Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Case for a Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy

The events in Syria, after those in Libya last year, are accompanied by calls for a military intervention, in order to “protect civilians”, claiming that it is our right or our duty to do so. And, just as last year, some of the loudest voices in favor of intervention are heard on the left or among the Greens, who have totally swallowed the concept of “humanitarian intervention”. In fact, the rare voices staunchly opposed to such interventions are often associated with the right, either Ron Paul in the US or the National Front in France. The policy the left should support is non-intervention.

The main target of the humanitarian interventionists is the concept of national sovereignty, on which the current international law is based, and which they stigmatize as allowing dictators to kill their own people at will. The impression is sometimes given that national sovereignty is nothing but a protection for dictators whose only desire is to kill their own people.

But in fact, the primary justification of national sovereignty is precisely to provide at least a partial protection of weak states against strong ones.

A state that is strong enough can do whatever it chooses without worrying about intervention from outside. Nobody expects Bangladesh to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States.
Nobody is going to bomb the United States to force it to modify its immigration or monetary policies because of the human consequences of such policies on other countries. Humanitarian intervention goes only one way, from the powerful to the weak.

The very starting point of the United Nations was to save humankind from “the scourge of war”, with reference to the two World Wars. This was to be done precisely by strict respect for national sovereignty, in order to prevent Great Powers from intervening militarily against weaker ones, regardless of the pretext.

The protection of national sovereignty in international law was based on recognition of the fact that internal conflicts in weak countries can be exploited by strong ones, as was shown by Germany’s interventions in Czechoslovakia and Poland, ostensibly “in defense of oppressed minorities”. That led to World War II.

Then came decolonization.

Following World War II, dozens of newly independent countries freed themselves from the colonial yoke.
The last thing they wanted was to see former colonial powers openly interfering in their internal affairs (even though such interference has often persisted in more or less veiled forms, notably in African countries).

This aversion to foreign interference explains why the “right” of humanitarian intervention has been universally rejected by the countries of the South, for example at the South Summit in Havana in April 2000.
Meeting in Kuala Lumpur in February 2003, shortly before the US attack on Iraq, “The Heads of State or Government reiterated the rejection by the Non-Aligned Movement of the so-called ‘right’ of humanitarian intervention, which has no basis either in United Nations Charter or in international law” and “also observed similarities between the new expression ‘responsibility to protect’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ and requested the Co-ordinating Bureau to carefully study and consider the expression ‘the responsibility to protect’ and its implications on the basis of the principles of non-interference and non-intervention as well as the respect for territorial integrity and national sovereignty of States.”

The main failure of the United Nations has not been that it did not stop dictators from murdering their own people, but that it failed to prevent powerful countries from violating the principles of international law: the United States in Indochina and Iraq, South Africa in Angola and Mozambique, Israel in its neighboring countries, Indonesia in East Timor, not to speak of all the coups, threats, embargoes, unilateral sanctions, bought elections, etc.
Many millions of people lost their lives because of such repeated violation of international law and of the principle of national sovereignty.

In a post-World War II history that includes the Indochina wars, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, of Panama, even of tiny Grenada, as well as the bombing of Yugoslavia, Libya and various other countries, it is scarcely credible to maintain that it is international law and respect for national sovereignty that prevent the United States from stopping genocide.

If the US had had the means and the desire to intervene in Rwanda, it would have done so and no international law would have prevented that. And if a “new norm” is introduced, such as the right of humanitarian intervention or the responsibility to protect, within the context of the current relationship of political and military forces, it will not save anyone anywhere, unless the United States sees fit to intervene, from its own perspective.

US interference in the internal affairs of other states is multi-faceted but constant and repeatedly violates the spirit and often the letter of the UN Charter.
Despite claims to act on behalf of principles such as freedom and democracy, US intervention has repeatedly had disastrous consequences: not only the millions of deaths caused by direct and indirect wars, but also the lost opportunities, the “killing of hope” for hundreds of millions of people who might have benefited from progressive social policies initiated by leaders such as Arbenz in Guatemala, Goulart in Brazil, Allende in Chile, Lumumba in the Congo, Mossadegh in Iran, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or President Chavez in Venezuela, who have been systematically subverted, overthrown or killed with full Western support.

But that is not all.

Every aggressive action led by the United States creates a reaction.
Deployment of an anti-missile shield produces more missiles, not less. Bombing civilians – whether deliberately or by so-called “collateral damage” – produces more armed resistance, not less.
Trying to overthrow or subvert governments produces more internal repression, not less. Encouraging secessionist minorities by giving them the often false impression that the sole Superpower will come to their rescue in case they are repressed, leads to more violence, hatred and death, not less.
Surrounding a country with military bases produces more defense spending by that country, not less, and the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel encourages other states of the Middle East to acquire such weapons. If the West hesitates to attack Syria or Iran, it is because these countries are stronger and have more reliable allies than Yugoslavia or Libya.

If the West complains about the recent Russian and Chinese vetoes about Syria, it has only to blame itself: indeed, this is the result of the blatant abuse by Nato of Resolution 1973, in order to effect regime change in Libya, which the resolution did not authorize. So, the message sent by our interventionist policy to “dictators” is: be better armed, make less concessions and build better alliances.

(example: North Korea)* comment by Dale

Moreover, the humanitarian disasters in Eastern Congo, which are probably the largest in recent decades, are mainly due to foreign interventions (mostly from Rwanda, a US ally), not to a lack of them. To take a most extreme case, which is a favorite example of horrors cited by advocates of the humanitarian interventions, it is most unlikely that the Khmer Rouge would ever have taken power in Cambodia without the massive “secret” US bombing followed by US-engineered regime change that left that unfortunate country totally disrupted and destabilized.

