Monthly Archives: June 2016

The red herring of post-war planning in Iraq

The red herring of post-war planning in Iraq
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
23 June 2016

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions”, the American novelist Thomas Pynchon once wrote, “they don’t have to worry about answers.”

When it comes to the US and UK’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent occupation, the British establishment have conveniently and repeatedly asked the wrong questions. Quoting a senior, unnamed source, last month the Times newspaper reported Tony Blair, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove “will face serious ‘damage to their reputations’ from the Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which has delivered an ‘absolutely brutal’ verdict on the mismanagement of the occupation.” According to the Times “the section [of the Inquiry’s report] on the occupation will be longer than that on the build-up to” the invasion, with the Times reporter blogging that the section on the occupation “is where some of the most damning verdicts are drawn.”

As they have done with every previous public utterance he has made in recent years, the Guardian happily provided Blair with a platform in June to pre-empt the Inquiry’s findings – and shift the focus to the occupation and away from the most damaging and dangerous areas for the former prime minister. According to Guardian Blair will “argue the ultimate cause of the long-term bloodshed in Iraq was the scale of external intervention in the country by Iran and al-Qaida.” (Come on, stop laughing, this is serious). He will also “accept that the planning for the aftermath of the war was inadequate” and admit “the west did not foresee the degree to which complex tribal, religious and sectarian tensions would be uncorked” by overthrowing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Let’s be clear: the US-UK military occupation of Iraq – full of massive amounts of deadly violence dished out by the US and UK armed forces, torture and destructive divide and rule tactics – was a catastrophe for the people of Iraq. And it was hugely unpopular, with a secret Ministry of Defence 2005 poll of Iraqis finding 82 per cent “strongly opposed” the presence of coalition troops, and 45 per cent saying attacks against US and UK forces were justified. However, it is a complete red herring to suggest better planning is the crux of the issue. “The problem wasn’t the way that this was implemented, the problem was that we were there at all”, argued Rory Stewart, who served as the Coalition Provisional Authority Deputy Governorate Co-Ordinator in Maysan province In Iraq, in 2013:

“All these people who think ‘If only we had done this, if only if we hadn’t de-Ba’athified, if only we hadn’t abolished the army’ misunderstand the fundamental tragedy of that encounter between the international community and Iraqis… it wasn’t the detailed, tactical decisions that were made, it was the overall fact of our presence. The problem was so deep that if we hadn’t made those mistakes we would have made other mistakes. It was a wrecked intervention from the beginning, from the very moment we arrived on the ground.”

Moreover, the assumption behind the establishment’s fretting over post-war planning is that if the occupation had gone smoothly then everything would have been OK. In reality, it would not have changed the fact that the US and UK aggressively invaded an oil rich nation in contravention of international law, based on pack deceptions. It was a “crime of aggression” – as explained by the chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office at the time – whether the occupation was successful or not. Bluntly, if I plan and execute a robbery, whether it goes ‘smoothly’ with minimal violence and resistance or is a complete mess is immaterial – it’s still a crime.

The limited, self-serving debate surrounding post-war planning in Iraq echoes the liberal media’s belief that, to quote Cambridge Professor David Runciman, the US and UK invaded Iraq “to spread the merits of democracy.” Yes, it all went wrong, but our intentions were good. This kind of thinking can lead to spectacularly convoluted and offensive conclusions, as the BBC’s John Humphrys proved in October 2012 when he asked about the British occupation of Iraq: “If a country has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?”

British historian Mark Curtis has coined a term for this blinkered power friendly framing: ‘Britain’s basic benevolence.’ Criticism of foreign policies is possible, notes Curtis, “but within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to, or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence”.

The West’s support for democracy in the Middle East is also evidence free. “It is presented as though the invasion of Iraq was motivated largely or entirely by an altruistic desire to share democracy”, notes Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House. “This is asserted despite the long history of Anglo-American great-power involvement in the Middle East, which has, for the most part, not involved an effort to democratize the region”, she explains. “Rather, the general trend has been to either support authoritarian rulers who were already in place, or to participate in the active consolidation of authoritarian rule, including strong military and intelligence cooperation, as long as these rulers have been seen as supporting Western interests more than popularly elected governments would.”

