Trump, disrespect and the US military in Africa

A political furore has erupted over the last few weeks regarding the deaths of four US Special Forces soldiers on deployment to Niger, West Africa. US President Donald Trump has caused offence – this time, for making off-handed and dismissive comments to the widow of one of the dead servicemen.

This row, revealing deep divisions within an already-factionalised and fractured Republican Party, has added to the woes of the current US administration. However, as Finian Cunningham writes in Sputnik News magazine, the ruckus over Trump’s conduct obscures a more important and deeper scandal – the increasing military operations of the United States across the continent of Africa.

Trump’s discourteous treatment of a US soldier’s widow has been discussed at length. However, disrespect for the widow of a slain solider is not the scandal we should be talking about.

We should be focusing on the larger and more serious scandal – the US wars that are secretly being waged in Africa. A number of critics are already asking – why are there American troops in Africa in the first place?

The deaths of the four US Special Forces soldiers – commonly known as Green Berets – should give us the opportunity to examine the largely secretive, yet constantly expanding, US military presence in African countries. As Cunningham discusses in his article, there are thousands of special forces, secret troops, surveillance drone bases and operations across African countries, and Niger is one of them. Indeed, as Nick Turse has documented in an article for The Nation magazine, there is a growing constellation of US military bases in Africa, organised within the US Africa Command, or Africom.

John Wight, writing in Sputnik magazine, asks his readers to consider the depth of imperial arrogance demonstrated by the United States in arrogating to itself the right to construct an empire of lily-pad bases across the African continent. Given Africa’s tragic history of colonial occupation and exploitation, this expanding military footprint must prompt us to consider the strategic and military ambitions of US imperialism in that continent. The US military’s activity in Niger constitutes only one part of an extensive network of bases and secret missions in Africa.

The counter-terrorism excuse obscures imperial motives

The ostensible reason provided by the United States authorities for the growing military presence in African countries is counter-terrorism. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, this rationale has been become a catch-all term, an umbrella under which all sorts of military and strategic activities can take place. The focus of the US military in Africa is not nation-building or humanitarian goals, but on achieving military and economic preponderance.

Lee Wengraf explains in the Socialist Worker magazine that the Niger deaths are the outcome of a deepening US military incursion into African countries. There are Islamist, fundamentalist groups operating in several states in Africa – Boko Haram in Nigeria being the most obvious example. The region of Niger where the US special forces soldiers were killed in the near the border with Mali, a country wracked by a civil war between Islamist movements and the French-backed Malian government.

The counter-terrorism excuse is flimsy at best, and hypocritical at worst, given that the main imperialist powers – the US, Britain, France and Italy among them – have a long history of training, arming and financially supporting Islamist groups to achieve their political objectives. It was Britain and France that supported and armed the Islamist-based Libyan rebels fighting in the 2011 uprising. Cultivating ties to fundamentalist groups is a long-standing practice of the imperialist states. The regional imperialist-sponsored crises afflicting the nations of Libya and Mali have spilled over into Niger.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that the US military is building a multi-million dollar drone base in Niger. Located in Agadez, the drone base will have the capability to launch missions into neighbouring countries. The US military works closely with their Nigerien counterparts, transferring millions of dollars’ worth of military supplies and equipment. In the meantime, Niger remains one of the poorest nations in Africa, where two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line – scraping together a living on less than one dollar a day.

Let us remind ourselves of the words of an Africa expert and commentator, who spoke at great length about the role of Western imperialism in that continent. He elaborated upon the underlying motives of the colonial powers’ interest in Africa. These words are quoted by John Wight in Sputnik magazine:

They are the ones who need Africa — they need its wealth. Fifty percent of the world’s gold reserves are in Africa, a quarter of the world’s uranium resources are in Africa, and 95% of the world’s diamonds are in Africa. A third of chrome is also in Africa, as is cobalt. Sixty-five percent of the world’s production of cocoa is in Africa. Africa has 25,000 km of rivers. Africa is rich in unexploited natural resources, but we were [and still are] forced to sell these resources cheaply to get hard currency. And this must stop.”

The author of the quote above was the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, brutally murdered by NATO-backed mercenaries in 2011. We would do well to heed his words.

The Niger story – for lack of a better expression – has demonstrated the corporate media’s capacity for self-absorption. The scandal is not the deaths of the soldiers, but rather why they were fighting in west Africa in the first place. The extensive military operations of the United States have received little if any critical examination in the major corporate media. The deaths of the Nigerien people, their casualties and back story, is virtually ignored while the suffering of American soldiers is dramatized in powerful ways.

This view of the world ensures that the United States sees itself as the only and perpetual victim, unfairly maligned and attacking while making military sacrifices overseas. This narrative disguises the predatory and criminal nature of America’s expanding military and imperialist ambitions in Africa. The American military footprint in Africa is not a liberating force, but rather an occupying army. The Niger fatalities draw a spotlight on the imperialist offensive of the American ruling class across the continent of Africa.

Trump always adds insult to injury

Trump was disrespectful to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson – that is not in dispute. However, why is anyone surprised at the ability of Trump to offend? Trump is the president who has consistently disrespected ethnic minorities, frequently referring to Hispanic Americans as rapists and drug dealers throughout his election campaign.

Trump has disrespected the African American community on numerous occasions. One egregious example was his defence of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstrators at Charlottesville as ‘very fine people’. However, African American athletes who peacefully protest are dismissed as ‘sons of bitches’. If Trump does not have a view of the world that reflects white supremacy, then he is certainly doing an accurate impression of a white nationalist.

Trump was one of several ultra-rightist American politicians who routinely attacked former US President Barack Obama as an illegitimate occupant of the White House, advocating the lie of Birtherism. Obama was not a real president, you see, because he was not born in America, but he was actually a secret Muslim… African, no less. Trump recycled this ridiculous, disrespectful lie for years, and has never retracted it, even though it has been proven to be false.