Another problem with the “right of humanitarian intervention” is that it fails to suggest any principle to replace national sovereignty. When NATO exercised its own self-proclaimed right to intervene in Kosovo, where diplomatic efforts were far from having been exhausted, it was praised by the Western media.

When Russia exercised what it regarded as its own responsibility to protect in South Ossetia, it was uniformly condemned in the same Western media.
When Vietnam intervened in Cambodia, to put an end to the Khmer Rouge, or India intervened to free Bangladesh from Pakistan, their actions were also harshly condemned in the United States.

So, either every country with the means to do so acquires the right to intervene whenever a humanitarian reason can be invoked as a justification, and we are back to the war of all against all, or only an all-powerful state, namely the United States (and its allies) are allowed to do so, and we are back to a form of dictatorship in international affairs.

It is often replied that the interventions are not to be carried out by one state, but by the “international community”.
But the concept of “international community” is used primarily by the United States and its allies to designate themselves and whoever agrees with them at the time.
It has grown into a concept that both rivals the United Nations (the “international community” claims to be more “democratic” than many UN member states) and tends to take it over in many ways.

In reality, there is no such thing as a genuine international community.

NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was not approved by Russia and Russian intervention in South Ossetia was condemned by the West. There would have been no Security Council approval for either intervention.
The African Union has rejected the indictment by the International Criminal Court of the President of Sudan.

Any system of international justice or police, whether it is the responsibility to protect or the International Criminal Court, would need to be based on a relationship of equality and a climate of trust.

Today, there is no equality and no trust, between West and East, between North and South, largely as a result of the record of US policies. For some version of the responsibility to protect to be consensually functional in the future, we need first to build a relationship of equality and trust.
The Libyan adventure has illustrated another reality conveniently overlooked by the supporters of humanitarian intervention, namely that without the huge US military machine, the sort of safe no-casualty (on our side) intervention which can hope to gain public support is not possible.

The Western countries are not willing to risk sacrificing too many lives of their troops, and waging a purely aerial war requires an enormous amount of high technology equipment. Those who support such interventions are supporting, whether they realize it or not, the continued existence of the US military machine, with its bloated budgets and its weight on the national debt.

The European Greens and Social Democrats who support the war in Libya should have the honesty to tell their constituents that they need to accept massive cuts in public spending on pensions, unemployment, health care and education, in order to bring such social expenses down to an American level and use the hundreds of billions of euros thus saved to build a military machine that will be able to intervene whenever and wherever there is a humanitarian crisis.

If it is true that the 21st century needs a new United Nations, it does not need one that legitimizes such interventions by novel arguments, such as responsibility to protect, but one that gives at least moral support to those who try to construct a world less dominated by a single military superpower. The United Nations needs to pursue its efforts to achieve its founding purpose before setting a new, supposedly humanitarian priority, which may in reality be used by the Great Powers to justify their own future wars by undermining the principle of national sovereignty.
The left should support an active peace policy through international cooperation, disarmament, and non-intervention of states in the internal affairs of others. We could use our overblown military budgets to implement a form of global Keynesianism: instead of demanding “balanced budgets” in the developing world, we should use the resources wasted on our military to finance massive investments in education, health care and development. If this sounds utopian, it is not more so than the belief that a stable world will emerge from the way our current “war on terror” is being carried out.
Moreover, the left should strive towards strict respect for international law on the part of Western powers, implementing the UN resolutions concerning Israel, dismantling the worldwide US empire of bases as well as NATO, ceasing all threats concerning the unilateral use of force, stopping all interference in the internal affairs of other States, in particular all operations of “democracy promotion”, “color” revolutions, and the exploitation of the politics of minorities. This necessary respect for national sovereignty means that the ultimate sovereign of each nation state is the people of that state, whose right to replace unjust governments cannot be taken over by supposedly benevolent outsiders.
It will be objected that such a policy would allow dictators to “murder their own people”, the current slogan justifying intervention. But if non-intervention may allow such terrible things to happen, history shows that military intervention frequently has the same result, when cornered leaders and their followers turn their wrath on the “traitors” supporting foreign intervention. On the other hand, non- intervention spares domestic oppositions from being regarded as fifth columns of the Western powers – an inevitable result of our interventionist policies. Actively seeking peaceful solutions would allow a reduction of military expenditures, arms sales (including to dictators who may use them to “murder their own people”) and use of resources to improve social standards.
Coming to the present situation, one must acknowledge that the West has been supporting Arab dictators for a variety of reasons, ranging from oil to Israel, in order to control that region, and that this policy is slowly collapsing. But the lesson to draw is not to rush into yet another war, in Syria, as we did in Libya, claiming this time to be on the right side, defending the people against dictators, but to recognize that it is high time for us to stop assuming that we must control the Arab world. At the dawn of the 20th century, most of the world was under European control. Eventually, the West will lose control over that part of the world, as it lost it in East Asia and is losing it in Latin America. How the West will adapt itself to its decline is the crucial political question of our time; answering it is unlikely to be either easy or pleasant.
JEAN BRICMONT teaches physics at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He is author of Humanitarian Imperialism. He can be reached at

Amy Goodman: An Emblem of A Useful Idiot

Progressives Embrace Humanitarian Imperialism – Again

DemocracyNow! Hosts a Non-debate on Syria
by ,

February 25, 2012

"Foreign Intervention in Syria? A Debate with Joshua Landis and Karam Nachar." promised the headline on DemocracyNow! of 2/22. Eagerly I tuned in, hoping to hear a thorough exposé of the machinations of the US Empire in Syria on its march to Iran.

But this was neither exposé nor debate. Both sides, Landis and Nachar, were pro-intervention for "humanitarian" reasons.
Nor did the host Amy Goodman or her co-host take these worthies to task for their retrograde views on imperial military action against a sovereign nation that had made no attack on the US.