Back to Chilcot. Blair’s Government and its supporters successfully deceived – or atleast bamboozled – large sections of the press and key sections of the establishment in 2002-3 in what Curtis calls “a government propaganda campaign of perhaps unprecedented heights in the post-war world.” By steering the debate onto questions surrounding the occupation of Iraq, Blair and co., assisted by a pliant press and Chilcot, are once again shifting the narrative to their advantage. We cannot allow them to triumph over us again. Therefore it is imperative that everyone interested in uncovering the truth and seeking justice for Iraqis keep the focus on the key issue – the deceptions, lies and legal questions surrounding the run up to the initial invasion. As the judgement of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg – a key influence on the development of international law – declared, “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

 

 

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No, the intervention in Libya wasn’t a success

No, the intervention in Libya wasn’t a success
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
15 June 2016

Shadi Hamid, a well-respected analyst with the Brookings Institution thinktank, recently published an article titled ‘Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong’. Contradicting even the US President’s analysis of the 2011 NATO intervention – Obama is reported to describe it as a “shit show” – Hamid asserts the “intervention was successful”, later referring to the “justness of the military intervention” in Libya. As the Libyan intervention was supportedby 98 percent of British MPs and the majority of the British media, but has since been largely forgotten, it is worth interrogating Hamid’s claims.

Protecting civilians?

Hamid begins by stating “the goal” of the intervention “was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre”, noting “this is what was achieved”. This was certainly how the NATO action was officially justified and presented to the Western publics in 2011 but, as Noam Chomsky has long noted, “it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story”.

Ignoring Chomsky’s dictum and taking governments’ public justifications at face value would mean believing Russia intervened in Syria to target ISIS or that Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia for humanitarian reasons. Hamid would laugh at such naïve assertions, yet when it comes to the US government he is ideologically blind.

So what does NATO’s deeds tell us about NATO’s concern for protecting civilians in Libya?

Alarm bells were surely raised for Hamid when Anne-Marie Slaughter, a key figure in the US foreign policy establishment, explained to the New York Times that “we did not try to protect civilians on Qaddafi’s side.” However, the reality – that is, the facts and evidence – show that the US and NATO didn’t just “not try to protest civilians” loyal to then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as Slaughter asserts, but actively took part in directly killing scores of civilians and provided air cover, and military and diplomatic support for rebel forces as they committed war crimes against civilians.

In September 2011 Amnesty International published a report noting killing, torture and other abuses were being carried out by both Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi forces. In addition, multiple news reports have noted how perhaps 30,000 dark-skinned people from the town of Tawergha were forcibly driven out of their homes – ethnically cleansed – by Western-supported rebels. One witness told IRIN News of “detainees receiving electric shocks, having cold water poured on them and being burned with cigarettes by the revolutionaries”.

Arguably NATO’s most shameful deeds occurred in the coastal city of Sirte, where Gaddafi loyalists had retreated to after Tripoli fell to rebel forces. As the Guardian’s Seamus Milne noted at the time “a two-month long siege and indiscriminate bombardment of a city of 100,000” was carried out by the rebels, with the urban area “reduced to a Grozny-like state of destruction.” How indiscriminate was the attack, you ask? Try this Reuters report from the frontline:

“Obaid pulled up in his pick-up truck to fire the multiple rocket launcher mounted on the back at Gaddafi loyalists holding out in the Libyan city of Sirte, but just as he was about to shoot, he stopped to ask which way to aim. His comrades standing nearby loudly conferred with one another then pointed him to what they agreed was the right direction and Obaid fired four Grad missiles at the city. They all cheered him and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Smoke rose above the already wrecked city, but no one could say if the Grad rockets hit the target, or even what the target was.”

Still not convinced? Then check out this Reuters video showing wild, indiscriminate fire being directed into the city.

All this was done with NATO air and special forces support, Milne notes. And despite the AFP news agency reporting on 2 October 2011 that the International Red Cross were warning of a medical emergency in Sirte the NATO-rebel attack would continue for nearly three weeks. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Siraj Assouri said basic medical supplies had run out and people were resorting to drinking contaminated water to survive: “The conditions have been getting worse and worse. There is no medicine for heart disease or blood pressure, or baby milk or nappies.” Mohammed Shnaq, a biochemist, toldReuters the situation was “a catastrophe. Patients are dying every day for need of oxygen.”

