Israel and Saudi Arabia – when rogue states combine

A quietly emerging correspondence of interests has resulted in an alliance of seemingly unlikely partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This combination, while powerful, has suffered a stinging defeat.


Rove McManus, the talented Australian comedian and TV personality, used to host a comedy segment on his TV program called “What The….?”. He would select rather bizarre, unusual or freakish episodes of behaviour of celebrities, or ludicrous examples of eccentric conduct by actors, and invite the audience to express its incredulity and disbelief with the expression “What The…?”. We can all think of examples of outlandish or peculiar behaviour by TV and film actors which invite us to express our shock and disbelief at their eccentricity, behaviour far removed from the usual social norms that govern the conduct of the 99 percent. However, it is not only in the world of film and television where we can experience “What The….?” moments. In the area of global politics, seemingly opposite entities can engage in conduct that while initially appearing extraordinary, is actually motivated by basic economic and political interests.

Consortiumnews is an online magazine dedicated to independent investigative journalism, exposing the hypocrisies and crimes of US imperial power. On December 4, 2013, the magazine published a story about the Middle East with the following headline; “Saudi-Israeli Alliance Boosts Al-Qaeda”. Wait a minute….”Saudi-Israeli alliance?”…..’boosts Al-Qaeda?”…..What The….?? It beggars belief that two states that are diametric opposites would be cooperating on major international issues. A fundamentalist and exclusively Jewish state, cooperating with the hard-line Wahhabi Islamic state of Saudi Arabia? Surely this cannot be right.

After getting over the shock from the apparently unbelievable content of the headline, and digging deeper, one can find that such an alliance does indeed exist, and has been very active over the last few years. The entire article, written by Robert Parry, examines the strategic geopolitical interests that have converged to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together, if not in open embrace, then at least through channels of secretive cooperation. In August 2013, Robert Parry, the founder and senior editor of Consortiumnews published the interesting article ‘The Saudi-Israeli Superpower’ which elaborated on the growing interconnection between the two historically different states now seeking an alliance of convenience based on mutually agreed political interests. The ongoing Syrian civil war and the military coup d’etat of July 2013 in Egypt have brought to light a burgeoning, not-so-unusual alliance in the Arab world; the strategic cooperation of the Israeli state and Saudi Arabia. An alliance consisting of military clout, political power and financial backup, this cooperation has witnessed an intersection of interests. While the Israeli and Saudi states are the pillars of this alliance, the other Persian Gulf petro-sheikhdoms, and Jordan, all play a supportive role in this drama.

As Robert Parry explains in his article;

The potential impact of this new coalition can barely be overstated, with Israel bringing to the table its remarkable propaganda skills and its unparalleled influence over U.S. foreign policy and Saudi Arabia tapping into its vast reservoir of petrodollars and exploiting its global financial networks.

Implacable hostility to Iran

What immediate concerns have brought together this apparently odd couple? Both view Shia Islamic Republic of Iran as the main enemy, and have been busy lobbying American, European and other governments to take a tough line against Tehran. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have whipped up fears of the non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons programme to mobilise political and economic support for a military strike against that country. While the European states, the US and Iran were negotiating the now-established Geneva accords on curbing aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme, Saudi and Israeli officials were busy making plans for a military attack on Iran, should a deal have failed to materialise. Both have been agitating for harsher sanctions against Iran, and were disappointed with moves by the United States and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for rapprochement.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia worked overtime to try and scuttle any possible agreement between the P5 + 1 states – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and the Iranian regime regarding the latter’s nuclear capabilities. The deal reached between the relevant parties represents a serious defeat for the Israel-Saudi alliance. The latter deployed increasingly hysterical rhetoric, and used their widespread ‘soft power’ connections inside the US and other governments to attempt to sabotage any kind of agreement. As Robert Parry explained in one of his many articles on the emerging Israel-Saudi alliance, both powers bring their complementary strengths to the table;

Saudi oil billionaires can reach into both Wall Street boardrooms and the corporate offices of Texas energy giants, while Israel has unparalleled lobbying power with Congress and can deploy its network of neoconservative propagandists to shape any American foreign policy debate.

However, this time, their wishes were not fulfilled. While the Saudi regime had a temper tantrum over the failure of the US to be swayed, the interim agreement with Iran represents a severe rebuff to the Zionist lobby in the US, and the concessions that Iran offered, albeit under economic duress, do represent a lessening of tensions and the threat of immediate war has receded. The fact that the deal was reached does not mean that it is fair or equitable to the Iranians. The latter have been suffering under a regime of punitive sanctions and were forced to give up a great deal just to secure some minimal relief from a crippling economic embargo. There was very little reciprocity in the terms of this deal. As Professor Ismael Hossein-Zadeh explained in his Counterpunch article;

Deprived of more than half of its oil exports/revenue, and largely locked out of the international banking and/or trade system, the Iranian economy and its people are already gravely suffering from the ravages of economic sanctions.

Under such pressing conditions, sections of the Iranian elite were looking to compromise and reach an interim deal. But the fact that the Israel-Saudi Arabia connection was working to sabotage even such an unjust arrangement represents how far they will push tensions to the point of even threatening a wider regional war. High level political figures in the Israeli establishment were even considering launching a bombing campaign against Iran should an agreement be reached between the P5 +1 and Iranian states. There were some voices in the Israeli establishment opposed to a unilateral strike against Iran – Gabi Ashkenazi, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff for one; Shimon Peres, the Israeli President for another. However influential, they could not drown out the shrill rhetoric of the war hawks in Tel Aviv. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia, motivated by implacable hostility and hatred for any regional challenger, were pushing for a violent outcome with Iran – that outcome has been averted for the time being. This confederation of rogue bedfellows had hoped that spreading around the limitless Saudi and Arab-monarchy petrodollars, plus louder and more shrill neoconservative and Zionist voices in the US Congress would undermine any US-Iranian reconciliation – it did not work.

Aversion to the Arab Uprisings

Another area where both states find that they converge is their combined wariness of the political forces and social movements unleashed by the Arab Awakening, normally understood by the misnomer ‘Arab Spring’. Jordan is the principal contact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, being heavily dependent on the financial generosity of the petro-monarchies of the Persian Gulf, particularly the regime in Riyadh. Jordan has maintained close military contacts with Israel since signing a peace agreement in 1994.

The emerging nexus between Tel Aviv and Riyadh was further in evidence during the recent upheaval caused by the Egyptian military’s coup d’etat against the former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi. Saudi Arabia is providing lavish finances for the militarist regime, and Israel deployed its considerable political resources in Washington to lobby the Obama administration not to oppose the coup; in fact, the US steadfastly refused to describe the ousting of former President Morsi as a coup. Israel’s position has improved significantly with the removal of Morsi, and the consequent isolation of the Israeli-blockaded Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian government of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has suffered a reversal of fortune with the ousting of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

It is interesting to note that the royalist, theocratic dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, along with its Persian Gulf partners, is solid allies of the violently secular dictatorship of the current Egyptian President General al-Sisi.

The Syrian imbroglio

Cooperation between the two rogue states also extends to the Syrian civil war. The Syrian regime, a long-term benefactor of the Hezbollah party in Lebanon and the only Arab ally of Iran, faces an insurrection increasingly dominated by Saudi-funded Islamist militants. Israel and Saudi Arabia view the Syrian regime as part of a ‘Shia Crescent’ blocking the onward advance of the pro-American Sunni monarchies. The toppling of Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite from the Shia denomination of Islam, and the growing sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, does not unnecessarily perturb the Tel Aviv regime. In fact, the Syrian government’s long-standing support for the Hezbollah party, the latter having defeated Israeli forces in 2006 and driving them out of Lebanon, would be cancelled by the victory of Saudi-backed Sunni insurgents.

Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States until September 2013, stated that the Saudi Arabian plan to destabilise and eventually overthrow the Syrian regime is something the Israeli leaders can agree with. The removal of the Iranian-backed Assad regime would be welcomed by Tel Aviv, and its replacement with Saudi-supported militant regime, while not the best outcome, is the preferred option. To quote Oren from Consortiumnews;

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.”

It is true that the Ba’athist regime in Damascus maintained an armed truce with the state of Israel for more than forty years. Syrian troops did not actually do battle with Israeli forces at any time since the 1967 war, when Israel seized (and still occupies) the Golan Heights from Syria. While both sides intervened in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and 1980s, neither side directly engaged in combat against each other. As late as May 2013, Israeli officials were publicly declaring that they preferred Assad to remain in power, with the fear of an Islamist takeover dominating concerns in Tel Aviv. However, now with the Israeli-Saudi tag team in action, Israel is utilising its considerable political propaganda networks to encourage the United States (and other imperialist countries) to directly intervene in Syria on the side of the Saudi-backed insurgents.

One of the key players in enabling this new alliance to function is the Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, a mysterious figure involved in all sorts of murky affairs, currently head of Saudi intelligence and an intimate fellow traveler of the Bush family. His connections with the United States are legion and extensive, ranging from business interests to high-level political connections. He has been instrumental in cultivating the axis of cooperation between his regime and the state of Israel. The Likudnik-House of Saud axis of terror, according to veteran journalist Pepe Escobar, is sponsoring Sunni fundamentalist insurgents and providing political support for those groups, exacerbating the Sunni-Shia divide in the Arab and Islamic countries. Bandar is a cunning, long-term and wily political operator who knows how to use petrodollar-bribery and threats in turn to persuade his counterparts to adapt to Saudi strategy.

In July 2013, Bandar met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss, among other things, the situation in Syria. Bandar and his Saudi colleagues were pushing for full-scale and direct American military intervention in Syria, and he was trying to shore up support for another American-led imperialist regime change war. The Israeli-Saudi axis had been agitating for direct American and European military intervention in Syria, and Bandar was hopeful that the Iranian-allied Syrian regime would soon fall. Bandar met Putin to convince the latter to drop support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. What transpired in the meeting reveals the character of the Israel-Saudi network.

According to Robert Parry in his article “Israeli-Saudi Alliance Slips into View”, Bandar made a not-so-subtle threat that should Putin adhere to the Saudi position on Syria, the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would not be targeted by Chechen militants controlled by Riyadh;

Amid Bandar’s calls for Russian cooperation with the Saudi position on Syria, Bandar reportedly offered guarantees of protection from Chechen terror attacks on next year’s Winter Olympic Games hosted by Russia in the city of Sochi. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year,” Bandar reportedly said. “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Putin refused to be intimidated, rejected the bribes offered by Bandar, and worked towards rejecting a joint American-British military intervention in Syria. Russian diplomacy, combined with public opposition to another imperial war after Iraq and Afghanistan, stymied moves by the American and British administrations for war in Syria. It is interesting to note that, quoting from Robert Parry again;

“Bandar’s Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games – a version of “nice Olympics you got here, it’d be a shame if something terrible happened to it” – failed to intimidate Putin. Indeed, I was told that Putin’s anger fueled his decision to intervene in the Syrian crisis to head off a threatened U.S. military strike designed to “degrade” the Syrian military.”

The rejection of another American military intervention, this time in Syria, by the international community represents another serious defeat for the Israel-Saudi Arabia alliance. Prominent members of the Saudi royal family were fuming that their latest drive to war in Syria was rebuffed by the Obama administration. However, influence-peddling is the main characteristic of the Saudi-Israeli network, its soft power reaching into corporate boardrooms and political offices. Buying and selling political influence, lobbying and public relations are what the proponents of this dark alliance do best.

Rogue states operate by using underhanded means, and flout international law. They subvert the democratic process, and exploit divisions for advantage. The Sunni-Shia split is being used judiciously to create a sectarian reordering of the Middle East. As Stephen Lendman explains, Israel and Saudi Arabia seek to install controllable vassals, Arab proxies that can be bent to their will. If we fail to heed the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat the tragedies that occurred.

The House of Saud, with the backing of the Reagan administration of the 1980s, bankrolled a number of Sunni fundamentalist groups to fight against a Communist, secular state in Afghanistan. Hailed as freedom fighters by the Reagan government, the various groupings of Afghan mujahedeen formed the bases of what later spawned fanatical outfits like Al Qaeda. In the 1990s, the Islamist groups began targeting the United States. Israel and Saudi Arabia, the best of “frenemies” to use an internet meme, are doing their best to fund, train and politically support armed Sunni fundamentalist groups that will one day become roving guerrillas.

The first step in a long-term solution would be for America to actually leave the Middle East. After a decades-long ‘war on terror’, American policy in the Arab and Islamic worlds lies in ruins. It has brought nothing but misery and suffering to the people of those countries. Israel and Saudi Arabia have consistently partnered with the US in enabling, aiding and abetting American crimes. Criminal alliances need to be broken.

The NSA spying scandal, unintended consequences and remembering the 1953 Iranian coup

The cascading repercussions of the expanding US National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal are extending throughout the world. The Socialist Worker online newspaper has been covering this growing issue, publishing a series of articles documenting the extent of the American (and British) spying network. The amount of data collected, the targets for spying, the duration of the surveillance and the lack of transparency on the part of the US and British intelligence-gathering agencies demonstrates the sordid and ruthless character of the associated ruling classes and the lengths to which they will go to maintain their rule. As the Socialist Worker explained in a recent article;

“The long arm of the U.S. security state reaches across oceans and stretches into the presidential palaces of America’s closest allies. Last month, the National Security Agency (NSA) was exposed for tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone–for over a decade.”