It was yet one more sign that the "progressive" movement in the West has largely abandoned its antiwar, anti-intervention stance.

The segment began with a clip of John McCain advocating yet another war, for the good of the Syrians of course, bombing them to save them.
The first guest was Joshua Landis, a prof in Oklahoma whose bio tells us that he "regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies." The other agencies are not specified, but he speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations and similar venues.

Professor Landis represents the anti-intervention voice in the universe of Amy Goodman, but his opening words manifested the limits of that universe: "Well, I’m not opposed to helping the (Syrian) opposition." He continued, "The problem right now, the dangers right now with arming the opposition, is that we’re not sure who to arm."

Confused, I thought surely the next guest would be the anti-interventionist.
He was Karam Nachar "cyber-activist" and Princeton Ph.D. candidate, working with Syrian "protesters" via "social media platforms." That means he is safely ensconced in New Jersey far from where U.S. bombs would fall.
Perhaps this fellow would say loud and clear the Syrians did not need the interference of the West, did not need sanctions to starve them nor bombs to pulverize their cities.
Perhaps he would laud the Chinese/Russian proposal for both sides to stop firing and to negotiate a solution.
But he did not.

He also was for intervention by the West. And he did not think the disorganization of the opposition, cited by Landis, justified hesitation or delay in arming that opposition.
not any p

That and rincipled anti-interventionism distinguished the two sides in this "debate." Said the cyber-activist: "Well, to start with, I disagree with Professor Landis’s portrayal of the situation with the Syrian opposition. It is true that, for instance, in the Syrian National Council, there are a lot of disagreements. But (the opposition is) still frustrated with the leadership of the Syrian National Council because of its inability to solicit more international support…. And I believe that the State Department, Secretary Clinton and the American administration is heading towards that. … It’s going to require a lot of money and a lot of courage and a lot of involvement on the part of the international community. (Emphasis, JW)

And then the boy cyber-activist got nasty: "I am just a little wary that this overemphasis on how leaderless the Syrian opposition is actually a tactic being used of people who actually do not want the regime to be overthrown and who have always actually defended the legitimacy of the Syrian regime, and especially of Bashar al-Assad."

There it is. Even if one is for intervention in principle, no delay is to be countenanced. Such people are surely on the side of Bashar Al-Assad.

This is the kind of "debate" we get on "progressive" media outlets. It is not even a debate about whether there should be imperial intervention, once completely verboten on the Left, but when and under what circumstances military intervention should occur.

This phony debate should simply be ignored whether it appears on DemocracyNow! or on NPR, increasingly indistinguishable in content and outlook or anywhere else.

For a principled explanation of anti-interventionism one can look to Jean Bricmont on the Left or Ron Paul and Justin Raimondo on the libertarian side.
In fairness to Amy Goodman, just a few weeks back on February 7, she hosted the British writer and long time student of Syria, Patrick Seale. Said Seale: "I believe dialogue is the only way out of this. And indeed, the Russians have suggested to both sides to come to Moscow and start a dialogue. But the opposition says, ‘No, we can’t dialogue with Bashar al-Assad. He must be toppled first.’ Well, that’s a dangerous — a dangerous position to adopt."

That interview is well worth reading.

And Goodman would do well to stick with that instead of shifting over to empty debates between interventionism now versus interventionism later.

After repeatedly hosting the CIA consultant Juan Cole to cheer the cruel war on Libya, Goodman now seems to be going down the same path with Syria.

It is a sad spectacle and one more indication of how little the "progressives" in the West understand the nature of Humanitarian Imperialism which uses human rights to sell war.

It looks like it’s time to abandon Goodman and switch to Alyona

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Does The Civil War in Syria Really Mean for Iran, Russia and China?

By The SakerFebruary 23, 2012 "Information Clearing House" --- I was recently asked by a reader to update two of my past articles, Iran's asymmetrical response options and For Israel war is the continuation of national suicide by other means, and that is an excellent idea, considering that the first one was written in 2007 and the second one in 2010. I did touch upon these issues in a more recent article, Iran in the crosshair again, which does to a certain degree update the former two, but this might be a good time to look at the big picture of what is taking place and try to get a feel for where it all might be headed. If the three above mentioned articles (which I recommend you read - if you have not already - before reading on further) looked at the possible outcomes of an attack on Iran primarily from a military point of view, it might be interesting to look at where the most changes have occurred: in the political field. After all, military conflicts never take place in a vacuum and, if anything, the war in Kosovo has shown that the side which militarily "wins" (the Serbs) can at the same time loose politically. So let's look at what the major political shifts are not from the point of view of some reporter sitting in Los Angeles or Rome, but from the point of view of Iran and Israel.

The creation of an anti-Shia front:

The outcome of the war in Iraq and the de-facto takeover of Iraqi politics by Shia parties as resulted in "push-back" reaction in many Sunni Arab states, in particular in Bahrain and Syria. The behind-the-scenes but direct involvement of Gulf States like Qatar in the war in Libya and the transformation of the Arab League into a "US/NATO invitation committee" clearly shows that the rich oil sheikdoms are becoming concerned and have decided to counter what they perceive as the "Shia crescent's" threat.