According to AFP “some of the hundreds of residents fleeing Sirte said there had been civilian casualties there when residential buildings were hit, either by artillery fire from besieging new regime forces or by NATO airstrikes.” Asked by AFP if NATO was protecting civilians, one aid worker replied “It wouldn’t seem so”, before adding that many residents and doctors he had spoken to had complained about deadly NATO air strikes. One woman told Reuters “Everyone is being hit all day and all night. There is no electricity and no water… there is not one neighbourhood that hasn’t been hit.” AFP spoke to a Libyan charity whosaid more than 50 bodies of civilians were found under the rubble of a several-storey building flattened in a NATO air strike. Human Rights Watch noted that “several fleeing residents said that NATO bombs had struck schools.”

Echoing Milne’s reference to Grozny, as the fighting waned the Washington Post reported Sirte “appeared… to have been largely destroyed”.

“Mission creep on steroids”: regime change

So, if NATO’s intervention wasn’t about protecting Libyan civilians, what was behind it?

“Once underway, the NATO operation unilaterally expanded andqualitatively shifted the mission as authorized, and almost immediately acted to help the rebels win the war and to make non-negotiable the dismantling of the Qaddafi regime”, notes Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton and former United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. “This was not just another instance of ‘mission creep’ as had occurred previously in UN peacekeeping operations (for instance, the Gulf War of 1991), but rather mission creep on steroids!”

Falk’s analysis is supported by an extraordinary admission in the New York Times’s recent in-depth two-part series about the Libyan intervention. “I can’t recall any specific decision that said ‘Well, let’s just take him out’”, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said. Publicly “the fiction was maintained” that the goal was limited to disabling Colonel Gaddafi’s command and control, noted Gates. Commenting on Gates’s testimony, Micah Zenko, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that “Given that decapitation strikes against Qaddafi were employed early and often, there almost certainly was a decision by the civilian heads of government of the NATO coalition to ‘take him out’ from the very beginning of the intervention.” Zenko’s conclusion? “In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start.” Indeed, NATO’s true intentions were so obvious that in April 2011 the Guardian’s Middle East Editor published an article titledLibya regime change is west’s goal, but doubts remain over how to achieve it’.

Another thing that is “absolutely obvious” according to Middle East specialist Professor Gilbert Achcar, was “that oil is a key factor in NATO’s intervention”. Obvious to everybody except Hamid that is, who doesn’t mention the idea Libya’s huge oil reserves were likely a key driver behind NATO’s intervention in the country in his 2,500-word article.

On 2 April 2011 Hillary Clinton’s close advisor Sidney Blumenthal emailed the then US Secretary of State with a summary of five interests his intelligence sources had told him the French had in Libya. The first item mentioned? “A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production”. Nothing about protecting civilians, of course.

Speaking to The Real News Network after surveying 250,000 leaked US State Department documents, Kevin Hall, the Economics Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, explained “a full 10 percent of them, a full 10 percent of those documents, reference in some way, shape, or form oil.”

That oil was very likely a key reason behind the Libyan intervention is confirmed by a study of external interventions in civil wars conducted by academics from the universities of Warwick, Essex and Portsmouth that found, according to one of the authors, “clear evidence that countries with potential for oil production are more likely to be targeted by foreign intervention if civil wars erupt.” Another author elaborated: “The ‘thirst for oil’ is often put forward as a near self-evident explanation behind the intervention in Libya and the absence of intervention in Syria. Many claims are often simplistic but, after a rigorous and systematic analysis, we found that the role of economic incentives emerges as a key factor in intervention.”

Were military intervention or inaction the only two choices available in early 2011?

As is common with those who support Western military interventions, Hamid frames the discussion in simplistic, black and white terms:

“…we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked likeif we hadn’t intervened. The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.”

In the real world military intervention and inaction were not the only two options available to the West. Hugh Roberts, Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University and the former director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group (ICG): “The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected.”

