not to realize the behind-the-curtain machinations Washington has planned for him and his government. The US simply should not be believed or trusted.

But there seems to be an apparent wrench in the works of Washington’s scheming. Kim, after all, has a nuclear bomb. It makes one wonder: what do Donald Trump and the US military establishment not understand about nuclear deterrence? There are no winners in a nuclear war.

All the blather about a Libya model merely reinforces the correctness of the North Korean decision and the necessity to develop a nuclear deterrence. It must be emphasized that — despite wild proclamations from Washington1 — what North Korea possesses is a nuclear deterrence and not a nuclear threat. Obviously, to initiate a nuclear attack would be sheer folly and a suicidal act for Kim Jong-un and his government. However, North Korea is on record as asserting a no-first-use policy for nukes.2 This is a rational stance.

Contrariwise, the US does not reject its first use of nukes. Thus, the US nukes exist as other than a deterrence factor.

Is the US an irrational actor?

The bigwigs in the Trump administration are not dunderheads either. There is a method to their madness — a desired outcome. The US, despite administration declamations to the contrary, is quite aware that North Korea would not start a nuclear war. The North Koreans are known to be rational.

Yet the strategizing of the military-industrial complex is also based in rationality when its capitalistic motivations are considered. When it comes to warmongering, the greater the number of enemies the US is faced with, the more opportunities for weapons deals to replenish homeland armories and supplying fearful allied countries. Moreover, there are the opportunities created for morally challenged investors to seek profit from war.

The military-industrial complex’s lust for war profiteering motivates it to maintain a hostile posture to designated enemies like North Korea. This is rational in the pecuniary sense. It is rational for the military-industrial complex to assume a hostile posture to Iran. It is logical to support war crimes by the Jewish State against the civilian population of Gaza and also to support the siege of Gaza in hopes of fomenting a violent uprising. It’s rational to keep Syria in conflagration.

It is even rational to poke the Russian bear and prod the Chinese dragon. The more formidable the designated enemy, the greater the potential for evoking fear among home populations and crank over the wheels of the military-industrial ever more.

In this manner arms sales are stimulated, share prices for armaments are sent rising, and thus it happens that the undiplomatic bombast and war crimes committed by military industrialists is rewarded with ensanguined lucre.

Nonetheless, all the money in the world means nothing come a nuclear winter.

  1. Michael Pence in his recent interview stated that the US “is not going to tolerate the regime in North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that threaten the United States and our allies…”
  2. A translation of the North Korean news agency KCNA quotes Kim saying, “As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes.”

Canada’s Indifference to Brazilian Democracy

New revelations about Brazilian military violence offer an opportunity to reflect on Canadian support for that country’s 1964 coup and how Ottawa’s policy towards our South American neighbour is similar today.

A spate of international and Brazilian media have reported on a recently uncovered memo from CIA director William Colby to then US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, detailing a meeting between president Ernesto Geisel and three Brazilian generals. At the 1974 meeting the new Brazilian president is reported to have supported extending “summary executions” of enemies of the military dictatorship. An army officer, Geisel ordered National Information Service head João Baptista Figueiredo — who would replace him as president — to authorize the executions.

While it has long been accepted that the military dictatorship was responsible for hundreds of murders — a 2014 national truth commission blamed it for 191 killings and 210 disappearances — military backers have sought to put the blame on lower level officers. But the uncovered memo clearly reveals Geisel, who was considered more moderate than other top military leaders, was directly responsible for some deaths.

Ottawa passively supported the military coup against elected President João Goulart that instituted the 1964–85 military dictatorship. “The Canadian reaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notes Brazil and Canada in the Americas. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn the ouster of Goulart.

Washington played a pivotal role in the overthrow of Brazilian democracy. At one point President Lyndon Johnson urged ambassador Lincoln Gordon to take “every step that we can” to support Goulart’s removal. In a declassified cable between Gordon and Washington, the ambassador acknowledged US involvement in “covert support for pro-democracy street rallies … and encouragement [of] democratic and anti-communist sentiment in Congress, armed forces, friendly labor and student groups, church, and business.”

Washington, Ottawa and leading segments of Brazil’s business community opposed Goulart’s Reformas de Base (basic reforms). Goulart wanted to expand suffrage by giving illiterates and low ranking military officers the vote. He also wanted to put 15% of the national income into education and to implement land reform. To pay for this the government planned to introduce a proportional income tax and greater controls on the profit transfers of multinational corporations.

As important as following Washington’s lead, Pearson’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Brascan was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. A study of the Toronto-based company that began operating in Brazil in 1899 noted, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallotti doesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’état against Goulart in 1964.” After the elected government was overthrown, Brazilian Traction president Grant Glassco stated, “the new government of Brazil is … made up of men of proven competence and integrity. The President, Humberto Castello Branco, commands the respect of the entire nation.”

Overthrowing the Goulart government, which had made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.60.” Between 1965 and 1974, Brascan drained Brazil of $342 million ($2 billion today). When Brascan’s Canadian president, Robert Winters, was asked why the company’s profits grew so rapidly in the late 1960s his response was simple: “The Revolution.”

As opposition to the Brazilian military regime’s rights violations grew in Canada, Ottawa downplayed the gravity of the human rights situation. In a June 1972 memo to the Canadian embassy, the Director of the Latin American Division at Foreign Affairs stated: “We have, however, done our best to avoid drawing attention to this problem [human rights violations] because we are anxious to build a vigorous and healthy relationship with Brazil. We hope that in the future these unfortunate events and publicity, which damages the Brazilian image in Canada, can be avoided.”

The military dictatorship’s assassination program has contemporary relevance. In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup” and the social democratic party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election, Lula da Silva, was recently jailed. The night before the Supreme Court was set to determine Lula’s fate the general in charge of the army hinted at military intervention if the judges ruled in favour of the former president and election frontrunner.

While they’ve made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past two years, the Justin Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster, Lula’s imprisonment and persecution of the left. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. Since that time Canada has begun negotiating to join the Brazilian led MERCOSUR trade block (just after Venezuela was expelled).

As many Brazilians worry about their country returning to military rule, Canadians should demand their government doesn’t contribute to weakening the country’s fragile democracy.

Israel’s Premature Celebration: Gazans Have Crossed the Fear Barrier

60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on May 15, simply for protesting and demanding their Right of Return as guaranteed by international law.

50 more were killed since March 30, the start of the ‘Great March of Return’, which marks Land Day.

Nearly 10,000 have been wounded and maimed in between these two dates.

‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, White House officials announced, paying no heed to the ludicrousness of the statement when understood within the current context of an unequal struggle.