The expansion of spying capabilities and national cooperation on surveillance indicates the underlying deceptions and barbarity of the capitalist powers. All kinds of communication technologies, social media, emails, mobile phone records – all are considered fair game. Glenn Greenwald, the perceptive American journalist and social commentator, has been following this issue closely. He has worked with the whistle-blower Edward Snowden to bring the details of the spying network to light. The efforts of Greenwald and Snowden in meticulously documenting the scope and mass of NSA data collection is truly a public service, throwing light on an otherwise dark corner of corporate-political power structures. For instance, in one month alone, the NSA collected 70 million digital communications in France. That was over the period December 2012 to January 2013. The NSA also collected the data from 60 million phone calls in Spain.

Interestingly, the US government maintains a hierarchy of cooperation with its allies, and collaborates with differing levels of intimacy and knowledge-sharing with its different imperialist partners. The Socialist Worker article elaborates that the American establishment categorises its allies into four different classes for the purpose of spying cooperation;

“Comprehensive Cooperation,” which includes Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand; “Focused Cooperation,” which includes 19 countries, most of them in Europe, plus Japan and South Korea; “Limited cooperation,” which includes France, Israel, India and Pakistan, among plenty of others; and “Exceptional Cooperation,” which includes countries the U.S. considers to be hostile.

So Australia maintains comprehensive cooperation with the United States in matters of spying, and is more valued in terms of its surveillance importance than Israel – makes one proud to be an Australian.

The reverberations of these revelations are truly staggering, and warrant serious consideration. However, there is one consequence that the US and Britain did not foresee, but one that has far-reaching importance. It is a consequence that has strong implications for the countries of the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority countries.

Every year, on November 4, the Iranian government commemorates the 1979 seizure of the US embassy. The American embassy is today a museum, hosting exhibits that celebrate the Iranian revolution and the dramatic hostage-taking carried out by young Iranian revolutionaries at the time. The storming of the US embassy was part of the ongoing revolutionary process, and is until today a sore point in US-Iranian relations. The embassy seizure, referred to in Iran as “Conquest of the American Spy Den”, has been justified by the Iranian government on the grounds that the US embassy was a centre of espionage activity.

This year, on November 4, the Iranian regime stated that yes, we have been vindicated – the American embassies around the world are nests of spies. In an article for The Diplomat online magazine, which covers foreign affairs, officials from the Iranian government stated that the takeover of the US embassy and hostage-taking was fully justified, and the current NSA revelations about the extent of US-British spying activity provide the corroborative evidence for the regime’s claim – that the US embassy was a nest of spies. November 4, celebrated in Iran as the ‘National Day of Campaign against Global Arrogance’, provided the perfect opportunity for the Iranian government to express its vindication. The Tehran regime is now feeling fully justified that it did the right thing in 1979, seizing the US embassy and smashing what turned out to be den of spies.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, remarked that the university students who seized the US embassy back in 1979;

“discovered the truth and real identity of this embassy, which was in fact a spy nest, and put it out there for the people of the world to see…. On that day, our youth named the American embassy the spy nest, and today, after the passing of more than three decades, American embassies in European countries that are America’s partners have been named spy nests. This matter demonstrates that our youth were more than thirty years ahead of the world’s calendar.”

Iranian view of American spying
Iranian view of American spying

Iranians mark the November 4 commemoration with big, nationalistic rallies, denouncing the United States, chanting ‘Death to America’, and rallying support for the regime. This year, these rallies had added significance because of the restarted negotiations between the newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the nuclear weapons issue. The new Iranian administration has indicated its willingness to talk, which has always been the position of Tehran. But the November 4 rallies were meant to bolster support for the regime, and appear to give it domestic strength and popularity. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that the negotiators who talk to the United States are by no means compromisers. He elaborated that speaking with the official enemy is difficult, and so they deserve the full support of the population.

Most of the corporate media’s coverage of Iranian politics simplistically divides the population into ‘hardliners’ and ‘moderates’. Usually an Iranian is designated ‘moderate’ because they are willing to accommodate US interests, particularly US business interests. Pro-western candidates are described as ‘moderate’, and therefore reasonable; opposition to US policies in the region is taken as an indication of a ‘hardliner’ and therefore someone irrational and closed to negotiation.

This oversimplified characterisation is misleading, because the Iranian government has always signalled its willingness to cooperate, but not compromise on its most basic demands for security and safety. Iranian politics is more complex, and not conductive to being categorised into neat, labelled packages. In fact, Saeed Jalili, a former Presidential candidate and and Iran’s one-time nuclear negotiator, stated in his speech to the November 4 rally that;

“the “Death to America” chant was for the most “thoughtful” and “honest” individuals, adding that “These individuals have the most understanding about [the US’] opposition to us. The logic of Imam [Khomeini] was that ‘Death to America’ was death to the grandiosity and humiliation of nations. It was death to the violence that gives permission to occupy countries. Death to the control room that in one instant gives the command to kill thousands of individuals. ‘Death to America’ is a symbol. ‘Death to America’ is not against the American people; it is against the 1%, a defense of the oppressed in the world, and even America.”


Make no mistake – the Iranian regime is a bourgeois-clerical dictatorship, where the imposition of religion is carried out harshly, where labour activists and dissidents are imprisoned and tortured, where the government still executes its opponents. Iranian trade unionist Reza Shahabi, imprisoned in the notorious Evin complex since June 2010, and now requires urgent medical attention. He was an organiser for the bus workers in the city of Tehran, and has been convicted of political offences. The Iranian government is definitely no friend of the workers. However, we must recognise that the United States and Britain, using their considerable resources, intend to return the nation of Iran to a semi-colonial, dependent status where the country’s resources are open to exploitation by foreign multinational capital. Indeed, the imperialist countries wish to restore Iran to the economic and political situation that obtained before the 1979 revolution, when Iran was ruled by the despotic Shah and the small, ultra-wealthy clique of bankers, financiers, military generals and police chiefs that ran the country as a personal fiefdom, allowing the major multinational corporations to plunder the nation’s main resource, oil and natural gas. Indeed, earlier in 2013, the Iranians celebrated another political anniversary, one that casts a long shadow over American-Iranian relations. It was an event that shaped Iranian politics for decades, and influenced the politics of the entire Arab and Islamic worlds.

August 2013 was the sixtieth anniversary of the American and British sponsored coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. The latter, representing a coalition of nationalist, secular, religious and bourgeois forces, attempted to nationalise the main Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the forerunner of British Petroleum. The coup, orchestrated by the Americans and British, toppled the nationalist Mossadegh and installed the pro-western Shah of Iran. Under the royalist dictatorship, the oil and natural gas resources were opened up to private corporations, the regime launched a massive crackdown on dissent, and the monarchy ruled with an iron fist. The Iranian secret police, trained by the Americans and British, tortured and repressed all opposition to the Shah’s rule. The anti-American resentment generated by this coup reverberates until today in Iranian politics. Ten years ago, the independent media channel Democracy Now examined the 1953 coup on its fiftieth anniversary. US involvement was not officially acknowledged until August 2013, when declassified documents from the CIA archives, maintained by the George Washington University, conclusively demonstrated that the US with the connivance of Britain, organised the overthrow, sponsoring pro-monarchist and anti-Mossadegh forces inside Iran, and eventually supported a general as the preferred leader of the country. Interestingly, the general considered acceptable as the new leader of Iran, Fazlollah Zahedi, was once arrested and imprisoned by the British authorities in Iran during the World War Two because of his pro-Nazi sympathies.

Mossadegh was a nationalist, who united various political forces behind him. While anti-Communist, he allowed the Iranian communist party, the Tudeh, to organise openly and conduct their political activities free from state harassment. He believed that the economy was being milked by Britain, and subsequently the United States, for which there was one remedy – Iranian control of the massive oil and natural gas resources. By controlling their main national resource, Mossadegh argued that Iran could manage its own affairs free from foreign interference. The US and Britain responded by interfering in the domestic affairs of Iran, paying sympathetic generals and police officers, organising disturbances and riots by pro-monarchist thugs and criminals, arranging for hostile anti-Mossadegh articles to appear in media outlets, implementing an oil embargo to cripple the economy and impoverish the population, and creating a political climate of tension and instability conducive to a coup d’etat. The overthrow of Mossadegh, organised by Britain initially but then taken over by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), brought to power a royalist dictatorship that was fully compliant with US and British business interests. The 1953 Iranian regime change formed the template for subsequent American covert interventions in the Arab and Islamic countries.

Mohammad Mossadegh
Mohammad Mossadegh

Once the Shah was in place, the oil embargo was lifted, the economy returned to a semblance of normality, and the plans for oil nationalisation were cancelled. The Shah clamped down on all dissent, banning Mossadegh’s formation, the National Front, arresting and killing members of the Iranian Communist Tudeh party, and turning the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, into a largely compliant instrument of the absolutist monarchy. The Iranian secret police formed by the Shah, SAVAK, earned a reputation for brutality and savage torture. The royalist regime established close and enduring relations with Israel, and the two states formed friendly ties for the duration of the Shah’s reign. It is hard to imagine today, but Israel and Iran were once on very cordial terms, which was part of the Shah’s pro-western orientation. The Iran-Israel alliance consisted of trade, intelligence-gathering and sharing, armaments development, and with Turkey involved, a trilateral arrangement on military and intelligence cooperation. Before the Shah’s royalist regime was overthrown in 1979, thousands of Israeli businesspeople and diplomats travelled to Iran to find fortune and hospitality.

The Shah of Iran on the left with his good friend, former US President Jimmy Carter
The Shah of Iran on the left with his good friend, former US President Jimmy Carter

Interestingly, the Shah’s regime aggressively pursued the development of nuclear power, a policy fully supported by the United States at the time. In the 1970s, the Shah declared that Iran would develop an extensive network of nuclear power plants, and that ‘all options were on the table’, including the eventual development of nuclear weapons. In documents that are also available from the George Washington University archives, the Shah’s government argued for the development of nuclear technology on the basis of national rights. The Shah contended that Iran was a regional power, and that Iran should be able to pursue all technologies that would make it stronger, including nuclear capability. These arguments are being heard again from the governing mullahs and politicians in Tehran today.

The Shah of Iran and nuclear power
The Shah of Iran and nuclear power

Well, Iran is still developing new military technology; the Iranian defence ministry announced the successful test launch of a new surface-to-air missile, capable of striking down cruise missiles, drones and bombers. With the Obama administration’s escalation of Predator drone strikes across the world, it is no wonder that the Tehran regime has responded with new technology designed to counter the drone threat. Unlike the positive reaction to the former Shah’s embrace of nuclear technology, the US has received the news of the latest Iranian military developments with icy hostility.

The expansion of NSA surveillance, its application on such a wide scale, and the amount of information collected represents not just a massive assault on democratic rights. The NSA spying activities are also creating a culture of fear and intimidation, where people are becoming reluctant to speak out. Far from enhancing freedoms, the nexus between corporate and political power is actually creating a powerful police state. We are witnessing the creation of a tyrannical dispensation, where one global power, the United States, has arrogated to itself the right to lecture other nations about human rights and international law, when it is itself the worst rogue state, violating the very laws it demands everyone else maintain. This is the global arrogance to which the Iranians are referring. The last word belongs to Edward Snowden, whose comments were summarised in the Socialist Worker:

The U.S. government can’t be entrusted our freedoms–we have to win them and defend them ourselves. That’s the message Edward Snowden is telling the world–as he wrote in Der Spiegel: “Citizens have to fight suppression of information on matters of vital public importance. To tell the truth is not a crime.”

Five years after the economic meltdown: Riches for some, poverty for the rest, and the Last Man Standing

Five years ago, in September 2008, the giant investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, filing for bankruptcy. This was the largest, but not the only, banking and investment firm to go under in that year, signalling the beginning of the ongoing capitalist economic crisis. Bear Sterns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, IndyMac,  and a host of financial institutions went bust, were taken over by the federal government (yes, in the United States where private corporations are venerated, banks were nationalised) and returned to private ownership or continued in different forms.

The beginning of this economic meltdown compelled the national bourgeoisies of the worst hit economies – namely the United States and Britain – to take steps to alleviate the crisis and rescue the capitalist system. Austerity packages were applied in the nations that experienced severe economic downturn, measures that forced the working class to accept lowered pay levels, an erosion of working conditions, removal of pensions and job security, while the top one-percent of the social pyramid preserved their wealth. In the United States, the Obama administration passed a series of stimulus packages, designed to hand over public money to the ailing investment banks and financial institutions. Corporations such as Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and other privately-owned hedge funds so that they could continue their predatory financial practices.

The economic crisis has meant a huge drop in employment. Back in 2009, the CNN Money outlet reported that millions of jobs were lost as a result of the economic meltdown. The normally corporate-friendly mouthpiece Sky News reported in February 2013 that in the United Kingdom, 3.7 million jobs were lost since the start of the great recession. Less employment opportunities has meant a staggering rise in unemployment, less secure jobs and more temporary work for employees. Being unemployed or underemployed is becoming a more common feature of working life in the crisis-wracked capitalist states.