Trump has displayed his misogynistic disrespect for women on numerous occasions, going so far as to brag about his ability to be a sexually aggressive pest. He boasted about how he ‘moved on her like a bitch’, gloating about his sexual conquests – and how he can ‘grab them by the pussy’ because he has wealth and celebrity – a social status that apparently allows him to be as obnoxious as he wants towards women.

Trump has disrespected millions of his own citizens – those living in the hurricane-ravaged dependency of Puerto Rico. The latter are American citizens – not by choice, but by force, with the United States conquering Puerto Rico in 1898. The 3.4 million citizens of that US territory are living without electricity, hundreds of thousands homeless, potable water is scarce, and the danger of disease and malnutrition hangs over the hurricane-damaged island. Trump’s response has been desultory at the very least, and obnoxious at worst.

While Puerto Rico’s people face apocalyptic conditions, Trump’s statements about the crisis involve complaining about the cost of the recovery – humanitarian aid has ‘thrown the budget out of whack’, according to the person responsible for organising the rescue effort. Dismissing the severity of the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, Trump contended that the death toll was only low, because there were only 16 confirmed deaths, as opposed to hundreds in Hurricane Katrina. So Puerto Ricans are lucky that theirs is not a ‘real’ catastrophe, according to the Commander-in-Chief.

Trump disrespected and insulted the authorities in Puerto Rico, who swung into action as best they could in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Trump’s comments about the Puerto Rican situation? He complained that they were costing too much money. Puerto Ricans want everything done for them, Trump averred in presidential style as news about the true scale of the devastation was filtering out of the island. Danny Katch, writing for the Socialist Worker, wrote that Trump adds ignorant insults to Puerto Rico’s many injuries whenever he speaks. His complaints are not the insights of a political leader, but the whingeing ranting of an America-First financial speculator.

Whether he is shouting at the United Nations, or delivering a semi-fascistic tirade that was a poor excuse of an inauguration speech, Trump is revealing the underlying character of  the American ruling class. Gone is the rhetorical commitment to human rights, global cooperation and leadership; here is the ranting, white supremacist dotard, threatening countries with annihilation, and complaining that social services upon which poor people depend simply cost too much money.

It is time to stop the imperial arrogance and treat Africa with respect.

The world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is in Yemen – and the West is complicit

While the corporate media’s attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis gripping hurricane-ravaged nations in the Caribbean and regions of the United States, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is in Yemen. There is no suggestion that the people of Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas are undeserving of full support, or that their suffering is to be negated. However, we must focus our attention on the entirely man-made disaster unfolding in Yemen; it is worsening, and it is the result of policies pursued by the United States and Britain.

Indeed, calling Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is not my own wording. That is the description applied to the situation in Yemen by the highly esteemed publication the New York Slimes. The authors of the article elaborate upon the horrendous conditions in that country since the March 2015 Saudi-led offensive;

Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books.

In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

You may read the entire article online. It makes for heart-wrenching, disturbing reading. It is very well written, accompanied by powerful images of the human suffering currently unfolding in Yemen. However, there are some serious omissions in the essay. Omissions that not only detract from the quality of the writing, but that indicate the political myopia, or unwillingness, of the authors to confront the political culpability of the powers enabling the Yemeni crisis. It is no exaggeration to state that the corporate media in the West have obscured, and downplayed, the responsibility of the United States and Britain in facilitating the ongoing Saudi assault on Yemen.

Ben Norton, writing in Common Dreams magazine, wrote that since the Saudi-led coalition began its relentless bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the casualties and fatalities caused by the aerial assaults are routinely downplayed as just simply the sadly regrettable but necessary fact of the war. Responsibility for the air strikes that kill Yemenis is constantly obscured as a disembodied tragedy with no single party to blame.

A corollary of this practice is to place the Saudi military, and the opposing Houthi militia, on an equal footing. This false equivalency obscures the culpability of the US-and-British-supported Saudi offensive for the resultant deaths, but also conveys the false impression that this conflict is between two equals, much like a boxing contest. If they are both responsible, well, we can dismiss it is just another Middle Eastern tragedy, and no-one will be held accountable. The Saudi war on Yemen, and the Houthi resistance, is not a war of equals.

There is no moral equivalence between invaders and the invaded. When the Saudi military bombs hospitals, schools, medical clinics, the electricity power stations and the civilian infrastructure which sustains Yemeni society, they are guilty creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Saudi planes that launch these raids are refueled with American and British help. American and Britain made ammunition is being used by the Saudis to kill Yemeni civilians. When medical and sanitation workers can no longer perform their jobs keeping the streets clean and hygienic, the resultant loss of life is predictable.

In August this year, the Guardian reported on the cholera outbreak in Yemen. Cholera is a bacterial infection, and it can be treated effectively and easily with the proper medication and public hygiene and sanitation measures. However, when civilian infrastructure is destroyed, and the airports and ports of Yemen are blockaded to prevent supplies reaching the nation, the civilian casualties will inevitably rise. Trapping civilians and starving them into submission is one tactic of the Saudi military in its war on Yemen. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that at the time of writing, there are 750 000 suspected cases of cholera, with 2119 fatalities.

There is no question that the Saudi offensive against Yemen would not have begun, or have had such devastating consequences, were it not for the unstinting military and political support Saudi Arabia receives from its principal patrons; the United States and Britain. The hypocrisy of the Western powers is astounding – given that the US and Britain have only this year approved further arms sales to the Saudi petro-monarchy. If you wish, you may listen to a short snippet of video where Sir Michael Fallon, the current British Secretary of Defence, is justifying the billions of pounds worth of armaments sales and trade that Britain has with Saudi Arabia. If you can follow his reasoning, please be my guest.