Peaceful protesters were not threatening the existence of Israel; rock throwing kids were not about to overwhelm hundreds of Israeli snipers, who shot, killed and wounded Gaza youngsters with no legal or moral boundary whatsoever.

8-months old, Laila al-Ghandour was one of the 60 who were killed on May 15. She suffocated to death from Israeli teargas. Many, like her, were wounded or killed some distance away from the border. Some were killed for simply being nearby, or for being Palestinian.

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President, Donald Trump, ushered in a new era of international relations, when she and her companions unveiled the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

She was ‘all smiles’ while, at the exact same moment, hundreds of Gazans were being felled at the border. The already dilapidated hospitals have no room for most of the wounded. They bled in hallways awaiting medical attention.

Ivanka has never been to Gaza – and will unlikely ever visit or be welcomed there. Gazans do not register in her moral conscience, if she has any beyond her immediate interests, as people deserving of rights, freedom and dignity.

At the border, many Gaza kids have been coloring their bodies in blue paint, dressing up in homemade costumes to imitate characters from the Hollywood movie, ‘Avatar’. They hoped that, by hiding their brown skin, their plight and suffering could be more relatable to the world.

But when they were shot, their blood gave them away. They were still human, still from Gaza.

The international community has already condemned Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and declared his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘null and void’, but will it go further than mere words?

Will the international community remain trapped between hollow statements and no action? Will they ever truly recognize the humanity of Laila al-Ghandour and all the other children, men and women who died and continue to perish under Gaza’s besieged skies? Will they ever care enough to do something?

The plight of the Palestinians is compounded with the burden of having a useless ‘leadership’.  The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has been busy of late, demanding allegiance from the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank. Large signs and larger banners have been erected everywhere, where families, professional associations, unions and companies have announced, in large font: the “Renewal of Loyalty and Support to President Mahmoud Abbas.”

‘Renewal’? Abbas’ mandate expired in 2009. Besides, is this what Abbas and his Fatah party perceive to be the most urgent matter that needs to be addressed, while his people are being massacred?

Abbas fears that Hamas is using the blood of the Gaza victims to bolster its popularity. Ironically, it is a shared concern with Israeli leaders, the likes of Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The latter said that Hamas has won the PR war at the Gaza border by a ‘knockout.’

This propaganda is as false as it is utterly racist; yet, it has persisted for far too long. It proposes that Palestinians and Arabs lack human agency. They are incapable of mobilizing and organizing their collective efforts to demand their long-denied rights. They are only pawns, puppets in the hands of factions, to be sacrificed at the altar of public relations.

It did not dawn on Conricus to note that, perhaps, his army lost the ‘PR war’ because its brutes shot thousands of unarmed civilians who did nothing, aside from gathering at the border demanding an end to their perpetual siege; or that, just maybe, the PR war was lost because Israel’s top leaders announced proudly that Gazans are fair game, since, according to Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “there are no innocents in Gaza.’

Ivanka will go down in Israel’s history as a hero. But Palestinian Resistance is not fueled or subdued by Ivanka, but by the sacrifices of the Palestinians themselves, and by the blood of Laila al-Ghandour, who was denied even a celebration of her first birthday on God’s besieged earth.

The US government has decisively and blatantly moved to the wrong side of history. As their officials attended parties, galas and celebrations of the Embassy move, whether in Israel or in Washington and elsewhere, Palestinians dug 60 more graves and held 60 more funerals.

The world watched in horror, and even western media failed to hide the full ugly truth from its readers. The two acts – of lavish parties and heartbreaking burials – were beamed all over the world, and the already struggling American reputation sank deeper and deeper.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have thought he had won. Comforted by his right wing government and society on the one hand, Trump and his angry UN bully, Nikki Haley, on the other, he feels invulnerable.

But he should rethink his power-driven logic. When Gazan youth stood bare-chested at the border fence, falling one drove after the other, they crossed a fear barrier that no generation of Palestinians has ever crossed. And when people are unafraid, they can never be subdued or defeated.

Scourging Yemen

On May 10, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man.

Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. Death tolls have become notoriously difficult to count accurately in Yemen. Three years of U.S.-supported blockades and bombardments have plunged the country into immiseration and chaos.

In their May 10th request, the Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive U.S. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE by the U.S. and the UK.

The Saudis have an undeniable right to call on the UN to work toward preventing the Houthis from acquiring ballistic weapons that could be fired into Saudi Arabia, but the air, sea and water blockade now imposed on Yemen brutally and lethally punishes children who have no capacity whatsoever to affect Houthi policies. What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.

As Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.

On May 18th, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governorate which notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen; i.e., an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.”

Earlier in May, MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7th which struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.

“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”

Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”

On March 22, 2018, Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”

The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen — Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; the United States — the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Earnest, honest and practical steps to stop the war are urgently needed. The U.N. must abandon its biased role in the Yemen conflict, so it can broker a peace in which the Houthi minority can retain some dignity and representation in majority-Sunni Yemen, which even before the Houthi uprising lacked any legitimate elected leader. The Houthis must be given an option to lay down arms without landing in any of the clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen, reported to be little more than torture camps. Even more urgent, the violence and economic strangulation by foreign invaders must cease.

At the very least, citizens in countries supplying weapons to the Saudi-Emirati coalition must demand their legislators forbid all future sales. The time for determined action is running out in the U.S. as the State Department is already taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The package is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon.

Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. Yet, U.S. support for airstrikes, blockades and the chaos inevitably caused by prolonged war threatens Yemeni civilians, especially vulnerable children. They have committed no crime but are being punished with death.

Cartoon: S. Reynolds CC BY-SA 4.0

Cold War Mentality Alive and Well in Australia

Writing in The Australian newspaper under the headline “Red Threats to Render White Paper just about Passé” (18 May 2018) ANU emeritus professor Paul Dibb offers a commentary that exemplifies much of what is wrong with Australian strategic thinking. The problem is all the more acute because Dibb is regularly quoted in the mainstream media and his views are considered influential. In this latest article he calls for a re-evaluation of the premises underlying the Foreign Policy White Paper released only six months ago.

That White Paper was certainly flawed, although not in the manner that Dibb suggests in underestimating what Dibb calls “an aggrieved and newly assertive Russia, as well as an aggressive rising power in China.”

The White Paper failed to grasp the realities of a newly emerging multipolar world, and in particular failed to perceive how Australia might best respond in a manner consistent with both its national security and economic interests.

That challenge is not assisted by Dibb’s contribution, which is full of faulty assumptions, factual errors, and grievous misinterpretations, not only of post-World War II history, but the current inevitable realignment away from the singularly dangerous exercise of hegemonic power by the United States.