The Wall Street Journal, the lapdog of the US financial elite, reported earlier in September 2013 about the upcoming ‘Lost Generation’ – the high schoolers from 2008 who lived through the economic downturn and are now struggling to find work. The article entitled “Wanted jobs for new ‘lost’ generation”, details the plight of young people, their diminishing prospects for secure employment, their resultant financial difficulties, and increasing student debt that is now part of the life of new college graduates. The economic and social stagnation of an entire generation puts paid to the myth of upward social mobility in a capitalist system. As Gary Lapon explained in article published in the Socialist Worker online magazine;

“ONE OF the biggest myths about the United States is that it’s a mostly “middle class” society, with poverty confined to a minority of the population.

The reality is exactly the opposite: The vast majority of people in the United States will experience poverty and economic insecurity for a significant portion of their lives.”

Lapon summarises the findings of various economic surveys and statistical analyses that accurately portray the life of the majority of people in the United States that experience economic immiseration. As Lapon explains;

“Around four out of every five people in the U.S. will endure unemployment, receive food stamps and other forms of government aid, and/or have an income below 150 percent of the official poverty line for at least one year of their lives before age 60.”

Long periods of unemployment are not just economically devastating, but also have a deleterious impact on mental health, contributing to bouts of depression and anxiety, higher levels of admissions to mental hospitals, and also a rise in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Lapon cites a study by researchers at the University of Queensland who examined the harmful effects of family unemployment on child cognitive development. Children from unemployed families and living in poverty experience diminished levels of cognitive development, according to the researchers.

However, the wealthiest one percent of the American population has amassed enormous amounts of wealth, enough to feed millions of hungry and impoverished people. The combined wealth of the richest American oligarchs is more than enough to fund education programs, food kitchens, and social welfare for the poorest families. As Lapon explains in his article;

“The 400 richest Americans, with a total net worth of $1.7 trillion as of last year, were worth an average of $4.2 billion each, enough to support over 89,000 families of four at 200 percent of the poverty level for an entire year.”

However, the wealthiest and largest corporations are doing well during this crisis. In fact, the Obama administration has done everything in its power to ensure that the richest elite retained and even increased their share of profits as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Concomitantly, the share of the GDP dedicated to workers’ wages has decreased. As Forbes magazine documented in April 2012, under Obama’s watch, corporate profits have hit an all-time high, while wages have stagnated and reached an all-time low. In the third quarter of 2012, corporate earnings increased to $1.75 trillion, while workers’ wages have plummeted as a percentage share of GDP. In 2013, the picture was even starker, with Business Insider Australia reporting that corporate profit margins have hit another all-time high in the United States. One of the reasons for this surge in corporate profitability is given by the Business Insider article;

“Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades. The other reason corporations are so profitable is that they don’t employ as many Americans as they used to. As a result, the employment-to-population ratio has collapsed. We’re back at 1980s levels now.”

“In short, our current obsessed-with-profits philosophy is creating a country of a few million overlords and 300+ million serfs.”

The Huffington Post, the mouthpiece of the liberal wing of the American ruling class, published an article that detailed how corporate profits are soaring, but workers are not getting any richer. Income inequality is skyrocketing, with an average CEO from one of the largest corporations in the US earning 273 times more than his or her co-workers. It is touching to see that the author of the Huffington Post article still believes that wealth will somehow trickle down to the rest of the population, rather than tending to coagulate at the very top. The Wall Street financiers and speculators, those responsible for the current capitalist malaise, are hardly expected to be socially responsible and reform their criminal ways. In fact, in a sign that the speculator-parasites are continuing their predatory practices, pensions and public money is being looted by the big banks and financial firms in order to prop up a failing economic system.

Behind the statistics and figures are the human stories of suffering and struggle that the 99 percent are going through to make ends meet. Job insecurity and the threat of poverty are basic instruments that the capitalist class uses to keep working people down. In an article published in the Socialist Worker called “She gave 25 years and her life”, author Leighton Christiansen documents the life and passing of adjunct Professor Margaret Mary Vojtko, who taught French at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. As the article states:

“On September 1, she passed away at the age of 83, still an adjunct. She was buried in a cardboard coffin.

Margaret Mary was, in the words of Prof. Gary Rhodes, part of a new segment of America’s working poor: adjunct professors at colleges and universities. When she was hired 25 years ago, Vojtko may as well have taken a vow of poverty–and this poverty undoubtedly hastened her death.

Like the rest of the working poor, adjuncts work part-time or full-time for low pay, are routinely denied access to health care and/or affordable health insurance, and have little or no money left after paying the bills to invest in a retirement plan, if one is even available.”

Her story is becoming increasingly widespread, as education is privatised and universities become corporatised ‘knowledge factories’. A professorship is normally associated with job security and decent pay – not anymore. Impoverishment, the lack of a decent wage, and the erosion of health benefits all contribute to stresses and strains of the life of people like the late Margaret Mary Vojtko, and hasten their demise.

As the criminal parasitism and social decay of the capitalist system become the norm, more people are realising that all the social gains of the past – the minimum wage, set working hours, paid overtime, health benefits – are being rolled back. Obama used the fifth anniversary of the 2008 financial meltdown to make the case for an economic recovery. He argued that while problems remain, the financial situation is stabilised. There is a grain of truth in this characterisation; the economy has partly stabilised, but not for the 99 percent of us. Richard Eskow, in an article published in Common Dreams, states it plainly;

“Five years after the financial crisis, it’s become increasingly apparent that the government didn’t rescue “the economy.” It rescued the wealthy, while doing far too little for everyone else.”

Obama is correct in one respect – the banking and financial system has been stabilised, in order to continue plundering the public purse and reallocate a greater proportion of the national economy to corporate profits. The economic recovery was intended to secure the privileges and position of the super-wealthy, while the rest of us, the 99 percent, bear the burden of the costs and are economically pauperised. The vaunted recovery has been a bonanza for the financial elite, while the working class have to work longer hours, for stagnant wages, increasing cost of living and lower expectations for the future.

One of the ways in which corporate profits are maximised at the expense of workers is an increase in unpaid overtime. Unpaid overtime contributed by workers to employers increased from an estimated $72 billion in 2009 to $110 billion – or almost eight hours a week for full-time workers in Australia. This comes from a report examining the issue of overwork, and its contribution to levels of stress, depression and anxiety among the workforce. As unpaid overtime increases, the levels of stress, anxiety and poor sleep patterns increase. This has a deleterious effect on health, family life and relationships.

Emmanuel Saez, professor of economics at the University of California Berkeley and the Director of the Centre for Equitable Growth, authored an extensive study into the growth of income inequality in the United States over the last five years. The study by Saez, entitled “Striking it Rich; The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States”, elaborates how the economic recovery has benefited the already-wealthy, with a massive transfer of money from the working class to the financial elite. To quote from Saez’s study;

“Top 1% incomes grew by 31.4% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.4% from 2009 to 2012. Hence, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011.”

Richard Eskow, writing in Common Dreams, states that while there has been an economic recovery of sorts, it is a recovery tailored to the needs of the financial oligarchy. What we are witnessing is a rich person’s recovery, made possible by the policies of the Obama administration. Political decisions were taken to enable the recovery to be skewed in favour of maintaining current levels of inequality, and even increasing the rates of corporate profitability. As Eskow states;

“A Rich Person’s Economy doesn’t just happen. It took government action to decimate the thriving middle class of the 1960s and 1970s while directing an ever-increasing stream of wealth to the already wealthy.”

And further in his article:

“Government efforts were largely targeted toward banks, whose earnings are primarily pocketed by the wealthy. The lack of accountability for Wall Street misconduct was interpreted (probably correctly) as license to continue their risky, wealth-accumulating behavior.”

The recovery has been implemented by the political representatives of the ruling financial oligarchy to continue the criminal parasitism that resulted in the economic malaise in the first place, and take money from the public sphere, leaving the 99 percent to struggle with diminishing resources. The defenders of the economic status quo, such as the Obama administration, are insisting on hyping up a recovery enriches a minority at the expense of the vast majority of working people. The danger resides in the fact that all of us in the 99 percent will swallow this propaganda and believe that we will share in this recovery, and that wealth will filter down from the very-top.

Richard D Wolff, professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst recently wrote an article republished in Common Dreams online magazine exposing the fallacy of the recovery hyperbole, and disabusing the readers of any notion that the capitalist economy is serving the interests of the 99 percent. As Wolff states in the introduction to the essay,

“You don’t have to be a Marxist to see how the 1% tries to fool us that we too are sharing in their renewed wealth. But it helps.”

Professor Wolff explains that hyping the recovery serves a specific political function; lulling the 99 percent into a false sense of security while our wages decline and our working conditions are eroded. It also reassures the partisans of ‘free-market’ capitalism that their dogma is sound and that the system is working. Many academically trained economists have built their careers hailing the merits and alleged superiority of the capitalist system. Critics of the capitalist, ‘free-market’ fundamentalist dogma have long been derided as extremists and fringe-dwellers, unable to grasp economic reality. The academic celebrants of capitalism, as Wolff calls them, are now reeling from the obvious breakdown of the economic system and the inadequacy of the dogma they were schooled in and defending all these years.

Paul Krugman, Nobel-Prize winning economist and regular contributor to the New York Times, penned a column in December 2012 expressing his dismay that big capital is acquiring an ever-greater share of the national pie at the expense of labour. After observing that the American economy is still in deep trouble, he asks in astonishment;

“Wait — are we really back to talking about capital versus labor? Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy?”

Actually, the ‘old’ Marxist categories of capital versus labour, surplus value, and the alienation of the worker from the productive process and its results are all quite relevant to today. Marx elaborated on the operating mechanisms of capital, analysed the laws of motion of capital, the primacy of profit maximisation, and elucidated on the intractable contradiction of capitalism; the private ownership of the means of production, but the socialised and collective nature of the productive process. Bourgeois economists, like Professor Krugman, are slowly rediscovering Marx and the critical importance of his analysis in understanding modern capitalism. Of course, Lenin came along an elaborated a theory of capitalist imperialism, the division of the world into rival spheres of influence controlled by the imperialist states, growing militarism and inter-imperialist rivalry, the super-exploitation of the economically-colonised countries for the benefit of a handful of imperialist powers, and the domination of the world by finance capital, but it is too much to expect the celebrants of big capital to absorb all this in the one sitting, so let’s stick to Marx.

Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business in New York University, the economist widely credited with foreseeing the economic collapse of 2008, stated in an interview back in 2011 what the servants of corporate capital dare not say out loud;

‘Karl Marx was right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself.”

His comments, stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal and summarised in The Australian newspaper, were part of a long and extensive interview where Roubini surmised that all the major capitalist economies were falling into a deep recession, and that austerity programs were precisely the wrong instrument to use to recover. Professor Roubini’s warnings turned out to be prescient and perceptive, unlike the chairperson of the Federal Reserve, Ben ‘I did not see it coming’ Bernanke. In an article dated October 1 2013, Professor Roubini examines the return of the other great manifestation of the capitalist malaise, the Eurozone crisis. Stimulus packages have been passed, and the immediate storm has been weathered, but beneath the surface, says Roubini, the eurozone’s fundamental problems remain unresolved. The ‘periphery’ countries of the Eurozone, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria – are all at the epicentre of the crisis, but it is still seething beneath the surface. Roubini identifies what he calls ‘austerity fatigue’ as the larger European economies, such as Germany and France, tire of pumping money into the coffers of the failing states.

After an enormous campaign of calumnies and defamation against him, his theories derided as obsolete and outdated, there is one philosopher and political economist who has withstood the test of time. His analysis is worthy of serious consideration. He examined how the capitalist system accumulates enormous wealth at the top end of the social pyramid, and imposes increasing pauperisation on the 99 percent at the bottom. Knocking out the other major bourgeois-economist contenders, the last man standing, and the ultimate fighting champion is:

Last Man Standing and heavyweight champion of the world
Last Man Standing and heavyweight champion of the world

Egypt’s military rulers help to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza

The online magazine Common Dreams carried the following incisive article about the situation on Egypt’s contribution to the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip:

Egypt joins Israel as Gaza’s jailer

The article, co-authored by Medea Benjamin and Pam Bailey, focuses on how in the past, Israel was the specific target of condemnation by human rights and activist groups for its ongoing blockade of Gaza. While the Israeli state still receives its fair share of criticism for its role in economically strangling Gaza and inflicting suffering on the Palestinians, the Egyptian militarist dictatorship should also by the target of stinging criticism. The Egyptian generals have not only continued to block off Gaza, the critical lifeline for the Palestinians through Rafah, previously open to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, will also be restricted by the Egyptian military.

The article quotes from the Washington Post;

“As The Washington Post reported, “with Egypt’s military-backed interim government shutting down the tunnels and largely closing its own pedestrian crossing at Rafah, Gaza is increasingly shut off from the world”.

Egypt’s new military rulers are closely aligning themselves with Israel’s strategic objectives in the region. Shutting off access to the Gaza strip and isolating the Palestinians is one such objective with which the Egyptian military is fully cooperating with Israel. Activist groups such as Gaza Ark are deliberately including Egypt in their activities to lift the ongoing siege of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The Egyptian military is militarizing the border with Gaza, blowing up houses, and bulldozing properties on its territory. This is aimed at creating a no-man’s land buffer zone on its side of the border. Egyptian naval forces have also opened fire on fishermen from the Gaza strip, off the coastal waters of Rafah.

The situation inside Gaza is dire, with the following report that;

“On September 5, the Palestinian Energy Authority warned that the Gaza Power Plant is in danger of shutting down completely due to lack of fuel. If the plant shuts down, the result would be power outages of 12 to 16 hours-a-day, up from the current 8 to 12 hours, disabling water and waste-disposal systems as well as crippling many businesses.”

