Category Archives: UK Military

The hounding of Julian Assange leaves honest journalism with no refuge

It is no accident that Julian Assange, the digital transparency activist and journalist who founded Wikileaks to help whistleblowers tell us what western governments are really up to in the shadows, has spent 10 years being progressively disappeared into those very same shadows.

His treatment is a crime similar to those Wikileaks exposed when it published just over a decade ago hundreds of thousands of leaked materials – documents we were never supposed to see – detailing war crimes committed by the United States and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These two western countries killed non-combatants and carried out torture not, as they claimed, in the pursuit of self-defence or in the promotion of democracy, but to impose control over a strategic, resource-rich region.

It is the ultimate, ugly paradox that Assange’s legal and physical fate rests in the hands of two states that have the most to lose by allowing him to regain his freedom and publish more of the truths they want to keep concealed. By redefining his journalism as “espionage” – the basis for the US extradition claim – they are determined to keep the genie stuffed in the bottle.

Eyes off the ball

Last week, in overturning a lower court decision that should have allowed Assange to walk free, the English High Court consented to effectively keep Assange locked up indefinitely.  He is a remand prisoner – found guilty of no crime – and yet he will continue rotting in solitary confinement for the foreseeable future, barely seeing daylight or other human beings, in Belmarsh high-security prison alongside Britain’s most dangerous criminals.

The High Court decision forces our eyes off the ball once again. Assange and his supposed “crime” of seeking transparency and accountability has become the story rather than the crimes he exposed that were carried out by the US to lay waste to whole regions and devastate the lives of millions.

The goal is to stop the public conducting the debate Assange wanted to initiate through his journalism: about western state crimes. Instead the public is being deflected into a debate his persecutors want: whether Assange can ever safely be allowed out of his cell.

Assange’s lawyers are being diverted from the real issues too. They will now be tied up for years fighting endless rearguard actions, caught up in the search for legal technicalities, battling to win a hearing in any court they can, to prevent his extradition to the United States to stand trial.

The process itself has taken over. And while the legal minutiae are endlessly raked over, the substance of the case – that it is US and British officials who ought to be held responsible for committing war crimes – will be glossed over.

Permanently silenced

But it is worse than the legal injustice of Assange’s case. There may be no hack-saws needed this time, but this is as visceral a crime against journalism as the dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials back in 2018.

And the outcome for Assange is only slightly less preordained than it was for Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The goal for US officials has always been about permanently disappearing Assange. They are indifferent about how that is achieved.

If the legal avenue is a success, he will eventually head to the US where he can be locked away for up to 175 years in severe solitary confinement in a super-max jail – that is, till long past his death from natural causes. But there is every chance he will not survive that long. Last January, a British judge rejected extraditing Julian Assange to the US over his “suicide risk“, and medical experts have warned that it will be only a matter of time before he succeeds.

That was why the district court blocked extradition – on humanitarian grounds. Those grounds were overturned by the High Court last week only because the US offered “assurances” that measures would be in place to ensure Assange did not commit suicide. But Assange’s lawyers pointed out: those assurances “were not enough to address concerns about his fragile mental health and high risk of suicide”. These concerns should have been apparent to the High Court justices.

Further, dozens of former officials in the Central Intelligence Agency and the previous US administration have confirmed that the agency planned to execute Assange in an extrajudicial operation in 2017. That was shortly before the US was forced by circumstance to switch to the current, formal extradition route. The arguments now made for his welfare by the same officials and institutions that came close to killing him should never have been accepted as made in good faith.

In fact, there is no need to speculate about the Americans’ bad faith. It is only too apparent in the myriad get-out clauses in the “assurances” they provided. Those assurances can be dropped, for example, if US officials decide Assange is not being cooperative. The promises can and will be disregarded the moment they become an encumbrance on Washington’s ability to keep Assange permanently silenced.

‘Trapped in a cage’

But if losing the extradition battle is high stakes, so is the legal process itself. That could finish Assange off long before a decision is reached, as his fiancee Stella Moris indicated at the weekend. She confirmed that Assange suffered a small stroke during a hearing in October in the endless extradition proceedings. There are indications he suffered neurological damage, and is now on anti-stroke medication to try to stop a recurrence.

Assange and his friends believe the stroke was brought on by the constant double strain of his solitary confinement in Belmarsh and a legal process being conducted over his head, in which he is barely allowed to participate.

Nils Melzer, the United Nations expert on torture, has repeatedly warned that Assange has been subjected to prolonged psychological torture in the nine years since he fled into Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking asylum from US efforts to persecute him.

That form of torture, Melzer has pointed out, was refined by the Nazis because it was found to be far more effective at breaking people than physical torture. Moris told the Daily Mail: “[The stroke] compounds our fears about [Assange’s] ability to survive the longer this long legal battle goes on. … Look at animals trapped in cages in a zoo. It cuts their life short. That’s what’s happening to Julian.”

And that indeed looks to be the prize for US officials that wanted him assassinated anyway. Whatever happens to Assange, the lawless US security state wins: it either gets him behind bars forever, or it kills him quietly and quite lawfully, while everyone is distracted, arguing about who Assange is rather what he exposed.

Political prisoner

In fact, with each twist and turn of the proceedings against Assange we move further from the realities at the heart of the case towards narrative distractions.

Who remembers now the first extradition hearings, nearly two years ago, at which the court was reminded that the very treaty signed by Britain and the US that is the basis for Assange’s extradition explicitly excludes political cases of the kind being pursued by the US against Assange?

It is a victory for state criminality that the discussion has devolved to Assange’s mental health rather than a substantive discussion of the treaty’s misapplication to serve political ends.

And similarly the focus on US assurances regarding Assange’s wellbeing is intended to obscure the fact that a journalist’s work is being criminalised as “espionage” for the first time under a hurriedly drafted, draconian and discredited piece of First World War legislation, the 1917 Espionage Act. Because Assange is a political prisoner suffering political persecution, legal arguments are apparently powerless to save him. It is only a political campaign that can keep underscoring the sham nature of the charges he faces.

The lies of power

What Assange bequeathed us through Wikileaks was a harsh light capable of cutting through the lies of power and power of lies. He showed that western governments claiming the moral high ground were actually committing crimes in our name out of sight in far-off lands. He tore the mask off their hypocrisy.

He showed that the many millions who took to the streets in cities around the world in 2003 because they knew the US and UK would commit war crimes in Iraq were right to march. But he also confirmed something worse: that their opposition to the war was treated with utter contempt.

The US and UK did not operate more carefully, they were not more respectful of human rights, they did not tread more lightly in Iraq because of those marches, because of the criticism beforehand. The western war machine carried on regardless, crushing the lives of anyone who got caught up in its maw.

Now with Assange locked up and silenced, western foreign policy can return comfortably to the era of zero accountability that existed before Assange shook up the whole system with his revelations. No journalist will dare to repeat what Assange did – not unless they are ready to spend the rest of their days behind bars.

The message his abuse sends to others could not be clearer or more chilling: what happened to Assange could happen to you too.

The truth is journalism is already reeling from the combined assaults against Khashoggi and Assange. But the hounding of Assange strikes the bigger blow. It leaves honest journalism with no refuge, no sanctuary anywhere in the world.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post The hounding of Julian Assange leaves honest journalism with no refuge first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Neocons Speak: Afghanistan as Political Real Estate

When the tears dry, it is worth considering why there is so much upset about the fall of Kabul (or reconquest) by the Taliban and the messy withdrawal of US-led forces.  A large shield is employed: women, rights of the subject, education.  Remove the shield, and we are left with a simple equation of power gone wrong in the name of paternalistic warmongering.

The noisiest group of Afghanistan stayers are the neoconservatives resentful because their bit of political real estate is getting away.  In being defeated, they are left with the task of explaining to the soldiery that blood was not expended in vain against a foe they failed to defeat.  “You took out a brutal enemy,” goes a statement from US President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, “and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care.”  The couple throw in the contribution of Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning, behind the opening of “schools for girls and women around the nation.”

Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Bush’s deputy defence secretary, is less sentimental in his assessment of the Afghanistan fiasco. To Australia’s Radio National, he was unsparing in calling the victors “a terrorist mob that has been hating the United States for the last 20 years.”  They had provided the launching ground for “one of history’s worst attacks on the United States” and were now “going to be running that bit of hostile territory.”

Being in Afghanistan, he asserted, was not costly for the occupiers – at least to the US.  It made good sense in preventing it from “once again becoming a haven for terrorists”.  For the last year and a half, there had not been a single American death.  He chided the simpletons at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs who dared survey Americans with the question, “Would you like to leave [Afghanistan] and get out?”  They would have been far better framing it differently: “Do you support withdrawal if it means the country is going to be overrun by the same people who hated us 20 years ago and from where an attack that killed 3,000 Americans took place”.

To talk about “endless wars” was also something to avoid.  In a reminder that the US imperial footprint remains global, Wolfowitz drew attention to the fact that Washington was hardly going to withdraw from South Korea, where it was still officially at war with the North.  It kept troops in countries it had previously been at war with: Germany and Japan.  Americans, he lamented, had not “been told the facts” by their politicians.

Boiled down to its essentials, such a view has little time for Afghans with a country “more or less ungovernable for long periods of time”.  (What uncooperative savages.)  The Obama administration’s deployment of 100,000 soldiers had been an “overreach” with unclear intention.  It was far better to treat Afghanistan as a state to contain with “a limited commitment” of US forces rather than “extending to the idea that Afghanistan would become a latter-day Switzerland.”  Ringing the real estate, not advancing the people, mattered.

Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton, a caricature of US interventionist policies, never had much time for the withdrawal argument, either.  Earlier in August, with the Taliban humming along with speed in capturing a swag of provincial cities, Bolton warned that it was “literally [President Joe] Biden’s last chance to reverse his and Trump’s erroneous withdrawal policy.  When the Taliban wins, it compromises the security of all Americans.”