Dibb quotes United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis with evident approval, saying “China and Russia wanted to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”  China is alleged to be seeking “regional hegemony and the displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

The “evidence” Dibb cites for these assertions are China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea; Russia’s territorial expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine; Putin’s aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons; and Moscow’s State sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflecting Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of State borders. He even cites the “reports” of Beijing seeking to develop a military base in Vanuatu.  That the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Vanuatu and also the Chinese government have denied the latter report is of little consequence to Professor Dibb.

There is much more in Professor Dibb’s commentary in this vein, but those examples illustrate not only the fact free environment that strategic advisors such as Dibb operate in, but also are reflective of “strategic thinking” in the Australian defence, foreign policy and defence establishments.

In the cited example of China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea there are several components of this allegation that put it in a different context from the viewpoint usually advanced in the Australian media. The so-called Nine Dash Line within which China has made unspecified claims was, in fact, the first formulated in 1946 by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek. That government’s successors now rule Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government makes the same South China Sea claims as does the PRC.

Taiwan similarly rejected the findings of the UNCLOS Tribunal they ruled on a complaint by the Philippines1, a con complaint incidentally that was arguing exclusively by American and British lawyers.

It is correct that the PRC has fortified some of the eight artificial “islands” it has constructed in the South China Sea, but so has Vietnam, about which Dibb is silent. Taiwan has also fortified Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, more than 1000 km to its south.

Dibb makes no attempt to analyse why China should be taking steps to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. Those reasons would include China’s defensive reaction to being encircled by 400 US military bases; the US declaring that China is a major threat to the US, as it did and last year’s National Defence Strategy document; and the carrying out of provocative military exercises by the US in the South China Sea.

Australia, along with the United States, carries out a regular joint military exercise (Operation Talisman Sabre) which practices blocking the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Straits through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports currently pass.

Dibb claims also that Russia engaged in “territorial expansionism” in Crimea and Ukraine. Crimea is an example of consistent misrepresentation in the Australian media. It was for centuries part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Khrushchev unilaterally “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine without consulting anyone, least of all the Crimean people.

Following the US organized and financed coup against the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean people, who are predominately Russian speaking and culturally aligned with Russia, held a referendum. More than 90% of Crimeans voted in that referendum, and more than 90% of them voted for reunification with Russia. Crimea’s request to Russia for reintegration into the Russian Federation was in due course voted on in the Russian Parliament.

People’s right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and was recognised by the West, for example, in supporting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Quite apart from illustrating the extraordinary demonization of Russia, the treatment of the Crimea question is a classic illustration of western hypocrisy.

There is zero evidence of any Russian territorial expansionism in Ukraine. There is obviously profound concern about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speaking eastern region of Donbass. An attempted resolution of the Donbass problem brokered by Germany, resulting in the Minsk Accord of 2015, has been repeatedly violated. According to the OSCE, more than 80% of the violations of the Minsk II Accord have been by the Ukrainian government. This is a government where neo-Nazi elements have undue influence, a fact of obvious legitimate concern to the Russian government given the history of 26 million Russian deaths at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Dibb also refers to Putin’s “aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons.”  This is simply bizarre. It was Russia who negotiated Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and the OPCW has verified that the disarmament of chemical weapons by Syria is complete.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government have been comprehensively debunked by independent experts.2

Dibb does not mention it, but Russia is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria. Thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015 the US-Israeli-Saudi Arabia backed terrorists are on the verge of being completely defeated.

Russia is acting entirely within international law in their support of the Syrian government, unlike the United States and its ally Australia who have no legal justification for being in Syria at all. It is an illustration of the United States’ imperial agenda that they have set up military bases in Syria where they are neither invited nor wanted.

Dibb is completely unable to recognise that the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism in the world is the United States. Since 1945 it has been almost continuously engaged in warfare against self defined “threats” and “enemies;” has bombed, invaded, or overthrown the governments of more than 70 nations; and killed more than 30 million people in the process.3

In many of these activities, for example, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it has been actively supported by Australia, whose “joined at the hip” alliance with the United States is arguably Australia’s most dangerous and counter-productive foreign policy.

Dibb further claims “Moscow’s state-sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflects Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of state borders.”  This is presumably a reference to the recent Skripal case, although with Dibb’s casual and sweeping defamatory denunciations one cannot be sure.

If it is the Skripal case to which he refers, then not only have the United Kingdom claims been both ludicrous and overblown in their multiple variations, there is absolutely zero evidence of Russian involvement and considerable evidence of motivations by other actors.

Since the admission to hospital and now with the discharge of both of the Skripals the British government has refused to permit consular access by Russian officials. This is a direct violation of, inter alia, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a separate treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom. The British are also in violation of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (23 September 2005). The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also held that for persons to be held incommunicado for 15 days or more constitutes a violation of human rights law. In Dibb’s world these factors never rate a mention.

As for Mr Putin’s alleged contempt for the sanctity of state borders, he might like to compare the respective records of Russia since 2000 (when Putin first came to power) and his US counterparts over the same period.  There is simply no contest.

What Dibb and similar commentators in Australia fail to recognise is that the American dominated unipolar world order of the past 70 years is rapidly being transformed into a multipolar world.4

Australia’s adherence to the Pax Americana view, however, is potentially greatly to Australia’s detriment, economically and politically. If the new Cold War policies being pursued by the Trump administration deteriorate to a hot war, which is far from unrealistic, the devastation wrought upon Australia will be, to borrow Trump’s phrase, fire and fury like in the world has never seen.

  1. Shannon Tiezzi, Taiwan: South China Sea Ruling ‘Completely Unacceptable‘, The Diplomat, 13 July 2016.
  2. Dr. Theodore Postol, “Assessment of White House Intelligence Report About Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria“, Global Research, November 18, 2017.
  3. William Blum, Americas Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Books, 2013.
  4. Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, Haymarket Books, 2017.

Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution

The inevitable stop, start and stuttering of the Korean peace process was bound to manifest itself soon after the hugs, expansive smiles and sympathetic back rubs.  Dates have been set – the Kim-Trump summit is slated to take place in Singapore on June 12, though there is much time for disruptive mischief to take place.

One field of possible disruption lies in air exercises between the US and South Korea known as Max Thunder.  Such manoeuvres have been of particular interest to the DPRK, given their scale and possible use as leverage in talks.

The latest irritation was occasioned by claims in Pyongyang that the US had deployed B-52 Stratofortress bombers as part of the exercise despite denying that this would take place.  This was construed, in the words of Leon V. Sigal, “as inconsistent with President Trump’s pledge at President Moon’s urging to move toward peace in Korea.”