With the current focus on Syria, Iran and North Korea, the Egyptian military has been quietly and consistently building its alliance with the Israeli state to suppress the Palestinian population of Gaza. It is time to refocus the priorities.

Since the Egyptian military seized power in a coup back in July this year, Egypt’s President General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi has acted as a jailer of the Palestinians in Gaza. At least former Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, attempted to play the role of a mediator, allowing humanitarian aid to get through Rafah, and negotiating with various Palestinian political groups in order to reach a common solution. This did not necessarily mean that Morsi broke completely from the US-Israeli orbit – far from it. He maintained his relations with all the major imperialist powers and institutions. However, with his ousting in July 3 this year, the positive role that that Egyptian political leadership played with regard to the Palestinians has ended. General al-Sisi is marching in lock-step with Israeli strategic interests.

It is vital to highlight the increasing complicity of the Egyptian militarist rulers in the continuing blockade of the Gaza strip, because this month marks twenty years since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Richard Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and currently the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, gave a talk in Sydney this month, the contents of which are summarised in an article in Green Left Weekly. Falk’s presentation consisted of examining the current Israel-Palestine talks, but also providing some necessary historical background to the Oslo Accords peace process. The author of the Green Left Weekly article, Jim McIlroy, recapitulates the main points of Falk’s overview. The Oslo Accords come in for a stinging rebuke from Professor Falk. To quote Falk himself:

“The continuous expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank clearly abrogates international law. The Israeli separation wall should be immediately dismantled and reparations paid to the Palestinian people.

The most serious deficiency in the Oslo framework was the lack of acceptance of the Palestinian right to self-determination. Since then, we have seen the increasing influence of right-wing settlers in Israeli politics.

Israel has effectively succeeded in excluding international law from the current peace process. Moreover, the US, Israel’s strongest backer, is being presented as an ‘intermediary’ in the process.”

So the Oslo Accords, rather than being a platform for the construction of a Palestinian state and fulfilling Palestinian self-determination, is actually a mechanism for the ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinians in Bantustan-style cantonments, cut off by increasing numbers of semi-militarised Israeli settlements. As Kim Bullimore from the Red Flag newspaper notes in her article ‘The farce of Oslo 20 years on’;

“The Oslo Accords were in part an attempt by the Israeli and US ruling classes to defuse and undermine the Palestinian popular uprising (Intifada) that erupted in 1987.”

As Bullimore explains, the Oslo Accords institutionalised the abandonment of historic objectives of the Palestinian self-determination movement; the Palestinian political leadership at the time renounced claims to historical Palestine, postponed negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem, no mention of ceasing Israeli settlement activity, and the Palestinians were to remain in economically-isolated regions which are afflicted by poverty and unemployment. To quote from Bullimore’s article:

“While Israel’s signing of the Oslo Accords has often been depicted as the Zionist state being committed to peace, the Accords in fact simply provided a more efficient way for Israel to achieve its long-held strategic goal of controlling the occupied West Bank and other Palestinian territories.”

This views accords with the evaluation of the Oslo Accords offered by Ali Abunimah, co-founder and editor of and author of numerous articles on the Palestine question. In an interview entitled How Occupation was dressed up as peace, Abunimah elaborates that the Oslo Accords were never intended as a stepping stone to a viable Palestinian state. While then Israeli Prime Minister recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole authentic representative of the Palestinian people, the Israeli side never gave an inch on anything else. As Abunimah explains, Rabin did not concede anything substantive:

He didn’t renounce violence. He didn’t renounce settlements. He didn’t recognize any Palestinian rights. He didn’t recognize the right of Palestinians to exist in peace and security. So from the very beginning, the dynamic where Israel gives up nothing, and in fact continues to take, while Palestinians act as the enforcers of the occupation, the glove on the Israeli hand, was built in from the start.

From the beginning, the Oslo Accords were meant as an instrument for continuing the Israeli domination of Palestinian lands, albeit in a different form to direct military occupation. Instead of Israeli soldiers directly patrolling the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel economically and political dominates these regions, forcing the Palestinians into a situation of exclusion and destitution, much like the tactics of the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. To quote Ali Abunimah again;

I think it’s important to understand that the Oslo process was never intended to end in self-determination and liberation for the Palestinians. What it became was a structure of permanent Israeli control and domination under the fig leaf of the so-called “peace process.” But it’s very important to understand that was built into it from the start.

The direct siege of the Gaza Strip was begun by Israeli authorities back in February 2006, with the surprise election of the Islamist party Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian government. Ousting the long-term nationalist Fatah party that dominated Palestinian politics for much of the last fifty years, the democratic election of Hamas was greeted by Israel with a form of collective punishment. The entire territory of Gaza has been sealed off, and economic life in the state has all but ground to a halt. Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, combines religious piety with Arab nationalist demands to articulate the aspirations of the Palestinian people. And yes, Hamas did actually drop its demand for the ‘destruction of Israel’, an anti-Zionist position that demands the repeal of the Apartheid-like laws that underlie the Israeli state. This demand is usually conflated and slandered by Hamas’ opponents as advocating the physical liquidation of the Israeli population.

During World War Two, when the Nazi German forces occupied Poland, they corralled the Polish Jewish population of Warsaw into a ghetto, a zone of economic privation and exclusion which left the Jewish population underfunded, starving and vulnerable. This was a form of collective punishment. When the Israeli state imposed a blockade of Gaza in 2006, it imposed collective punishment, economically strangulating the Palestinian population inside the largest open-air prison in the world. The German military officers that ordered and carried out the siege of and eventual destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto were put on trial after the war ended and found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time to consider similar proceedings against the Israeli leaders that have ordered and implemented the criminal siege of Gaza.

The online magazine Media With Conscience (MWC) published a critique of the two-state solution borne of the Oslo Accords. The author, Lawrence Davidson, elaborates that this two-state solution, rather than resulting in an equal partnership, has actually institutionalised the subordination of the Palestinian side to Israeli occupation. Davidson summarises the viewpoints of Professor Ian Lustick, a political science expert from the University of Pennsylvania, who published an article entitled ‘The Two-State Illusion’. Lustick describes the two-state solution as a political fraud that has left the Palestinians excluded and denied any chance of building a viable, independent state. The Israeli state, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United States government all have a vested interest in maintaining the charade of the Oslo Accords. To quote Davidson;

‘For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”

The long-term solution resides in a world-wide, boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), launched by Palestinian human rights organisations, trade unions and activist groups in 2005, to sustain a campaign of civil resistance against the Apartheid Israeli state, much like the boycott campaigns against the previous Apartheid regime in South Africa. Divesting from the Israeli state economically undermines the ability of that state to carry out its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. An economic and cultural boycott will send a strong signal to the Israeli authorities that they cannot continue to operate as a regional gendarme for the United States.

Let us end at the point where we began; at the Egypt-Gaza border. Officials in the Egyptian military and political hierarchy have admitted that they are receiving weapons to destroy the Gaza tunnels – from the United States. The Egyptian military spokesperson conceded that the US, Egypt and Israel are working closely together to close down the tunnels that provide humanitarian access to the Palestinians locked in the Gaza strip. By blocking the Gaza tunnels, the Egyptian militarist regime is actively assisting the Israeli state in isolating the Palestinians, aiding and abetting the expansionist designs of the Zionist rulers. It is impossible for the United States to present itself as an honest broker in the stalled ‘peace process’ when they are actively arming the regimes that imprison and economically impoverish the Palestinian population. The Egyptian military rulers are demonstrating to the world which side they are on; let us unite the Palestine solidarity activist movement to show the world that we stand on the side of the oppressed.

Obama regime is the direct opposite of the values for which Martin Luther King stood

August 2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of the now-celebrated March on Washington. In 1963, African Americans in their hundreds of thousands marched right up to the capital, as part of the growing antiracist civil rights movement. Thousands converged on Washington from around the country, organised by human rights groups, socialists, religious groups, the National Associated for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), union organisers and other social justice activists. The march was billed as a convergence for jobs and freedom, and one of the keynote speakers was a young Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King.

Dr. King gave arguably his most famous speech, “I have a dream.” In it, he articulated the social, civil, political and economic grievances of the African American community, and explained his vision for a socially just system. In August this year, American President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and other keynote speakers, African American celebrities, politicians and ex-presidents gathered to speak at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the March on Washington and remember Dr King and the countless other who gave their lives for the cause of civil rights.

Dr King represented a social movement for equality, economic justice and political accountability. President Obama embodies the very opposite of these ideals. Norman Pollack, one of the participants in the 1963 March, wrote in an article in Counterpunch that:

It befouls the memory of Dr. King to have invited Obama to speak. He represents the antithesis of everything Dr. King dreamed of and worked for. Yes, I was there in 1963, where the air was filled with the spirit of justice, justice not as an abstraction, not as a catchword deceive about interventions abroad and entrenched poverty at home, but justice as the full democratization of America, in which racial segregation conveyed the salience of a structure and society grounded in wealth-inequality, ideological themes supporting aggression against the weak, veneration of wealth, and extreme loathing of dissent, and the arrogance of militaristic preeminence as the basis for global leadership.

Dr King spoke out against economic inequalities and racial discrimination; he opposed US militarism and war. He courageously challenged the systemic injustices of the American capitalist system. Dr King began as an opponent of racial segregation in the early 1960s, and evolved into a critic of US capitalism, the injustices of social exclusion, and vigorously opposed the American war in Vietnam. In 1967, Dr King labelled his country’s ruling elite as ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.’ Just prior to his assassination in March 1968, Dr King met with sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee, to support their struggle for a living wage. Today, fast food workers across the United States are undertaking strike action to demand a living wage.

Obama represents the forces of militarism, corporate welfare and domestic surveillance. His regime has escalated the use of drones and spy satellites for the purpose of monitoring dissidents and carrying out US wars overseas; has imprisoned people without charge or trial in secret prisons and failed to close Guantanamo Bay detention facility; has provided billions in welfare for the failing banks and financial institutions that brought the capitalist system to the brink of collapse, and has further eroded the living standards and wages of ordinary workers. Just a few days after the August 28 official commemoration of the March on Washington, Obama further dishonoured Dr King’s legacy by announcing plans for a purportedly ‘limited’ military intervention in Syria. This will be another overseas war begun by the violently militaristic Obama regime, totally repudiating the message of non-violence and peace advocated by Dr King.

Obama made the ridiculous claim that military action against Syria, will not constitute an act of war, but will consist of limited military strikes with ‘no boots on the ground.’ Yes, just like the following limited aerial strike with no soldiers on the ground;

The Limited Air Strike
The Limited Air Strike

One of the main achievements of the civil rights movement, and a goal for which Dr King fought ceaselessly, was the desegregation of the political system. African American communities in the deep South had been denied the right to vote by racist political systems and county chiefs. Since the 1870s, the efforts to racially integrate American economic and political life had been resisted by racist politicians, businesspeople and a counter-revolutionary system of ‘Jim Crow’ segregation had been in place for decades by the time of the civil rights movement. Segregation in public life had been normalised since the 1870s, and voting was also racially barred from the African American communities. To redress this imbalance, the civil rights movement fought for the removal of racially discriminatory laws, one of the results was the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the Johnson administration.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act contained a crucial clause which prohibited discrimination in matters of voting on the basis of race or colour. With federal jurisdiction over voting and elections administration, the states with a long history of racial exclusion, especially the South, were now required to submit any electoral changes they wished for ‘pre-clearance’ by the federal authorities. In this way, the previously racially discriminatory authorities in the southern were prohibited from deliberately excluding from the vote communities made up of African American populations. This legislation basically enforced the Fifteenth Amendment, which had previously remained a dead letter in the southern states.

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of deciding to strike down the crucial enforcement clause of the Voting Rights Act, thus removing the southern states from any need to submit any changes to their electoral laws without federal government pre-approval. This means that the Fifteenth Amendment, one of the greatest democratic gains of the US civil war, returns to being a dead letter. The US Supreme Court, with a 5-4 decision, struck down the heart of one of the most important achievements of civil rights legislation, under Obama’s tutelage

Dr King fought all his life to advance the democratic rights of the African American community; under Obama we are witnessing an all-out assault on the civil liberties of the wider working class community, and the striking down of the key portion of the Voting Rights Act is just another example of Obama’s deep commitment to extend corporate rule. Obama is the US president who asserts that he has the right to target any American citizen deemed to be a ‘security threat’ to the United States, so it is not surprising that a key plank of civil rights legislation has been gutted. The US Supreme Court may have acted boldly, but only because Obama has created a climate of ultra-right backlash in which reactionaries can lash out. The Democrat party has demonstrated either extreme complicity, or extreme cowardice, in failing to strongly challenge any of these moves attacking basic democratic rights.

The political writer and activist Eugene Puryear summed up the reaction to the official commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington thusly;

‘War criminals shame King legacy.’

The original 1963 March represented a rising social movement, articulated the grievances of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, and sought to mobilise people in mass actions to challenge the political and economic injustices of the capitalist system. In contrast, the 2013 commemoration is being used by a reactionary political establishment to sully and denigrate the great legacy of Dr King and the civil rights movement. As Puryear elaborates in his article;

President Barack Obama is not a continuation of King’s legacy, he is its negation. The president seeks at every turn to accommodate the rich and powerful, to conciliate the right-wing obstructionists, who answers the murder of Black youth with statements about the solidity of the nation’s legal system. He has waged war and killed children, conducted a massive spying campaign and ordered his minions to lie about it before congress. The list could go on for hundreds of words, because just like the presidents before him he has managed the imperialist system that needs King’s three evils to survive.