There is a flip side to that coin. Supporters of the Saudi war on Yemen, portray the Houthi rebel movement as a puppet of Iran. This is quite simply, inaccurate. In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Juneau, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate school of public and international affairs, examines this claim in extensive detail. Juneau addresses several concerns.

Firstly, while the Houthis are routinely described as being Shia, and therefore religiously aligned with Iran’s leaders, this is not strictly accurate. The Houthis practice Zaydi Shiism, which is a distinct branch, and theologically different from the Twelver Shiism practised by the majority of the world’s Shias.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is not religious affiliation that brought Iran and the Houthis together, albeit in a very limited manner. Iran’s influence over the Houthi movement is marginal at best. It is political dissatisfaction with the current regional order that unites these forces. Iran has long opposed the predominance of the American-backed Saudi monarchy in the region. The Houthis, currently fighting the Saudi-supported Yemeni government, have found that their interests correspond closely with Tehran, for the time being.

To reduce the Houthis to Iranian proxies, and therefore interpret the conflict in Yemen as a cartoonishly simple ‘Sunnis versus Shias’ is a huge mistake, and obscures the political and economic grievances that have driven this conflict. There are numerous Yemeni army units, loyal to ousted long-term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, now fighting alongside the Houthis against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Houthis are fighting not as an extension of Iranian influence, but because they oppose the lack of meaningful political change since the 2011 removal of Saleh. They claim that the changes since the 2011 uprising have been cosmetic, and did not result in a resolution of any political and economic grievances which drove the initial uprising. In fact, the removal of Saleh, and installation of his former colleague Hadi, was an initiative undertaken by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to limit democratic reforms, while maintaining the bulk of the Yemeni regime in place.

Ending the cozy military and business relationship between the imperialist states and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not only expose those who profiteer from war-making and armaments-trading, but also undermine Saudi Arabia’s ability to prosecute the Yemen assault, bringing much-needed relief to the people there. We must expose the quiet support of the United States and Britain (with Australia closely in tow) for the Saudi war on Yemen, and highlight the destructive hypocrisies that have produced this catastrophe.

The criminal silence surrounding the humanitarian disaster afflicting Yemen must be broken. It is time to take journalistic responsibility, and expose the crimes of the imperialist elite. Those responsible for enabling this carnage to continue must be held accountable in a Nuremberg-style tribunal.

Rebel Wilson’s legal victory is great, but the Murdoch media poison continues to spread

While Wilson’s victory is a great step forward, the media machine that churns out poison for the public mind is still in operation.

In September this year, talented Australian actress Rebel Wilson won a defamation suit that she brought against two Australian women’s magazines – Woman’s Day and Australian Women’s Weekly. The magazines, both owned by Bauer Media, had defamed Wilson in their articles, and thus had cost the actress financially rewarding film roles and media appearances. Wilson was awarded $US3.6 million dollars ($4.6 million Australian). Her legal victory made media headlines around the world, including in the highly-esteemed New York Times.

You may read about her legal battle here, and you may listen to the reasoning adopted by the judge in her case here. Every person deserves their day in court, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Every person has a right to a free and fair trial. We are very glad that Wilson had the opportunity to exercise her legal rights, and has scored a commendable victory. That much is not in dispute.

What we need to focus on here is the kind of media organisations that regard the proclivities and eccentricities of celebrities to be worthy of the designation ‘news’. Why is it that the media corporations – because that is what they are – regard the promotion of celebrity culture appealing fodder for news items? Are they responding to the demands of the market? Partially. However, media corporations also create markets, and use their considerable resources to monopolise a previously public sphere to manufacture a privatised conglomerate.

We need to consider the ongoing Murdochisation of the media – Murdoch’s dominance is powerful, but not out of place in a media system dominated by the propaganda of big capital. What does that mean? Using the word propaganda to describe the conduct of the major media of capitalist countries sounds a little jarring or out of place. That word is normally associated with dictatorships, and has ugly connotations. Propaganda is something that happens exclusively in Communist countries, or in totalitarian dictatorships. Groaning under complete state control, the media are reduced to being  simple mouthpieces for the official doctrine of the day. This definition is too narrow in scope and simplistic.

Propaganda is deployed very effectively in capitalist societies – only it is not called by that name. Public relations, advertising and perception management are the tools of the corporate propagandist, the financial speculator and militarist war-maker. This propaganda is subsidised by the private sector, and engulfs public space with images and messages designed to disguise the financial motives of the sponsor. John Pilger has written that much of what masquerades as journalism today can be accurately described as propaganda; the so-called ‘information age’ has truly become warfare by media.

Murdoch is only one – albeit major – practitioner of corporate propaganda. His ascent to media power, amply documented by independent journalists and commentators such as John Pilger, demonstrates the impact of privatised propaganda on people’s lives. News has been replaced by ‘infotainment’; celebrity culture has replaced meaningful content; gossip and triviality is elevated to the level of what is considered ‘newsworthy’.

With wealth concentrated into fewer hands, the media oligopoly that is most typically exemplified by Murdoch will only continue, and produce material that is, among other things, damaging to the public. The defamation of Rebel Wilson was serious, but it was hardly unique. It occurred in the context of a media that produces poisonous discourse as part of its product.

The Hillsborough disaster occurred in April 1989 at a soccer match in Sheffield, England. It was a human crush at the Hillsborough football stadium, where there were 96 fatalities and 766 injuries in the stampede. You may read the full details of the disaster here. Why is this important?