But let's remind ourselves of what we are talking about here: the Shia crescent is nothing else but a list of countries where the Shia have been systematically and brutally repressed and excluded from the political process either by secularist (Shah in Iran, Saddam in Iraq), Wahabi zealots (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia) or a mix of both (Lebanon).
It also happens that these are the parts of the Middle-East in which most oil can be found.
In other words, the Shia crescent is nothing else but the territories where the Western Empires have used local Sunni proxies to oppress and impoverish the majority population while stealing their natural wealth. This is what all this nonsense about the "terrorist Mullahs" and the "Shia threat" really is designed to conceal: that the Shia, inspired by Iran and Hezbollah, are engaged in a national liberation struggle which threatens all those billionaires which have been in bed with the British, the USA and the Israelis since day one.
Everywhere you look, Sunni leaders, and in particular of the Wahabi type, have been working hand-in-hand with the Zio-American interests, even at the clear detriment of the interests of the local Muslim population (Balkans, Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, etc.). Oh sure, there are regular clashes between the US and various Wahabi groups worldwide, but they are tactical, local, in nature. In the big picture the West and the Wahabis have always walked in lockstep with each other (as seen recently in the case of Libya).
And don't let the fact that the Shia mostly deny all this deceive you: that denial of the obvious reality is an old Shia survival technique destined to blame any Shia-Sunni tensions on any and all conceivable causes but the obvious one: the religious one. I think that this is a very misguided approach, but it has been historically the one most Shia have chosen: Shias much rather believe themselves to be a part of the big Islamic "Ummah" than to contemplate the outright distressing possibility that most of the Muslim world is hostile towards them (which is what the historical record shows).
The civil war in Syria really brought it all out in the open and if in the past one could debate the putative successes of Iranian diplomacy with its Gulf neighbors and the various smiles and hugs it resulted in, but the fact is that Iran's neighbors are now all joining forces against it. Even Turkey, which tends to be cautious in its policies towards Iran is now fully involved in the external intervention in Syria, which is another bad sign for Iran.

As for Hezbollah, it always new that all the Arab and Sunni expressions of support for its causes were just that - empty words, lip-service to the personal popularity of Hassan Nasrallah, but that in reality Hezbollah had no other friend or ally except Iran.

In his famous 2006 "Divine Victory speech" Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah said the following:

The people of Lebanon gave strong proof to all the peoples of the world. The Lebanese resistance provided strong proof to all Arab and Islamic armies. Arab armies and peoples are not only able to liberate Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they are simply capable of regaining Palestine from sea to river by one small decision and with some determination. The problem is that when one is torn between two choices and is asked to choose between his people and his throne, he chooses his throne. When he is asked to choose between Jerusalem and his throne, he chooses his throne. When he is asked to choose between the dignity of his homeland and his throne, he chooses his throne. What is distinct about the resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine is that they chose the dignity of their people, holy places, and freedom and offer their leaders, sons, and dear ones as sacrifices to join the throne of God Almighty.

These words are a direct slap in the face of all the hapless Sunni and secular (Baathist) Arab leaders who literally for decades drowned the world in fiery speeches and yet have never achieved anything: from the Wahabi fat cats of the Gulf, to the Masonic Baath leaders of Lebanon, to the "progressive/popular" secular leftists leaders of the various Palestinian factions, none of them ever managed to scure even a modest victory against Israel.
Compare that to the Shia who defeated the USA in Iran, then defeated the USA again in Iraq, and then defeated Israel's four brigades, three reserve divisions and entire Air Force and Navy with roughly one thousand second rate Hezbollah soldiers (the best Hezbollah fighters were all kept north of the Litani river).
What Hassan Nasrallah is saying is this: the reason why the Arab and Islamic world was always defeated is because it was lead by unworthy leaders who care about their thrones more than anything else. Such talk is tantamount to a death threat to all these leaders and they are now "circling the wagons" under the protection of Uncle Sam and his Israeli overlords to stop the Shia liberation movement.

The USA as re-grouped and has Iran surrounded:
Juan Cole has recently published a map of US bases all around Iran which really says it all:

What this map is not showing is how the spread of force levels has changed since, say, 2007. Nor does it show to what degree the US lines of supply have become shorter (in Afghanistan) or disappeared all together (Basra is no more a key transit area). While there still is an important US presence in Iraq, most of it via its huge mercenary forces, the bulk of the US Army combat units has been withdrawn to safer locations and is now available for deployment.
That still leaves plenty of US bases as potential targets of an Iranian retaliatory missile strike, but at least the Iraqi Shia allies of Iran have less of a chance to easily hit US military personal in Iraq.

Finally, should the USA decide to mount a sustained campaign of air and missiles strikes against Iran, it now has the regional resources to to so. Iran is now as surrounded as Kosovo was.
The civil war in Syria as the litmus test of Western power:
I have said that many times already, and I will say it again: I despise the Baathist regime of Assad Jr. almost as much as I despised the regime of his father. To me, what is happening to Assad today is exactly what happened to Gaddafi, Saddam, Noriega and so many faithful servants of the US Empire who have been dumped by their American masters as soon as they became useless. Assad, specifically, was all to willing to torture 'suspects' 'rendered' to him by the US CIA and there is no doubt in my mind that his regime let Israeli agents kill Imad Mughniyah. And, of course, Assad is yet another example of a leader who only cares about his "throne" to use Hassan Nasrallah's expression, and who will do anything to hold on to it. So please don't mistake any of what I say below as a defense of Assad or his regime.

Just as was the case with the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya, there is no doubt in my mind that the anti-Assad forces are nothing but US/NATO puppets, from the diplomatic prostitutes of the Arab League, to the Wahabi snipers in Homs, to all the doubleplusgoodthinking "humanitarians" who flood the Internet with crocodile tears about the civilians victims in Syria but who strenuously fail to say anything about the butchery of the Bahraini Shia.

