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.

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.

Shakespeare comes to Baghdad – the Iraq war continues

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the great English playwright and dramatist, wrote a number of historical plays concerning various periods in English history. These plays are not as well known and less-frequently performed than his comedies, tragedies and romantic works. One of his main historical plays is Henry VI (Parts one, two and three). The play examines the course of English political and social life after the death of King Henry V, and the effects of English losses in the Hundred Years’ War. England had lost the bulk of its territories in France, and the political repercussions in England manifested themselves in a series of intrigues and machinations by various factions of the English ruling class. These conflicts reached a head with the Wars of the Roses, when two competing branches of the one royal family (the Plantagenets) fought an inter-dynastic civil war for political and economic supremacy.

Parts Two and Three of the Henry VI trilogy examine the role of the King, his inability to stabilise the political situation, the arming of the various rival houses (Lancaster and York), and the eventual explosion of armed conflict. It is a gripping, tumultuous series of plays, at once enthralling and disturbing. The infighting among the English landed nobility in the wake of English losses of land and resources in France is portrayed sharply by Shakespeare, and evokes powerful emotions. What happens to the ordinary people of a country when its ruling class fragments into warring factions? After inciting English nationalism for a war of conquest in France, once the territories are lost, all nationalist feeling evaporates. The welfare of England as a nation is no longer the paramount objective, but the advancement of the narrow, sectional interests of various factions of the dynastic clans that made up the ruling elite of England.

What is the relevance of this historical play for contemporary times? Patrick Cockburn, the expert foreign correspondent for The Independent states it plainly:

Want to know what Iraq is like now? Check out ‘Henry VI’, parts I, II and III

That is the title of his article in The Independent online newspaper, where he examines the eerie similarities between the conflict for supremacy in Baghdad with the historical account of the fight for victory within the English ruling dynasty during the Wars of the Roses. The corporate media has largely ignored the human tragedies of the Iraq war since 2008, mainly because of a well-crafted myth; the surge. The addition of an extra 30 000 American troops in Iraq back in 2007, so the story goes, successfully reduced insurgent attacks on US troops, providing extra muscle to deal with the Iraqi insurgent groups. Actually, as Mike Whitney explains in his article in Counterpunch, the ‘surge’ was a publicity exercise aimed at disguising the shift in tactics of the American military. What actually occurred was the ethnic and sectarian cleansing of Baghdad. Whitney goes on to detail how the US political and military leadership, faced with a stubborn insurgency that could not be defeated, changed tactics to one of ethnic divide-and-rule. The US created sectarian-based death squads from the local population, mainly from the Shia community, and sent them to fight and torture insurgents.

The change in tactics was not accidental, because the US has vast experience in training and arming para-military death squads that operate outside the law – they have been using this tactic for years in many Latin American countries. In fact, the main American military commander in Iraq at the time, General David Petraeus, employed Colonel James Steele, a retired US Special Forces veteran. Steele has had vast experience in death squad tactics, because he actually studied and implemented counterinsurgency warfare in El Salvador back in the 1980s. Now the Pentagon is (ostensibly) investigating the links between the torture chambers in Iraq and the political and military leadership of the United States. There cannot be any cross-sectarian reconciliation in Iraq until all the details about the torture chambers and death squads of the US dirty war in Iraq are fully exposed and culprits punished.

The irony of the situation is that prior to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, there was no sectarian animosity. Various ethnic communities mingled, intermarried and did business together. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni privileged-elite did emerge, but that was based more on the political loyalty to the Ba’athist party. To advance in Ba’athist-dominated Iraq, joining the military or the police was the surest way to gain steady employment and benefits.

With the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US military and political command fueled sectarian hatred in order to divert the energies of the largely Sunni-led insurgency. What has all this got to do with the surge and the apparent reduction in US casualties? As Mike Whitney explains in his Counterpunch article, the main Shia insurgent force, the Madhi Army led by nationalist and populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declared a ceasefire for a year. The US military authorities bought off a section of the Sunni insurgency by enlisting them in so-called ‘Awakening Councils’ to attack and defeat al-Qaeda linked groups. The systematic ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Sunnis from Baghdad, carried out by the Shia-dominated regime of current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was well underway in 2007 and 2008. These factors combined succeeded in reducing the number and intensity of attacks on US troops. The vaunted ‘surge’ did have a purpose;

the surge was used to cover an equally-heinous war crime, the massive ethnic cleansing of Baghdad’s Sunni population, millions of who were either killed, tortured or forced to flee to Jordan or Syria.

The entire article by Mike Whitney can be read here in Counterpunch online.