Another voice from the neoconservative stable advocating the need for a continued boot print of US power was Max Boot, who thought it nonsensical to keep US troops in Iraq while withdrawing them from Afghanistan.  US forces needed, he wrote in the Irish Independent (July 29) “to stay in both countries to prevent a resurgence of the terrorist threat to the US and its allies.”  The “imperative” to prevent both countries from becoming “international terrorist bases” remained, but only one had an adequate military presence to provide insurance.  Decent of Boot to show such candour.

The British, long wedded to the idea of empire as gift and necessity, have also piled onto the wagon of stayers, saying less about the merits of protecting Afghan citizens than keeping trouble boxed and localised.  “We will run the risk of terrorist entities re-establishing in Afghanistan, to bring harm in Europe and elsewhere,” feared General Sir Richard Barrons.  “I think this is a very poor strategic outcome.”

British Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, a former captain in the Royal Green Jackets, went further by suggesting that plucky Britain best go it alone in the face of foolhardy US withdrawal.  “Just because the US chose to depart does not mean we should slavishly follow suit,” he exhorted. “Would it not make sense to stay close to the Afghan people given the importance of this bit of real estate?”

The one who tops all of this off must be former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, always one given to evangelising wars waged in the name of a sinister, tinfoil humanitarianism.  As executive of an institute bearing his name (modest to a fault), he railed against a withdrawal executed “in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘forever wars’”.  Like Wolfowitz, he dismissed the use of such terms and comparisons, noting the diminishing troop deployment on Afghan soil and the fact that “no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months.”

Despite the withdrawal, Blair suggested that options were available to “the West” which needed some “tangible demonstration” that it was not in “retreat”.  A “list of incentives, sanctions and actions” had to be drawn up against the Taliban.  In doing so, his motivation was simple: that these turbaned fanatics represented a strategic risk, part of “Radical Islam” that had been “almost 100 years in gestation”.

Far from ditching the prospect for future interventions, the high priest of illegal war is all-embracing of the formula.  “Intervention,” he opines, “can take many forms. We need to do it learning the proper lessons of the past 20 years according not to our short-term politics, but our long-term strategic interests.”  Be fearful for Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and woe to those lessons.

The post The Neocons Speak: Afghanistan as Political Real Estate first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 1)

After 20 years of Media Lens, it seems only natural that we should look back in gratitude at the support we’ve received. In response to one of our early pieces, a kindly columnist at the Observer commented:

‘Dear David,

‘Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your piece, which strikes me as spot on.

‘Yrs,

‘Nick Cohen’

A Guardian columnist responded with even more effusive praise:

‘This article is brilliant and fascinating David, as ever.’ (George Monbiot)

Alas, our ethical integrity declined precipitously after we subjected our interlocutors to criticism, with Cohen addressing us as ‘Dear Serviles’, signing off with ‘Viva Joe Stalin’ (Cohen, email, 15 March 2002). Monbiot went on to write an article titled, ‘Media Cleanse’. He described our organisation as ‘an apologist for genocidaires and ethnic cleansers’ – Guardianspeak for ‘critics who embarrass apologists for Western foreign policy’. Both Cohen and Monbiot have long since blocked us on Twitter.

More seriously, beyond the corporate fringepuddle, we were initially astonished by the level of public support we received. A reader commented early on:

‘Dear MediaLens, I feel like crying with the gratitude I feel to you people for the immense amount of work that must go into writing incredibly detailed, researched synopses like that we have just received from you on Iraq.’

Last month, a reader emailed:

‘My sister and I have followed your work for many years and really I don’t have the words to describe the value of the service you provide to a global community.’

We once asked Harold Pinter what he thought of the media claim that ‘people are completely indifferent to everything that’s going on and couldn’t care less’. In his inimitable style, Pinter replied:

‘That is actually bollocks.’

We sometimes feel genuinely embarrassed by the praise we receive because it has always seemed to us that we are involved in a kind of turkey shoot.

The fact is that, like other corporate employees, on pain of career cancellation, media workers simply cannot expose truths that discomfit their owners, parent companies, editors, advertisers, colleagues, and allied powerful interests. It is child’s play to demonstrate that this is the case.

Even as we were editing this alert, Jack Slater, an ostensibly impartial, objective senior BBC broadcast journalist covering Joe Biden’s first visit to the UK as president, tweeted:

‘Always special to film POTUS [President of the United States].’

Nobody noticed. If Slater tweeted, ‘Always special to film Assad’, or, ‘Always special to film Putin’, he would be guilty of ‘bias’ contravening the BBC charter and out of a job. Likewise, if he tweeted, ‘Always uncomfortable to film the head of US imperial power.’

Because journalists are also not free to discuss what it is they are not free to discuss, we often have the last word (Slater, of course, ignored our tweet, above). This also makes us look great!

The point is that we don’t have direct bosses – owners, managers, editors, parent companies. And we also don’t have indirect bosses – advertisers, wealthy philanthropists, supportive charitable foundations, organisational allegiances, and so on. This is the one advantage of being a tinpot outfit run on a shoestring.

The Chinese mystic Chuang Tzu once said: ‘Easy is right.’ Media criticism is easy if you’re willing to burn your media bridges at both ends. We have found that it often produces a lovely light.

Below, we discuss 20 corporate media horrors from the last 20 years that have remained stuck in our minds and craws, and that are ‘actually bollocks’.

1. The 30mm M230 Chain-Driven Autocannon ‘Stitching The Fabric Of A Nation Together’

It couldn’t have been more perfect. On 17 November 2010, BBC News at Ten presenter George Alagiah spoke from the British base, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan:

‘I’ve been here a week now and it’s been long enough to see some of the small but real steps of progress. But it’s also clear how much further there is to go. And it’s not just about women’s rights or more clinics and schools. It’s about stitching the fabric of a nation together.’

Future historians will write learned dissertations on how gender rights in our time have been commandeered and weaponised by a fathomless cultural arrogance (the polite term) in the service of imperial violence.

For these fine words were spoken in front of an Apache attack helicopter. The gunship’s 30mm, M230 chain-driven autocannon, fresh from ‘stitching the fabric of a nation together’, was clearly visible. This was the same weapon type seen blowing apart a dozen or more Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in the 2007 WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video. And this is the same aircraft type in which (then) Prince Harry had flown as co-pilot and gunner. Now an ardent anti-racism campaigner, when asked if he had killed people as part of the illegal, racist war on brown-skinned Afghans, Harry answered:

‘Yeah, so, lots of people have… If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.’

Talk of a majority white alliance ‘taking out’ brown-skinned people from ‘the game’ (‘The Great Game’?) would perhaps fail Harry’s own refurbished standards of political correctness now.

2. The Independent on Sunday – ‘Travel Neroists’

Like everyone else, the billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporation calling itself the Independent on Sunday now claims to hold a bright candle for the radical climate action required to address the devastation wrought by… (wait for it!)… the billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporate system.

In 2016, environment editor Geoffrey Lean lavished praise on himself and his employer:

‘this has been a newspaper that has long been black and white and green all over, winning many awards’.

As Noam Chomsky said:

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

In 2007 – fully 20 years after scientists had blown a loud whistle on the looming threat of climate collapse – the February 4 cover story of the Independent on Sunday’s Review supplement was almost beyond belief. The words on the cover:

‘Time is running out… Ski resorts are melting… Paradise islands are vanishing… So what are you waiting for?’

Did they mean: what are we waiting for before taking radical action? No, this, after all, was a corporate newspaper and business is business:

‘30 places you need to visit while you still can – A 64-page Travel Special…’

From the depths of depraved corporate cynicism, Marcus Fairs wrote:

‘I am changing my travel plans this year. Alarmed by global warming, shocked by the imminent mass extinction of species and distraught at the environmental damage wreaked by mass tourism, I have decided to act before it is too late. Yes, carbon-neutral travel can wait. I’m off to see polar bears, tigers and low-lying Pacific atolls while they’re still there… In the spirit of Nero – the Roman emperor who sang to the beauty of the flames while Rome burned to the ground – we are determined to enjoy the final days of our beautiful Earth. We are aware that mass tourism damages the very things we are going to see, but this only increases our urgency. We are aware that we will soon have to act more sustainably, which gives us all the more reason to be irresponsible while we still can.

‘Not for us the angsty despair of the eco-worriers, nor the stay-home moralising of the greenhouse gasbags. For we are the travel Neroists, and we have spotted a window of opportunity.’ 2

Fourteen years later, everything has changed, of course. Well, profit-maximising corporate media now at least pretend they care. In April, Greta Thunberg accurately summed up the reality of these heroic businesses that are ‘black and white and green all over’:

‘The climate crisis doesn’t exist in the public debate today. And since it doesn’t really exist… the general level of awareness is so absurdly low…’

For the corporate system, radical change means finding radical new deceptions to allow them to continue maximising profits at any cost.

3. Simon Kelner – Corbyn’s ‘Threatening’ Pronunciation

By the time Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership of the Labour Party in May 2015, he had been a Labour MP for 32 years. As a leading anti-war voice, he had received plenty of attention and abuse from corporate politics and media.

We searched the ProQuest media database for national UK newspaper articles containing mentions of ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ before 1 May 2015. The search found 18 articles, none of which accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. Then, in November 2019, the month before the last general election, we searched for mentions of ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015. We got 15,857 hits. The figure currently stands at 21,919.

This represents a truly awesome, in fact, unprecedented, propaganda assault on a democratic politician. In fact, it closely resembles the campaigns used to demonise leaders of Official Enemy states like Iraq, Iran, Libya and Venezuela, conducted by many of the same journalists in the same media organisations. That’s a gentle way of saying the anti-Corbyn propaganda blitz was a serious attack on democracy, a kind of fascism.