Libya provided this bizarre hodge-podge of wannabe humanitarians with a grand rehearsal for their current operation, the big difference that Gaddafi and his sons were clueless clowns whereas Assad seems to be a more sophisticated player. That, and the fact that the Alawi and Christian communities are probably terrified of what will happen to them if the Wahabis take power in Syria, makes Assad a tougher opponent than Gaddafi.
What makes things worse in Syria is that is has the misfortune of being at a strategic crossroads of the entire Middle-East and that is plays a crucial role not only for Iran, but even more so for Hezbollah.
That, in turn, means that the "throne-loving" leaders of the Middle-East, the US/NATO and the Israelis all see in the civil war in Syria the perfect opportunity to deal a sever blow to their Shia enemies. Hence the toxic "sacred alliance" against the Assad regime, all in the name of democracy and human rights, of course...

I can't call the outcome of this civil war yet. There are too many variables and too many possible developments. My personal feeling is that the fate of the Assad regime might well be decided in Moscow and Beijing as I don't see the Assad regime indefinitely resisting against the combined onslaught of all the forces arrayed against it. As for Iran, it also does not have the political weight necessary to save Assad from eventually loosing power.
In contrast, Russia and China have enough weight, in particular in the form of money, to throw around to strongly influence the events on the ground, but will they do so? That, at least for me, is the big question.
So far Russia and China have a checkered record at best, which includes the betrayal of Iran and Libya at the UNSC, but which also includes the recent veto of the anti-Syrian resolution at the UNSC as well as numerous statements that no military action against Iran is acceptable to them.
I think that many people are making way too much over the recent visit of the Russian mini carrier group (one aircraft carrier, one frigate, four tankers, one tug and two corvettes) to the Syrian port of Tartus. This was very much a political visit, scheduled a long time ago, and not at all the deployment of a real task force to "defend the Assad regime" against any US or NATO attack. In fact, the Russia flotilla was a mix of Northern Fleet and Baltic Fleet vessels whose area of responsibility does not include the Mediterranean. Yes, it is true that the Russian Navy would be interested in having a permanent base in Tartus, but this would be a re-supply and maintenance base, and not at all a military base designed to project Russian military power in the region, much less so intervene in internal Syrian political strife. So let's make something absolutely unequivocally clear: neither Russia nor China will ever use military means to oppose a US/NATO intervention anywhere in the world unless it is against Russian or Chinese territory or forces. Those who believe otherwise are dreaming.

This being said, its not the Russian or Chinese military power which might influence the outcome of the civil war in Syria, but Russian and Chinese "soft-power", mainly in the form of money: in the form of official loans, of course, but also by means of behind the scenes pay-offs and bribes of various key actors, combined with technical assistance to the regime, and diplomatic pressure on the West (Russia and China do have excellent political "levers" which they could potentially use against the West). What is not so clear to me is whether Russia and China are willing to use much of their capital (financial and/or political) to save this weak, corrupt and untrustworthy regime from collapsing.

Sure, for Iran and Hezbollah a collapse of the Assad regime would be a disaster, but for Russia or China?
Looking at even the bigger picture, would even a US/Israeli war on Iran be a disaster for Russia and China?

The sad reality is that, at least so far, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and, even more so, the Collective Security Organization (CSO) have failed to live up to the idea of being a counter-weight to NATO and the US. NATO has the huge advantage of being an organization totally controlled and operated by the USA, with the rest of the Alliance playing the role of a symbolic fig-leaf concealing the ugly fact that the Europe is a US colony. In military terms, NATO is just another combined joined task force operated by the US military. The SCO has two independent heavyweights, Russia and China, who remain in many ways suspicious of each other and who both want to retain their full independence. The CSO is much more Russian controlled, but that also means that it has a much smaller, strictly regional, role and importance.
The US therefore enjoys the immense advantage of having a fully integrated NATO as the cornerstone of its imperial project, supported by a list of local entities (Arab League) all capable of acting in full unison once the order is given by Uncle Sam (or his Zionist overlords).

Add to this an immense and sophisticated propaganda machine, the Western corporate media, and you come to the inevitable conclusion that there is nobody out there who can really stand up to the US/Israeli Empire and make it back down.

Oh sure, the Russians did make the US and NATO back down over Georgia in 2008, but the Russians were actually willing to have a full scale war with NATO and the US over this issue, whereas most leader is the West did not give a damn about Georgia or Saakashvili. Like in Chechnia, the West would have preferred to win, but a small loss was really no big deal for them.
I am afraid that the exact same logic, but in reverse, might be applied to Syria and Iran: whereas the West, fully controlled by Zionists interests, is hell-bent on a confrontation with Syria and Iran, the Russians and Chinese are show very little desire to really take a firm stand on this issue.

Syria is not in the South China Sea or the Caucasus and its economy is too small to really matter to Moscow and Beijing. In contrast, Iran is awfully close to the Russian Caucasus and a war involving Iran might have a spillover effect on the Russian southern border. Not only that, but Iran's economy is far more important to Russia and China, so my guess is that there would be far more willingness in Russia and China to prevent the West from returning Iran into its sphere of influence than to do much about Syria.
And yet, consider this: if my 2007 analysis is still correct and the USA and Israel cannot 'win' in Iran, at least not in the sense of achieving regime change, and if Syria does not really matter enough to Moscow and Beijing, is there any rationale at all for direct Russian or Chinese intervention in either conflict (other than the usual loud protests and other expressions of outrage at the UN?).