The position against using such nuclear-capable assets had been outlined in Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s Day address.  The South, he insisted, should “discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces,” a point reiterated in Rodong Sinmun, the Party newspaper, ten days later: “If the South Korean authorities really want détente and peace, they should first stop all efforts to bringing in the US nuclear equipment and conduct exercises for nuclear warfare with foreign forces.”

While these matters were unfolding, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor was being his injudicious self, doing his bit for global insecurity.  Never a diplomat in the true sense of the term, John Bolton remains a traditional head kicker for empire, the rustler of discontent.

Bolton, history teacher incarnate, wants to impress upon the North Koreans certain jarring examples.  A favourite of his is the so-called Libyan solution. How well that worked: the leadership of a country maligned but convinced in its international rehabilitation to abandon various weapons programs in the hope of shoring up security.  More specifically, in 2003, Libya was convinced to undertake a process US diplomats and negotiators parrot with steam and enthusiasm: denuclearisation.

“We should insist that if this meeting is going to take place,” claimed Bolton on Radio Free Asia with characteristic smugness, “it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago: how to pack up their nuclear weapons program and take it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

The problem with this skewed interpretation lies in its false premise: that US threats, cajoling and sanctions has actually brought North Korea, tail between legs, to the diplomatic table.  Being firm and threatening, according to Bolton, has been rewarding.  This reading verges on the fantastic, ignoring three years of cautious, informal engagement.  It also refuses to account for the fact that Pyongyang made firm moves in Washington’s direction after the insistence on firm preconditions was abandoned by Trump.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been rumbling on the issue of a firm line, suggesting that he, like Bolton, has a preference for the stick approach.  Despite speaking about “warm” and “substantive” talks with Kim, he claims that any agreement with Pyongyang must have a “robust verification program” built into it.

The suggestion of the Libyan precedent was enough to sent Pyongyang into a state, given their developed fears about becoming the next casualty of unwarranted foreign intervention.  Libya did denuclearise, thereby inflicting what could only be seen subsequently as a self-amputation.  As missiles rained down upon Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, launched by the British, French and the US ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, a sense of terrible regret must have been felt.  Soon, the mad colonel would be butchered, and his state torn asunder in a sectarian reckoning.

As the air assault was taking place, the North Korean foreign ministry identified the problem: the bargain between Libya and the western powers to surrender its nuclear weapons program was “an invasion tactic to disarm the country”.  The intervention “is teaching the international community a grave lesson”.

The state news agency KNCA took note of Bolton’s remarks, issuing an official rebuff highlighting the status of the DPRK as a true, fully fledged nuclear weapon state: the “world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met a miserable fate.  It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”

The DPRK’s vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, was unequivocal in warning.  “If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”  Bolton received specific mention: “We do not hide a feeling of repugnance toward him.”

The Trump White House preferred to give different signals.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders is claiming that the president will be his own man on this, though Trump’s own reading of the “Libya model” has proven confusingly selective.  In any case the leverage brought by US ultimatum to disarm without genuine concessions is hardly likely to gain traction. The response from Pyongyang will be simple: resume missile testing and further enlarge the arsenal.

Back to the future? Bolton, Trump and Iranian Regime Cange

Now that the Trump administration has derailed the Iran nuclear deal, the old issue of regime change in Iran is back again. National Security Adviser John Bolton is obviously the chief regime-change advocate in the administration, and there is every reason to believe he has begun to push that policy with Donald Trump in his first month in the White House.

Bolton was part of the powerful neoconservative faction of national security officials in the George W Bush administration that had a plan for supporting regime change in Iran, not much different from the one Bolton is reportedly pushing now. But it was a crack-brained scheme that involved the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) exiled terrorist organisation that never had Bush’s support.

Bolton may find history repeating itself, with Trump resisting his plan for regime change, just as Bush did in 2003.

Trump calls for change

Trump has appeared to flirt with the idea of Iranian regime change in the past. During the December protests in Iran, he said on Twitter that it was time for a change, noting: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years.”

Trump’s killing of the nuclear deal, however, stopped short of rhetoric signalling the aim of overthrowing the Islamic Republic. Instead, Trump suggested that “Iran’s leaders” are “going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people”. He added: “When they do, I am ready, willing and able.”

Bolton has been one of the most enthusiastic clients among former US officials who have associated themselves with MEK, which seeks to overthrow the Tehran regime with US backing

A few days after the Trump announcement, an unnamed National Security Council (NSC) official avoided any hint of regime change, telling the neoconservative Washington Free Beacon: “Our stated policy is to change the Iranian regime’s behaviour.” Now, Bolton has issued an even more explicit denial, telling ABC News: “That is not the policy of the administration. The policy of the administration is to make sure Iran never gets close to deliverable nuclear action.”

And on CNN’s State of the Union, he said:

I’ve written and said a lot of things when I was a complete free agent. I certainly stand by what I said at the time, but those were my opinions then. The circumstance I’m in now is I’m the national security adviser to the president. I’m not the national security decision-maker.

It’s not difficult to read between the lines: the implied message is that his views on regime change have not prevailed with Trump.

Advocating to bomb Iran

Bolton has long been one of the most vocal supporters of such a policy, although he is better known as the primary advocate of bombing Iran. He has been one of the most enthusiastic clients among former US officials who have associated themselves with MEK, which seeks to overthrow the Tehran regime with US backing.

Bolton has not only appeared at MEK rallies in Paris, along with other former US officials on the take from the well-endowed paramilitary organisation. In July 2017, he declared that the Trump administration should adopt the goal of regime change in Iran, calling MEK a “viable” alternative to the regime. And his final line, delivered with his voice rising dramatically, noted that “before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran”.

US President Donald Trump speaks alongside National Security Adviser John Bolton (R) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

It appears that Bolton was still pushing the idea within the administration as of last week. The Washington Free Beacon reported on 10 May that a three-page paper outlining a regime-change strategy from a small far-right organisation called the Security Studies Group, with which Bolton is said to have close ties, was circulated among NSC officials. The quotes from the paper in the story make it clear that the strategy is based largely on seeking to exploit ethnic and religious conflicts in Iran.

The paper reportedly makes the point that ethnic minorities – such as Kurds, Azeris, Ahwazi Arabs and Baloch – represent one-third of Iran’s population, and argues that the Iranian regime’s “oppression of its ethnic and religious minorities has created the conditions for an effective campaign to splinter the Iranian state into component parts”. It adds: “US support for their independence movements, both overt and covert, could force the regime to focus attention on them and limit its ability to conduct other malign activities.”

Those minorities have all had organisations that have carried out violent actions, including bombings and assassinations against Iranian officials, over the past decade, and such a strategy would presumably involve supporting a step-up in such activities – in other words, US support for terrorist activities against Iranian government targets.