As one would expect during a McCarthyite-style frenzy of this kind, in finding a herd to follow many corporate media workers lost their minds.

A small but telling example was provided in the i newspaper by former Independent editor Simon Kelner, who focused on the way Corbyn had ‘mispronounced’ the name of the sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein. Kelner noted of Corbyn’s contribution to a TV debate: ‘He called him “Ep–Schtine.”’

In attacking Corbyn, along with other journalists like ITV political editor Robert Peston, Kelner did not merely dispense with the usual affectation of journalistic objectivity, he emphasised his subjectivity:

‘My reaction was a visceral one: it’s not something I can explain easily, or even rationally, but a Jewish person does know when there is something that sounds wrong, or perjorative [sic], or even threatening. It was as if he was saying: “Are you aware this man is Jewish?”’

The idea, then, was that Corbyn – who had been subjected to relentless, highly damaging attacks of this kind for several years, and who had done everything he could to distance himself from anti-semitism, taking a very tough line on the suspension of allies like Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson from the Labour Party – was emphasising Epstein’s Jewishness in a deliberate – or, worse – unconscious effort to smear Jews.

Of course, only a crazed racist would be unable to resist such a patently self-destructive impulse on national TV. And yet, as discussed, Corbyn managed to prevent journalists and politicians from observing his right arm shooting skywards for 32 years. In November 2019, the outgoing Speaker of the House of Commons, former Conservative MP, John Bercow, who is Jewish, said in an interview:

‘I myself have never experienced anti-semitism from a member of the Labour Party, point one. And point two, though there is a big issue and it has to be addressed, I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic.

‘I’ve known him for the 22 years I’ve been in Parliament. Even, actually, when I was a right-winger we got on pretty well… I’ve never detected so much as a whiff of anti-semitism [from him].’

Our search of the ProQuest media database found no mention of Bercow’s comments in any UK national newspaper. Kelner’s comments belong with the most crazed and paranoid effusions of US McCarthyism, where beds were widely believed to be the preferred hiding place for ‘reds’.

4. The BBC’s Missing History Of Iran

The BBC has a long, inglorious history of shortening its historical attention span to suit powerful interests. A key establishment embarrassment was the US-UK’s coup to overthrow the democratically elected Musaddiq government of Iran in 1953.

It truly is embarrassing that the CIA supplied the weapons and money, that the BBC helped green-light the coup, and above all the fact that the goal was oil.

In 1952, the British ambassador commented that ‘Persian [Iranian] public opinion is unanimous in rejecting the [British] offer’ of a deal on oil. But Britain did ‘not consider that a deal on acceptable terms can ever be made with’ Musaddiq. 3

Colonel Wheeler, an adviser at the British embassy, explained that ‘combined Anglo-American action could, of course, have removed [Musaddiq] at any time during the past six months… Given a united Anglo-American front, a change of government could almost certainly be effected without difficulty or disturbance’. (p. 91)

This neatly captures the traditional US-UK ‘respect’ for democracy and human rights (see point 17 in Part 2).

In a memorandum in August 1952 discussing this ‘change of government’, Sam Falle, a UK embassy official in Iran, suggested that:

‘We should leave the name-suggesting to the Americans… It should not be difficult to bring the American’s candidate… to power.’ (p. 92)

The British preference was ‘for a non-communist coup d’etat preferably in the name of the Shah. This would mean an authoritarian regime,’ the embassy in Teheran noted ominously. (p. 91)

According to then CIA agent Richard Cottam, ‘…that mob that came into north Teheran and was decisive in the overthrow was a mercenary mob. It had no ideology. That mob was paid for by American dollars and the amount of money that was used has to have been very large’. (p. 93)

A US general later testified that ‘the guns they had in their hands, the trucks they rode in, the armoured cars that they drove through the streets, and the radio communications that permitted their control, were all furnished through the [US] military defence assistance program’. (p. 93)

Of this period of history, a recent BBC report observed merely:

‘The UK owes the money for failing to deliver tanks Iran bought in the 1970s.’

Between 1971 and 1976, the UK sold the Shah 1,500 state-of-the-art Chieftain main battle tanks and 250 repair vehicles costing £650 million. Thatcher praised the Shah as ‘one of the world’s most far-sighted statesmen, whose experience is unrivaled’. She added:

‘No other world leader has given his country more dynamic leadership. He is leading Iran through a twentieth century renaissance.’

Curiously, the BBC made no mention of the fact that the tanks had been sent to prop up a dictator installed by the US-UK alliance to steal Iranian oil.

Amnesty International reported of Iran under the Shah that it had the ‘highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture’ which was ‘beyond belief’. It was a society in which ‘the entire population was subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror’.4

None of this exists for BBC media workers.

US Iran specialist Eric Hoogland commented of the Shah:

‘The more dictatorial his regime became, the closer the US-Iran relationship became.’

5. Iranian ‘Showdown’ – The Guardian’s Front-Page Farce

In 2007, a front-page Guardian piece by Simon Tisdall claimed that Iran had secret plans to do nothing less than wage war on, and defeat, American forces in Iraq by August of that year.

Iran, it seemed, was ‘forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal’.

The claim was based almost entirely on unsupported assertions made by anonymous US officials. Indeed 22 of the 23 paragraphs in the story relayed official US claims: over 95 per cent of the story. The compilation below indicates the levels of balance and objectivity:

‘US officials say’; ‘a senior US official in Baghdad warned’; ‘The official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘US officials now say’; ‘the senior official in Baghdad said’ ‘he [the senior official in Baghdad] added’; ‘the official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘he [the official] indicated’; ‘he [the official] cited’; ‘a senior administration official in Washington said’; ‘The administration official also claimed; ‘he [the administration official] said’; ‘US officials say’; ‘the senior official in Baghdad said’; ‘he [the senior official in Baghdad] said’; ‘the senior administration official said’; ‘he [the senior administration official] said’; ‘the official claimed’; ‘he [the official] said’; ‘Gen Petraeus’s report to the White House and Congress’; ‘a former Bush administration official said’; ‘A senior adviser to Gen Petraeus reported’; ‘the adviser admitted’.

No less than 26 references to official pronouncements formed the basis for a Guardian story presented with no scrutiny, no balance, no counter-evidence – nothing. Remove the verbiage described above and a Guardian front page news report becomes a straight Pentagon press release.

6. The Observer’s Missing War On Syria

The Iraq war catastrophe was a genuine wake-up call for Western governments and media. Something had to change. In retrospect, the answer was obvious: if wars destroying whole countries for oil and other resources were damaging the credibility of Western ‘democracies’, why not just pretend that the West isn’t involved? Thus, Western responsibility for the destruction of Libya barely exists for Western media. Thus, also, this Observer editorial on Syrian president Assad:

‘Many other factors have kept his regime in power. One is the refusal of the western powers to forcibly intervene… Fearful of another disaster like Iraq, MPs rejected UK military intervention. Days later, Barack Obama and the US Congress followed suit. The then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said the Commons had spoken “for the people of Britain”. Perhaps.’ (Our emphasis)

In reality, the West, directly and via regional allies, has played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had been embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’. The aim was to support a vast ‘rebel’ army created and armed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to overthrow the Syrian government.

In 2013, it was reported that the US had supplied no less than 15,000 high-tech, anti-tank missiles to ‘rebels’ via Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, Joe Biden said of Syria that US allies ‘poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens… thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were… Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis’.

7. Warmonger David Aaronovitch’s Regretful Musings On The Inherent Tragedy of Life

Responding to the latest ‘conflict’ (some have gone so far as to call it ‘a war’) between souped-up Palestinian fireworks and US-supplied, state-of-the-art, high-tech ordnance, Times columnist and chateau general commanding the corporate media’s 101st Chairborne Division, David Aaronovitch, sighed wistfully on May 12, 2021:

‘It’s not the Hamas leadership or the Netanyahus who are dying. It’s the people who always die.’

If that sounded empathetic and balanced, it was, in fact, a perfect illustration of a point made by Herman and Chomsky 33 years ago on how ‘worthy’ victims – people Western journalists care about – and ‘unworthy victims’ are treated. In their book, Manufacturing Consent, they wrote of one paired example:

‘While the coverage of the worthy victim was generous with gory details and quoted expressions of outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of violence and the inherent tragedy of human life.’5

It could hardly be more noticeable that when Israel blitzes Gaza every few years, Aaronovitch’s Twitter account does not erupt – he has little to say, finding other things to tweet about. There’s no outrage, no demands for action and ‘intervention’. The same is true of many of the corporate fringepuddle’s habitual warmongers.

By contrast, in Aaronovitch’s support for NATO’s war on Serbia, allegedly in defence of the people of Kosovo, ‘expressions of outrage and demands for justice’ were to the fore. He famously wrote:

‘Is this cause, the cause of the Kosovar Albanians, a cause that is worth suffering for? … Would I fight, or (more realistically) would I countenance the possibility that members of my family might die?’

His answer: ‘I think so.’

But, hold on, ‘It’s the people who always die’, right?

In supporting war on Iraq in January 2003, Aaronovitch wrote of Saddam Hussein:

‘I want him out, for the sake of the region (and therefore, eventually, for our sakes), but most particularly for the sake of the Iraqi people who cannot lift this yoke on their own.’ 6

But isn’t it the people who always die, not the leaders? (Actually, of course, Official Enemies generally do die – they are lynched, buggered with knives, shot in the head, hanged, found dead in jail, buried alive in jail, and so on) So why not let the UN weapons inspectors continue to find nothing?

You can see our book, Propaganda Blitz, (pp. 129-131), for further details of how Aaronovitch generally dispenses with wistful philosophising in supporting wars against Official Enemies.