Failure to address the crimes of ethnic cleansing, torture and rendition makes a mockery of US claims to have brought democracy to Iraq. The recent protests, mainly by Iraqi Sunnis, have attempted to combat the sectarianism of the Maliki administration and has gained the support of the Shia cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr. Into this political powder-keg, Sunni extremist groups (linked to the petro-monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar) are trying to stoke the fires of a Sunni-based sectarian backlash. Reconciliation will be impossible unless the criminal role of the United States is fully revealed and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Let us make one last observation; David Frum, the Bush-Cheney administration speechwriter and author of the now-famous phrase ‘Axis of Evil’, has just written an article confirming what the anti-war movement stated was the main motivation of the American drive to war. The anti-war activists were routinely vilified, ridiculed and slandered for even daring to suggest one overriding motivation for the US to occupy Iraq. While all wars have multiple motivations and agendas, reflecting the priorities of the various factions of the ruling class, the one claim for this Iraq war (the claim most stigmatised and attacked) has now been confirmed by Frum; Iraq would be an additional reservoir of oil as an alternative to exclusive dependency on Saudi Arabia.

Read the whole article by Glenn Greenwald here.

The prime minister, the weapons salesman and the hypocrite

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, traveled to the Persian Gulf countries back in November 2012, the royalist dictatorships that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. He spoke to the rulers of the various petro-monarchies, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Speaking to the media, he defined the purpose of his trip – to encourage British weapons sales to those regimes, to smooth over any difficulties that British armaments manufacturers might have in their dealings with the Gulf states, and to increase lucrative contracts for the British Aerospace systems company (BAE). The Guardian newspaper elaborated on the trip, stating that:

“Speaking to students in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, Cameron said: “I’m a supporter of the Arab spring, the opportunity of moving towards more open societies, more open democracies, I think is good for the Middle East, for North Africa.”

The same story in the Guardian explained that the British government, while paying lip service to the Arab awakening, values its most important strategic allies in the Gulf region, namely regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been generous recipients of British military hardware, and Cameron did his best as a traveling weapons salesman and prime minister.  In fact, Cameron was quite unapologetic about British arms sales, stating that the UAE should replace its declining fleet of French-supplied Mirage jets with the latest hardware from Britain. In 2009, Saudi Arabia assisted the Yemeni government to violently suppress anti-government demonstrations in that country by lending Yemen UK-built fighter planes and military equipment. Saudi Arabia also assisted the violent crackdown of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, and all the while the corporate media minimised the brutality of the Bahraini government’s suppression. The British government sold millions of pounds worth of military hardware directly to the Bahraini state during the 2011 political unrest. Cameron met with the Bahraini King in London during the 2011 London Olympics, where King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was an honoured guest.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, opined that while his government had raised concerns about the appalling human rights record of the Bahraini and Saudi Arabian regimes, he assured the House of Commons that Saudi forces were only sent in to Bahrain to guard military installations and not to participate in the suppression of demonstrations. Apparently Saudi forces were just helpless bystanders, caught up in defending the fragile Bahraini dictatorship from the maelstrom of violence unleashed by the anti-government demonstrations. Hague continued:

On Saudi Arabia, Hague said the government had raised concerns about its treatment of women and foreign workers. But 99% of Britain’s exports to the kingdom consisted of Typhoon jets. “They are not relevant to our concerns about these rights,” the foreign secretary said.

Early in January 2013, PM Cameron made a quick trip to his friend and ally, the petro-monarchy of Saudi Arabia, to discuss further economic and political cooperation. The question of weapons sales was top on the agenda, but their discussions also encompassed the growing spheres of energy and security cooperation. The BBC article explained the importance of the visit:

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East with annual trade worth £15bn a year. It has £62bn invested in the UK economy.

Without a hint of irony, Cameron went on to deplore the ‘appalling bloodshed’ on the streets of Syria, and called for renewed efforts by the Arab League to deal with the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad.

When George Galloway, Respect Party MP and sitting member for Bradford West, asked the Prime Minister why the government fully supported the ongoing French intervention in Mali against supposedly ‘Islamist extremist’ groups, but was quite happy to continue its support of Islamist extremist groups that are waging a war against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Cameron sneeringly dismissed Galloway’s question, and attacked the latter as a supporter of Arab dictators. Apart from being a perverse accusation by Cameron, the British PM is studiously ignoring (or outright denying) that support for dictatorships in the Arab world is precisely long-standing British government policy.