The Murdoch-owned media demonstrated their capacity to create moral panic, surrounding this disaster, and fed into ‘hooligan hysteria’. The journalists of the Murdoch press wrote lurid – and entirely false accounts – of Liverpool fans looting dead bodies and urinating on them, of fans attacking the police and paramedic workers who were on the scene. The Murdoch media had an unadulterated field day, defaming the Hillsborough survivors, and added to their grief and trauma.

The Hillsborough survivors did not take this attack lying down – they sued Murdoch-owned papers for defamation – at least for what they described as reckless coverage. The first inquest into the disaster had ruled that the deaths were accidental – no-one in power was to be held accountable. The survivors launched their own bid to achieve justice, and hold the officials in charge accountable for their actions.

The result? Twenty six years of legal battles, official obstacles, police evasions of their culpability, with senior police officers deflecting their responsibility for contributing to the tragedy. The Murdoch media empire continued to grow in wealth and distribution, acquiring friends in high places. After twenty six years of evasion and obfuscation, the original verdict of accidental deaths was finally overturned and the Hillsborough soccer stadium deaths were ruled unlawful killings. A number of senior figures have finally been brought up on charges for their role in contributing to the killings.

What is noteworthy here is that the media, rather than asking the difficult questions and acting as a check on power, was actually serving as a mouthpiece for the rich and powerful. The Murdochcracy – to use Pilger’s description – as an adjunct and spokesperson for big capital and moneyed interests. Murdoch made no secret of the nexus his media empire established between media moguls, legislators and political heavyweights that enabled the rise of the media conglomerate News Corporation.

The Hillsborough families were not the only victims of the vast iceberg of inhumanity that is the Murdoch empire. Phone hacking scandals were only the latest in a long line of skulduggery employed by the ruthless mogul to ensure the expansion of his media organisation. The defamation of the powerless, and use of laws to prevent the marginalised to achieve some degree of recompense, is stock-in-trade for the Murdochcratic empire. If serious journalism is to have a future, it lies in promoting news and analysis that reflects the concerns, problems and interests of ordinary people. That is the conclusion of John Passant, writing in Independent Australia. Relying on ultra-wealthy sugar daddy alternatives to Murdoch is not the answer.

Let us take one simple example. We have daily reports on the stock market, analysing the daily fluctuations and gyrations of that institution. Viewers are invited to marvel at the vast sums of money being transferred from one stock market to another – changing locations from Sydney, to London, or Paris, or New York, or Tokyo – all in a seemingly instantaneous manner. This may convey the impression that the majority of Australians own stocks and shares. That may be true or not; but we must acknowledge that the media heavily influences our perceptions and concerns.

What if we reported on poverty and unemployment, in the same manner that we do on the stock market? Poverty and unemployment involve the lives of millions of Australians, and they have major impacts on working people across the nation. This suggestion is not originally mine, but comes from an article by Sean McElwee. His article, published in Talking Points Memo, makes the point that while stock markets can operate smoothly while poverty and unemployment take their toll on millions of people.

What if the media started reflecting the challenges, obstacles and difficulties of the millions in poverty, rather than acting as a loudspeaker broadcasting the lives and predilections of the rich and famous? That would result in a media responsive to the needs of the community. Let us imagine a world where it does not take twenty-six years for the Hillsborough families to achieve the justice and respect to which they were entitled all along.

Please stop using your black friends to claim anti-racist credentials

For the billionth time, having ethnic or black friends does not stop you from being a racist.

That sentence was lifted from an article in the Huffington Post by Zeba Bay, the senior culture writer for that magazine. In that article, she specifies that for the umpteenth time, please stop using the presence of black friends in your life to ‘prove’ your anti-racism. Bay was referring to the American context, and in particular to the conduct of Michael Cohen, a personal attorney of US President Trump.

Cohen posted pictures of himself alongside his African American friends to provide seeming evidence that he is a fair-minded, non-racist person. We will get back to this later in the article, but for now, let us focus on an issue of racism in Australia.

Citing your black friends as purported evidence of anti-racism is a technique that has a counterpart in Australia. We have witnessed this tactic yet again in the racism controversy surrounding the treatment of former Australian Football League (AFL) player Heritier Lumumba. Going by the anglicised name of Harry O’Brien, Lumumba has detailed how, in the course of his long-playing career, he was routinely racially abused by his teammates and coaching staff. Lumumba, of mixed Brazilian-Congolese heritage, has detailed how, for instance, he was derided as a “chimp” by his colleagues during training sessions.

This is not just an instance of some innocent joking around, of harmless name-calling or sledging as Australians like to say. He was constantly ridiculed because of his ethnic background.

It is not our purpose to go into the entire controversy in this article. You may read about Lumumba’s viewpoint and subsequent criticism of the AFL management here. Other AFL players have come to Lumumba’s support, and this issue of racism in sport is gaining long-overdue attention. You may also read a summary of the racism row here, in New Matilda magazine.

What is noteworthy about this controversy is not the dispute about racism in the AFL. What is interesting is the criticism that Lumumba has faced since he raised his voice against what he viewed as racism in the league. Numerous commentators, with access to computers and social media, have unleashed a torrent of abuse and vitriol against Lumumba.

The main defence is that Lumumba is just an idiot or crybaby, and that there is no racism in the AFL sport. For instance, one commentator remarked that the club for which Lumumba played for the majority of his career is Collingwood. The latter club cannot possibly be racist. Why? Because the colours of the club jersey are black and white.

This is an Australian variation on the tired and preposterous theme of ‘I’m not racist because my friends are Black/ Indigenous/ Chinese/ Muslim/ Jewish.’  We have heard various permutations of this assertion over the decades – I can’t be racist because I have Indigenous friends; I can’t be racist because I like Chinese food; I can’t be racist because I do karate on weekends.