The role of MEK

But none of this is new. It was the official line of the powerful alliance between the neoconservatives and the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis within the Bush administration. By 2003, Douglas Feith, the uber-neoconservative former undersecretary of defense for policy, had developed a plan for giving MEK, whose army had been captured by US troops in Iraq, a new name and using them for a covert paramilitary operation in Iran.

Meanwhile, Iran was offering to provide names and other data on al-Qaeda officials it had captured in return for US information on MEK. When former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to protect MEK from such a deal, Bush’s response was: “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.”

Despite the neocon fixation with supporting MEK, both the CIA and the Israelis have long regarded the idea that it could be an instrument for regime change in Iran as ridiculous. After the organisation helped Saddam Hussein’s regime suppress Shia and Kurdish uprisings, it lost any semblance of legitimacy inside Iran. After it relocated to Iraq, moreover, it was transformed into an authoritarian cult.

The former Israeli ambassador to Iran, Uri Lubrani, who was given a free hand to organise a programme for destabilising Iran, recognised long ago, as he told two Israeli journalists, that MEK has no capacity to do anything inside the country.

It was Lubrani who first advanced the argument that about a third of the total Iranian population were ethnic minorities, and that promoting their anti-Tehran activities could help to destabilise the government. Those groups have carried out terrorist bombings and other armed actions in various parts of Iran over the years, and it is well documented that Israel was supporting and advising the Baloch extremist organisation Jundallah on such operations. But the Israelis have used MEK mainly to put out disinformation on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The policy paper Bolton is reportedly pushing states explicitly that the regime change policy should include the use of military force against Iran if necessary. That was the premise of the Cheney-Bolton plan for regime change in Iran, as former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser, David Wurmser, later revealed. And it is the game that Bolton, the enthusiast for bombing Iran, is apparently still playing.

• First published in Middle East Eye

On Board British Airways: “Enjoy” Anti-Soviet Propaganda and Glorification of Churchill

BA Looks Great — From the Outside

First of all, the British Airways is not in the league of airlines such as Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. Many of its intercontinental planes are old and unkempt; monitors are only bit bigger than a pack of cigarettes, and the selection of films thoroughly pathetic for a ‘global carrier’ – just a mainstream diet of Hollywood and British blockbusters.

While almost all first-rate airlines like Qatar Airways, Emirates, Thai, Singapore, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, but even KLM, Air France and Lufthansa, are offering cutting-edge films from Iran, China, Russia, Argentina, India and all other corners of the world, British Airways remains arrogantly and unapologetically US/UK-centric. Judging from the selection of its films, who would ever think that Great Britain used to colonize almost half of the world, and to this day is still meddling in the affairs of dozens of countries worldwide?

The BA’s selection of films, TV programs and news could only be described as shockingly dogmatic. That is, of course, expected from and fitting for the national airline of the country that acts as the chief propaganda producer and supplier for the entire West.

Judging by the selection of the ‘entertainment’ offered on UK and US carriers, it appears that both the UK and US are ‘scared of the world’, consequently trying to ‘protect’ their citizens and guests from ‘dangerous influences’ flowing out of Russia, China, Latin America, Iran and other countries with the best cinema in the world.

*****

On my 12 hour flight in BA’s ‘premium economy’, from Bangkok to London Heathrow, two British films caught my attention: The Death of Stalin and Darkest Hour.

I watched them both, first amused, then horrified, and by the end simply outraged.

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci (a BBC and HBO veteran), is simply a filthy, garbage, bad, bad movie. BA’s brief introduction of the film is seasoned with the usual vulgar, lowest grade of contemporary British propaganda, which lately is so common in the mainstream UK media and even inside the British Parliament: “the horrors of Soviet Russia”, or the, “horrific insanity of life during the Great Terror”.

BA Magazine and Stalin

Seriously, is this the kind of language one would expect to encounter on the pages of a flagship airline magazine which is promoting a movie?

As for the film, it simply vulgarizes one of the most complex figures of the 20th century, while simultaneously smearing everything about one of the most important countries in the history of mankind – the Soviet Union – which stood and fought, for decades, against Western colonialism and imperialism.

It is supposed to be a comedy, or perhaps a parody, but it absolutely doesn’t work; it is not funny at all. And it is clear that the film was made ‘to order’ (who gave the order can only be guessed), precisely during this time when the British regime is on a bizarre offensive, discrediting, attacking and provoking everything Russian and Soviet.

The British anti-Communist and anti-Russian propaganda has always been there, and it has always been effective and toxic. But it has never been brought to such an extreme; to this low and pathetic level.

Perhaps this film is part of those millions of dollars and pounds that both the US and UK regimes have pledged to spend on fighting the truth that, lately, has been pouring out from non-Western media sources.

It is worth noting (and readers can easily check it on the YouTube and elsewhere) that Soviet propaganda and its anti-Western counter-propaganda never sank as low as what is now being produced by the desperate and frustrated Western indoctrinators – Soviet propaganda at least had some artistic style and quality.

Now to the second film that I managed to watch on the tiny screen of my Bangkok to London flight: Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright). This is yet another film about Winston Churchill, a man responsible for the terror that the British Empire unleashed in various parts of the world, a mass murderer responsible for the tens of millions of human lives lost as a result of Western colonialism. Here, BA’s synopsis talks about, a “leader at a pivotal point in WWII…”

What discipline, what blindness it takes, to maintain that Winston Churchill was just a ‘war hero’, not also a racist, bigot and a criminal. In British pro-Churchill, nationalist propaganda (including countless films produced on the topic), not a word is uttered about the dark, even monstrous side of the man. Nothing about the gassing of people, about triggering famines that took millions of human lives in India and elsewhere, nothing about the brutality he unleashed in Africa. Not the slightest of hesitation or a sign of soul-searching can be detected!

It is simply unbelievable how indoctrinated, how intellectually obedient the British public has become. And the more it is, the more it actually dares to preach to the entire world, defending and even unceremoniously spreading its ‘values’.

So many films have been made in the West about Churchill and his stand against Nazi Germany. While not even one has ever been produced, even of recent, about Stalin and his monumental effort to mobilize his enormous country, effort that actually saved the world from the monstrous forces of fascism.

Could it all be as a result of the new Cold War unleashed by London and Washington? Or should that war be, perhaps, called the First Ideological World War – a war that could easily bear a subtitle such as: ‘the West against the rest of the Planet’?

To find out, fly British Airways. You will have to endure the tiny and outdated video screens, but at least you will get a glimpse of the latest propaganda ‘art work’ brought to you by the Empire. Enjoy!