An ICG report from June 2011 clarifies what happened: “UNSC resolution 1973 emphatically called for a ceasefire, yet every proposal for a ceasefire put forward by the Qaddafi regime or by third parties so far has been rejected by the TNC [Transitional National Council] as well as by the Western governments most closely associated with the NATO military campaign.” This description is echoed by other reports which have highlighted how proposals for a negotiated settlement originating from Gaddafi were blocked by the US Government, while African Union peace initiatives were “killed by France, Britain and the United States”, according to Africa specialist Professor Alex de Waal. “London, Paris and Washington could not allow a ceasefire because it would have involved negotiations, first about peace lines, peacekeepers and so forth, and then about fundamental political differences”, Roberts notes. “And all this would have subverted the possibility of the kind of regime change that interested the Western powers.”

All of the facts and evidence (mainstream news reports, eye-witness accounts, expert analysis etc.) that I’ve cited above are freely available on the public record. Hamid doesn’t mention any of these, despite the fact they are extremely pertinent to – and directly contradict – the case he makes in support of the intervention.

Jeremy Corbyn: coups and anti-coups

Jeremy Corbyn: coups and anti-coups
by Ian Sinclair
Left Foot Forward
29 May 2016

In April 2002 the Venezuelan military, supported by the nation’s corporate media, carried out a coup d’état against Huge Chavez, the democratically elected president whose popular government had been undertaking significant reforms in favour of the nation’s poor. Chavez was arrested and Pedro Carmona, the head of the nation’s largest business group, was declared interim president. The constitution was suspended, the National Assembly disbanded and Supreme Court closed. The US quickly moved to recognise the new government and pressured other countries to follow its lead.

However, in an extraordinary example of people power, fewer than 48 hours after he was forced out, Chavez was returned to office after hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets of Caracas demanding he be reinstated.

Gene Sharp, the world’s leading expert and proponent of non-violent resistance, has a name for what happened in Venezuela: an anti-coup. Sharp argues successful anti-coups were also staged in the Soviet Union in 1991, against hardliners intent on deposing reforming President Mikhail Gorbachev, and in France in 1961 to stop a group of generals from overthrowing Charles de Gaulle’s government.

Should Sharp write about anti-coups in the future, he will have another case study to discuss: Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Since his landslide election in September 2015, Corbyn has faced an almost uniformly hostile media and constant rumours of attempts to unseat him, including from a senior serving British General.

His enemies heralded the local elections in May 2015 as a particular danger point, with reports suggesting there would be an attempt to remove Corbyn if Labour performed below the very high bar set by his opponents in the party. However, on the day before the local elections the Guardian reported “Jeremy Corbyn’s critics inside his party have set aside the possibility of a post-election leadership challenge in the face of warnings by pollsters that the party leader remains impossible to defeat in any vote of Labour members.” According to Joe Twyman from YouGov, the polling data confirmed Corbyn remained “a country mile” ahead of other potential candidates. “The bottom line is that those eligible to vote in the Labour party leadership election strongly supported Jeremy Corbyn last year and that has not significantly changed”. The Guardian went on to note that Corbyn is “being shored up by the grassroots movement Momentum, which has compiled a database of more than 100,000 supporters that it believes could be used within days to help fight off any potential challenge.” In other words, popular opinion and grassroots pressure has staved off an attempt to remove Corbyn (though the mainstream media will never frame it in these terms, of course).

Jon Lansman, the Chair of Momentum, explained Momentum’s role in an interview with the Guardian in March 2016, saying he thinks it is possible that people might move on Corbyn.  Asked if Momentum is preparing for an attempted coup, he claimed they are not, though suggested the group’s huge database of supporters and networks of local groups could be activated should the need arise. “Part of my role has been to ensure that Momentum is equipped to campaign to defend the legitimacy of Jeremy’s leadership”, Lansman told the New Statesman in May 2016.

With Labour’s predicted local elections meltdown failing to materialise, Sadiq Khan elected as London mayor and a new YouGov poll putting support for Corbyn within the Labour Party at 64 percent it seems the MP for North Islington is safe for now.