It is commendable to have connections and friendships with people from all different ethnic backgrounds. The lines of communication between different racial and ethnic groups should always be open and honest. Having a relationship with a person from another ethnic background may be one factor in reducing prejudicial beliefs. However, let us be clear – having friendships with people from ethnic backgrounds, or from the first nations of Australians, is irrelevant to the issue of racism and white supremacy. To illustrate using a parallel example –  a straight misogynist man can still have relationships and marriages with women, and still sustain his prejudicial attitudes.

Let us make no mistake – a person with prejudicial attitudes can have a relationship with a person of another racial or ethnic background, and still maintain those destructive prejudicial beliefs. Let us take the most obvious example at present – US President Donald Trump has multiple African American friends and business partners, and his numerous wives (past and present) are immigrants.

That has not stopped his administration from enacting racist legislation, or expressing racist beliefs about migrant communities. Throughout his election campaign, he and his Republican rivals, launched vicious attacks against the Latino, African American and Islamic communities.

The deliberate portrayal of immigrant communities, and in particular Latin American and Muslim immigrants and refugees, as an existential threat to the ‘American way of life’ is solidly based in the outlook and institutions of white supremacy. Such a campaign found a receptive audience in the more openly fascistic strands in American society. The Trump presidency has been a lightning rod, attracting various ultra-rightist, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and providing their agenda with respectability. But do not worry, Trump has many black and Jewish friends.

The Trump presidency, while being avowedly pro-Zionist and pro-Israel, has encouraged the most viciously anti-semitic and racist forces in American society. Since Trump’s ascendancy, there has been a steep increase in anti-semitic attacks and vandalism across the country. In fact, it is not unusual for anti-semitic groups and persons to be vociferously pro-Israel. Trump’s election victory in 2016 was greeted with anguish and disgust across the world, but in one country, his victory was warmly welcomed – in Israel. The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ecstatically happy that he had gained a new friend in the White House. The anti-semitism of the newly resurgent ultra-right, and the outburst of anti-Jewish hatred at Charlottesville, was of no consequence to Netanyahu and his political allies.

The ugly events at Charlottesville have brought the issue of white supremacy back into the spotlight. It is not our intention to go into great details about the racially-motivated protest and killings at that event here. That subject is for a future article. Suffice it to say that Charlottesville was not a peaceful expression of lawful dissent. It was an organised race riot by white supremacist and neo-Confederate groups, emboldened by an American administration that provides wide latitude for their actions and philosophy.

At Charlottesville there was, among others, a typical example of the problem we are attempting to identify here – a Puerto Rican white supremacist. That may seem rather jarring at first – how can a Latin American, after hearing the vitriolic denunciations of Mexicans and Latin American nationalities by the Trump campaign, end up supporting white supremacy? The example above, regarding Puerto Rican white supremacist Alex Ramos, typifies what the late revolutionary writer and activist Franz Fanon called the colonised mind.

Listen to the words of Rosa Clemente, the author of the above article on Puerto Rican white supremacy:

Fanon was a Martinique-born psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary. In his seminal work Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon psychoanalyzes what he calls “the oppressed Black person who perceives themselves to have to be a lesser creature in the white world that they live in and navigate the world through a performance of whiteness.”

When Michael Cohen, about whom we spoke at the beginning of this article, shares pictures of himself with his black friends on Twitter or Facebook, he may be proving that he has excellent social skills. He may be proving that he is a nice guy. But he is not providing any evidence of anti-racism.

When confronted by the malaise of racism, whether in sport or politics, do not circulate stories about how your multiple friendships with persons of different ethnic backgrounds makes you a good person. It is more constructive to ask how we can work together to confront the scourge of racism. Charlottesville is glaring evidence that the cancer of white supremacy, built into the very structures of American (and Australian) capitalism, requires clear-thinking and multi-ethnic cooperation to be defeated.

Qatar and the Saudi embargo

Since early June this year, Saudi Arabia has implemented a total land, air and sea blockade of the small oil-rich emirate of Qatar.

This embargo has been joined by the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as allies of Saudi Arabia. Egypt, Senegal, the Maldives, the Saudi-supported Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, Mauritania and others have joined this blockade. The intention of the embargo is to force the Qatari emirate to fully comply with Saudi demands in joining an Arab anti-Iran alliance. While Saudi Arabia and Qatar have had diplomatic squabbles and problems in the past, the current imbroglio is of a greater and more severe magnitude.

The economic and political effects of the Saudi-imposed blockade were immediate, and are ongoing. Food supplies from Saudi Arabia, on which Qatar is heavily reliant, have been cut off. Qatar Airways can no longer use Saudi airspace, or the airspace of the neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE). Economic sanctions on the country have led to a collapse in Qatari stocks, and investment projects inside Qatar – bankrolled by GCC nations – have been suspended. Thousands of migrant workers in Qatar, already suffering under horrendous working conditions, have been left stranded.

Why this terrible rift between the two apparently similar allies? One of the positive effects of this situation – if we can find anything remotely welcoming in this crisis – is the renewed interest in the Gulf countries outside of a narrow field of academic specialists. Rather than dismiss the Gulf states with simplistic stereotypes about ‘’Arab sheikhs with money”, this Saudi-Qatari dispute compels us to examine the capitalist economies driven by petrodollars. The Gulf states, while acquiring huge sums of oil money and united in the GCC, have expanded their investments across the Arab and North African regions.

The Saudi regime accuses Qatar of sponsoring terrorism in the region. By this allegation, they mean that Qatar has provided support to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Hamas movement, and backing the anti-Saudi Houthi militia group in Yemen. The Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has denied these claims. The Saudi monarchy is rankled by the fact that Qatar has maintained excellent diplomatic and economic relations with Iran, the latter regarded as the arch-enemy by the Saudi-led GCC.