• First published by New Eastern Outlook – NEO

France’s Role in Africa

Fake news, propaganda, public relations, advertising — it goes by many names, but at the core of all these terms is the idea that powerful institutions, primarily governments and corporations, strive to manipulate our understanding of world affairs. The most effective such shaping of opinion is invisible and therefore unquestioned.

Left criticism of French imperialism in Africa provides a stark example. Incredibly, the primary contemporary criticism North American leftists make of French imperialism on that continent concerns a country it never colonized. What’s more, Paris is condemned for siding with a government led by the lower caste majority.

To the extent that North American progressives criticize ‘Françafrique’ they mostly emphasize Paris’ support for the Hutu-led Rwandan government after Uganda/Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded in 1990. Echoing the Paul Kagame dictatorship’s simplistic narrative, France is accused of backing Rwandan genocidaires. In a recent article for thevolcano.org, a leftist outlet based on unceded Coast Salish Territories, Lama Mugabo claims, “the organizations that organized this anger into genocide, and the instruments of murder that they wielded, were outfitted by French colonial power.” In Dark Threats and White Nights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism Sherene H. Razack writes that “French peacekeepers made a number of decisions that prolonged and exacerbated the conflict.” The “post-colonial” Canadian academic also decries “French support for him [Hutu President “Hanyarimana” — her (repeated) misspelling] scuttled any fledging peace efforts.”

In taking up Kigali/Washington/London’s effort to blame France for the mass killings in Rwanda (rather than the Uganda/RPF aggressors and their Anglo-American backers), Razack and others even imply that Paris colonized the country. But, Germany conquered Rwanda and Belgium was given control of the small East African nation at the end of World War I. The nearest former French colony — Central African Republic — is over 1,000 km away.

What Razack, Mugabo and other leftists ignore, or don’t know, is that Washington and London backed the 1990 Uganda/RPF invasion. Officially, a large number of Rwandan exiles “deserted” the Ugandan military to invade (including a former deputy defence minister and head of military intelligence). In reality, the invasion was an act of aggression by the much larger neighbour. Over the next three and a half years Kampala supplied the RPF with weaponry and a safe haven.

Throughout this period Washington provided the Ugandan government with financial, diplomatic and arms support (Ottawa cut millions in aid to Rwanda, prodded Habyarimana to negotiate with the RPF and criticized his human rights record while largely ignoring the Uganda/RPF aggression). Washington viewed the pro-neoliberal government in Kampala and the RPF as a way, after the Cold War, to weaken Paris’ position in a Belgium colonized region, which includes trillions of dollars in mineral riches in eastern Congo.

Echoing Kigali/Washington/London/Ottawa, many leftists have taken up criticism of Paris’ policy towards a country France never colonized and where it sided with a government from the lower caste (over 85% of the population, Hutus were historically a subservient peasant class and the Tutsi a cattle owning, feudal ruling class). Concurrently, leftists have largely ignored or failed to unearth more clear-cut French crimes on the continent, which Washington and Ottawa either backed or looked the other way.

In 1947–48 the French brutally suppressed anticolonial protests in Madagascar. Tens of thousands were also killed in Cameroon during the 1950s-60s independence war. Paris’ bid to maintain control over Algeria stands out as one of the most brutal episodes of the colonial era. With over one million settlers in the country, French forces killed hundreds of thousands of Algerians.

To pre-empt nascent nationalist sentiment, Paris offered each of its West African colonies a referendum on staying part of a new “French community”. When Guinea voted for independence in 1958, France withdrew abruptly, broke political and economic ties, and destroyed vital infrastructure. “What could not be burned,” noted Robert Legvold, “was dumped into the ocean.”

France hasn’t relinquished its monetary imperialism. Through its “Pacte Coloniale” independence agreement, Paris maintained control of 14 former colonies’ monetary and exchange rate policy. Imposed by Paris, the CFA franc is an important barrier to transforming the former colonies’ primary commodity based economies. As part of the accord, most CFA franc countries’ foreign exchange reserves have been deposited in the French treasury (now European Central Bank), which has generated large sums for Paris.

Alongside its monetary imperialism, France has ousted or killed a number of independent-minded African leaders. After creating a national currency and refusing to compensate Paris for infrastructure built during the colonial period, the first president of Togo, Sylvanus Olympio, was overthrown and killed by former French Foreign Legion troops. Foreign legionaries also ousted leaders in the Central African Republic, Benin, Mali, etc. Paris aided in the 1987 assassination of famed socialist Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara.

While undermining independence-minded leaders, Paris has backed corrupt, pro-corporate, dictatorships such as four-decades long Togolese and Gabonese rulers Gnassingbé Eyadema and Ali Bongo Ondimba (their sons took over).

France retains military bases or troops in Djibouti, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gabon, Mali, Chad and Niger. French troops are also currently fighting in Mali and Niger.

Compared to Paris’ role in Rwanda, French influence/violence in its former colonies gets short shrift from North American leftists. Part of the reason is that Washington and Ottawa largely supported French policy in its former colonies (Ottawa has plowed nearly $1 billion into Mali since the 2013 French invasion and gave Paris bullets and other arms as 400,000 French troops suppressed the Algerian independence struggle). Additionally, criticizing France’s role in Rwanda dovetails with the interests of Kigali, Washington, London and Ottawa.

The North American left’s discussion of France’s role in Africa demonstrates the influence of powerful institutions, especially the ones closest to us, in shaping our understanding of the world. We largely ignore what they want us to ignore and see what they want us to see.

To build a movement for justice and equality for everyone on this planet, we must start by questioning everything governments, corporations and other powerful institutions tell us.

“A Suffocating Groupthink”: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.1

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen’s assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on ‘mainstream’ media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

I’ve never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda […] What we’re seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power?

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current ‘mainstream’ reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called ‘failure’ of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, published thirty years ago:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.2 Our emphasis.

1. Israelis Deliberately Killing Palestinians, Including Children

A recent media alert highlighted the mass killing and wounding of Palestinians in Gaza, including children, by Israeli armed forces in what the media often describe as ‘clashes’. Before the latest major massacre on May 14 (see below), Israeli forces had already killed over 50 Palestinian protesters and injured over 5000, including 1700 by live fire, during Great March of Return protests that began on March 30. UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk condemned Israel’s actions as violations of international law.

On April 21, an Israeli general confirmed in a radio interview that even children have been shot deliberately under clear and specific orders. United Nations peace process envoy Nickolay Mladenov declared the targeting of children ‘outrageous.’