As Puryear explained, Dr King regarded poverty, militarism and racism as the three evils which sustains the imperialist power structure. Dave Zirin, writing about the official 50th anniversary commemoration, noted the sharp disconnect between the official political speakers and the concerns and grievances of the attendees. For instance, one of the official speakers was Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, a man who has been quite friendly to Wall Street interests. As Booker was speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Zirin made the point that it was important to recall Dr King’s words that;

The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.

To honour the legacy of Dr King, and the thousands of activists that participated in the March on Washington, we need to fight the three evils of poverty, endemic racism and imperialist militarism. It is appropriate to conclude this article with the closing words from Eugene Puryear’s scathing critique:

The real heirs to the March on Washington won’t be the warmongers on stage, but the activists fighting against war, poverty and mass incarceration: The workers making poverty wages striking across the country, the people putting their bodies on the line against environmental exploitation—all those who dare to stand-up to power in the face of injustice. Let’s honor Dr. King by continuing that fight.

European Union, drones and economic crises – capitalism is melting away

There has been justifiable outrage over the recent revelations that the American National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting massive surveillance and spying of online data, emails, social networks, and collecting information from various private companies to spy on the activities of millions of people. The perceptive American commentator Glenn Greenwald has been extensively documenting the ‘bulk spying’ activities of the NSA. Greenwald, like other writers, draws the conclusion that all this surveillance of online communication is contributing to the construction of a police state. We must redouble our efforts to prevent such a martial-law state from occurring, as our civil liberties are undermined in the midst of the worst economic crisis of capitalism since the 1930s Great Depression.

However, it appears that the European Union is drawing different conclusions from the deteriorating economic circumstances. Russia Today reports that the level of government debt in the EU zone has reached an all-time high of $11.4 trillion. This has occurred in spite of the stated purpose of the austerity measures to lift struggling European economies out of the capitalist crisis. As the Russia Today article explains:

Greece has 160.5 percent debt, and Italy, the block’s fourth largest economy, is burdened by 130.3 percent in debt. Portugal has 127.2 percent and Belgium’s debt climbed to 104.5 percent of GDP.

‘Bail-out’ states, those which have, or are currently receiving financial aid from the European Commission and International Monetary Fund to rebuild their economies, have some of the highest debt.

Europe has remained mired in recession, and Germany and Austria were the only two countries to not shrink economically in the first quarter of 2013. While the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are contemplating further cutbacks to social spending and slashing workers’ wages, there is one area where the European states and banks are willing to spend, in order to boost profitability; drone warfare and spy satellites.

The European Commission is currently considering a proposal to buy up a fleet of spy drones, satellites and the full panoply of spying machinery to boost its capacity to surveil and respond to what the European powers regard as threats to their power. As Russia Today reported, the European Union wants to acquire the full range of spying and defence capabilities provided by drones, a course of action documented in the proposal called “A New Deal for European Defence.” In the foreword written by European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani states, Europe is undergoing a serious economic crisis, and thus needs to adopt new strategies to meet the new challenges of the future.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, stated back in September 2012 that:

The world needs a Europe that is capable of deploying military missions to help stabilise the situation in crisis areas…

Barroso went on to frame this mission to deploy as part of an overall ‘humanitarian’ project, to bring human rights, and fair play into regions of the world that need it according to the European imperialist states.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

The European Commission presents its proposals to the European Council meeting which then deliberates on matters of European security. This is not the first time that the European Union has been considering buying drones and spy satellites; the European Commission has put together a number of proposals to produce as well as acquire drones and satellites. Russia Today quotes from a report that the European Commission drafted back in 2012 that evaluated the options for deploying spy drones, or what they call remotely-piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) across Europe:

“The European Commission has long identified the potential of this emerging technology and supported the market by investing in research and innovation relevant for RPAS through the Framework Programme for Research. A broad stakeholders’ consultation has demonstrated the necessity for action at EU level, setting as priorities the further development of RPAS civil applications and the integration of the systems into the European air space as soon as possible…”

The discussion in the European Commission centres on whether Europe should manufacture its own drones, or buy them from other countries, or perhaps adopt both measures.

These proposals are all being justified as a response to the revelations by former NSA employee Edward Snowden that the United States has engaged in massive internet surveillance and collection of data. European officials surmise that the Edward Snowden revelations demonstrate that what is needed is not greater transparency and accountability, but that Europe needs its own autonomous security and spy networks. What is not explained is how the existence of extensive spying by one power, the United States, can be countered by escalating the scope and range of spying and surveillance by other imperialist powers. Surely the scaffolding of a police state is being erected by the European Union to provide greater propensity for the ruling classes to attack the living standards and conditions of workers across Europe.

The European powers are no strangers to mass surveillance. Germany was operating closely with the NSA, providing data and access to the NSA to gather information on its citizens. However, the German authorities realised that they, along with other European nations, were themselves the targets of NSA spying, and scaled back their cooperation. Now, Europe is intent on building and acquiring its own mechanisms for state spying. The acquisition of drones indicates that the European imperialist states are not only intending to spy on their own citizens, but are also contemplating expanding their global ambitions to intervene in their former colonies in Africa and the Middle East. The Europeans have long bristled with anger as the United States has invaded other countries and imposed its economic priorities in areas once considered a haven of European influence.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a French version of a neoconservative – sent French troops to quietly and decisively intervene in the former French colony of the Ivory Coast to topple the government of that country. France has never really let go of the Cote d’Ivoire since formal independence in 1960. Current French President Francois Hollande adopted his neoconservative political direction by sending French troops into the former French colony of Mali in January 2013. Using the tired old canard of ‘humanitarian intervention’, Hollande sought to portray the French invasion not as an assertion of French colonialism, but as a rescue mission to save a failing state from takeover by enemy militias. As Roger Annis explained the background to the Mali intervention:

The public relations version of the French et al invasion is a familiar refrain. “Islamic terrorists” and “jihadists” have taken control of northern Mali and are a threat to international security and to the wellbeing of the local population. Terrible atrocities against the local populace are alleged and given wide publicity by corporate media. Similar myths were peddled by the war makers when they invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists have ruled northern Mali with an iron hand since taking over in 2012. But the reasons for this latest intervention lie in the determination of the world’s imperial powers to keep the human and natural resources of poor regions of the world as preserves for capitalist profits. West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.

France has never forgotten its “Francafrique” ambitions, maintaining a systematic and complex network of relations with its former colonies. This political and economic conglomerate is becoming ever more indispensable as the French economy crumbles under the impact of the ongoing capitalist economic crisis. Acquiring drones and spy satellites is part of the escalating overseas ambitions of European colonialism to re-establish itself as a military power in its own right and assert its control over the resources and markets of Africa and the Middle East.

Make no mistake – in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the European powers were prepared to inject billions of euros into the failing financial system, the banks and the bank accounts of the financial speculators, in order to keep the decrepit capitalist system going. Shifting the cost of the crisis onto the working people, exerting downward pressure on wages and removing the social gains of the past decades – this is the strategy of the European bourgeoisie. Restructuring the whole of society for the benefit of a financial aristocracy in Europe is on the cards. The destruction of social services and benefits for workers is accompanied by ramped-up militarism overseas and ever-intrusive surveillance and spying domestically. We must ask ourselves if this is the path that we wish to take.

Aerial warfare, drones and war crimes – time to revoke Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

The Washington Post, the liberal mouthpiece of the US empire, carried a story in May 2013 detailing a speech by US President Barack Obama in which he declared that a crossroads has been reached in the ‘war on terror’. Obama announced that the terrorist threat to the United States has receded and that it was time to redefine and recalibrate the ‘war on terror’ in order to bring it to an end.

One of the main tactics that the Obama administration has used with escalating intensity is the drone warfare, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), so called Predator drones, to carry out lethal strikes against ostensible terrorist targets, assassinations of individuals deemed security threats to the United States, and for general intelligence-gathering in areas of heavy combat. Obama vigorously defended the use of drones in his May 2013 speech, and while he made a commitment to ending the ‘war on terror’, he made clear that key policies of that war, like the use of drones, will continue unabated. For instance, targeted assassinations with armed drones would continue, Obama insisted.

So while speaking of a general winding down of the ‘war on terror’, Obama is actually redefining its scope and application, and continuing to use the central plank of his administration’s counterterrorism strategy. In July 2013, the Washington Post observed that while the use of drones has decreased in combat hotspots like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, the use of drones is being redirected into non-combat areas, and their application is being expanded.

The present author has covered the ever-increasing use of drone warfare by the Obama administration, their utility for corporate profits, and the erosion of democratic safeguards that has accompanied the construction of the scaffolding of a US police state. The expansion of drone spying and warfare into new, non-combat areas indicates an escalation of the US ruling class’ efforts to extend its imperial overreach into new markets and acquire control of new resources at the expense of its competitors.

Obama, the first African-American president, has certainly devoted more attention to Africa, but not exactly for the benefit of its impoverished populations, or to alleviate the scourges of famine, war and disease. Africa is the site of renewed competition between the United States on the one hand, and Russia, China and other powers on the other for resources, markets and clients in that continent. The US has been losing out to its competitors, mainly Chinese investors, from expanding into various African ventures. Obama is countering growing Chinese ‘soft power’ in Africa in two ways; by building and expanding alliances with US clients in the region, such as Uganda’s dictatorial president Youweri Museveni, ignoring Museveni’s horrific human rights record; and secondly by sponsoring the construction of drone bases and launching sites, such as building new secret bases in the Horn of Africa, conducting spying operations on people and political forces in the region that are judged to be opposed to US interests. As Lee Wengraf wrote in the Socialist Worker online magazine:

“IT IS no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops, and responsibility for this escalation must be laid squarely on Obama’s doorstep.

Key to the Obama administration global strategy in the post-Iraq era is a shift from “boots on the ground” towards “alliance-building.” The idea is to cement American “indispensability” to African political stability in geo-strategically critical areas–from the Horn of Africa, with its proximity to the Suez Canal and Middle East, to West African nations, with billions of barrels of oil.”

The new drone bases in Africa are part and parcel of this renewed push by American imperialism into the heartlands of that continent. The UAVs are carrying out spying missions across Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mauritania, Mali and scores of other African countries. As the Washington Post reported in June 2012:

The U.S. military has largely kept details of its spy flights in Africa secret. The Post pieced together descriptions of the surveillance network by examining references to it in unclassified military reports, U.S. government contracting documents and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group.

Further details were provided by interviews with American and African officials, as well as military contractors.

In addition to Burkina Faso, U.S. surveillance planes have operated periodically out of nearby Mauritania. In Central Africa, the main hub is in Uganda, though there are plans to open a base in South Sudan. In East Africa, U.S. aircraft fly out of bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles.

These clandestine intelligence missions and associated lethal air strikes are part of a long history of US intervention in Africa, whether directly or through the arming of proxy forces and US-friendly dictatorships. During the Cold War, the US was concerned about the political and economic independence of African nations, and the increasing role of the Soviet Union in backing anti-colonial, socialist and nationalist groups and forces in the region. The Soviet Union provided an alternative model of economic development, and the East-West rivalry had an impact on the politics and economics of the region.

With the Cold War finished, the US rushed to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of Soviet influence. However, intensified rivalry with China, Russia and the economic competition of these contending powers has been driving the US to escalate its involvement in Africa. The Economist magazine reported in June 2012 that responding to the alleged Chinese threat is the main priority for the US administration. The Defence Secretary at the time announced that by 2020 60 percent of American warships would be stationed in the Asia Pacific region, an obvious projection of US military power against China. Trade with Africa involves access to extensive natural resources, and these are a lifeline for US imperialism. Obama’s scramble for Africa, as Nick Turse puts it in a recent article, involves participating in shadow wars and mushrooming intelligence missions.

As Nick Turse elaborates on the US incursion into Africa in his July 2012 article:

Under President Obama, in fact, operations in Africa have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years: last year’s war in Libya; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; a flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, a secret prison, helicopter attacks, and U.S. commando raids; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders.  And this only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.

The New York Slimes, the pro-war lapdog of the imperial American empire, reported in July 2013 that a new drone base in the sub-Saharan African country of Niger provides the US military with a foothold in that part of the continent. The story was making the point that new threats, along with the tried-and-true recycled menace of Islamic ‘terrorism’, was compelling the US to rethink its counterterrorism strategy and push for new drone bases in Africa.

The article quotes Michael Shurkin, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who is now working for the RAND corporation. Shurkin says ““The U.S. is facing a security environment in Africa that is increasingly more complex and therefore more dangerous”; he goes on to state that “Effective responses, moreover, require excellent knowledge about local populations and their politics, the sort of understanding that too often eludes the U.S. government and military.”

Note that the New York Slimes is unconcerned with minor issues like poverty, corruption, famine, and the lack of social services in a country like Niger, or Mali, or other western African countries. Niger has a life expectancy at birth of 55 years, and the Human Development Index ranks Niger 186th out of 193 United Nations member states in terms of human social and educational development. Never matter, the point of the article is to convey the perspective of US imperial empire-builders; new threats in the region require ever-increasing military responses. The Washington Post adopted a similar perspective in its article about the Niger drone base published in March 2013.