Qatar and Iran have cultivated extensive economic and diplomatic connections, including joint projects to exploit the vast oil and natural gas fields in the Persian Gulf. While ties were briefly cut in the immediate aftermath of the Saudi-imposed blockade, Qatar has quickly moved to restore full diplomatic ties with their Iranian neighbour. These connections undermine the Saudi regime’s ability to form a solid Sunni Arab coalition – with a strong pro-Western orientation – against the Iranian government. No doubt, Qatar’s continued friendship with Iran will only deepen the Saudi-Qatari feud.

Back in May this year, US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia – his first foreign visit as president. After he finished his Saudi tour, he flew directly to Israel, which indicates the priorities of the Trump administration in foreign policy. Trump was warmly welcomed in Saudi Arabia, and he managed to sign off on a huge armaments deal worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Emboldened by his visit, the Saudi regime implemented the blockade of Qatar soon after the conclusion of Trump’s visit.

Did the “Trump effect” encourage the Saudi monarchy to carry out this embargo of Qatar? Trump himself thought so, and said as much when he returned to the United States. He was taking credit for an escalation of tensions in the region, and the beginning of a conflict that was qualitatively different to previous disputes between the two GCC members. It is difficult to state whether he fully grasped the harmful consequences of this Saudi escalation – the Al Udeid US air force base, the largest American military base in the Middle East, is hosted by Qatar.

Qatar has always been a crucial lynchpin for American wars in the Middle East. The tiny emirate provides a staging post for US air attacks into Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. US secretary of state Rex Tillerson was left scrambling to minimise the damage caused by Trump’s inflammatory remarks, even though he, like Trump is committed to the goal of an Arab front lined up against Iran. For all the talk of an Arab NATO, the latter remains a mirage. As Antony Blinken explained in his article, an anti-Shia coalition of Arab partners is not only untenable, it will only serve to inflame sectarian tensions and produce more terrorism, not less.

The Israeli government welcomed the imposition of sanctions on Qatar, and has rationalised its support as a step in the ‘war on terror’. Israel has long viewed Iran as a regional competitor. Israel’s longstanding and secretive connections with a number of Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have come under scrutiny as a result of the Saudi-imposed embargo. The quiet and growing Saudi-Israel alliance is based on a convergence of interests, namely, to fight what they perceive as Iranian influence in the Arab countries. It is not altogether surprising that the two fortress-states in the Middle East have found increasing reasons for practical cooperation.

The Qatari emirate has thus far been able to circumvent the Saudi blockade – having powerful friends and neighbours certainly helps. Turkey has stepped in with food aid, and has sent troops to the beleaguered nation. Russia, while maintaining a neutral stance in this dispute, has refused to join the embargo. The Russians have also sent food supplies, and have offered to mediate in this conflict. Interestingly, Oman, sultanate and member state of the GCC, has also refused to impose sanctions on Qatar.

The GCC, while it has technically maintained a united front, cannot resolve the deep economic and political divisions between its constituent members. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while being individual members of the six-nation GCC, have formed the main pivotal axis of economic and political power. These two nations have provided the bulk of capital accumulation inside the Gulf monarchies, and have dominated all areas of business, such as real estate, finance and telecommunications. The Qatari emirate has never reconciled itself to remaining in ‘second-class status’ within the GCC. The junior partner has always coveted a senior role within the GCC hierarchy.

Qatar has increased its foreign direct investments in other Arab nations. It has financed projects in those countries, and has attempted to play a greater political role. While Saudi Arabia and Qatar have cooperated closely in the past, their rivalries have never been fully resolved. The Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain, to crush the pro-democracy uprising in the latter nation back in 2011, was supported by Qatar. The Saudi war on Yemen obtained the practical backing of the Qatari emirate.

However, Qatar has played a mediating role in bringing political conflicts in the Lebanon, the Sudan and other countries to a resolution. Qatar has refused to join the Saudi-led anti-Iran alliance. Qatar hopes to maintain its regional influence by hosting the Al Jazeera media outlet, as a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. While common interests have been the glue that held the petro-monarchies together, internal rivalries sometimes break out into the open.

Let us be clear that there are no ‘good guys’ to support in this conflict. It is possible to recognise the injustice of the blockade without endorsing the Qatari regime. We would do well to remember that it is the migrant workers in Qatar who have been hardest hit by the Saudi embargo. Lowly paid and facing difficult conditions, it is the legion of migrant workers who face increasing difficulties in the wake of food and medical shortages. While Qatar is on track to host the 2022 World Cup Soccer games, it is the migrant workers that have taken on the bulk of the heavy and dangerous construction work. It is these people that we must never forget and continually support.

Britain’s imperial role continued long after its empire ended

The British empire, which once covered vast areas of the globe, ended with the wave of decolonisations back in the 1950s and 1960s. The debacle of Suez finally drew the curtain on the British empire. However, Britain’s imperial role intervening in foreign wars and propping up dictatorships has continued. In fact, long after the guns of both World Wars One and Two fell silent, British troops continued to be deployed – secretly or otherwise – to numerous theatres of conflict.

In a long article for The Guardian newspaper, Ian Cobain elaborates how Britain has been secretly at war almost perpetually since the end of the major world conflicts. Britain’s armed forces have been engaged in armed conflicts nearly continuously, even though its role as an empire-builder drew to a close. These conflicts have all had one thing in common, apart from the use of British military forces. They have all had some strategic military or economic interests that the British ruling elite sought for commercial advantage. Supporting tyrannical regimes is not a purely military exercise – it is also good for big business.

In his article, Cobain states that:

In fact, between 1918 and 1939, British forces were fighting in Iraq, Sudan, Ireland, Palestine and Aden. In the years after the second world war, British servicemen were fighting in Eritrea, Palestine, French Indochina, Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Egypt, China and Oman. Between 1949 and 1970, the British initiated 34 foreign military interventions. Later came the Falklands, Iraq – four times – Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Libya and, of course, Operation Banner, the British army’s 38-year deployment to Northern Ireland.