Conclusion: an international anti-Shia coalition

First, it appears that an international anti-Shia coalition has been successfully formed by the USA in its efforts to support Israel. The primary aim of this coalition is to weaken Iran's influence in the Middle-East by all possible means. Second, the USA is now in a much safer position than it was in 2007 to be able to respond to an Israeli strike on Iran or even to launch a missile and air campaign of its own. Third, there are as of now no signs that Russia or China are willing to directly intervene to save the Assad regime in Syria. In the case of Iran, since regime-change is probably not achievable in the first place, there is not clear rationale for a direct Russian or Chinese intervention in a possible war between Israel, the US and Iran.
If the above is correct, that leaves Iran and, even more so, Hezbollah, in a very difficult position. One could say that they are the victims of their own successes, Iran in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In this context, I think that it is fair to say that the Assad regime has proven to be a fantastic liability for both Iran and Hezbollah, and that suggests a possible solution to this problem: the replacement of Assad and his band of highly secularized minions by some regime more committed to the Iran-Hezbollah alliance. The problem with that is that unlike the Shia of Bahrain or Iraq, the Shia in Syria are a minority (13% split into three factions) and that the Alawis are tainted by the role in the Assad regime. So where would such a leader come from?
Syria always was the weak link of the Iran-Hezbollah alliance, and most definitely the weak link of the so-called "Shia crescent". By striking there the West has correctly identified this civil war as a low-cost operation (for itself, of course, not for the Syrian people) with very high potential rewards and it is now using all its power to win this battle.
Iran and Hezbollah might want to take heed of the US expression, "hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and settle for anything in the middle" and pray that the worst, whatever that may be, does not happen in Syria. Still, it remains highly likely that once the dust settles in Syria, both Iran and Hezbollah will find themselves in far weaker and vulnerable situation than before the conflict began.And Israel in all that? The fact that I did not mention it at all in this analysis should not be taken as meaning that it is irrelevant to these processes. Israel is crucial to it all since it is on Israel's behalf that the entire US policy in the Middle-East is conducted. Let me repeat this: the grand purpose of the entire Imperial operation against the Shia is to help Israel deal with Iran and Hezbollah. The question remains, of course, whether the Israeli leadership is willing to listen to reason and stay put while the Americans are doing their bidding, or whether they will commit yet another folly and strike at Iran with no possible hope to achieve anything tangible (other than feeling good about themselves).I would say that the past record clearly shows that the Israelis have never missed an opportunity to do something stupid, and that this time, pushed by, on one hand, their own rhetoric and, on the other, their belief that they can get Uncle Sam to rescue them from even a self-created disaster, they will end up attacking Iran probably sooner, than later.
The Saker -

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Washington’s Insouciance Has No Rival

By Paul Craig Roberts
February 15, 2012

Is Obama a hypocrite or merely insouciant? Or is he an idiot?

According to news reports Obama’s White House meeting on Valentine’s day with China’s Vice President, Xi Jinping, provided an opportunity for Obama to raise “a sensitive human rights issue with the Chinese leader-in-waiting.”

The brave and forthright Obama didn’t let etiquette or decorum get in his way.
Afterwards, Obama declared that Washington would “continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of realizing the aspirations and rights of all people.”

Think about that for a minute.

Washington is now in the second decade of murdering Muslim men, women, and children in six countries. Washington is so concerned with human rights that it drops bombs on schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, all in order to uphold the human rights of Muslim people.
You see, bombing liberates Muslim women from having to wear the burka and from male domination.
One hundred thousand, or one million, dead Iraqis, four million displaced Iraqis, a country with destroyed infrastructure, and entire cities, such as Fallujah, bombed and burnt with white phosphorus into cinders is the proper way to show concern for human rights.

Ditto for Afghanistan. And Libya.
In Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia Washington’s drones bring human rights to the people.
Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and secret CIA prison sites are other places to which Washington brings human rights.
Obama, who has the power to murder American citizens without due process of law, is too powerless to close Guantanamo Prison.
He is powerless to prevent himself from supplying Israel with weapons with which to murder Palestinians and Lebanese citizens to whom Obama brings human rights by vetoing every UN resolution passed against Israel for its crimes against humanity.

Instead of following Washington’s human rights lead, the evil Chinese invest in other countries, buy things from them, and sell them goods.

Has any foreign dignitary ever raised “a sensitive human rights issue” with Obama or his predecessor?

How is the world so deranged that Washington can murder innocents for years on end and still profess to be the world’s defender of human rights?

How many people has China bombed, droned, and sanctioned into non-existence in the 21st century?

Will Syria and Iran be the next victims of Washington’s concern for human rights?

Nothing better illustrates the total unreality of life in the West than the fact that the entire Western world did not break out in riotous laughter over Obama’s expression of his human rights concern over China’s behavior.

Washington’s concern with human rights does not extend as far as airport security where little girls and grandmothers are sexually groped. Antiwar activists have their homes invaded, their personal possessions carried off, and a grand jury is summoned to frame them up on some terrorist charge.

US soldier Bradley Manning is held for two years in violation of the US Constitution while the human rights government concocts fabricated charges to punish him for revealing a US war crime.
WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is harassed endlessly with the goal of bringing him into the human rights clutches of Washington.
Critics of Washington’s inhumane policies are monitored and spied upon.

Washington is the worst violator of human rights in our era, and Washington has only begun.

Who will liberate Americans from Washington’s clutches?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Christian Jihad

Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses, Philip Jenkins, by

Patrick Allitt
February 1, 2012

Is it true that the Bible teaches peace and the Koran war?
Only if you approach the books selectively, taking the gentlest of Jesus’ teachings and setting them against the harshest of Muhammad’s.

Philip Jenkins’s challenging new book Laying Down the Sword shows that the Bible contains incitements not just to violence but also to genocide.
He argues that Christians and Jews should struggle to make sense of these violent texts as a central element of their tradition, rather than hurry past them or ignore them altogether.

The most painful passages come in the books of Joshua and Judges, which Jenkins describes as an “orgy of militarism, enslavement, and race war.”
The Israelites, emerging from the desert after their escape from Egypt, attack Canaanite cities, whose people are described by the biblical narrator as very wicked.

God commands the Israelites to exterminate the inhabitants—men, women, children, and animals alike, until nothing is left alive.
Likewise in the Book of Samuel, King Saul eventually loses God’s favor not for his bloodthirstiness in war but for his restraint—he fails to annihilate his enemies.
The prophet Samuel denounces him for sparing some of the Amalekites, takes up a sword, and personally hacks the captive King Agag to pieces.