8. ‘Advertisements For Myself’ – Mehdi Hasan Hawking Left Criticism Of The Left

Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman, The Intercept and al-Jazeera, is a prime example of a self-identified ‘leftist’ who fiercely attacks left positions on key issues. For example, Hasan wrote in the New Statesman in 2011:

‘The innocent people of Benghazi deserve protection from Gaddafi’s murderous wrath.’

In fact, the ‘threat’ of a massacre in Benghazi was an Iraqi WMD-style propaganda fiction.

Later, Hasan wrote an impassioned open letter addressed to ‘those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?’

In fact, dissidents who had no ‘soft spot’ for Assad at all, were raising rational questions about more claims that resembled the Iraqi WMD deception.

And again, Hasan commented:

‘I’m no expert on Venezuela but I’m pretty sure you can think Maduro is a horrible/bad/authoritarian president *and* also think it’s bad for the US to back coups or regime change there.’

As media analyst Adam Johnson tweeted:

‘I love this thing where nominal leftists run the propaganda ball for bombing a country 99 yards then stop at the one yard and insist they don’t support scoring goals, that they in fact oppose war.’

How to explain Hasan’s comments? No need to speculate. Hasan explained his approach in a letter to Paul Dacre, the editor of the l:Daily Mail:

‘Dear Mr Dacre,

‘My name is Mehdi Hasan and I’m the New Statesman’s senior political editor. My good friend Peter Oborne suggested I drop you a line as I’m very keen to write for the Daily Mail.’

Hasan continued:

‘Although I am on the left of the political spectrum, and disagree with the Mail’s editorial line on a range of issues, I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values.

‘For the record, I am not a Labour tribalist and am often ultra-critical of the left – especially on social and moral issues, where my fellow leftists and liberals have lost touch with their own traditions and with the great British public…’

A key section of the letter read:

‘I could therefore write pieces for the Mail critical of Labour and the left, from “inside” Labour and the left (as the senior political editor at the New Statesman).’

This, again, should be noted by aspiring career journalists – nothing is more welcome in the corporate fringepuddle than an ostensible leftist attacking the left.

9. The BBC’s Bridget Kendall – Limiting The Spectrum

Noam Chomsky is a James Randi-style master at exposing the sleights of hand and (forked) tongue of the propaganda prestidigitators:

‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.’

Cue Bridget Kendall, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, who declared on BBC News at Six in 2006:

‘There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?’7

As Chomsky says, this gives the sense of a free-thinking debate. But an honest, fact-based selection of choices would look rather different:

There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it an illegal war of aggression for Iraqi oil that disastrously miscalculated the impact on the civilian population, or was it an illegal war of aggression for Iraqi oil that relegated calculations on the likely human consequences for the war- and sanctions-wrecked country to the point of invisibility?

Media discussion is forbidden, but the stark fact is that Rumaila oilfield – the largest oilfield in Iraq and the third largest in the world – is currently operated by Britain’s BP. West Qurna I oilfield is operated by the US oil giant ExxonMobil. Does the Iraq war look like any kind of ‘disastrous miscalculation’ to BP and ExxonMobil?8

10. ‘It Was Rubbish’ – Andrew Marr, National Treasure

BBC interviewer and national treasure Andrew Marr once claimed:

‘When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.’9

This is impossible, of course – Organs of Opinion cannot be surgically removed. But consciences can be.

Recall, the state-corporate media system is a demeritocracy – journalists are rewarded for doing a bad job in a good way for powerful interests. Marr is a striking example of that phenomenon. He pretty much guaranteed himself a job for life when he delivered this propaganda speech as ‘analysis’ and ‘news’ outside Downing Street as Baghdad ‘fell’ to US tanks on 9 April 2003:

‘Frankly, the main mood [in Downing Street] is of unbridled relief. I’ve been watching ministers wander around with smiles like split watermelons.’ 10

Marr continued:

‘Well, I think this does one thing – it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of… well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren’t going to thank him – because they’re only human – for being right when they’ve been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics…

‘He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.’11

This was an outrageous declaration that Blair had been completely vindicated. In reality, nothing that US tanks did in Baghdad changed the fact that this was an outright war of aggression for oil, an example of ‘the supreme war crime’.

Later, we asked Marr for his thoughts on his speech vindicating Blair. He, of course, ignored us. However, he did respond to someone else who asked. Marr said of his April 9 speech:

‘…it was rubbish but it came after weeks when I’d been predicting Baghdad bloodbath – the Iraqi army gave up’.

Ah, so Marr had all along been a fiery contrarian, predicting disaster in Baghdad! He had been too critical of the government, hence his surprised over-reaction! Having watched almost everything Marr said in the months leading up to the war, we can confidently assert: ‘That is actually bollocks.’

  1. Chomsky, ‘Year 501’, Verso, 1993, p. 20.
  2. Marcus Fairs, ‘Travel special: Roman holidays,’ Independent on Sunday, 4 February 2007, our emphasis.
  3. Quoted, Mark Curtis, ‘The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 89.
  4. Martin Ennals, Secretary General of Amnesty International, cited in an Amnesty publication, Matchbox, Autumn 1976.
  5. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon, 1988, p. 39.
  6. Aaronovitch, ‘Why the Left must tackle the crimes of Saddam: With or without a second UN resolution, I will not oppose action against Iraq,’ Observer, 2 February 2003.
  7. BBC1, 20 March 2006.
  8. For details, see Greg Muttitt, ‘Fuel On The Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq’, Vintage, 2012.
  9. Marr, Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2001.
  10. BBC News At Ten, 9 April 2003.
  11. Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, 9 April 2003.
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Nuclear Weapons Blazing: Britain Enters the US-China Fray

Boris Johnson’s March 16 speech before the British Parliament was reminiscent, at least in tone, to that of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China.

The comparison is quite apt if we remember the long-anticipated shift in Britain’s foreign policy and Johnson’s conservative government’s pressing need to chart a new global course in search for new allies – and new enemies.

Xi’s words in 2019 signaled a new era in Chinese foreign policy, where Beijing hoped to send a message to its allies and enemies that the rules of the game were finally changing in its favor, and that China’s economic miracle – launched under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 – would no longer be confined to the realm of wealth accumulation, but would exceed this to politics and military strength, as well.

In China’s case, Xi’s declarations were not a shift per se, but rather a rational progression. However, in the case of Britain, the process, though ultimately rational, is hardly straightforward. After officially leaving the European Union in January 2020, Britain was expected to articulate a new national agenda. This articulation, however, was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises it generated.

Several scenarios, regarding the nature of Britain’s new agenda, were plausible:

One, that Britain maintains a degree of political proximity to the EU, thus avoiding more negative repercussions of Brexit;

Two, for Britain to return to its former alliance with the US, begun in earnest in the post-World War II era and the formation of NATO and reaching its zenith in the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003;

Finally, for Britain to play the role of the mediator, standing at an equal distance among all parties, so that it may reap the benefits of its unique position as a strong country with a massive global network.

A government’s report, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”, released on March 16, and Johnson’s  subsequent speech, indicate that Britain has chosen the second option.

The report clearly prioritizes the British-American alliance above all others, stating that “The United States will remain the UK’s most important strategic ally and partner”, and underscoring Britain’s need to place greater focus on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, calling it “the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition”.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, Britain is now set to dispatch a military carrier to the South China Sea, and is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal from 180 to 260 warheads, in obvious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The latter move can be directly attributed to Britain’s new political realignment which roughly follows the maxim of ‘the enemy of my friend is my enemy’.

The government’s report places particular emphasis on China, warning against its increased “international assertiveness” and “growing importance in the Indo-Pacific”. Furthermore, it calls for greater investment in enhancing “China-facing capabilities” and responding to “the systematic challenge” that China “poses to our security”.

How additional nuclear warheads will allow Britain to achieve its above objectives remains uncertain. Compared with Russia and the US, Britain’s nuclear arsenal, although duly destructive, is negligible in terms of its overall size. However, as history has taught us, nuclear weapons are rarely manufactured to be used in war – with the single exception of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of nuclear warheads and the precise position of their operational deployment are usually meant to send a message, not merely that of strength or resolve, but also to delineate where a specific country stands in terms of its alliances.

The US-Soviet Cold War, for example, was expressed largely through a relentless arms race, with nuclear weapons playing a central role in that polarizing conflict, which divided the world into two major ideological-political camps.

Now that China is likely to claim the superpower status enjoyed by the Soviets until the early 1990s, a new Great Game and Cold War can be felt, not only in the Asia Pacific region, but as far away as Africa and South America. While Europe continues to hedge its bets in this new global conflict – reassured by the size of its members’ collective economies – Britain, thanks to Brexit, no longer has that leverage. No longer an EU member, Britain is now keen to protect its global interests through a direct commitment to US interests. Now that China has been designated as America’s new enemy, Britain must play along.

While much media coverage has been dedicated to the expansion of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, little attention has been paid to the fact that the British move is a mere step in a larger political scheme, which ultimately aims at executing a British tilt to Asia, similar to the US ‘pivot to Asia’, declared by the Barack Obama Administration nearly a decade ago.

The British foreign policy shift is an unprecedented gamble for London, as the nature of the new Cold War is fundamentally different from the previous one; this time around, the ‘West’ is divided, torn by politics and crises, while NATO is no longer the superpower it once was.

Now that Britain has made its position clear, the ball is in the Chinese court, and the new Great Game is, indeed, afoot.

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Blood for Oil

Amid the ongoing horror, it’s important to find ways to atone for war crimes —including reparations.

Thirty years ago, when the United States launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq, I was a member of the Gulf Peace Team. We were 73 people from fifteen different countries, aged 22 to 76, living in a tent camp close to Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia, along the road to Mecca.

We aimed to nonviolently interpose ourselves between the warring parties. Soldiers are called upon to risk their lives for a cause they may not know much about. Why not ask peace activists to take risks on behalf of preventing and opposing wars?