Two researchers, Linda Bilmes from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Michael Intriligator from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), have co-authored a research paper entitled “How many wars is the US fighting today?” The authors examine how most Americans, when asked about how many conflicts the United States is engaged in, will usually name Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the reality is much more stark; the US is fighting unannounced and undeclared wars across the globe through the use of drones and strategic aerial firepower.

Bilmes and Intriligator examine those countries where the US is conducting drone strikes but where war has not officially been declared; Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. They include drone strikes in a long tradition of covert warfare by the US imperial class against Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile and other Latin American countries. Not only is the global scope of US drone and military operations detailed, but the authors also attempt to account for the finance for all these military incursions and network of military bases.

The investigators take specific examples of the allocation of funds for military purposes because, as they point out, “The size of the budget for all these operations is difficult to piece together because Congress appropriates funds to line items for each force, rather than to individual activities. In some cases, however, we can estimate the amounts being spent.”

For instance, the US currently provides the Pakistani government, a US ally in the region, with four billion dollars of direct military assistance. Bilmes and Intriligator explain that this is on top of another four billion dollars-worth of ‘civilian’ assistance, plus the billions the US spends reimbursing the Pakistani military for the expenses incurred by the Pakistani military in assisting US military operations and forces. This is happening all the while in the United States, the major city of Detroit has been forced into bankruptcy, and its citizens will be forced to endure another mass reduction in the quality of life and cuts to badly needed social services. The people of Detroit, already struggling with the consequences of deindustrialisation, are expected to face another assault on their declining living standards and conditions.

Bilmes and Intriligator focus specifically on warfare conducted by UAVs. They note that:

“the US drone program escalated rapidly between 2004 and 2010, with no public debate. There are no international rules of conduct on when it is fair and just to deploy them. Under the UN Charter, to which the US is a signatory, member states may defend themselves from an armed attack (Article 51) but Article 2(4) prohibits them from choosing war as a means of settling disputes.”

This raises some pertinent questions about the conduct of the Obama administration. The current US government is using a method of warfare that violates the United Nations charter, something that many consider to be war crimes. These crimes violate the rules that govern, among other things, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not only that, but aerial warfare, the doctrine of raining down terror from the skies, is not something new. This doctrine has motivated imperialist states and their policy-makers to carry out war crimes, and crimes against humanity, crimes for which perpetrators have been charged, found guilty and punished.

Writing in the online magazine, and reprinted in the Huffington Post, Retired Lt. Colonel Professor William Astore states that drone warfare is neither cheap, nor surgical, nor decisive. The dreams of air power enthusiasts, Astore writes, has been to dominate the skies, bringing down death and destruction on the enemy below, sapping their morale and destroying their capacity to resist. Air strikes by UAVs is the latest incarnation in a long history of terror bombing by various imperialist states. Since the invention of airplanes, imperialist strategists have dreamt of overwhelming the enemy by the use of overwhelming firepower. As Astore relates, this fantasy is contradicted by the history of twentieth century warfare, where colonial powers, in attempting to demoralise their enemy, only succeeded in bringing more wanton cruelty and destruction, and air power failed to break the willpower of those determined to resist.

Astore points out that it was as far back as 1911 when the first modern air raid took place – by Italian aircraft in Libya, as part of the Italian effort at empire-building. One hundred years later, in 2011, NATO air power was a major factor in degrading the Libyan military’s ability to resist the organised contingents of NATO-backed rebels in that country. The other imperialist states, Britain, France, Germany, the United States and so on, were quick to follow suit and develop air war capacities themselves. The first advocate of unrestrained aerial bombing was the Italian Giulio Douhet. In his book, Command of the Air, published in 1921, Douhet advocated industrial-scale bombing that targets the enemy’s industries, using high-tech explosives and poison gas. Civilians were to be included in Douhet’s vision of aerial strategic bombing campaigns.

Such terror bombing, Douhet reasoned, would demoralise the target population, causing social dislocation, chaos thus bringing the war of colonial conquest to a speedy and successful resolution for the imperialist conqueror. One can see the fascist-inspired antecedents of the American 1991 ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign against Iraq. No concern at all for the fate of the people bearing the brunt of such untrammelled bombing from the skies. Today, we can see the tragic consequences of the drone strikes in countries like Yemen, where previously peaceful regions become zones of conflict, resentment against the occupier builds, and a flow of refugees is created. Drone strikes do not change the beliefs of the attacked – indeed, they foment even further opposition to the United States imperialist overreach and provide a fertile ground for extremist groups to recruit new members.

The British heeded the call by Douhet, and took up strategic bombing with enthusiasm. Hugh Trenchard, the founder of the Royal Air Force, adopted strategic aerial bombing as his preferred tactic and elaborated it for the purpose of protecting and extending Britain’s newly acquired possessions in the Middle East. In the wake of the defeat of the Ottoman-Turkish empire, several Arab states, such as Iraq, were passed over to the victorious English. If the people in these states resisted, they were to be met with terror bombing. One British politician at the time, writing in his capacity as Secretary of State for Air, stated that poison gas should be used to pacify uncivilised and rebellious tribes in Iraq and elsewhere, dismissing any ethical concerns about the use of such weapons. That politician was Winston Churchill, and he put the aerial warfare doctrine to good use as prime minister of Britain during World War Two.

The British empire, and their American counterparts, applied the doctrine of aerial warfare with ruthless efficiency in World War Two. Concerns about the civilian casualties of bombing were forgotten in the outpouring of outrage against the German bombings of Guernica, the blitz on Rotterdam, and other German and Japanese war crimes. The combined American-British bombing campaign against Germany was no less devastating – German cities such as Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin itself were reduced to piles of rubble by the thousands of sorties flown by Allied aircraft.

In March 1945, not to be outdone, American Air Force Major General Curtis LeMay led the firestorm bombing of Tokyo city in Japan. The mainly wooden buildings and environs of Tokyo were ‘scored, boiled and baked’ (LeMay’s words) causing the incendiary deaths of 100 000 Japanese people. Sixty further Japanese cities were firebombed in this way, before this destructive campaign culminated with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Surely these bombing campaigns convinced the Japanese leadership to surrender, and crippled the German war effort in Europe?

Astore writes that:

“Yet, contrary to the dreams of air power advocates, Germany’s will to resist remained unbroken. The vaunted second front of aerial battle became yet another bloody attritional brawl, with hundreds of thousands of civilians joining scores of thousands of aircrews in death.

Similarly mauled but unbroken by bombing was Japan, despite an air campaign of relentless intensity that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians.”

Writing in the Foreign Policy blog, Ward Wilson, historian and research fellow at the British American Security Information Council, argues that the single most decisive factor in convincing the Japanese leadership to surrender was not the destruction of Japanese cities, about which they were unconcerned, but the entry of the Soviet Union into the war. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, having finished the fighting on the German front, turned his attention to the Far East. The heavy battles between the Soviets and Japanese forces in mid-1945 finally persuaded the Japanese war planners that they had no option but to surrender, Japan’s military being incapable of fighting both the encroaching Americans from the south, and the Soviets to their north.

In the 1990s, aerial power advocates refined their vision of strategic victory with fantasies about ‘precision-guided bombs’ and much-ballyhooed ‘surgical strikes’. Targeted aerial power would bring about decisive military victories, and we were invited, by the compliant corporate media, to gaze in admiration at these new-fangled weapons bringing death and destruction. As William Astore writes, let’s not get carried away with these new, laser-guided ‘smart’ bombs:

“In the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, for example, 50 precision “decapitation strikes” targeting dictator Saddam Hussein’s top leadership failed to hit any of their intended targets, while causing “dozens” of civilian deaths.  That same year, air power’s inability to produce decisive results on the ground after Iraq’s descent into chaos, insurrection, and civil war served as a reminder that the vaunted success of the U.S. air campaign in the First Gulf War (1991) was a fluke, not a flowering of air power’s maturity.”

It appears that the more recent acolytes of empire-building and colonialism, namely, the Zionist state of Israel, have adopted the doctrines of aerial bombing, but have similarly failed to absorb any of its historical lessons. The fact that strategic bombing does not produce the intended rapid victory but only heighten the resolve of its targets has been lost on the current Israeli leadership. Two researchers from the University of NSW, Clinton Fernandes and Craig Stockings, co-authored a paper on the subject of aerial bombing and the lack of its efficacy. Their paper “Airpower and the Myth of Strategic Bombing as Strategy” was published in 2006, just as the Israeli military machine concluded its strategic bombing campaign in Lebanon, for the ostensible reason of defeating the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah.

The authors examine the impact of the Israeli bombing campaign on Lebanese society, stating that;

“The Israeli bombing campaign involved the destruction of highways, bridges, factories, sea ports, airports, the telecommunications network, schools, hospitals, petrol stations and military installations. At least 1181 people were killed in Lebanon, while the Israeli death toll was 157.”

What was the end result of this bombing campaign? Stockings and Fernandes write:

“Meanwhile, Hezbollah defied the region’s superpower with a combination of skill, courage, preparation, tactics, and organization. It has emerged from the conflict with its prestige – and that of its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah – enhanced throughout the Arab world.”

The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes is only the latest technological application of the old, discredited, nightmarish and criminal practice of strategic aerial bombing. Its enthusiasts have proposed its supposed ‘surgical’ feature, ignoring the mass civilian deaths and casualties that accompany such bombing. This doctrine is an essential tool of the imperialist states in their quest to build and expand economic empires, and has nothing to do with minimising the loss of lives or damage to property. The liberal commentators who are still cheering for Obama, must now realise that the current Obama administration represents a redesigned continuation of empire, not a decisive break with it. Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize must be revoked, because he has continued to apply a predatory, criminal doctrine that violates the very principles upon which international human rights and peace efforts are based. What kind of political and economic system is it, which fails to acknowledge the people that have died as a result of all the aerial bombing campaigns, and then applies the central doctrine of their killers?

Breaking down stereotypes, Islam, and Google Searches

The majority of people in Australia, the United States, Britain and other developed capitalist countries rely on the corporate media for information about non-Western regions of the world. News and analyses about Islam and the Islamic world are presented mainly in the broader context of terrorism, political violence, border protection, and values that threaten ‘our way of life’. The Islamic faith, more so than any other monotheistic religion, is presented as a unique and irrational menace, incompatible with our ostensibly rational and democratic underpinnings. Islamic people in Western countries are smeared as a potentially treasonous element, refusing to integrate, and intent on taking advantage of our pluralistic values and democratic mechanisms to sabotage and eventually overwhelm ‘our’ western-liberal democratic values.

There are many examples of Islamic clerics issuing fatwas and condemnations of terrorism, too many to recite here. However, a simple experiment will suffice to bring us to the next point; Google searching has become an indispensable part of writing and blogging in this age of social media and electronic communication. Performing a Google-search of the term ‘Islam and terrorism’ produces 54,200,000 results. A large amount; but consider the following comparison – a Google-search of the terms ‘Islam and science’ produces 216,000,000 results. That’s right – two hundred and sixteen million, as compared to fifty-four million. The quality of the search results can be disputed: some are of doubtful veracity, some are not verified by peer research, some are openly partisan creationist web pages – all that is not in dispute.

The important point here is that the interaction between one of the world’s fastest growing religions and science is of such profound importance, much more so than the purportedly close relation between Islam and terrorism that the corporate media routinely suggests. The conflict between religion and science, its philosophical underpinnings and social implications, is the subject of much scholarly and journalistic research. This research is woefully ignored, swamped by the outpouring of Islamophobia that pervades much of our media and society. The debate between the philosophical platforms of secularism and religion has been poisoned by a political agenda that seeks to marginalise and demonise a segment of the population, with contemptible ridiculing headlines like this one a commonplace occurrence in the mainstream corporate media, in between the sports news and celebrity gossip.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas is without doubt the gambling capital of the world, epitomising the expression of greed, gluttony, drunkenness and fornication. It stands as a towering rebuff to the old-fashioned biblical values of modesty, temperance and frugality. Yet only ten minutes drive from Las Vegas boulevard there is one structure that invites people to turn away from the sinful vanity of American casino-capitalism – the Masjeed-e Tawheed. The latest of four mosques in Las Vegas, it is home to 10 000 Muslims living in the Las Vegas vicinity. The mosque’s founder and leader is ‘Rocky’ – the nickname used by Ahmadullah Rokai Yusufzai, a successful immigrant who calls Sin City his home. After working with the Afghani mujahideen fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, Yusufzai was dismissed from his chosen profession as an engineer in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He now works as a court interpreter, helps train young Marine recruits who are being posted to Afghanistan, and volunteers as a soccer coach for the local team.

The Guardian newspaper covered his story in the article ‘Being Muslim in Las Vegas’, and is a humane portrait of a community struggling with issues of assimilation, identity, and maintaining their dignity in a country where the government agencies and media are hostile to their presence. Yusufzai faces criticism from other Muslims, opposed to the ongoing temptations that may lure people away from the Islamic values into the denizen of sin and corruption that is Las Vegas. As Yusufzai explains:

We are criticised by other Muslims. They’ll say, ‘You’re living in Sin City? You must have a gambling problem. You must be doing this and that.’ And we say, no. That’s what happens on the Strip, but two miles radius of that, there’s no casinos. It’s just suburbia, ordinary families trying to live decent, good lives. Most Muslims stay well away from the Strip. My house is about 15 miles away and it’s a different world. I see the lights way off in the distance

There is one mention of terrorism in the story:

The FBI visits him regularly to check up on what’s going down at the mosque and if he thinks any of the congregation, who range from doctors to taxi drivers, Somalis to Pakistanis, Sunni to Shia, might be terrorists intent on blowing up the nearest titty bar.