For more than a hundred years, not a single year has passed when Britain’s armed forces have not been engaged in military operations somewhere in the world. The British are unique in this respect: the same could not be said of the Americans, the Russians, the French or any other nation.

Only the British are perpetually at war.

A number of Britain’s wars are well-known, acknowledged by memorials and commemorative activities, and have entered the public domain as examples of the British martial spirit – such as the Falklands war. The horrors and trauma of that war are documented and commemorated, and its British veterans honoured. Other conflicts however, remain mired in secrecy. That is because these British interventions expose the duplicitous nature of Whitehall’s foreign policy, and its willingness to sacrifice human lives for financial gain. One such war, which is worth exploring, is the British involvement in the Omani civil war, sometimes known as the Dhofar conflict.

The Sultanate of Oman, while never formally a British colony, has always remained tightly controlled and supervised by Britain. Strategically located at the south of the Arabian peninsula, Oman sits on one side of the Straits of Hormuz, through which the mass flow of oil traffic takes place. In the 1960s, a mass rebellion broke out in Oman, with nationalist Arab guerrillas attacking the Omani armed forces and seriously threatening the very survival of the Omani sultanate.

Oman at that stage had only one hospital, and millions of Omanis were illiterate. Considering that there were only three primary schools, and no high schools, this was not unexpected. The ageing Sultan of Oman was entirely dependent on British officers and intelligence staff to maintain his regime. Dissidents were savagely punished, torture was routine, and Oman remained technologically backward. In this context, the Omanis role up in rebellion in successive waves, beginning in the 1950s.

Similar to the secretive American war in Laos, Britain waged an equally covert aerial and ground war in Oman. Raids and bombings by the Royal Air Force (RAF) were common in the 1950s. When a serious and organised uprising began in the mid-1960s, the British authorities rushed to the rescue of the beleaguered sultanate. The Omani armed forces were reorganised with substantial British military supplies, training and advice.

The British were ruthless in suppressing this rebellion, an uprising led by Arab nationalists, but among whose ranks also included socialists, Maoist-style Marxists and Dhofari tribes. The Arab nationalist insurgency gained the support (limited and partial as it was) from sympathetic Arab socialist and Marxist regimes on the outside. It looked as if Oman would slip out from British control. The Labour government of Harold Wilson had a problem – while ideologically committed to decolonisation, but sought to hang on to its vassal state. It waged this war in secret.

The conduct of the British forces in Oman provides a lesson in counterinsurgency. British forces burned villages, killed civilians, poisoned wells, shot livestock, and placed the corpses of their victims on display as a salutary lesson in punishment. Civilian areas were turned into free-fire zones, and no distinction was made between rebel fighter and civilian. All were considered adoo – Arabic for “the enemy”. The Labour government was understandably anxious about publicising its role as the guarantor for a slave-owning, torture-friendly sultanate, so the British role in Oman was concealed from parliament, and from public scrutiny.

By the early 1970s, the Omani rebellion showed no signs of abating. The British government, though committed to a military victory, also took steps to ensure that its vassal regime in Oman did not topple over due to its own incompetence. In a coup d’état organised by British intelligence and senior military figures, the Sultan of Oman was ousted by his son, Qaboos bin Said. The latter, a former British soldier, took the reigns of power in 1970 and implemented several modernising reforms. He restructured the irrigation system in the country, abolished slavery, allowed the use of new technologies, and generally permitted a degree of political liberalisation.

By the early 1970s, the Omani rebellion had run out of steam, and the reforms implemented by the new sultan resolved a number of grievances that drove the initial uprising. Though orchestrated by Britain, the details of the coup that brought the current sultan to power remain shrouded in secrecy. It is no secret however, that Britain has retained a close and ongoing relationship with the Omani sultanate, the latter having substantial deposits of oil. Britain maintains spy bases in that country, and the armed forces of both countries train regularly with each other.


The British ruling class, while retaining its commitment to overseas interventions, has overseen the deindustrialisation of large segments of British society, condemning its citizens to social immiseration and rising inequality. British capitalism has moved from traditional manufacturing and industrial production to making consumer spending and financial speculation the main motivators of economic growth. The City of London maintains its international position as a financial behemoth, even though it shares this position with other imperialist countries such as the United States.

The British bourgeoisie has preached cost-cutting and austerity at home, while advocating for greater military intervention outside its borders. Britain maintains it pre-eminent role as an arms exporter to tyrannical and murderous regimes, but somehow cannot find enough money to alleviate the growing social and economic problems of inequality at home. The Grenfell tower inferno stands as an indictment not only of specific council authorities, but of a system that has sacrificed people’s lives for the benefit of corporate profits. Grenfell tower represents not just a slight aberration or maladjustment of resources, but the result of neoliberalism unchained.

The massive funding that goes towards waging wars overseas is better allocated in redressing the serious social consequences of privatisation and deregulation. If investment in the production of weapons and armaments is maintained, why is there no serious effort to improve the crumbling health and education services inside Britain itself? Nostalgia for a colonial empire – a nostalgia that ignores the very real brutality, violence and exploitative nature of that empire – is no substitute for a vision of the future.

Jeremy Corbyn, the failed war on terror, Manchester and Britain’s secret imperial wars

Back in May 2017, the Manchester terror attack shocked Britain and the international community. This was a cowardly atrocity committed against innocent civilians, and among the victims were several children. The fact that children were among the dead only served to heighten the sense of outrage at the perpetrator(s) of this bombing, and increased the need for people to come together to cope with the traumatic consequences. The grief-stricken survivors, and the wider public, were looking for answers as to why such an attack occurred.