So we witnessed the dismal onset of the air war at 3:00 a.m. on January 17, 1991, huddled under blankets, hearing distant explosions and watching anxiously as war planes flew overhead. With so many fighter jets crossing the skies, we wondered if there would be anything left of Baghdad.

Ten days later, Iraqi authorities told us we must pack up, readying for a morning departure to Baghdad. Not all of us could agree on how to respond. Adhering to basic principles, twelve peace team members resolved to sit in a circle, holding signs saying “We choose to stay.”

Buses arrived the next morning, along with two Iraqi civilians and two soldiers. Tarak, a civilian, was in charge, under orders to follow a timetable for the evacuation. Looking at the circle of twelve, Tarak seemed a bit baffled. He walked over to where I stood. “Excuse me, Ms. Kathy,” he asked, “but what am I to do?”

“No one in that circle means you any harm,” I assured him. “And no one wishes to disrespect you, but they won’t be able board the bus on their own. It’s a matter of conscience.”

Tarak nodded and then motioned to the other Iraqis who followed him as he approached Jeremy Hartigan, the tallest person sitting in the circle. Jeremy, an elderly UK lawyer and also a Buddhist, was chanting a prayer as he sat with his sign.

Tarak bent over Jeremy, kissed him on the forehead, and said, ”Baghdad!” Then he pointed to the bus.

Next, he, the other civilian and two Iraqi soldiers carefully hoisted  Jeremy, still in his cross-legged position, and carried him to the top step of the bus. Gently placing him down, Tarak then asked,  “Mister, you okay?!” And in this manner they proceeded to evacuate the remaining eleven people in the circle.

Another evacuation was happening as Iraqi forces, many of them young conscripts, hungry, disheveled and unarmed, poured out of Kuwait along a major highway, later called “the Highway of Death.”

Boxed in by U.S. forces, many Iraqis abandoned their vehicles and ran away from what had become a huge and very dangerous traffic jam. Iraqis attempting to surrender were stuck in a long line of Iraqi military vehicles. They were systematically slaughtered.

“It was like shooting fish in a barrel,” said one U.S. pilot of the air attack. Another called it “a turkey shoot.”

Days earlier, on February 24th, the United States Army forces buried scores of living Iraqi soldiers in trenches. According to The New York Times, Army officials said “the Iraqi soldiers who died remained in their trenches as plow-equipped tanks dumped tons of earth and sand onto them, filling the trenches to ensure that they could not be used as cover from which to fire on allied units that were poised to pour through the gaps.”

Shortly after viewing photos of gruesome carnage caused by the ground and air attacks, President George H.W. Bush called for a cessation of hostilities on February 27th, 1991. An official cease fire was signed on March 4.

It’s ironic that in October of 1990, Bush had asserted that the U.S. would never stand by and let a larger country swallow a smaller country. His country had just invaded Grenada and Panama, and as President Bush spoke, the U.S. military pre-positioned at three Saudi ports hundreds of ships, thousands of aircraft, and millions of tons of equipment and fuel in preparation to invade Iraq.

Noam Chomsky notes that there were diplomatic alternatives to the bloodletting and destruction visited upon Iraq by Operation Desert Storm. Iraqi diplomats had submitted an alternative plan which was suppressed in the mainstream media and flatly rejected by the U.S.

The U.S. State Department, along with Margaret Thatcher’s government in the United Kingdom, were hell-bent on moving ahead with their war plans. “This was no time to go wobbly,” U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously warned Bush.

The resolve to attack and punish Iraqis never ceased.

After the “success” of Operation Desert Storm, the bombing war turned into an economic war, which lasted through 2003. As early as 1995, United Nations documents clarified that the economic war, waged through continued imposition of U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, was far more brutal than even the worst of the 1991 aerial and ground war attacks.

In 1995, two Food and Agriculture Organization scientists estimated that more than half a million Iraqi children under age five had likely died due to economic sanctions.

In February, 1998, while visiting a hospital in Baghdad, I watched two friends from the United Kingdom trying to absorb the horror of seeing children being starved to death because of policy decisions made by governments in the UK and the U.S. Martin Thomas, himself a nurse, looked at mothers sitting cross legged, holding their limp and dying infants, in a ward where helpless doctors and nurses tried to treat many dozens of children.

“I think I understand,” said Thomas. “It’s a death row for infants.” Milan Rai, now editor of Peace News and then the coordinator of a U.K. campaign to defy the economic sanctions, knelt next to one of the mothers. Rai’s own child was close in age to the toddler the mother cradled. “I’m sorry,” Rai murmured. “I’m so very sorry.”

Those six words whispered by Milan Rai, are, I believe, incalculably important.

If only people in the U.S. and the UK could take those words to heart, undertaking to finally pressure their governments to echo these words and themselves say, “We’re sorry. We’re so very sorry.”

We’re sorry for coldly viewing your land as a “target rich environment” and then systematically destroying your electrical facilities, sewage and sanitation plants, roads, bridges, infrastructure, health care, education, and livelihood. We’re sorry for believing we somehow had a right to the oil in your land, and we’re sorry many of us lived so well because we were consuming your precious and irreplaceable resources at cut rate prices.

We’re sorry for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of your children through economic sanctions and then expecting you to thank us for liberating you. We’re sorry for wrongfully accusing you of harboring weapons of mass destruction while we looked the other way as Israel acquired thermonuclear weapons.

We’re sorry for again traumatizing your children through the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing, filling your broken down hospitals with maimed and bereaved survivors of the vicious bombing and then causing enormous wreckage through our inept and criminal occupation of your land.

We’re sorry. We’re so very sorry. And we want to pay reparations.

From March 5 – 8, Pope Francis will visit Iraq. Security concerns are high, and I won’t begin to second guess the itinerary that has been developed. But knowing of his eloquent and authentic plea to end wars and stop the pernicious weapons trade, I wish he could kneel and kiss the ground at the Ameriyah shelter in Baghdad.

There, on February 13, 1991, two 2,000 lb. U.S. laser guided missiles killed 400 civilians, mostly women and children. Another 200 were severely wounded. I wish President Joe Biden could meet the Pope there and ask him to hear his confession.

I wish people around the world could be represented by the Pope as a symbol of unity expressing collective sorrow for making war after hideous war, in Iraq, against people who meant us no harm.

Illustration courtesy of Sallie Latch

• A version of this article first appeared at The Progressive.org 

The post Blood for Oil first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The “humanitarian” left still ignores the lessons of Iraq, Libya and Syria to cheer on more war

The instinct among parts of the left to cheer lead the right’s war crimes, so long as they are dressed up as liberal “humanitarianism”, is alive and kicking, as Owen Jones reveals in a column today on the plight of the Uighurs at China’s hands.

The “humanitarian war” instinct persists even after two decades of the horror shows that followed the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and UK; the western-sponsored butchering of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi that unleashed a new regional trade in slaves and arms; and the west’s covert backing of Islamic jihadists who proceeded to tear Syria apart.

In fact, those weren’t really separate horror shows: they were instalments of one long horror show.

The vacuum left in Iraq by the west – the execution of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of his armed forces – sucked in Islamic extremists from every corner of the Middle East. The US and UK occupations of Iraq served both as fuel to rationalise new, more nihilistic Islamic doctrines that culminated in the emergence of Islamic State, and as a training ground for jihadists to develop better methods of militarised resistance.

That process accelerated in post-Gaddafi Libya, where Islamic extremists were handed an even more lawless country than post-invasion Iraq in which to recruit followers and train them, and trade arms. All of that know-how and weaponry ended up flooding into Syria where the same Islamic extremists hoped to establish the seat of their new caliphate.

Many millions of Arabs across the region were either slaughtered or forced to flee their homes, becoming permanent refugees, because of the supposedly “humanitarian” impulse unleashed by George W Bush and Tony Blair.

No lesson learnt

One might imagine that by this stage liberal humanitarianism was entirely discredited, at least on the left. But you would be wrong. There are still those who have learnt no lessons at all – like the Guardian’s Owen Jones. In his column today he picks up and runs with the latest pretext for global warmongering by the right: the Uighurs, a Muslim minority that has long been oppressed by China.

After acknowledging the bad faith arguments and general unreliability of the right, Jones sallies forth to argue – as if Iraq, Libya and Syria never happened – that the left must not avoid good causes just because bad people support them. We must not, he writes:

sacrifice oppressed Muslims on the altar of geopolitics: and indeed, it is possible to walk and to chew gum; to oppose western militarism and to stand with victims of state violence. It would be perverse to cede a defence of China’s Muslims – however disingenuous – to reactionaries and warmongers.

But this is to entirely miss the point of the anti-war and anti-imperialist politics that are the bedrock of any progressive left wing movement.

Jones does at least note, even if very cursorily, the bad-faith reasoning of the right when it accuses the left of being all too ready to protest outside a US or Israeli embassy but not a Chinese or Russian one:

Citizens [in the west] have at least some potential leverage over their own governments: whether it be to stop participation in foreign action, or encourage them to confront human rights abusing allies.

But he then ignores this important observation about power and responsibility and repurposes it as a stick to beat the left with:

But that doesn’t mean abandoning a commitment to defending the oppressed, whoever their oppressor might be. To speak out against Islamophobia in western societies but to remain silent about the Uighurs is to declare that the security of Muslims only matters in some countries. We need genuine universalists.

That is not only a facile argument, it’s a deeply dangerous one. There are two important additional reasons why the left needs to avoid cheerleading the right’s favoured warmongering causes, based on both its anti-imperialist and anti-war priorities.

Virtue-signalling

Jones misunderstands the goal of the left’s anti-imperialist politics. It is not, as the right so often claims, about left wing “virtue-signalling”. It is the very opposite of that. It is about carefully selecting our political priorities – priorities necessarily antithetical to the dominant narratives promoted by the west’s warmongering political and media establishments. Our primary goal is to undermine imperialist causes that have led to such great violence and suffering around the world.