Though it may be obvious, it bears repeating just how high the stakes are for the British people: arguably Corbyn’s leadership will be the best opportunity for significant progressive change in Britain for a generation. And, as I argued just after Corbyn was elected Labour leader, just like all progressive change throughout history, it is the size, power and tactical nous of the popular movement/s supporting Corbyn’s leadership that will be the deciding factor: whether he continues as leader of the Labour Party, the extent to which he will need to compromise his political positions and his chances of being elected Prime Minister in 2020.

If they can be built and sustained, then the popular campaigns and mass movements backing Corbyn should have two broad aims. First, to protect his leadership from the incessant attacks – from the Tories, from big business, from the military, from within the Labour Party and from the media (Corbyn’s politics inevitably means he has a lot of powerful enemies). Activists need to understand it is not just the right-wing press that have their knives out, but that much of the liberal press, including the Guardian and BBC, has played an integral part in the ferocious propaganda campaign targeting the Labour leader. To change the media story, the movement should go on the offensive, pressuring news outlets and journalists, setting the agenda and controlling the narrative as much as possible. Popular pressure should also be applied on Labour MPs who are attempting to undermine Corbyn and his political positions.

Second, pressure should be applied to Corbyn himself and his supporters within the Labour Party – to make sure he keeps to his promises. The more active support he gets, the more confidence he will have in pushing forward his political vision. But more importantly, pressure needs to be applied on Corbyn to push him to be more green and radical. For example, Sadiq Khan – whose Mayoral campaign was backed by Corbyn – has already removed a key obstacle to the expansion of City Airport. In addition, despite the rising climate chaos engulfing the planet Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell continue to push for economic growth. “In other words”, the Green’s Rupert Read noted, “they repeatedly call for worsening the number one cause of the ecological crisis.” McDonnell’s positive noises about a Universal Basic Income suggest the Labour leadership is open to considering ideas coming from the radical grassroots.

Importantly, the mass movement backing Corbyn needs to be pro-active, not reactive as Lansman’s comments above suggest. It is imperative that Corbyn does not continue to get tangled up in Westminster’s web of petty political point scoring. If Corbyn is to have any chance of becoming Prime Minister then talk of coups and plots and the never-ending intra-Labour snipping needs to end quickly. Because if the atmospherics and coverage around Labour is still full of coup rumours and often concocted scandals like the anti-Semitism ‘controversy’, come 2019-20 then it will likely be game over. Instead Corbyn’s team needs to go on the offensive and set out their political vision and reach out and build alliances with like-minded politicians and parties such as the Greens.

Hidden within the liberal rhetoric of his run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, Senator John Edwards made some important remarks about the possibility for political change. According to Edwards, the general public and incoming president need to be clear: an “epic fight” is required with “entrenched, powerful monied interests” to reclaim back American democracy so it works for the whole population, not just the few. “We better be ready for that battle”, he warned.

The question when it comes to Corbyn and changing British society for the better in the face of established power is this: is the Left and Corbyn’s supporters up for the “epic fight” that is required? If not, we better be. And soon.

Some recent quotes I’ve come across about the reality of Western foreign policy

Some recent quotes I’ve come across about the reality of Western foreign policy
by Ian Sinclair
6 June 2016

“The study of international relations is analogous to studying the rules of the game among Mafia families.” – Professor Ello, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, 1965

“If you study history what you learn is wars are always accompanied by lies, wars are always accompanied by deceptions, wars are always accompanied by ‘we are going to war to fight for democracy, we are going to war to fight for freedom’. Behind all the lies and deceptions that accompanied all these wars was one basic motive that is behind all of these wars: expansion, power, economics, business.” – US historian Howard Zinn on US wars, ‘Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train’ documentary, 2004

“There is, it may be safely asserted, no war within memory, however nakedly aggressive it may seem to the dispassionate historian, which has not been presented to the people who were called upon to fight as a necessary defensive policy, in which the honour, perhaps the very existence, of the State was involved.” – J. A. Hobson, British historian and economist, 1902

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population… In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction… We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers’ keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague… objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” – George Kennan, Head of the US State Department’s Policy planning department, 1948 Top Secret memo