[Marxism] Stephen Gowans: Bad apples or a bad barrel? [part 1 of 2]

Raymond Chase r_chase at sympatico.ca
Tue May 25 08:11:21 MDT 2004

May 24, 2004
Bad apples or a bad barrel?
By Stephen Gowans


When Washington set out to pave the way for a full-scale invasion of Iraq,
it did so by pointing to Baghdad's failure to fully comply with UN
Resolutions. The Baghdad regime, declared US President George W. Bush, was
defying the UN. You would think the US had never scorned the world body
itself, had never dismissed it as irrelevant. In the end, Washington, its
faithful British lapdog in tow, would attack Iraq without a UN imprimatur,
as it had attacked Afghanistan without UN approval, and as a preceding
administration had attacked Yugoslavia without a UN blessing (though, being
Democratic, that administration, according to the mythology of the US Left,
was less enamored of the use of force, more committed to international
bodies, and less zealous in pursuing imperialist goals.) Some called it
hypocrisy, the US insisting other countries follow the rules, while it
exempted itself and its strategic allies, principally Israel. And so it was.
But it was also more than that. It was Washington setting itself up as the
world's de facto government, and since only a small part of the world got to
vote for the government, it was effectively a global dictatorship. And when
what drove the global dictatorship was taken into account, it was clear it
was a global dictatorship of US capital.
The latest phase of what has been over a decade-long war on Iraq, has
somehow been deemed unworthy by the largest part of the US Left of the
blessings given other attacks. The bombing and invasion of Afghanistan were
seen as justifiable, because "the Taliban was harboring terrorists," or was
said by the Left to be justifiable, because that's what most Americans
believed, and the Left wanted to build bridges to the larger community. An
outstanding characteristic of all progressive movements, observed Paul
Sweezy once, is the gradual bartering away of principles for respectability
and votes [1].
But the war on Afghanistan had left tens of thousands who had nothing to do
with the Taliban or al-Qaeda dead or homeless. Since the ostensible object
of the attack was to bring bin Laden to book, the implication is that
slaughter is justifiable to capture, or kill, a single man. Americans who
bless the attack on Afghanistan, would think it unconscionable to wipe out a
large part of LA to kill or capture a drug kingpin, but slaughter, in the
service of US foreign policy, seems to be judged by entirely different
It's not widely known that the United States itself harbors terrorists,
those who've carried out attacks on Cuba for political reasons [2]. Since US
governments share the terrorists' politics, and abhor Cuba's, this terrorism
is deemed acceptable, even praiseworthy, and, above all else, is given some
other name than "terrorism." It is, instead, a fight for freedom and
democracy, a battle against tyranny. But if you follow the logic, Cuba is
perfectly justified in carrying out assaults on US territory as part of a
war on terrorism. Follow the logic further, and the US is a "failed" state
for knowingly providing a base from which terrorists can operate. The
designation "failed," a rather transparent pretext for a take over, works
both ways in theory; in practice, never.
The 78-day air war on Yugoslavia was also blessed by large parts of the
Western Left, even though NATO deliberately bypassed the UN, knowing it
would never receive UN Security Council approval. It could be said that
before invading Iraq at least the Bush administration tried, at the urging
of Tony Blair, to bring the UN on board. Clinton didn't bother.
A civil war had raged in Kosovo between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian
militants who sought independence, and as later events would suggest, who
also sought an ethnically pure Kosovo, cleansed of Serbs, Jews and Roma.
Atrocities were committed by both sides, resulting, to the point NATO began
its attack, in some 2,000 deaths. But NATO alleged the atrocities on the
Serb side weren't haphazard and unorganized, but were systematic,
deliberate, and ordered by Yugoslavia's then president, Slobodan Milosevic.
Today, Carla del Ponte, the lead prosecutor in the blatantly political
NATO-backed tribunal that's trying Milosevic on war crimes and genocide
charges, admits she has failed to produce a smoking gun showing that
Milosevic methodically sought to purge ethnic Albanians from Kosovo [3]. But
ever since Serb forces agreed to quit Kosovo, and NATO forces arrived,
thousands have been driven from their homes. This time, Serbs, Roma and
Jews. The West dismisses the pogroms as regrettable, but understandable.
Aggrieved ethnic Albanians, it's said, are taking revenge for the atrocities
of the Milosevic era. But that doesn't explain why other ethnic groups are
being targeted.
And there have been two other developments of significance. The remnants of
Serbia's socialist economy have been dismantled, with grim consequences for
the lives of Serbs, but happy consequences for Western capital. The Serbs
sink deeper into poverty and economic insecurity, following in the path of
Russians and Eastern Europeans, whose march from communism to capitalism has
been marked by economic decline, the recrudescence of disease and diminished
life spans. And the US has built a giant military base in Kosovo, in the