To make matters worse, says Jenkins, God sometimes deliberately “hardens the hearts” of other peoples, using them to chastise the sinful Hebrews. Then He raises up Judges, righteous Israelites, to smite and destroy them in turn.

It’s almost as if He wanted the highest possible body count.

Jenkins offers a useful thought experiment, asking readers to view these stories through the eyes of the Canaanites themselves.
To them, the Israelites would seem as terrifying as the Janjaweed militia of Darfur in our own day, or as the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda, whose leader, Joseph Kony, has justified the mass torture and killing of men, women, and children in God’s name.

For centuries Jews and Christians have struggled to come to terms with these stories.

One option was always to take them at face value and act accordingly. Crusaders in the Middle Ages, militant Christians on both sides during the wars of religion that followed the Reformation, and extremist Zionists in Israel today have taken the stories as evidence that killing your enemy without mercy is exactly what God wants.
Sometimes, in their view, we must accept that God’s purposes are inscrutable but nevertheless just and righteous.

Similarly, the genocidal passages settled the consciences of European empire-builders between 1500 and 1900.
They attributed “Canaanite” wickedness to their American, African, and Asian enemies, then exterminated them, noting that in doing so they had emulated God’s chosen conqueror, Joshua.

One of the difficulties of becoming Christian for Native Americans and Africans since then has been God’s apparent willingness to victimize people like themselves en masse.

Another common approach has been to overlook or exclude these genocidal texts.

In the Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1994 and now used by a wide array of Protestant and Catholic churches in America, the biblical readings recommended for every Sunday of the year carefully omit all the warlike texts while emphasizing the most benevolent themes in the Old Testament that prefigure Jesus’ message of peace, love, and social justice.

“Modern preachers,” notes Jenkins, “regularly proclaim the confrontational and challenging character of the Old Testament, by which they mean the social radicalism of Amos, or the withering critiques of war and injustice in prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Yet few indeed are the sermons that explore the injunction to leave nothing that breathes, or condemn those who fail to kill the last victim.”
He speculates about what would happen if a typical suburban minister were compelled, one Sunday, to preach on the text from Deuteronomy 7: “You must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”

Early figures in Christian history approached the genocidal passages in different ways. Marcion, leader of a highly influential Christian movement of the second century AD, argued that the God of the Old Testament, capricious, brutal, and violent, was the antithesis of the God of Jesus in the New Testament.

His own proposed version of the Bible omitted the Old Testament completely. So, a century later, did that of Mani, founder of the Manicheans, who thought of divine history as a great battle between light and darkness and denied that the New Testament fulfilled prophecies made in the Old.

Arguing against the Marcionites and the Manicheans, some of the Church Fathers, including Origen and Augustine, denied that the genocidal passages should be taken literally.

In Origen’s view they should be read metaphorically or spiritually so that the Canaanites or Amalekites were not actual groups of people, deserving of death, but the tendency to sin in every human heart, against which we should make perpetual war.

At one point in the book of Joshua, for example, five kings hide in a cave until the Israelites find and kill them. To Origen this story meant not that the Israelites were murderers but that the five senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste) are always at work in the “cave” of the human mind, always offering temptation, but that a truly religious man, with the help of Jesus, will overcome them.

Not until the Enlightenment did significant numbers of European intellectuals begin to use the genocidal passages to argue against religion itself. Some, like Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and a hero of the American Revolution, regarded the God disclosed by these passages as so morally inferior that no civilized people should accept him. In The Age of Reason he described the Old Testament as “a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” Paine became a radiant figure for skeptics through the 19th and 20th centuries. His most recent heirs include our own era’s leading atheists, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

Scholars of historical criticism offered yet another approach to the Bible. Starting in Germany and gradually coming to dominate the academic study of scripture, they recognized that the canonical books of the Old Testament were written in different times and places by different authors with different intentions.

By now, biblical scholars are largely in agreement about the existence of four main traditions woven together in the Old Testament: the Yahwistic, the Elohistic, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomic.
They have also shown that the familiar order of the Old Testament books is not the order in which they were written.
On the contrary, Joshua and Deuteronomy, whose historical passages deal with events in about the 12th century BC, were almost certainly written 500 or 600 years later, at about the same time as the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Amos, whose peaceful and universalistic message appears to contradict them.

In other words, the genocidal actions were attributed by much later writers, to men who had lived as remote from them in time as Christopher Columbus is from us.

Jenkins believes that these much later writers attributed to Joshua actions that never happened.
Their motive was to exhort their own contemporaries to live up to the rigors of monotheism and not to let their attention be drawn away by the multitude of other gods, from the surrounding empires and societies, competing for their loyalty.
He admits that praising their forefathers for genocide implies that they were familiar with the concept, but takes consolation from the fact that the pitiless massacres in question almost certainly did not take place.

Scholarly evidence now supports the idea that the Hebrews coexisted with many other peoples in the Canaan of the 12th century B.C. Archaeologists in particular cast doubt on the claim that a new group of marauders came out of the desert and annihilated pre-existing cities and peoples; the evidence of such massacres simply is not there.

What really happened, Jenkins argues, is that the Deuteronomic writers, concerned about dangerous political and religious conditions, were “telling a story and at every possible stage heightening the degree of contrast and separation between Israel and those other nations,” not for the sake of historical accuracy but to send a spiritual message to their own people. “Israel had to kill its inner Canaanite,” so “perhaps the later commentators, Jewish and Christian, were not that misguided in seeing the massacres in allegorical terms.”

What does all this imply for practicing Christians today?