Glenn Greenwald stated it plainly – the smear tactic used by Cameron, tarnishing opponents of war and militarism as apologists of dictators – shuts down debate and avoids the crucial issue. Opponents of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq were branded ‘Saddam supporters; those who opposed the NATO intervention in Libya were derided as ‘Gaddafi supporters;’ and fifty years ago, those who campaigned against the American war on Vietnam were maligned as ‘communist dupes’. By suppressing debate on the imperialist powers and their policies in the Arab and Islamic world, we are engaging in an act of self-delusion and hypocrisy, seeing US and its associated allies (such as Britain) as a force for ‘good’ in the world. When it comes to supporting dictatorships in the Arab countries, surely there is no better advocate for those regimes than David Cameron. Interestingly, over the two-year period 2010-2011, Britain exported $142 million worth of military hardware to the former Gaddafi regime in Libya. The secret police in Libya under Gaddafi were receiving training from British military personnel. And let us not forget that the widely despised Mubarak-regime in Egypt was fully supported by the United States. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on to proclaim in 2009 that Mubarak was a ‘personal friend’ – a touching reminder of just whom is considered a worthy ally by the imperialist states.

Go read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article in full here.

The British prime minister is to be given credit for his multitasking skills – he combines the roles of politician, weapons salesman and hypocrite very elegantly.

Is the war on terror going to end? Obama says no…

The National Defence Authorisation Act, updated by the Obama administration for 2013, has been signed into law. It provides for the indefinite detention of any person suspected of ‘terrorism’ offences, prohibits the transfer of the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees from that facility, and allows the US military to detain any person, even US citizens without any recourse to civilian courts and legal access. Obama, the ‘antiwar’ candidate of 2008, has not only continued the Bush-Cheney era ‘war on terror’, he is ensuring that its continuation, its corrosive effect on civil liberties, and the undermining of the already fragile democratic rights, will go on spreading its toxic effect.

The signing of this legislation represents a generalised attack on all civil liberties and basic constitutional practices. While the ‘war on terror’ was begun under the stewardship of Bush and Cheney, the Obama administration has ceaselessly expanded its provisions, and the assault on democratic rights has metamorphosed into an endless array of overseas unmanned drone strikes and targeted assassinations. The wondrous nature of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has been the subject of lyrical praise in the corporate media, a media that celebrates the explosion of US military adventures abroad while hailing the creeping police-state measures at home. America’s robot wars, raining missiles and drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries, is the logical outcome of a shadowy war that has no definition and with no end in sight. The only guiding principle of the ‘war on terror’ – renamed by Obama ‘overseas contingency operations‘ – is to extend the rule of the financial-corporate elite at the expense of the working people and undermine democratic rights.

The $633 billion dollar budget provided by passing of the National Defence Authorisation Act 2013 will go towards the continuing US occupation of Afghanistan, a country severely mauled by the US-sponsored ‘war on terror’, and its civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the Karzai occupation regime. The Karzai clique, installed and backed by foreign guns and bombs, is rightly regarded as a puppet of its imperialist sponsors. After eleven years, Afghanistan’s population still lives in dire poverty, the rebellion shows no signs of abating, and the US military machine has left its deleterious impact on the country. Afghanistan was the immediate target of the war on terror, and is still suffering under the heavy blows of the US occupation regime.

One prominent feature of the ongoing Afghan war in 2012 has been the increasing number of so-called ‘Green on Blue’ attacks – Afghan army soldiers who turn their guns on their alleged benefactors, the NATO occupation troops. The drone strikes, the daily humiliations of Afghans by US soldiers has understandably fueled resentment of the foreign occupying forces. Even the New York Times, the loyal lapdog of US empire, had to admit a simple truth that is obvious to everyone but the empire’s fervent supporters – people under foreign occupation will inevitably end up despising their occupiers, no matter the best intentions of the foreign troops. Sending US troops crashing and killing into other countries only escalates the anti-American resentment at the policies and murderous result of US foreign policy, a lesson that seems to be lost on the Obama administration. How long will it be before we see similar hatreds and resentments arise in Yemen, where that other democratic ally of the United States – the royalist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia – has joined the US drone war on Yemen by providing its own air force jets in cooperation with US forces.

Outsourcing torture was a policy begun by Bush-Cheney, but refined and extended under Obama. The ‘black sites’ – secret prisons where terrorism suspects were imprisoned and tortured, were established in countries that had friendly relations with the United States, such as Poland, Mubarak-era Egypt and interestingly, Qadhafi’s Libya. Torture became normalised, and it has become an acceptable method of dealing with incarcerated individuals. No less a figure than prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a vociferous supporter of America’s wars overseas (and Israel), made the case that there are times when torture is regrettably necessary in dealing with terrorism suspects. It was Obama’s own targeted assassination of Osama Bin Laden that opened the way for further impunity for torturers at home and abroad. One quiet achievement of the Obama administration in the last days of 2012 was the five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), an act that continues the ability of the US government to monitor and record the emails and phone calls of any American citizen deemed to be in contact with an officially designated ‘terrorist’ organisation, or having a conversation with a ‘terror’ suspect. This practice has come to be known as ‘warrantless eavesdropping’ because under FISA, a court order from a civilian court to authorise the surveillance is unnecessary.