People afflicted with grief after such an appalling event rally around to achieve a sense of purpose and closure. Vigils were held, and the politicians began to offer reasons for why such a terrorist bombing occurred, and prescriptions on how to stop them from happening again. Jeremy Corbyn, the British Prime Minister-in-waiting, offered an explanation that was powerful, novel and correct – the war on terror is not working, and British wars overseas cause blowback such as the Manchester attack. You may read his entire speech here.

Noting that the nation was united in shock and anger at this attack, Corbyn avoided the usual machismo, threatening language and blood-curdling calls for increased warfare that has become stock standard for Western politicians. In the midst of the 2017 UK election campaign, Corbyn offered the unadulterated truth – bombing countries in the Middle East, and participating in wars of aggression overseas only adds fuel to an existing fire.

He stated that this does not excuse or minimise the guilt of the perpetrator(s). Explanation of causative factors is not justification or an exercise in guilt minimisation. Corbyn’s speech was novel only because no senior politicians in the imperialist countries have the intelligence – or the courage – to plainly admit the truth.

Indeed, the link between overseas wars and terrorism is known to the public, and has been known to senior figures in the military and intelligence apparatus for years. Since 2003, the UK government has known that attacks such as the one at Manchester were likely, and they would be a direct consequence of British support for imperial regime-change wars in Iraq and Syria. The Manchester attacker, Salman al-Abedi, got his start as a foot-soldier participating in the Western-backed effort to topple the former Libyan government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The large community of Libyan exiles in Manchester – anti-Gaddafi exiles – were strident supporters of the British government’s decision to overthrow the former Libyan regime. The Mancunian exiles provided the on-the-ground recruits for Libyan militias and organisations fighting in the 2011 Libyan war. John Wight, commentator and journalist writing for Russia Today, wrote that with the Manchester bombing, the role of Britain in stoking and encouraging the carnage in Libya has been brought into the light for examination.

Wight examined the strong connections between the British intelligence community, and the Libyan Manchester exiles. The anti-Gaddafi effort would require the active participation of Libyans dedicated to the overthrow of the former Libyan socialist regime. The London government provided the necessary financial, travel and military services needed to ferry people over to the Libyan nation in order to fight in that particular regime-change war.

Wight notes that:

Even more damning, in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack, are new revelations exposing the existence of a nefarious relationship between Britain’s security services and anti-Gaddafi militants of Islamist persuasion living in the UK, who were allowed to travel from the UK to Libya to join their cohorts in the campaign to topple the government in 2011. Among those militants was Ramadan Abedi, father of Salman Abedi, the perpetrator of the aforesaid Manchester terrorist atrocity, which killed 22 and injured 159, many of them children, at a pop concert in the city.

Back in May 2017, Middle East Eye reported that the British government maintained an ‘’open door” policy with regard to British Libyans. What does that mean? The British government willingly allowed British Libyans to travel to their country of origin without any examination or scrutiny of their motives or membership in proscribed terrorist organisations. The militants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – officially listed as a terrorist organisation by the UK government – were permitted to travel to Libya to participate in the British-supported regime-change war in 2011. One of those persons was Salman al-Abedi.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Home Secretary at the time of this “open door” policy was current Prime Minister Theresa May. This raises serious questions regarding what the government knew about the LIFG, the impact of participating in warfare on the returning British Libyans, and the extent of ideological radicalisation among them. The propensities of the LIFG could not have been unknown to British authorities. After all, the LIFG was banned as a terrorist organisation in the wake of the “war on terror”.

John Pilger, veteran journalist and foreign correspondent, wrote in an article about this issue that:

The overthrow of Gaddafi, who controlled Africa’s largest oil reserves, had been long been planned in Washington and London. According to French intelligence, the LIFG made several assassination attempts on Gaddafi in the 1990s – bankrolled by British intelligence. In March 2011, France, Britain and the U.S. seized the opportunity of a “humanitarian intervention” and attacked Libya. They were joined by NATO under cover of a United Nations resolution to “protect civilians.”

The war-torn chaos and fragmented anarchy of the Libyan state after the 2011 war demolishes the lie that the Western-backed war for regime change in Libya was motivated by humanitarian considerations or dedication to Lockean democratic ideals. The British government’s efforts in Libya are by no means an aberration, nor are dubious methods adopted unusual. Britain has a longstanding alliance of convenience with the most fundamentalist strand of political Islam, namely the House of Saud and its Wahhabist philosophy. Saudi Arabia is the principal ally of the British state in the region, but Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the other petro-monarchies are no less important to Britain.

Britain’s Libyan adventure is part and parcel of the imperialist state’s long history of secret foreign interventions. Britain’s empire ended a long time ago, but its role as an imperialist garrison-state did not. Ian Cobain, writing in a long article called “Britain’s Secret Wars”, states that the British have deployed their troops to foreign countries at least since the end of World War One.

Cobain, examining Britain’s imperial wars, notes that:

In fact, between 1918 and 1939, British forces were fighting in Iraq, Sudan, Ireland, Palestine and Aden. In the years after the second world war, British servicemen were fighting in Eritrea, Palestine, French Indochina, Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Egypt, China and Oman. Between 1949 and 1970, the British initiated 34 foreign military interventions. Later came the Falklands, Iraq – four times – Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Libya and, of course, Operation Banner, the British army’s 38-year deployment to Northern Ireland.

We will have more to say about Britain’s secret imperialist wars in the next article – stay tuned. For now, suffice it to say that not only should this failed “war on terror” end as Corbyn suggested, but the deceitful and duplicitous British foreign policy should be terminated. Propping up tyrannies that trample human rights and shackle popular aspirations in order to gain commercial and financial advantage for British corporations is a longstanding practice that must be reversed.