In a sane world, such an appalling Israeli policy would be major headline news. Our searches revealed not a single ‘mainstream’ report about it in the days following the Israeli general’s comments. We asked senior BBC News editors and journalists to point us to the BBC News headlines and follow-up coverage on this revelation. BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was the only one to respond. And that was after we observed that she had previously reported in 2013 that Syrian children had been ‘targeted by snipers’. What about Palestinian children targeted by Israeli forces? She replied:

Thank you for message. Am involved in another story now but will forward to colleagues working in the region now.

Predictably, there was no follow-up on BBC News, as far as we could see. We need only imagine the global outrage if Palestinian snipers were found to be deliberately targeting Israeli children to gauge the current level of media silence.

Even more mass killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers have occurred since. On May 14, on the day that the US controversially opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers killed and wounded huge numbers of Palestinians. By the evening, the UN noted that 55 had been killed, including six children. 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 people in a critical condition. By the following day, the death toll had risen to 61, including an eight-month-old baby who died from tear gas inhalation.

All day long, BBC News disgraced itself with headline after headline on the top page of its website masking the truth. Despite weeks of public outrage at previous biased reporting of Gaza protests, BBC News was still using the Israeli-approved word ‘clashes’ to describe the deliberate mass killing of Palestinians.

Compare with the Guardian website which, for once, did not mince its words about Israel’s crimes: ‘Israeli troops kill dozens of Palestinians’. Would that really have been too difficult for someone at BBC News to type out? Clearly so, and no surprise given that the BBC routinely trembles in fear before the pro-Israel lobby. Why else would BBC News choose ‘Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy’ as a headline, masking the fact that Israeli troops had massacred civilians? To be fair to the BBC, the Guardian print edition of May 15 was equally as bad, featuring the headline, ‘Israel: Trump’s new embassy opens – and dozens are killed’.

By the end of the day, the top headline on the BBC News website was: ‘Israel defends Gaza action as 55 killed’. As ever, the Israeli perspective is given prominence, even as it commits abhorrent crimes against civilians. The massacre of unarmed civilians was merely an ‘action’, and the identity of the people murdered by the Israeli army was obscured – perhaps a mix of Israelis and Palestinians had been killed? In fact, there were no Israeli casualties.

On the flagship BBC News at Ten, graphics and headlines proclaimed, ‘Gaza Clashes’, an abomination used by the BBC instead of ‘Gaza Massacre’. The heart-breaking reality behind the lie of ‘clashes’ could be seen in the anguish of a Palestinian father crying in farewell to his little boy:

Oh people, my son

The following day (May 15), the BBC’s truth-mangling headline read:

Gaza braced for further violent protests

A more honest headline would have been:

Gaza civilians braced for a further Israeli massacre

A glimmer of hope for sanity was seen when, following public outrage, The New York Times changed its headline on an article from ‘Palestinians died in protest’ to ‘Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians’. As Twitter user @FalafelDad observed:

media accountability is NECESSARY and can be achieved.

2. Fact-Checking Trump’s Iran Deal Speech

When Donald Trump announced last week that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, analysis by Now This News website revealed in a short video that, in his speech:

Trump averaged one false claim every 83 seconds.

For example, Trump claimed:

The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and – over time – reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.

As the video pointed out:

False. The deal forced Iran to give up all weapons-grade uranium and barred it from producing more.

Trump continued:

The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity.

And in the real world?

Wrong. The deal gave inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear sites and suspicious facilities.

And so on.

In contrast, BBC News at Ten essentially took Trump’s speech at face value. Our challenge to senior BBC editors and correspondents to actually fact-check Trump’s assertions was met with the usual silence.

In an online piece, Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent, did go so far as to say:

The inconvenient truth for Donald Trump is that, as far as it goes, the nuclear deal was working.

Despite this, Mr Trump presented it in stark and frankly erroneous terms – for leaving out things that it was never supposed to cover in the first place.

But two lines couched in rather vague and non-specific terms is scant compensation for flagship BBC News television reporting that is little more than stenography. Senior editors and journalists seem to believe that their job is to tell the public what ‘our’ leaders say, and not to scrutinise claims made. This is galling; all the more so when dangerous rhetoric, making war more likely, goes unchallenged. But then, as John Pilger once wrote, corporate journalists are:

the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

3. Douma And The Salisbury Attack

There is so much that could be said on Douma following our recent two-part media alert. Note, for instance, the corporate media’s response to a press conference at the headquarters of the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW in the Hague on April 26. A number of Syrians, including children, gave their version of events in Douma, casting serious doubt on the official Western narrative of a chemical weapons attack that provided the pretext for missile attacks by the US, the UK and France on April 14. ‘Mainstream’ media dutifully headlined the scathing dismissal by Western powers of the Russia-organised press conference as ‘nothing more than a crude propaganda exercise‘ and an ‘obscene masquerade.’

Meanwhile, the corporate media blanked the assessment of Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector vindicated in his detailed appraisal that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of ‘WMD’ before the 2003 war. Last month, interviewer Dennis Bernstein of Flashpoints Radio asked Ritter:

Isn’t it also the case that there were problems with the allegations concerning Syria using chemical weapons in 2013 and then again in 2015? I believe The New York Times had to retract their 2013 story.

Ritter replied:

They put out a story about thousands of people dying, claiming that it was definitely done by the Syrian government. It turned out later that the number of deaths was far lower and that the weapons systems used were probably in the possession of the rebels. It was a case of the rebels staging a chemical attack in order to get the world to intervene on their behalf.

He continued:

A similar scenario unfolded last year when the Syrian government dropped two or three bombs on a village and suddenly there were reports that there was sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas wafting through the village, killing scores of people. Videotapes were taken of dead and dying and suffering people which prompted Trump to intervene. Inspectors never went to the site. Instead they relied upon evidence collected by the rebels.

Ritter expanded on this vital point:

As a weapons inspector, I can tell you that chain of custody of any samples that are to be used in the investigation is an absolute. You have to be at the site when it is collected, it has to be certified to be in your possession until the laboratory. Any break in the chain of custody makes that evidence useless for a legitimate investigation. So we have evidence collected by the rebels. They videotaped themselves carrying out the inspection, wearing training suits that would not have protected them at all from chemical weapons! Like almost everything having to do with these rebels, this was a staged event, an act of theater.

Ritter then turned to the US/UK/France missile attack on Syria on April 14:

We bombed three targets, a research facility in Damascus and two bunker facilities in western Syria. It was claimed that all three targets were involved with a Syrian chemical weapons program. But the Syria weapons program was verified to be disarmed. So what chemical weapons program are we talking about? Then US officials said that one of these sites stored sarin nerve agent and chemical production equipment. That is a very specific statement. Now, if Syria was verified to be disarmed last year, with all this material eliminated, what are they talking about? What evidence do they have that any of this material exists? They just make it up. [Emphasis in original]’

Serious questions also remain regarding the official story on the Skripal poison attack in Salisbury; not least, why the rebranded D-Notice committee has issued not just one, but two notices in an attempt to shut down aspects of media coverage.