“I always tell the FBI guys that if there were, I’d be calling the FBI myself, but they still come by. We are trying to have a better image of Islam. We’re not going to harbour or support anybody who even thinks about that,” Yusufzai says.

Finally, a story about immigrants settling into a western country, a story that humanises its subjects and portrays the ongoing effort of Muslim immigrants to keep their faith while adapting to a frequently cultural inhospitable environment.

Read the whole story of being Muslim in Las Vegas in The Guardian newspaper here.

Science making a comeback

In January 2013, the Economist magazine online edition published a fascinating story, under the headline ‘The Road to Renewal’. It begins with a common accusation, namely, that the Muslim world is lagging behind the West in scientific development, and that this is reflected in the fact that the number of Nobel Prize-winning scientists of Jewish background far outnumbers the Muslim recipients of the Nobel Prize in the sciences:

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims have produced only two Nobel laureates in chemistry and physics. Both moved to the West: the only living one, the chemist Ahmed Hassan Zewail, is at the California Institute of Technology. By contrast Jews, outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims, have won 79.

An interesting comparison, however, the article goes on to provide an overview of how science is making a big comeback, and indeed is an intricate part of, Muslim-majority countries. While it is true that the Islamic faith strongly influences the education system in Islamic countries, it is too simplistic to denounce the alleged scientific backwardness of Muslim-majority countries on the purportedly innately irrational perspective of Islam to scientific investigation. The article then provides a crucial observation:

But look more closely and two things are clear. A Muslim scientific awakening is under way. And the roots of scientific backwardness lie not with religious leaders, but with secular rulers, who are as stingy with cash as they are lavish with controls over independent thought.

The simplistic caricature of backward Muslims impeding scientific inquiry is easily dispelled by a cursory knowledge of Islamic history; the Islamic Golden Age, lasting between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, was a time of unrivaled scientific discoveries, accumulation and extension of mathematical knowledge, and expansion in all areas of science from astronomy to medicine throughout the Abbasid Caliphate, until the Mongol conquest of the centre of intellectual life, Baghdad in 1258. The Islamic empire provided fertile intellectual commerce for the West, while Europe was still languishing in the Christian-dominated Dark Ages. Let us not forget that Moorish Spain was another comparative beacon of light for the peoples of Europe at the time.

What is interesting is that the article in the Economist details the ongoing efforts by scientists and scientific researchers to reinvigorate their areas of expertise in the Muslim-majority countries. All areas of science and technology are experiencing a resurgence. Evolutionary biology is the one area where scientists of Muslim background struggle to reconcile their faith with their scientific work – just like their Christian counterparts. The barriers between scriptural acceptance and evolutionary biology are enormous, but not insurmountable. As the Economist article explains:

Plenty of Muslim biologists have managed to reconcile their faith and their work. Fatimah Jackson, a biological anthropologist who converted to Islam, quotes Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of genetics, saying that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Science describes how things change; Islam, in a larger sense, explains why, she says.

Others take a similar line. “The Koran is not a science textbook,” says Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist. “It provides people with guidelines as to how they should live their lives.” Interpretations of it, she argues, can evolve with new scientific discoveries. Koranic verses about the creation of man, for example, can now be read as providing support for evolution.

When looking at the way in which biologists in the Islamic world are grappling with the philosophical and scientific divides between faith-based belief and scientific understanding, one cannot help but see the similarities in the ways that Christians in the West are wrestling with exactly the same philosophical and cultural issues. So why is the Muslim world routinely derided as more fundamentalist, irrational and closed to rational thought that the supposedly more advanced Christian West?

In June 2011, the present author wrote a book review of ‘The Muslim Revolt: A journey through political Islam’ by BBC journalist Roger Hardy. The book examines the various political trajectories and social conflicts of political Islam in a number of Muslim-majority countries. The most officially secular of these countries, Turkey, constitutes a chapter in the book, where Hardy elaborated on the cultural tensions between secular education and Muslim identity. Taking a long quote from my book review, the following illustrates the tension between religious identity and science education that is being played out:

Hardy describes his visit to a state-run school, which is well furnished, adorned by a bust of Kemal Ataturk, and the slogan “Science is the true guide in life”. Hardy asked the biology teacher how she deals with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, who peremptorily responds that it is in the state-approved curriculum, and so she teaches it. Many in the Muslim world (like many Christians) refuse to accept the theory of evolution, and there is strong cultural resistance to it. Hardy then visits another school, known as an imam-hatip school. This type of school was originally intended to produce imams and hatips, religious preachers. Upon asking the head teacher in the second school how it differs from the original state school, Hardy obtains the response that the curriculum is exactly the same, except they add religious instruction.

Hardy persists with his questioning, and asks how they handle the theory of evolution in the school. The head teacher says he disagrees with evolution, but teaches it anyway according to the curriculum. The students in the school then learn about Islamic philosophy, and how God created the world according to religious precepts. This underlying kulturkampf – culture-struggle is the word Hardy uses – is occurring throughout the Muslims world, and has familiar undertones in the West. We are undergoing our own kulturkampf, with the creationist/intelligent design lobby to push for strict biblical inerrancy to be taught in schools. The struggle is far from over. The creation-evolution controversy is hardly confined to the Muslim countries, and is being played out in Turkey paralleling the similar debates in Christian-influenced Europe, Australia and the United States.

Returning to the article from the Economist, there is one area of the life sciences where the Islamic countries are rapidly progressing, while Christian-majority countries are still bogged down in acrimonious debate: stem cell research. According to Islamic precepts, the soul enters the fetus between 40 and 120 days after conception. Embryos discarded before that time period are the source of pluripotent stem cells derived from the blastocyst. Scientists in the Islamic Republic of Iran have been making enormous strides in stem cell research, and have compiled a stem cell database bank. All this medical research is occurring while in the United States, scientists and legislators have had to battle Christian fundamentalist lawmakers and conservative advocates using their political clout to hinder, and in some cases completely ban, research using pluripotent stem cells. Biologists in Iran working on stem cell research do not face any official roadblocks or legislative censure, and are working on finding cures for diseases once considered incurable.

Tim Wallace-Murphy is an English writer and historian, and author of the book ‘What Islam did for us: Understanding Islam’s contribution to Western Civilization’. After exploring the enormous dependence of European culture on the contributions of Islam, the last chapter is entitled ‘A Common Heritage and Future’. Wallace-Murphy makes the observation we must stop regarding the Muslim world as one gigantic petrol station, inhabited by strange people with backward beliefs. He continues:

Our elected representatives in the West are our elected servants and not our masters. They should not have the freedom to initiate wars of aggression without the consent of the people they serve. Nor should they be permitted to prop up repressive regimes purely for commercial advantage. Trade is always to be encouraged, the subsidy of tyranny should be forbidden.

We must go further and denounce the harassment and intimidation of Arab and Muslim Australians. We in Australia must stop normalising relations with repressive regimes and countries that continue to persecute their citizens, or carry out wars of aggression against the Arab and Muslim people. When the current Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, shakes hands with the Burmese President Thein Sein joining the onrush by imperialist nations to develop economic ties with that country, and when newly-reinstalled Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declares that Israel is in his DNA, it sends a clear signal to the world that Australia stands with the imperialist countries in ignoring human rights and joining the oppression of Palestinians, Rohingya Muslims and other marginalised people in the world, in order to extend commercial interests. It is time to make human solidarity the main criterion by which we evaluate our political and economic conduct.

The G8 summit tensions, cooperation on Burma and the fiction of humanitarian intervention

The G8 summit, the principal meeting of the leaders of all the world’s imperialist nations and partners, was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland over 17-18 June 2013. While the summit’s main concerns were economic matters such as global trade, tax evasion and greater accountability in economic affairs, the discussions between the imperialist states was dominated by the ongoing Syrian civil war and the attendant humanitarian tragedy.

The main highlight of the G8 summit was the clash between US President Barack Obama, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, about their conflicting plans for Syria. Much of the media coverage involved examining the conflicts between these participants, with Russia continuing to support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and the United States (joined by its imperialist allies in Europe) supporting the fractured Syrian rebels. The Guardian online newspaper provided a detailed examination of Putin’s opposition to any proposed plans by the US and its supporters for a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria, and the US has countered by promising to provide increased military aid to the Syrian rebel forces.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron and his officials met privately with President Putin, and stated that while Moscow had no personal commitment to keeping Assad in power and even conceded that Assad might have to resign, it was on the condition that Syria avoid the sectarian conflict and economic breakdown that followed similar imperialist interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. British officials insisted that there is no place for Assad in a post-war Syria, and French President Francois Hollande opened the door for Iran, another solid supporter of the Syrian regime, to participate in future peace talks. Moscow however subsequently rebuked Britain and France, with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov stressed that any resolution of the Syrian conflict had to involve Assad, and that all talk of his resignation was impermissible. The official communique issue after the G8 meeting made no mention however, of Assad stepping down, and insisted that Russia’s military aid to the Syrian government would continue.

The ongoing conflicts between the G8 powers is patently obvious to all international observers. The Times of India conveyed a more honest appraisal of the G8 summit, elaborating on the ‘face-off’ between Obama and Putin. What is striking though is the way that the corporate media have portrayed the stance of Moscow as an obstacle to a peaceful settlement in Syria. The underlying assumption of the mainstream media is that Obama is ‘frustrated’ that American power cannot be deployed to resolve an obvious humanitarian catastrophe, in this case, the plight of Syrian refugees. The refugees from the Syrian imbroglio deserve our support and help, and we should avoid playing off one group of victims against another. What is worth examining is the unexplained assumption that US and British policy-makers are motivated by humanitarian concerns, while Russians, Iranians, Chinese, and other nations are only out to protect their own material interests.

Justin Doolittle, a political scientist writing in Counterpunch online magazine, makes three essential observations pertinent to bear in mind about US foreign policy. We must first dispense with the fiction that US military and political leaders make decisions to intervene militarily based on humanitarian considerations. The US makes decisions based on its own material self-interests, and it is the poor and downtrodden who are left by the wayside. The Assad regime is a repressive, capitalist dictatorship, and has caused untold suffering for Syrian people. But the notion that the Obama administration wants to ‘do something’ to alleviate the plight of the Syrian population is ludicrous. As Doolittle explains in his Counterpunch article, almost every modern power has used a humanitarian cover to justify its predatory military interventions, disguising its underlying economic and military calculations with the garb of ‘selfless’ concern.

Secondly, Doolittle observes that another unspoken assumption is that US military intervention reduces the level and intensity of violence in a given conflict and leads to a peaceful resolution. This rather ignorant supposition is based on a willful ignorance of the history of US imperial violence in various parts of the world. An imperialist state, with a record of state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East, its role in demolishing societies like Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot be part of a peaceful solution to any conflict. This childish ‘Saving Private Ryan’ view of US military history, may make for great entertainment but flies in the face of the facts. Such a foreign intervention only escalates the level of violence, and there is no concern for what happens afterwards. We can see the effects of the purported humanitarian intervention in Libya, with armed groups fighting it out in the streets. Leading figures of the British military establishment are currently complaining to David Cameron that sending arms to the Syrian rebels will only make matters worse, leading to a Libyan-style scenario. As the DailyMail Online correspondent put it;

Up to 3,000 surface-to-air missiles have gone missing in Libya since the conflict –  and spy chiefs say the state has become the ‘Tesco’ of the world’s illegal arms trade.

The British government was a vociferous supporter of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, and one of the results of that military adventure is the decision by the British Foreign Office to withdraw some staff from its embassy in Libya because of ongoing political instability. Foreign embassies have come under attacks in recent months, with the most high profile being the assault on the US embassy compound in Benghazi last year, resulting in the murder of then US ambassador J Christopher Stevens. Ironically, the previous Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, having opened up to foreign capital in the 2000s, had excellent relations with former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The third and final premise that remains unexamined when speaking of ‘humanitarian interventions’ is the widespread assumption that the US is the only honest broker and best placed to carry out an imperial intervention. There is no discussion of the international bodies, such as the United Nations, and its role in brokering peace settlements and getting the relevant parties to agree on an acceptable formula. The UN is dismissed as an ineffectual body, paralysed by interminable debates and quarrels, and incapable of decisive action. The United Nations is an imperfect body, reflecting the balance of forces between the imperialist states. But it is also the only international forum where the majority of the world’s countries, and the majority of the world’s people, can have their input into international decision-making. The UN General Assembly is the meeting place where all of the world’s poorest countries, incorporating the majority of the world’s population, takes decisions that are frequently vetoed by the overriding Security Council. The US has consistently violated international laws and conventions agreed to at the United Nations, behaving like a rogue state. Blocking the decisions of the UN General Assembly has produced deadlock, a situation for which the US bears at least partial responsibility. US intervention in the Middle East has resulted in blowback because its impact on that region has been toxic and stirred up sectarian fratricidal conflicts.