Jones forgets that the purpose of the anti-war left is not to back the west’s warmongering establishment for picking a ‘humanitarian’ cause for its wars. It is to discredit the establishment, expose its warmongering and stop its wars.

The best measure – practical and ethical – for the western left to use to determine which causes to expend its limited resources and energies on are those that can help others to wake up to the continuing destructive behaviours of the west’s political establishment, even when that warmongering establishment presents itself in two guises: whether the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States, or the Conservatives and the (non-Corbyn) Labour party in the UK.

We on the left cannot influence China or Russia. But we can try to influence debates in our own societies that discredit the western elite headquartered in the US – the world’s sole military superpower.

Our job is not just to weigh the scales of injustice – in any case, the thumb of the west’s power-elite is far heavier than any of its rivals. It is to highlight the bad faith nature of western foreign policy, and underscore to the wider public that the real aim of the west’s foreign policy elite is either to attack or to intimidate those who refuse to submit to its power or hand over their resources.

Do no harm

That is what modern imperialism looks like. To ignore the bad faith of a Pompeo, a Blair, an Obama, a Bush or a Trump simply because they briefly adopt a good cause for ignoble reasons is to betray anti-imperialist politics. To use a medical analogy, it is to fixate on one symptom of global injustice while refusing to diagnose the actual disease so that it can be treated.

Requiring, as Jones does, that we prioritise the Uighurs – especially when they are the momentary pet project of the west’s warmongering, anti-China right – does not advance our anti-imperialist goals, it actively harms them. Because the left offers its own credibility, its own stamp of approval, to the right’s warmongering.

When the left is weak – when, unlike the right, it has no corporate media to dominate the airwaves with its political concerns and priorities, when it has almost no politicians articulating its worldview – it cannot control how its support for humanitarian causes is presented to the general public. Instead it always finds itself coopted into the drumbeat for war.

That is a lesson Jones should have learnt personally – in fact, a lesson he promised he had learnt – after his cooption by the corporate Guardian to damage the political fortunes of Jeremy Corbyn, the only anti-war, anti-imperialist politician Britain has ever had who was in sight of power.

Anti-imperialist politics is not about good intentions; it’s about beneficial outcomes. To employ another medical analogy, our credo must to be to do no harm – or, if that is not possible, at least to minimise harm.

The ‘defence’ industry

Which is why the flaw in Jones’ argument runs deeper still.

The anti-war left is not just against acts of wars, though of course it is against those too. It is against the global war economy: the weapons manufacturers that fund our politicians; the arms trade lobbies that now sit in our governments; our leaders, of the right and so-called left, who divide the world into a Manichean struggle between the good guys and bad guys to justify their warmongering and weapons purchases; the arms traders that profit from human violence and suffering; the stock-piling of nuclear weapons that threaten our future as a species.

The anti-war left is against the globe’s dominant, western war economy, one that deceives us into believing it is really a “defence industry”. That “defence industry” needs villains, like China and Russia, that it must extravagantly arm itself against. And that means fixating on the crimes of China and Russia, while largely ignoring our own crimes, so that those “defence industries” can prosper.

Yes, Russia and China have armies too. But no one in the west can credibly believe Moscow or Beijing are going to disarm when the far superior military might of the west – of NATO – flexes its muscles daily in their faces, when it surrounds them with military bases that encroach ever nearer their territory, when it points its missiles menacingly in their direction.

Rhetoric of war

Jones and George Monbiot, the other token leftist at the Guardian with no understanding of how global politics works, can always be relied on to cheerlead the western establishment’s humanitarian claims – and demand that we do too. That is also doubtless the reason they are allowed their solitary slots in the liberal corporate media.

When called out, the pair argue that, even though they loudly trumpet their detestation of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad, that does not implicate them in the wars that are subsequently waged against Iraq or Syria.

This is obviously infantile logic, which assumes that the left can echo the rhetoric of the west’s warmongering power-elite without taking any responsibility for the wars that result from that warmongering.

But Jones’ logic is even more grossly flawed than that. It pretends that the left can echo the rhetoric of the warmongers and not take responsibility for the war industries that constantly thrive and expand, whether or not actual wars are being waged at any one time.

The western foreign policy elite is concerned about the Uighurs not because it wishes to save them from Chinese persecution or even because it necessarily intends to use them as a pretext to attack China. Rather, its professed concerns serve to underpin claims that are essential to the success of its war industries: that the west is the global good guy; that China is a potential nemesis, the Joker to our Batman; and that the west therefore needs an even bigger arsenal, paid by us as taxpayers, to protect itself.

The Uighurs’ cause is being instrumentalised by the west’s foreign policy establishment to further enhance its power and make the world even less safe for us all, the Uighurs included. Whatever Jones claims, there should be no obligation on the left to give succour to the west’s war industries.

Vilifying “official enemies” while safely ensconced inside the “defence” umbrella of the global superpower and hegemony is a crime against peace, against justice, against survival. Jones is free to flaunt his humanitarian credentials, but so are we to reject political demands dictated to us by the west’s war machine.

The anti-war left has its own struggles, its own priorities. It does not need to be gaslit by Mike Pompeo or Tony Blair – or, for that matter, by Owen Jones.

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The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine

Making political sense of the world can be tricky unless one understands the role of the state in capitalist societies. The state is not primarily there to represent voters or uphold democratic rights and values; it is a vehicle for facilitating and legitimating the concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands.

In a recent post, I wrote about “externalities” – the ability of companies to offset the true costs inherent in the production process. The burden of these costs are covertly shifted on to wider society: that is, on to you and me. Or on to those far from view, in foreign lands. Or on to future generations. Externalising costs means that profits can be maximised for the wealth elite in the here and now.

Our own societies must deal with the externalised costs of industries ranging from tobacco and alcohol to chemicals and vehicles. Societies abroad must deal with the costs of the bombs dropped by our “defence” industries. And future generations will have to deal with the lethal costs incurred by corporations that for decades have been allowed to pump out their waste products into every corner of the globe.

Divine right to rule

In the past, the job of the corporate media was to shield those externalities from public view. More recently, as the costs have become impossible to ignore, especially with the climate crisis looming, the media’s role has changed. Its central task now is to obscure corporate responsibility for these externalities. That is hardly surprising. After all, the corporate media’s profits depend on externalising costs too, as well as hiding the externalised costs of their parent companies, their billionaire owners and their advertisers.

Once, monarchs rewarded the clerical class for persuading, through the doctrine of divine right, their subjects to passively submit to exploitation. Today, “mainstream” media are there to persuade us that capitalism, the profit motive, the accumulation of ever greater wealth by elites, and externalities destroying the planet are the natural order of things, that this is the best economic system imaginable.

Most of us are now so propagandised by the media that we can barely imagine a functioning world without capitalism. Our minds are primed to imagine, in the absence of capitalism, an immediate lurch back to Soviet-style bread queues or an evolutionary reversal to cave-dwelling. Those thoughts paralyse us, making us unable to contemplate what might be wrong or inherently unsustainable about how we live right now, or to imagine the suicidal future we are hurtling towards.

Lifeblood of empire

There is a reason that, as we rush lemming-like towards the cliff-edge, urged on by a capitalism that cannot operate at the level of sustainability or even of sanity, the push towards intensified war grows. Wars are the life blood of the corporate empire headquartered in the United States.

US imperialism is no different from earlier imperialisms in its aims or methods. But in late-stage capitalism, wealth and power are hugely concentrated. Technologies have reached a pinnacle of advancement. Disinformation and propaganda are sophisticated to an unprecedented degree. Surveillance is intrusive and aggressive, if well concealed. Capitalism’s destructive potential is unlimited. But even so, war’s appeal is not diminished.

As ever, wars allow for the capture and control of resources. Fossil fuels promise future growth, even if of the short-term, unsustainable kind.

Wars require the state to invest its money in the horrendously expensive and destructive products of the “defence” industries, from fighter planes to bombs, justifying the transfer of yet more public resources into private hands.

The lobbies associated with these “defence” industries have every incentive to push for aggressive foreign (and domestic) policies to justify more investment, greater expansion of “defensive” capabilities, and the use of weapons on the battlefield so that they need replenishing.

Whether public or covert, wars provide an opportunity to remake poorly defended, resistant societies – such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria – in ways that allow for resources to be seized, markets to be expanded and the reach of the corporate elite to be extended.

War is the ultimate growth industry, limited only by our ability to be persuaded of new enemies and new threats.

Fog of war

For the political class, the benefits of war are not simply economic. In a time of environmental collapse, war offers a temporary “Get out of jail” card. During wars, the public is encouraged to assent to new, ever greater sacrifices that allow public wealth to be transferred to the elite. War is the corporate world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme.

The “fog of war” does not just describe the difficulty of knowing what is happening in the immediate heat of battle. It is also the fear, generated by claims of an existential threat, that sets aside normal thinking, normal caution, normal scepticism. It is the invoking of a phantasmagorical enemy towards which public resentments can be directed, shielding from view the real culprits – the corporations and their political cronies at home.

The “fog of war” engineers the disruption of established systems of control and protocol to cope with the national emergency, shrouding and rationalising the accumulation by corporations of more wealth and power and the further capture of organs of the state. It is the licence provided for “exceptional” changes to the rules that quickly become normalised. It is the disinformation that passes for national responsibility and patriotism.

Permanent austerity

All of which explains why Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, has just pledged an extra £16.5 billion in “defence” spending at a time when the UK is struggling to control a pandemic and when, faced by disease, Brexit and a new round of winter floods, the British economy is facing “systemic crisis”, according to a new Cabinet Office report. Figures released this week show the biggest economic contraction in the UK in three centuries.

If the British public is to stomach yet more cuts, to surrender to permanent austerity as the economy tanks, Johnson, ever the populist, knows he needs a good cover story. And that will involve further embellishment of existing, fearmongering narratives about Russia, Iran and China.