Obama’s administration has demonstrated its sheer contempt for democratic rights and civil liberties. Anyone deemed an ‘enemy of the state’ can be arrested and detained without due process. These legislative attacks have been accompanied by a cultural change, with the demonisation of Islamic communities, the targeting of the Arab and Muslim ‘other’ which only serves to encourage racist attacks and the vilification of the Islamic world. Having a distinctive, stereotypical cultural enemy is a necessary component to win public support, and undermine the ability of dissenting viewpoints to be heard. Any criticism of the ‘war on terror’ is met with howls of ‘traitor’, and the increasingly Islamophobic political climate stifles opposition to the police-state measures of the US ruling class. However, there are very courageous individuals, such as the Egyptian American pharmacist Tarek Mehanna. Sentenced to 17.5 years jail for a spurious and baseless ‘terrorism’ offence, he has written a very thoughtful and intelligent critique of the US ‘war on terror’ and its militarist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we may disagree with a religious viewpoint, it is Mehanna’s articulate defence, his understanding of the political thought of our times, and his willingness to stand up against injustice are to be commended. His writing demonstrates a deep understanding of the US political and military system, something to which can all aspire.

Read Tarek Mehanna’s full statement here.

Another war criminal bites the dust

In the news today, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that retired US General Norman Schwarzkopf has died. The report goes on to describe his background, and includes lavish praise of the deceased general by his former political masters:

“A distinguished member of that Long Gray Line hailing from West Point, General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomised the ‘duty, service, country’ creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises.”

They were the words of former US president George Bush Senior. The media coverage focused extensively on the personal qualities of Schwarzopf, his alleged devotion to freedom, and his crowning achievement, the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991. He commanded 540,000 troops in addition to another 200,000 allied forces, so the battle against the Iraqis was particularly one-sided. The long-term Emir of Kuwait was restored to his throne, and his dictatorial regime has continued to accumulate massive wealth while the majority of the labour force are imported from Asian and other countries. Never matter the fact that the al-Sabah ruling clan of Kuwait is among the richest families in the world. All that foreign labour ensures that the wealth remains in the hands of a tiny minority. The al-Sabah family is in good company – its wealth rivals that of the other US allies in the region, the despotic monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Schwarzkopf was credited with ‘restoring pride’ in the American military, having taken a beating after their defeat in Vietnam. He was awarded with a ticker tape parade, promotion, and went on to give lectures about leadership around the world.

The esteemed general was commanding US troops as they pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, along a stretch of road connecting Kuwait with Basra that quickly became known as the ‘highway of death’ in the corporate-controlled media. This is Schwarzkopf’s handiwork for which he should be remembered:


American forces attacked and murdered retreating Iraqi forces in February 1991. And this attack was only the latest in the continuous aerial bombardment of the entire country of Iraq, an aerial terror bombing that destroyed the electricity grid, hospitals, communication centres and schools. The aerial bombardment of the country, beginning on January 17 1991, was intended to subdue the entire population of the country. The brutal assault on Iraq, conducted from a safe distance, resulted in 88,000 tonnes of bombs dropped on the country. The intention of such bombing is calculated terror; overwhelm the target country, much like the World War Two-era German blitzkrieg tactic of lightning war. This aerial assault exposed the lie of ‘surgical strikes’, a much-ballyhooed concept promoted by the corporate media to sanitise war for public consumption.

This particular highway was the scene of a ‘turkeyshoot’ in the words of one US soldier, obviously enjoying the mass slaughter of Iraqis as they scrambled out of Kuwait. The corporate media in Australia, oblivious to the casualties, invited the audience to marvel at the power and awesome spectacle of American missiles and guns raining death on their victims. In later years, a number of investigators examined that particular killing was deliberately instigated by US forces, with the long Iraqi columns trapped by US war planes, having taken out the vehicles at the beginning and end of the convoy. A Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal, found that the victims were not resisting, and that the slaughter was militarily pointless but was done to score political points on the world stage.

Schwarzkopf joins the ranks of other war criminal murderers like Graziani, Franco and Kesselring for the horror and brutality of the mass slaughter they inflicted.

And now for my own sincere thoughts and condolences for this man, I can only recycle the words of the great Italian novelist, Dante Alighieri: Schwarzkopf – burn in hell.