In Jenkins’ view, ministers and worshipers should face up to the genocidal texts because they are an integral part of the Bible, whose Old and New Testaments, he believes, depend on one another.
He invokes the authority of Martin Luther, who reminded the excitable first generation of Protestant Bible readers not to take any passage out of context, always to think of the overall meaning of a book, and to be attentive to the setting and specifics of a passage.

Deuteronomy 7, for example, can then be understood not as a claim that it’s right for Christians to massacre their enemies but as “a call to absolute dedication.”
If we continue to ignore or deny these texts rather than face up to them in their proper context, we will be taken by surprise when another fanatic uses them to justify murder.
That’s asking a lot of ordinary Christians because only sustained study in the historical-critical method can lead them to understand and share his conclusions.

Jenkins must know he’s aiming far higher than most congregations are willing to stretch. As I reached the last chapter of Laying Down the Sword, I had mixed feelings.
On the one hand this book is a wonderful example of the kind of rigorous work Christians must do if they are to retain intellectual credibility—Jenkins is doing just what Mark Noll asked for in his 1995 manifesto The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

He’s also right to show the unreasonableness of thinking that Islam is essentially a religion of violence and war and Christianity a religion of peace.
On the other hand it’s hard to escape the feeling that he is making excuses for the biblical authors.
Perhaps it is true that they used the language of genocide only figuratively, but in doing so they gave warrants to people who not only committed actual genocide but claimed God’s blessing for it into the bargain.

Let me end with another paradox about which I would have liked to hear Jenkins’s thoughts.
He encourages us to look at historical events from the vantage point of the weaker party, and he tells us that we need to reincorporate the genocidal passages into our understanding and worship.
That got me thinking about another biblical genocide—Noah’s flood.
We are all familiar with pictures of the animals lining up two-by-two and parading into the ark; these plucky survivors have become a staple subject for greeting-card artists, songwriters, cartoonists, even environmentalists.
What we are not used to thinking about is the fact that God Himself in this story is committing genocide, killing everyone in the world except for the members of a single family.

It’s a horrifying tale but one that our culture treats as colorful and uplifting, a prelude to the first rainbow. I’ve never heard a sermon on it as an act of divine rage and apocalyptic destruction. Perhaps that just confirms Jenkins’ general point that we should be a lot more self-aware and self-critical when we think about our religion and a lot slower to condemn the violent tendencies in the religions of others

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Drones Over Iraq: When is a Pullout not a Pullout?

… the enduring power of our moral example, America is back.
— President Obama, State of the Union address, 24 January 2012

January 31, 2012 "Information Clearing House" --- First the world was sold imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with General Colin Powell, at the United Nations in February 2003, asserting:

My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

Now it seems the world is sold a withdrawal from Iraq which was not quite what it seemed as presented by the Panetta-Obama-fest in the Baghdad, Fort Bragg speeches of just six weeks ago.

At Fort Bragg: “The war in Iraq will soon belong to history …” said the President.
Well, not quite.

In an interesting sleight of hand, the State Department, rather than the Pentagon, is operating a fleet of surveillance drones over Iraq in “ … the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over the functions in Iraq that the military used to perform.”

Further, the near Vatican City sized US Embassy in Baghdad is protected by five thousand mercenaries and has a further staff of eleven thousand, a large number seemingly in a “military advice” capacity, training Iraqi forces – a nation that, ironically, nine years ago the US and UK cited as having a military capability not alone a threat “to the entire region”, but to the West.

Little noticed is that the State Department has been operating drones in Iraq since last year. Additionally, when “Embassy” staff travel, they are escorted by helicopters, frequently with machine gun toting mercenaries “tethered to the outside.” Another Nisour Square massacre (17 September 2007) waiting to happen.

The Pentagon-operated drones, it seems, went out by the front door and returned through the State Department back door.

Whilst it is asserted that the current ones are unarmed, President Obama’s response during an event hosted by Google and YouTube (30 January) seems ambiguous:
The truth of the matter is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside of Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our Embassy compound is protected.
The US “protecting” without decimating fire power seems somewhat of a non-sequitur.
Moreover, bids are being sought for drone operations over Iraq for the next five years. Interestingly “solicitations” for “qualified contractors” for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Support Services were released on 1 November 2011, less than two months before the US ‘”pullout” from Iraq. Specifications include disseminating threat information for use in route planning, which reads pretty well like “attack mode”, and Response to a security incident at locations remote from the core of operation — which presumably is an operator safe at a console a few thousand miles away deciding who, and how many, to kill.
Suitable contracts would be signed within thirty days of tendering.

This “worldwide” undertaking will embrace Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and US drone bases are now in Ethiopia, the Seychelles and “a secret location in the Arabian Peninsula.”
Whilst Iraqis are enraged and Iraqi politicians say they have not been consulted, with acting Interior Minister Adnan Al-Assadi stating adamantly, “Our sky is our sky. Not the USA’s”, Iraq’s law makers seem to have missed — and the US apparently ignored — that formal permission is needed to operate in sovereign air space.

There are also strict criteria for flyover (or flying within) rights. The grantee must be on good terms with the grantor. The grantor must approve the use of the air space and the grantor could deny them use of the air space if there was an attempt to make war. The potential for the guest to blow nationals of the host country to pieces sounds pretty well like a “no way.”
Further, large fees can be levied by the grantor. Russia, for example, charges Europe 300 million euros a year for flyover permission alone.
The deeply divisive, largely mistrusted, increasingly tyrannical US-installed puppet, Prime Minister Maliki, could win some much needed popularity if he took a firm stance on the matter – all the legal tools are there for him to use.
However, he looks to be between the proverbial rock and a very hard place. No breath holding.
Felicity Arbuthnot is a freelance journalist, who has visited Iraq on many occasions since the end of the Gulf War.