As ever, the views of ‘experts’ and witnesses whose testimony accords with the Western narrative are given heavy coverage in the corporate media; while those whose testimony runs counter to that narrative tend to be either dismissed or simply ignored. As Noam Chomsky once observed:

Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits – that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.3

4. Today’s McCarthyism

As noted earlier, the ‘intense campaign of propaganda’ described by John Pilger is severely distorting what passes for journalism. A constant target of this distortion is Russia, in a grotesque echo of Cold War propaganda. From Moscow, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg plays the required role, recently commenting on the inauguration ceremony following Russian president Putin’s re-election:

The symbolism and the message couldn’t be clearer. Putin, the modern tsar. Loved by his people.

Putin and Russia are forever portrayed as flexing their military muscles and representing a threat to the West, not least by BBC News. It is notable that a similar snooty, doom-mongering tone is absent when UK state occasions, or military exercises, are reported.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News responded to us on Twitter:

You will find Putin has a little more power than the Queen by the way. Just a tad…

We replied:

UK churnalism endlessly drools over “our” dear leaders. Remember the Blair adulation? And Obama? But that’s okay, because they’re “good guys”, not like Putin.

Thomson followed up with:

I don’t see much drooling. And neither Blair nor Obama routinely liquidate opposition/journalists as happens under Putin’s Kremlin, unarguably.

Our response:

Because you don’t want to see it. But you can see Putin’s crimes. Can you also see that Blair and Obama destroyed entire countries [Iraq, Libya], also unarguably? Can you see that the state-corporate system they served is ferociously violent, exploitative and criminal?

Thomson did not answer, other than to request to be ‘untagged’ from an exchange he had initiated, following a further critical response from another tweeter.

Meanwhile, the increasingly neocon Guardian plastered on its front page, not just one, but three, pieces of anti-Russia propaganda:

Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance
‘Deny, distract and blame’: how Russia fights propaganda war
Clickbait and Skripal jokes: Russia’s RT thrives online

The Guardian, once regarded by many on the left as the vanguard of power-challenging journalism, was clearly pushing the ‘red scare’ agenda hard, in line with UK government priorities.

The big ‘Revealed’ piece was written by Patrick Wintour, the paper’s diplomatic editor. The main message, which could have come straight from a government press release, was this:

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook was rightly critical in a blog piece:

When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.

Cook continued:

But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia.

The author of the second piece on ‘how Russia fights propaganda war’ was, ironically, Luke Harding, the paper’s former Moscow-based correspondent who regularly churned out pro-West propaganda in that role. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray describes Harding as ‘MI6’s most important media conduit (after [BBC security correspondent] Frank Gardner)’. The pinpoint demolition of Harding by Aaron Maté of The Real News Network last year is a must-watch.

A later Guardian piece by Amanda Meade, Guardian Australia’s media correspondent, actually contained this line:

RT is a powerful PR arm of the Russian government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

When did the Guardian ever write the following line?

The BBC is a powerful PR arm of the British government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

As Caitlin Johnstone rightly notes, any discussion of ‘Russian disinformation’ is invalid if it sweeps under the carpet previous massive Western propaganda campaigns; not least that leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Those questioning the official Western narratives on Russia and Syria have been subjected to an appalling McCarthyite campaign of vilification and intimidation; in large part initiated by The Times and followed up by others, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Huffington Post. This has led to the late rearrangement of a planned conference in Leeds, titled ‘Media on Trial,’ after the city council pulled the plug on allowing Leeds City Museum to be used as the venue. A report on the event’s cancellation, written by Chris York, a senior editor at HuffPost UK, smeared the speakers, including Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, as ‘pro-Assad’. Indeed, York has been relentless in attacking the academics as ‘pro-Assad’.

As for George Monbiot, the Guardian’s long-time resident ‘dissident’, his subservience to the official narrative on Russia and Syria was starkly exposed by journalist Peter Hitchens in recent exchanges on Twitter. Hitchens had previously published a detailed piece on his blog titled, ‘Who Gassed Whom in Syria? We don’t Know. Please Don’t be Rushed into War.’

The Twitter exchange is lengthy and not archived in a single thread, as far as we are aware. But as an indicator of Monbiot’s inability to respond to Hitchens, consider this discussion on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW):

Monbiot:

The OPCW/JIM report on Khan Shaykhun [in 2017] presented a mountain of evidence for a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government

Hitchens:

1. The report is based on a study that breaks the OPCW’s own stated 2013 rule: No assessment without visiting the site. But the OPCW never visited the site. It is full of anonymous judgements of likelihood, phrases such as “appeared to be” and “highly likely”

Followed up by:

2. Sorry to put it like this George (but not very) but any proper journalist knows that “appears to be;” and “highly likely” are phrases used by people who would have loved to say “is”, but haven’t the facts which would allow them to do so.

And:

3. I’d also say that in a long career I have learned to be sceptical of opinions convenient to the person presenting them, originating from unnamed and unidentified sources, and of people with firm views about events they did not themselves witness.

After Monbiot had ‘liked’ a tweet smearing Hitchens as ‘a chemical weapons denier/Assad-Putin stooge’, together with Monbiot’s clear inability to properly respond to reasonable questions from Hitchens about supposed incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt, Hitchens concluded:

I have been dismayed and disappointed by the behaviour of @GeorgeMonbiot on this issue, where he has preferred smear to rational, fact-based debate. What has happened to radicalism in the west, when prominent left-wingers behave like this?

Indeed. Although, when it comes to UK foreign policy, far from being a ‘left-winger’, Monbiot has consistently aligned himself with dubious neocon and ‘interventionist’ voices for some considerable time.

Concluding Remarks

It may have taken several years, but Guardian columnist Owen Jones has come to realise something vital about the ‘mainstream’ media which, to his credit, he has been willing to share:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

As Ian Sinclair pointed out in the Morning Star:

the indignant responses [from corporate journalists] — perfectly illustrating Jones’s argument — came thick and fast.

The response from Deborah Haynes, Times defence editor, was typical when she proudly declared:

No-one tells me what to think

US writer and media critic Michael Parenti had the perfect response for this recurring facile boast from corporate journalists:

You say what you like because they like what you say.

In other words, journalists are filtered for ‘reliability’; only those who say, write and even think the right things are able to reach senior positions in journalism. The consequences for genuine truth-telling journalism are horrendous, as the above examples show.

  1. Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.20.
  2. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1.
  3. Quoted, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, New York, 2002, p. 13.