A study in contrasts

There was another international forum held over June 5 to 7, 2013 in city of Naypyidaw, the capital of Burma, formally known as Myanmar. The World Economic Forum on East Asia (WEF) brought together political leaders, business partners, CEOs of various transnational corporations, academics and civil society advocates from around the world. In contrast to the G8 summit, there was no bickering or squabbling, only cooperation between the representatives of the various nations on how to exploit the energy-and-mineral-rich country of Burma, tap into its vast energy reserves and make a profit-bonanza from an area of the world previously closed off by US-supported economic sanctions.

The business executives from multiple transnational corporations were there to discuss the many lucrative opportunities for foreign investment, including Australian energy giant Woodside Petroleum, eager to invest in Burma’s oil and gas reserves. Coca-Cola was also there for the WEF, as well as the Anglo-Dutch corporation Unilever.

The World Economic Forum in East Asia meeting sent a signal to the world – that Burma and its military-dominated regime are rehabilitated into the international community. Such a meeting of political officials and business executives would have been absolutely impossible to contemplate two years ago. But since the Obama administration came to office, US foreign policy has adopted a ‘pivot to Asia’, to use the phrase US officials coined to signify greater competition with the rising powers of China and India. Burma, located right between India and China, established close relations with Beijing over the last few decades. The Burmese military rulers, having gone through the sham of ‘elections’ and making cosmetic changes to the political process, are now normalising relations with the US, Europe and other imperialist states, pushing back against Chinese influence.

The official change of Burma from pariah, rogue regime to a flourishing capitalist ‘liberal democracy’ has involved the major powers ignoring a frightful and ongoing humanitarian crisis in that country, a crisis for which the Burmese regime bears direct responsibility; the pogroms and ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya population in that country. The Rohingya minority have been subjected to killings, torture, pogroms at the hands of nationalist Buddhist gangs rampaging through Muslim villages, and exile into impoverished refugee camps. Since 2012 Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian writer, journalist and editor of the Palestine Chronicle online magazine, has been documenting the plight of the Rohingya Muslim population and the cursory attention given to this problem by the international community. This ongoing exclusion and ethnic cleansing program has not deterred the imperialist states from rushing to establish profitable trading relations with the current Burmese regime.

Baroud has written in the online journal Dissident Voice that;

One fails to understand the unperturbed attitude with which regional and international leaders and organizations are treating the unrelenting onslaught against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, formally known as Burma. Numbers speak of atrocities where every violent act is prelude to greater violence and ethnic cleansing. Yet, western governments’ normalization with the Myanmar regime continues unabated, regional leaders are as gutless as ever and even human rights organizations seem compelled by habitual urges to issue statements lacking meaningful, decisive and coordinated calls for action.

The Rohingya people, currently numbering between 800,000 and one million, do not have any legal rights as citizens in Burma. They live mostly in the province of Arakan, also known as Rakhine, and are officially regarded as ‘Bengali immigrants’ and thus not entitled to full citizenship in Burma. Sectarian violence perpetrated by the Buddhist Arakenese against the Muslim Rohingya erupted in June 2012 and has largely continued unabated. The Burmese authorities have done next to nothing to halt the violence. Indeed, in many cases, they have encouraged it. Forced to live in displacement camps in squalid conditions, the Rohingya have been forced into a live of poverty and desperation. Rohingya families have been driven out of their homes and their lands burned, attacked with machetes, and their mosques have been reduced to ashes. All the while, the alleged reformist President of Burma, Thein Sein, has advocated confining the Rohingya to displacement camps, or deporting them en masse. While the quasi-civilian government is formally in charge, the real power still lies with the all-encompassing military.

These human rights violations, and the humanitarian tragedy spawned by this ethnic cleansing, means nothing to the business and political leaders who are eager to capitalise on the ‘gold rush’ now on in Burma, in the words of Ramzy Baroud. Martin Sorrell, the chief of the advertising and marketing firm WPP plc, captured the mood when he was quoted as saying, “When was the last time a market of 60 million people fell out of the sky?” He continued, “This is one of the last frontiers.” Another commodity that Burma has in abundance, which will be exploited by the multinational corporations to make their bonanza-profits, is cheap labour. As the correspondent for the Irrawady online newspaper explained, Japanese investors have been attracted to Thailand, despite that country’s political upheavals. But now, with a huge labour force in Burma willing to work for one-sixth of a Thai worker’s wage, could lure the Japanese business community into Burma.

The Burmese regime has gone so far as to legislate (in 2005) that Muslim Rohingya families are only allowed two children. Local authorities in Arakan state reinforced this law last year in the wake of anti-Muslim sectarian violence. This discriminatory legislation is part of the longstanding practice of anti-Islamic racism that the Burmese authorities have invoked periodically since the beginning of direct military rule in 1962. Rohingya couples must also apply for and obtain permission to marry from the authorities. As Human Rights Watch observes;

Implementation of this callous and cruel two-child policy against the Rohingya is another example of the systematic and wide ranging persecution of this group, who have recently been the target of an ethnic cleansing campaign,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Thein Sein says he is against discrimination. If so, he should quickly declare an end to these coercive family restrictions and other discriminatory policies against the Rohingya.

The much-celebrated democracy ‘icon’ Aung San Suu Kyi only recently spoke up about the systematic discrimination and persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority. She stated that the two-child policy is against human rights, but that it would be difficult to implement in Arakan. She expressed some lukewarm criticism of the onrush of Western investors in Burma – by claiming that they are not investing quickly enough. Suu Kyi does not advocate granting citizenship to the Rohingya people, or spoken out against the multinational companies that seek to invest in Burma while trampling human rights. The National League for Democracy (NLD) which Suu Kyi heads, is markedly pro-business oriented and welcomes further investment in Burma by the Western powers.

The opening up of the country to Western investment has corresponded with an eruption of sectarian Buddhist communalism and the targets of such national chauvinism are the Rohingya minority. Many risk perilous journeys to seek refuge in other countries, including Indonesia and Australia, rather than stay and face further violence, torture and suffering at the hands of a national-chauvinist Buddhist elite. The words of the Palestinian writer Ramzy Baroud, in the article “Ignoring Genocide: Rohingya People Deserve to Live” are the most appropriate with which to conclude, given that the Palestinians, like the Muslim Rohingya, are another stateless population yearning for self-determination. Baroud wrote;

The perpetual suffering of the Rohingya people must end. They are deserving of rights and dignity. They are weary of crossing unforgiving seas and walking harsh terrains seeking mere survival. More voices must join those who are speaking out in support of their rights. ASEAN must break away from its silence and tediously guarded policies and western countries must be confronted by their own civil societies: no normalization with Rangoon when innocent men, women and children are being burned alive in their own homes. This injustice needs to be known to the world and serious, organized and determined efforts must follow to bring the persecution of the Rohingya people to an end.

This is not just a conclusion, but also a platform for a new beginning.

The current American empire is resembling the decaying Roman imperium

The Roman Republic, and subsequent Roman Empire, were based on a strong class structure which divided the population into distinct economic categories. The lowest class were of course the slaves, who were regarded as chattel to be exploited, bought and sold at a whim. At the top end of the vast social pyramid was the Roman aristocracy. The nobility, the patrician class, were the wealthiest families and clans in the Roman polity, and dominated the political process. Hereditary wealth was a key factor if a person wished to occupy high political office. Gradually, a new social force, the equites, the non-patrician wealthy elite, were included (sometimes reluctantly) into the highest political positions of the Roman republic and empire.

Note how that to be in the Roman Senate, from which candidates for the most powerful political positions were drawn, wealth was the single most important criterion. While the official slogan of the Roman Empire was Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (the Senate and the People of Rome), there was no doubt that the highest and most powerful class in the land was the financial oligarchy. In fact, the largest faction of the noble class called themselves the Optimates, literally meaning ‘the best’. These were the hereditary nobles, who fought tooth-and-nail against their opposing counterparts, the Populares, those senators who were (allegedly) on the side of the Roman people.

Under the Roman Republic, there were political avenues for the people to address their grievances to the Senate. The plebeian tribune, a powerful political office, did serve as a conduit for the expression and resolution of political and economic complaints. However, the plebeian tribune office did not have any military or executive function, so its decisions were circumvented or undermined by the all-powerful senatorial oligarchy. If the plebeian tribune was to become stubborn, and persist in measures to alleviate the economic inequalities inflicted on the people, then the senators would not hesitate to use their financial power to attack – and sometimes violently assassinate – the plebeian tribunes they regarded as a thorn in their side. The most famous tribunes, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi, were both killed in politically motivated violence, victims of lynch-mob murder incited by the financial oligarchs because they wanted to reform the social and political structures of Rome to assist the poorer classes. The Senate made sure that the laws of the land favoured the preservation and extension of their wealth, and used that legal structure to suppress any threat to their economic privileges. An extensive network of patronage ensured that the republic, and ensuing Roman Empire, remained economically viable for the wealthy senatorial elite.

This excursion into ancient Roman history is not just an academic exercise. It has serious implications and lessons for contemporary times. The unifying of political and economic power is the salient feature of the Roman republic and empire. What has this got to do with today’s events?

In a revealing and powerful article, Robert Scheer, a veteran political commentator and editor-in-chief of Truthdig online magazine, writes about the incestuous relationship between powerful financial oligarchs, politicians and the Wall Street crowd in the United States today. In an article called ‘Congress Still Puts Out for Wall Street’, Scheer examines the close relations between the bankers and financial speculators that caused the ongoing capitalist economic crisis, and the political clout they exercise in the US Congress. As Scheer explains:

What does it take to make a Wall Street banker squirm with shame? Not content with having swindled tens of millions of Americans out of their homes and life savings, the very bankers who caused the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression are now subverting government regulations designed to prevent comparable disasters in the future.

Scheer cites the example of Citigroup, a mega-bank and financial institution, itself the result of a merger between two enormous financial institutions, that swindled millions in the years leading up to the 2008. They were able to do because their partisans, the army of lobbyists that they hired and unleashed on the US Congress, convinced the law-makers to abolish regulations that restricted Citigroup’s ability to generate millions in profits by speculation. For instance, the Glass-Steagall Act, passed back in the 1930s, prevented commercial banks from engaging in financial speculation with the bank deposits of ordinary investors. Pensions and bank deposits were protected from risky investment banking activities. Citigroup was one financial behemoth that led the charge to abolish this act, thus opening up billions of dollars for further speculative activities – the Glass-Steagall Act was abolished by compliant politicians in 1999.

The US Congress since 2008, rather than challenging the ability of the Wall Street hucksters to write and shape laws that enrich elite interests, has actually continued to enmesh itself in the tentacles of the financial mega-corporations. Key legislation passed by the US Congress governing financial activity has been drafted by bank lobbyists, many of them in the pay of the big banks like Citigroup. A financial oligarchy that occupies legislative positions, and enacts laws to enrich itself and transfer the social costs of the economic burden onto the poor – that looks eerily similar and highly reminiscent of an ancient empire.

It is true that the Obama administration passed the Dodd-Frank Act, subtitled the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, in July 2010. But even this lukewarm, halfhearted measure to crack down on the billion-dollar derivatives market has faced strenuous opposition from industry groups and financial institutions that portray this act with bipartisan fury as an attack on private enterprise that threatens to demolish the entire financial complex. As Scheer elaborates, the drafting of this legislation was supervised by the large financial conglomerates;

As an example of the profound corruption of our legislative process, congressional staffers turned to top corporate lawyers to draft the wording pretending to rein in their activity.

For example, as the emails reviewed by the Times revealed, House committee staffers consulted Michael Bopp, a partner at the elite law firm Gibson, Dunn who represents corporations involved in derivative trading, as to the verbiage he would prefer in the legislation. His language was well received, as the Times reported: “Ultimately, the committee inserted every word of Mr. Bopp’s suggestion into a 2012 version of the bill that passed the House, save for a slight change in phrasing.”

So the very financial institutions that caused the current economic malaise have enormous input into the legislation that is supposed to facilitate the economic recovery. The corruption of the political and legislative process by big money is all too evident. Legislation that is skewed towards preserving and extending the wealth of the financial oligarchy is having its intended effect.

The Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to gathering and collating data on social and economic issues, released a report in April this year entitled ‘A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%’ documents that during the years 2009 to 2011, the upper seven percent of the richest households saw their average net worth increase by an estimated 28 percent, while the rest of us, the 93 percent, witnessed a decline of four percent in the average household net worth. This differential wealth recovery was explained by the Pew Research Centre as a result of stock and bond market activity, and the already-affluent have their assets concentrated in stocks and financial holdings. The lower income households have most of their wealth represented by their homes, and the housing market remained flat over the 2009-11 period.

Since the 2008 capitalist economic crisis, the ruling financial elite has intensified its efforts to transfer the cost of economic recession onto the working people, while insulating its own wealth through corrupting the legislative process. The US government, under Bush and now Obama, has utilised every measure to preserve, and even increase, the ability of the financial oligarchy to accumulate staggering amounts of wealth, while social services and public utilities are cut back. Financial speculation, asset bubbles and predatory economic practices are back on the agenda and remain typical of financial activity since 2008. Obama responded to the economic crisis with ‘bailouts’, that is, handing over vast amounts of public money to the private banks, sowing the seeds of an even larger economic crash to come. Maintaining US imperial power while imposing austerity at home has been the main priority of the Obama administration.

The Roman Empire, while occupying a place in ancient history, is not so remote from our contemporary political and economic experience.