To make those narratives plausible, Johnson has to act as if the threats are real, which means massive spending on “defence”. Such expenditure, wholly counter-productive when the current challenge is sustainability, will line the pockets of the very corporations that help Johnson and his pals stay in power, not least by cheerleading him via their media arms.

New salesman needed

The cynical way this works was underscored in a classified 2010 CIA memorandum, known as “Red Cell”, leaked to Wikileaks, as the journalist Glenn Greenwald reminded us this week. The CIA memo addressed the fear in Washington that European publics were demonstrating little appetite for the US-led “war on terror” that followed 9/11. That, in turn, risked limiting the ability of European allies to support the US as it exercised its divine right to wage war.

The memo notes that European support for US wars after 9/11 had chiefly relied on “public apathy” – the fact that Europeans were kept largely ignorant by their own media of what those wars entailed. But with a rising tide of anti-war sentiment, the concern was that this might change. There was an urgent need to further manipulate public opinion more decisively in favour of war.

The US intelligence agency decided its wars needed a facelift. George W Bush, with his Texan, cowboy swagger, had proved a poor salesman. So the CIA turned to identity politics and faux “humanitarianism”, which they believed would play better with European publics.

Part of the solution was to accentuate the suffering of Afghan women to justify war. But the other part was to use President Barack Obama as the face of a new, “caring” approach to war. He had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – even though he had done nothing for peace, and would go on to expand US wars – very possibly as part of this same effort to reinvent the “war on terror”. Polls showed support for existing wars increased markedly among Europeans when they were reminded that Obama backed these wars.

As Greenwald observes:

Obama’s most important value was in prettifying, marketing and prolonging wars, not ending them. They saw him for what U.S. Presidents really are: instruments to create a brand and image about the U.S. role in the world that can be effectively peddled to both the domestic population in the US and then on the global stage, and specifically to pretend that endless barbaric US wars are really humanitarian projects benevolently designed to help people — the pretext used to justify every war by every country in history.

Obama-style facelift

Once the state is understood as a vehicle for entrenching elite power – and war its most trusted tool for concentrating power – the world becomes far more intelligible. Western economies never stopped being colonial economies, but they were given an Obama-style facelift. War and plunder – even when they masquerade as “defence” or peace – are still the core western mission.

That is why Britons, believing days of empire are long behind them, may have been shocked to learn this week that the UK still operates 145 military bases in 42 countries around the globe, meaning it runs the second largest network of such bases after the US.

Such information is not made available in the UK “mainstream” media, of course. It has to be provided by an “alternative” investigative site, Declassified UK. In that way the vast majority of the British public are left clueless about how their taxes are being used at a time when they are told further belt-tightening is essential.

The UK’s network of bases, many of them in the Middle East, close to the world’s largest oil reserves, are what the much-vaunted “special relationship” with the US amounts to. Those bases are the reason the UK – whoever is prime minister – is never going to say “no” to a demand that Britain join Washington in waging war, as it did in attacking Iraq in 2003, or in aiding attacks on Libya, Syria and Yemen. The UK is not only a satellite of the US empire, it is a lynchpin of the western imperial war economy.

Ideological alchemy

Once that point is appreciated, the need for external enemies – for our own Eurasias and Eastasias – becomes clearer.

Some of those enemies, the minor ones, come and go, as demand dictates. Iraq dominated western attention for two decades. Now it has served its purpose, its killing fields and “terrorist” recruiting grounds have reverted to a mere footnote in the daily news. Likewise, the Libyan bogeyman Muammar Gaddafi was constantly paraded across news pages until he was bayonetted to death. Now the horror story that is today’s chaotic Libya, a corridor for arms-running and people-trafficking, can be safely ignored. For a decade, the entirely unexceptional Arab dictator Bashar Assad, of Syria, has been elevated to the status of a new Hitler, and he will continue to serve in that role for as long as it suits the needs of the western war economy.

Notably, Israel, another lynchpin of the US empire and one that serves as a kind of offshored weapons testing laboratory for the military-industrial complex, has played a vital role in rationalising these wars. Just as saving Afghan women from Middle Eastern patriarchy makes killing Afghans – men, women and children – more palatable to Europeans, so destroying Arab states can be presented as a humanitarian gesture if at the same time it crushes Israel’s enemies, and by extension, through a strange, implied ideological alchemy, the enemies of all Jews.

Quite how opportunistic – and divorced from reality – the western discourse about Israel and the Middle East has become is obvious the moment the relentless concerns about Syria’s Assad are weighed against the casual indifference towards the head-chopping rulers of Saudi Arabia, who for decades have been financing terror groups across the Middle East, including the jihadists in Syria.

During that time, Israel has covertly allied with oil-rich Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, because all of them are safely ensconced within the US war machine. Now, with the Palestinians completely sidelined diplomatically, and with all international solidarity with Palestinians browbeaten into silence by antisemitism smears, Israel and the Saudis are gradually going public with their alliance, like a pair of shy lovers. That included the convenient leak this week of a secret meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

The west also needs bigger, more menacing and more permanent enemies than Iraq or Syria. Helpfully one kind – nebulous “terrorism” – is the inevitable reaction to western war-making. The more brown people we kill, the more brown people we can justify killing because they carry out, or support, “terrorism” against us. Their hatred for our bombs is an irrationality, a primitivism we must keep stamping out with more bombs.

But concrete, identifiable enemies are needed too. Russia, Iran and China give superficial credence to the war machine’s presentation of itself as a “defence” industry. The UK’s bases around the globe and Boris Johnson’s £16 billion rise in spending on the UK’s war industries only make sense if Britain is under a constant, existential threat. Not just someone with a suspicious backpack on the London Tube, but a sophisticated, fiendish enemy that threatens to invade our lands, to steal resources to which we claim exclusive rights, to destroy our way of life through its masterful manipulation of the internet.

Crushed or tamed

Anyone of significance who questions these narratives that rationalise and perpetuate war is the enemy too. Current political and legal dramas in the US and UK reflect the perceived threat such actors pose to the war machine. They must either be crushed or tamed into subservience.

Trump was initially just such a figure that needed breaking in. The CIA and other intelligence agencies assisted in the organised opposition to Trump – helping to fuel the evidence-free Russiagate “scandal” – not because he was an awful human being or had authoritarian tendencies, but for two more specific reasons.

First, Trump’s political impulses, expressed in the early stages of his presidential campaign, were to withdraw from the very wars the US empire depends on. Despite open disdain for him from most of the media, he was criticised more often for failing to prosecute wars enthusiastically enough rather than for being too hawkish. And second, even as his isolationist impulses were largely subdued after the 2016 election by the permanent bureaucracy and his own officials, Trump proved to be an even more disastrous salesman for war than George W Bush. Trump made war look and sound exactly as it is, rather than packaging it as “intervention” intended to help women and people of colour.

But Trump’s amateurish isolationism paled in comparison to two far bigger threats to the war machine that emerged over the past decade. One was the danger – in our newly interconnected, digital world – of information leaks that risked stripping away the mask of US democracy, of the “shining city on the hill”, to reveal the tawdry reality underneath.

Julian Assange and his Wikileaks project proved just such a danger. The most memorable leak – at least as far as the general public was concerned – occurred in 2010, with publication of a classified video, titled Collateral Murder, showing a US air crew joking and celebrating as they murdered civilians far below in the streets of Baghdad. It gave a small taste of why western “humanitarianism” might prove so unpopular with those to whom we were busy supposedly bringing “democracy”.

The threat posed by Assange’s new transparency project was recognised instantly by US officials.

Exhibiting a carefully honed naivety, the political and media establishments have sought to uncouple the fact that Assange has spent most of the last decade in various forms of detention, and is currently locked up in a London high-security prison awaiting extradition to the US, from his success in exposing the war machine. Nonetheless, to ensure his incarceration till death in one of its super-max jails, the US empire has had to conflate the accepted definitions of “journalism” and “espionage”, and radically overhaul traditional understandings of the rights enshrined in the First Amendment.

Dress rehearsal for a coup

An equally grave threat to the war machine was posed by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of Britain’s Labour party. Corbyn presented as exceptional a problem as Assange.

Before Corbyn, Labour had never seriously challenged the UK’s dominant military-industrial complex, even if its support for war back in the 1960s and 1970s was often tempered by its then-social democratic politics. It was in this period, at the height of the Cold War, that Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was suspected by British elites of failing to share their anti-Communist and anti-Soviet paranoia, and was therefore viewed as a potential threat to their entrenched privileges.

As a BBC documentary from 2006 notes, Wilson faced the very real prospect of enforced “regime change”, coordinated by the military, the intelligence services and members of the royal family. It culminated in a show of force by the military as they briefly took over Heathrow airport without warning or coordination with Wilson’s government. Marcia Williams, his secretary, called it a “dress rehearsal” for a coup. Wilson resigned unexpectedly soon afterwards, apparently as the pressure started to take its toll.

‘Mutiny’ by the army

Subsequent Labour leaders, most notably Tony Blair, learnt the Wilson lesson: never, ever take on the “defence” establishment. The chief role of the UK is to serve as the US war machine’s attack dog. Defying that allotted role would be political suicide.

By contrast to Wilson, who posed a threat to the British establishment only in its overheated imagination, Corbyn was indeed a real danger to the militaristic status quo.

He was one of the founders of the Stop the War coalition that emerged specifically to challenge the premises of the “war on terror”. He explicitly demanded an end to Israel’s role as a forward base of the imperial war industries. In the face of massive opposition from his own party – and claims he was undermining “national security” – Corbyn urged a public debate about the deterrence claimed by the “defence” establishment for the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine programme, effectively under US control. It was also clear that Corbyn’s socialist agenda, were he ever to reach power, would require redirecting the many billions spent in maintaining the UK’s 145 military bases around the globe back into domestic social programmes.