path of an important planned pipeline route.
Soon after 9/11, Washington got down to spreading the fiction of banned
weapons in Iraq. There was no doubt, we were assured, that Baghdad was
harboring them. Were vials of nasty bio-weapons hidden in empty shoe boxes
secreted in Saddam's closet, ready to be deployed in 45 minutes? No claim
was too far-fetched, too comical, too ridiculous. Saddam's arsenal, the
story went, was vast and frightening, a Pandora's box of mayhem and
destruction that whispered alluringly to Islamic terrorists bent on
destroying the United States for its freedoms and democracy. Al Qaeda,
suggested Washington, hadn't declared war on the United States for abetting
Israel's brutalities against the Palestinians, for being as much as Tel Aviv
a part of the project of ethnically cleansing Palestine to enlarge a Jewish
homeland, already built on the wreck of Palestinian lives and homes. Nor was
the siege of Iraq by US forces, a decade-long strangulation that left over a
million dead, at issue. No, it was America's freedoms and democracy, the
President declared, that drove a band of aggrieved Arabs, mostly Saudis, to
pilot commercial aircraft into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. No claim
was too far-fetched, too comical, too ridiculous.
What is this freedom that Islamic militants detest so much? Is it freedom of
Americans to travel to Cuba? Is it freedom from fear of being ruined by
illness because health insurance is unaffordable? Is it freedom to march,
and demonstrate, and be ignored (or in US-occupied Iraq to march and
demonstrate and be gunned down)? Is it freedom to make a choice in an
election, between two parties committed to the same goals and values?
The US media doesn't like to dwell too long on the reasons other people are
hostile to the US. Hostility is to be understood to spring from
irrationality and misunderstanding, not legitimate grievances. North Korea's
arming itself with nuclear weapons is attributed to the country's leader,
Kim Jong Il's alleged insanity, not to the US escalating military pressure,
sanctions, and psychological warfare against the country. Palestinian
militants are said to be animated by irrational anti-Semitism, not by
resentment over their brutal, inhumane and exploitative treatment at the
hands of Israelis, or their being denied basic rights, or of being asked
uniquely to relinquish rights guaranteed to others. And bin Laden is to be
understood as the incarnation of pure evil, his behavior inspired by a
malice that has sprung fully formed, and inexplicably, from religious
fanaticism. These stories, like so much else about political discourse in
the US, are childish and arrant nonsense.
That Saddam had banned weapons was never believable from the start, and it's
astonishing that so many, including those who present themselves as astute
critics of the media, and of the lies governments tell to justify wars of
conquest, were gulled. Iraq had been effectively disarmed before the Clinton
administration withdrew UN weapons inspectors, who, it turned out, were the
US spies Baghdad complained they were. Crippled by sanctions, bedeviled by
almost daily bombing attacks, it would have been impossible for Baghdad to
reconstitute its weapons program. Small wonder the weapons were never found.
So what is to justify the invasion, and now, the occupation -- freedom and
democracy? Since Iraqis aren't free, and the US isn't too keen on
elections – not yet, anyway, until Washington can be pretty sure of the
outcome – some other justification must be found.
Human rights? Saddam Hussein's regime was a notorious human rights abuser.
But the United States – despite regularly denying foreigners the right to
existence, despite running a concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, despite
conducting a human rights horror show at the Abu Ghraib prison, despite
dismissing the Geneva Conventions as quaint [4] – styles itself a champion
of human rights, helped along in its ridiculous claim by Human Rights Watch,
whose advocacy director says the biggest victim of the prisoner abuse
scandal is the US itself, whose status as a champion of human rights will be
cynically impugned by human rights abusers everywhere [5].
It seems, however, that every pretext Washington presses into service to
continue to occupy Iraq, must eventually dissolve, this time thanks to the
shutter bugs who decided it wasn't good enough to humiliate Iraqi
prisoners -- the humiliation had to be photographed, as well. Poor Donald
Rumsfeld. You'd think the world was out to show that everything he says is
nonsense. First he said there were weapons of mass destruction. There
weren't. Next he said American troops would be welcome as liberators. Not
anymore. Then he promised the whole situation would take a turn for the
better once Saddam Hussein's sons were killed. It didn't. The capture of
Saddam was hailed as a major triumph. It changed nothing. (Incidentally,
Noam Chomsky claimed the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein
[6]. Not surprisingly, his prediction hasn't been borne out.) And now the
champions of human rights, who would wipe away the stain of Saddam Hussein's
deplorable human rights abuses, turn out to be human rights abusers
themselves (as they were all along.) Rumsfeld probably wishes he was still
at Searle, making Metamucil.

continued in     Bad apples or a bad barrel? [part 2 of 2]

More information about the Marxism mailing list