In an age when the primacy of capitalism goes entirely unquestioned, Corbyn attracted even more immediate hostility from the power establishment than Wilson had. As soon as he was elected Labour leader, Corbyn’s own MPs – still loyal to Blairism – sought to oust him with a failed leadership challenge. If there was any doubt about how the power elite responded to Corbyn becoming head of the opposition, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times newspaper soon offered a platform to an unnamed army general to make clear its concerns.

Weeks after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, the general warned that the army would take “direct action” using “whatever means possible, fair or foul” to prevent Corbyn exercising power. There would be “mutiny”, he said. “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it.”

Such views about Corbyn were, of course, shared on the other side of the Atlantic. In a leaked recording of a conversation with American-Jewish organisations last year, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state and a former CIA director, spoke of how Corbyn had been made to “run the gauntlet” as a way to ensure he would not be elected prime minister. The military metaphor was telling.

In relation to the danger of Corbyn winning the 2019 election, Pompeo added: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

This was from the man who said of his time heading the CIA: “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

Smears and Brexit

After a 2017 election that Labour only narrowly lost, the Corbyn threat was decisively neutralised in the follow-up election two years later, after the Labour leader was floored by a mix of antisemitism slurs and a largely jingoistic Brexit campaign to leave Europe.

Claims that this prominent anti-racism campaigner had overseen a surge of antisemitism in Labour were unsupported by evidence, but the smears – amplified in the media – quickly gained a life of their own. The allegations often bled into broader – and more transparently weaponised – suggestions that Corbyn’s socialist platform and criticisms of capitalism were also antisemitic. (See here, here and here.) But the smears were nevertheless dramatically effective in removing the sheen of idealism that had propelled Corbyn on to the national stage.

By happy coincidence for the power establishment, Brexit also posed a deep political challenge to Corbyn. He was naturally antagonistic to keeping the UK trapped inside a neoliberal European project that, as a semi-detached ally of the US empire, would always eschew socialism. But Corbyn never had control over how the Brexit debate was framed. Helped by the corporate media, Dominic Cummings and Johnson centred that debate on simplistic claims that severing ties with Europe would liberate the UK socially, economically and culturally. But their concealed agenda was very different. An exit from Europe was not intended to liberate Britain but to incorporate it more fully into the US imperial war machine.

Which is one reason that Johnson’s cash-strapped Britain is now promising an extra £16bn on “defence”. The Tory government’s  priorities are to prove both its special usefulness to the imperial project and its ability to continue using war – as well as the unique circumstances of the pandemic – to channel billions from public coffers into the pockets of the establishment.

A Biden makeover

After four years of Trump, the war machine once again desperately needs a makeover. The once-confident, youthful Wikileaks is now less able to peek behind the curtain and listen in to the power establishment’s plans for a new administration under Joe Biden.

We can be sure nonetheless that its priorities are no different from those set out in the CIA memo of 2010. Biden’s cabinet, the media has been excitedly trumpeting, is the most “diverse” ever, with women especially prominent in the incoming foreign policy establishment.

There has been a huge investment by Pentagon officials and Congressional war hawks in pushing for Michèle Flournoy to be appointed as the first female defence secretary. Flournoy, like Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, has played a central role in prosecuting every US war dating back to the Bill Clinton administration.

The other main contender for the spot is Jeh Johnson, who would become the first black defence secretary. As Biden dithers, his advisers’ assessment will focus on who will be best positioned to sell yet more war to a war-weary public.

The role of the imperial project is to use violence as a tool to capture and funnel ever greater wealth – whether it be resources seized in foreign lands or the communal wealth of domestic western populations – into the pockets of the power establishment, and to exercise that power covertly enough, or at a great enough distance, that no meaningful resistance is provoked.

A strong dose of identity politics may buy a little more time. But the war economy is as unsustainable as everything else our societies are currently founded on. Sooner or later the war machine is going to run out of fuel.

The post The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Keeping the Empire Running: Britain’s Global Military Footprint

A few nostalgic types still believe that the Union Jack continues to flutter to sighs and reverence over outposts of the world, from the tropics to the desert.  They would be right, if only to a point.  Britain, it turns out, has a rather expansive global reach when it comes to bases, military installations and testing sites.  While not having the obese heft and lumbering brawn of the United States, it makes a good go of it.  Globally, the UK military has a presence in 145 sites in 42 countries.  Such figures tally with Ian Cobain’s prickly observation in The History Thieves: that the British were the only people “perpetually at war.”

Phil Miller’s rich overview of Britain’s military footprint for Declassified UK shows it to be heavy.  “The size of the global military presence is far larger than previously thought and is likely to mean that the UK has the second largest military network in the world, after the United States.”  The UK military, for instance, has a presence in five countries in the Asia-Pacific: naval facilities in Singapore; garrisons in Brunei, drone testing facilities in Australia; three facilities in Nepal; a quick reaction force in Afghanistan.  Cyprus remains a favourite with 17 military installations.  In Africa, British personnel can be found in Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mali.  Then come the ever dubious ties to Arab monarchies.

The nature of having such bases is to be kind to your host, despite him being theocratic, barking mad, or an old fashioned despot with fetishes. Despite the often silly pronouncements by British policy makers that they take issue with authoritarians, exceptions numerous in number abound.  The UK has never had a problem with authoritarians it can work with or despots it can coddle.  A closer look at such relations usually reveal the same ingredients: capital, commerce, perceptions of military necessity.  The approach to Oman, a state marked by absolute rule, is a case in point.

Since 1798, Britain has had a hand in ensuring the success, and the survivability, of the House of Al Said.  On September 12, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that a further £23.8 million would go to enhancing the British Joint Logistics Support Base at Duqm port, thereby tripling “the size of the existing UK base and help facilitate Royal Navy deployments to the Indian Ocean”.  The Ministry of Defence also went so far as to describe a “renewal” of a “hugely valuable relationship,” despite the signing of a new Joint Defence Agreement in February 2019.

The agreement had been one of the swan song acts of the ailing Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose passing this year was genuinely mourned in British political circles.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him “an exceptionally wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously.”  Papers of record wrote in praise of a reformer and a developer.  “The longest serving Arab ruler,” observed a sycophantic column in The Guardian, “Qaboos was an absolute monarch, albeit a relatively benevolent and popular one.”

The same Sultan, it should be said, had little fondness for freedom of expression, assembly and association, encouraged the arrests and harassment of government critics and condoned sex discrimination. But he was of the “one of us” labels: trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, an unwavering Anglophile, installed on the throne by Britain in the 1970 palace coup during the all but forgotten Dhofar Rebellion.  “Strategically,” Cobain reminds us, “the Dhofar war was one of the most important conflicts of the 20th century, as the victors could expect to control the Strait of Hormuz and the flow of oil.”  The British made sure their man won.

Public mention of greater British military involvement in foreign theatres can be found, though they rarely make front page acts.  The business of projecting such power, especially in the Britannic model, should be careful, considered, even gnomic.  Britain, for instance, is rallying to the US-led call to contain the Yellow Peril in the Asia Pacific, a nice reminder to Beijing that old imperial misdeeds should never be a bar to repetition.  The head of the British Army, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, spoke in September about there being “a market for a more persistent presence from the British Army (in Asia).  It’s an area that saw a much more consistent Army presence in the Eighties, but with 9/11 we naturally receded from it.”  The time had come “to redress that imbalance”.

The UK Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, prefers to be more enigmatic about the “future of Global Britain.”  To deal with an “ever more complex and dynamic strategic context,” he suggests the “Integrated Operating Concept”.  Britain had to “compete below the threshold of war in order to deter war, and to prevent one’s adversaries from achieving their objectives in fait accompli strategies.”

Gone are the old thuggeries of imperial snatch and grab; evident are matters of flexibility in terms of competition. “Competing involves a campaign posture that includes continuous operating on our terms and in places of our choosing.”  This entails a thought process involving “several dimensions to escalate and deescalate up and down multiple ladders – as if it were a spider’s web.”  The general attempts to illustrate this gibberish with the following example:  “One might actively constrain in the cyber domain to protect critical national infrastructure in the maritime Domain.”

In 2017, there were already more than just murmurings from Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, that a greater British presence in the Asia-Pacific was warranted.  Fallon was keen to stress the reasons for deeper involvement, listing them to a group of Australian journalists. “The tensions have been rising in the region, not just from the tests by North Korea but also escalating tension in the South China Sea with the building program that’s gone there on the islands and the need to keep those routes open.”

With such chatter about the China threat you could be forgiven for believing that British presence in the Asia-Pacific was minimal.  But that would ignore, for instance, the naval logistics base at Singapore’s Sembawang Wharf, permanently staffed by eight British military personnel with an eye on the busy Malacca Strait.  A more substantial presence can also be found in the Sultanate of Brunei, comprising an infantry battalion of Gurkhas and an Army Air Corps Flight of Bell 212 helicopters.  The MOD is particularly keen on the surroundings, as they offer “tropical climate and terrain … well suited to jungle training”.

Over the next four years, the UK military can expect to get an extra £16.5 billion – a 10% increase in funding and a fond salute to militarists.  “I have decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and ends now,” declared Johnson.  “Our plans will safeguard hundreds of thousands of jobs in the defence industry, protecting livelihoods across the UK and keeping the British people safe.”

The prime minister was hoping to make that announcement accompanied by the “Integrated Defence and Security Review” long championed by his now departed chief special adviser, Dominic Cummings.  Cummings might have been ejected from the gladiatorial arena of Downing Street politics, but the ideas in the Review are unlikely to buck old imperial trends.  At the very least, there will be a promise of more military bases to reflect a posture General Carter describes rather obscurely as “engaged and forward deployed”.

The post Keeping the Empire Running: Britain’s Global Military Footprint first appeared on Dissident Voice.