Tag Archives: Noam Chomsky

How ‘unpresidential’ is Donald Trump?

How ‘unpresidential’ is Donald Trump?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
2 February 2017

If there is one thing everyone agrees on when it comes to Donald Trump, it’s that he is simply not presidential material.

The Los Angeles Times recently referred to his “self-indulgent and unpresidential demeanor”. A Daily Mirror headline from November 2016 noted Donald Trump’s invitation to meet with Theresa May “was bizarrely unpresidential”. The online US magazine Slate even went so far as to list “230 Things Donald Trump Has Said and Done That Make Him Unfit to Be President”, including stating he would force the military to commit war crimes, advocating water boarding and praising North Korean dictator Kin Jong-un.

When, I wonder, did American leaders conduct themselves in a presidential manner?

Was it when the first American president George Washington was in office, when he owned hundreds of slaves?

Was it during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency at the start of the nineteenth century, when many historians now believe the so-called ‘The Man of the People’ fathered a number of children with his slave Sally Heming – committing what would likely be defined as rape today?

Was Andrew Jackson, the seventh occupant of the White House, “presidential material” when, according to the historian Professor David Stannard, he supervised the mutilation of 800 Creek Indian corpses – men, women and children troops that he and troops under his command had massacred – cutting off their noses to record the number of dead, and slicing off strips of flesh to turn into bridle reins?

Was it during Harry Truman’s time in the White House when the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing 100,000s of inhabitants of two cities with no military value, even though the US government knew the Japanese would surrender without the nuclear weapons being used?

Was it during Lyndon Johnson’s Administration, when LBJ told the Greek Ambassador “Fuck your parliament and constitution”, escalated the US assault on Vietnam, with 3.8 million Vietnamese ending up dead in the war, according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and backed General Suharto as he slaughtered around 500,000 Indonesians and?

Was it during Richard Nixon’s presidency when the White House began secretly bombing Cambodia and Laos, with the US dropping more bombs on the latter than they did on both Germany and Japan in World War Two, according to ABC News? In the final days of the Watergate scandal, the New York Times reports Nixon was drinking so heavily that Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger “instructed the military to divert any emergency orders – especially one involving nuclear weapons – to him or the Secretary of State, Henry A. Kissinger.”

Was it during Bill Clinton’s time in office, when the Clinton Administration drove forward the United Nations sanctions on Iraq that led to 500,000 Iraqi children dying, according to United Nations Children’s Fund figures, and two of the UN officials running the sanctions regime resigning because they considered the policy one of “genocide”? Clinton, of course, confirmed he had had sexual relations with 22-year old Monica Lewinsky, a junior member of White House staff, shortly after he had told the nation “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.

Was it during the second Bush Administration, when the president and his neoconservative cronies tortured and renditioned hundreds of suspected terrorists, and illegally and aggressively attacked Iraq, with around 500,000 Iraqis dying in the invasion and subsequent occupation, according to a PLOS medicine journal study?

Or was it during Obama’s presidency, when the author of The Audacity of Hope bombed seven majority Muslim nations, sold more weapons than any other US administration since World War Two, and held weekly “Terror Tuesday” meetings to decide which suspected terrorists to kill next? Obama “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties” that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatant”, the New York Times noted. Counterterrorism officials told the newspaper this approach was based on simple logic: that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.”

Regrettably, in their rush to monster Trump for being the ignorant, narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, turbo-capitalist, lying, power hungry thug he undoubtedly is, most of the media have often consciously or unconsciously boosted the ethical and moral records of previous American presidents.

But, as I have set out above, the briefest scan of history tells a very different story. Trump may well be an extreme right-wing president, but his odious behavior and public statements follows a long tradition of very ‘unpresidential’ actions of many former inhabitants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Before making further references to what is or isn’t “presidential behaviour”, commentators and journalists would do well to consider Noam Chomsky’s famous indictment of the US imperial’s politics: “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

Covering Western foreign policy: the Morning Star versus The Guardian

Covering Western foreign policy: the Morning Star versus The Guardian
by Ian Sinclair
Medium
29 December 2016

Earlier this month the Morning Star newspaper found itself in the middle of a media shitstorm. The trigger was their front page headline about the final stages of the battle of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city: ‘Final liberation of Aleppo is in sight’.

The response from some Labour MPs and liberal commentators was immediate and indignant. ‘Absolute disgrace’, tweeted Tom Blenkinsop MP. ‘All parliamentarians, especially party leaders, should condemn false propaganda as was displayed in the Morning Star. People are being murdered not liberated’, Jess Phillips MP argued. Writing the next day in The Guardian Owen Jones noted ‘Yesterday’s front page of the Morning Star rightly provoked revulsion when it described Aleppo’s fall as a “liberation”’. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland was similarly critical, as was fellow columnist George Monbiot, who retweeted Jones’s column. Paul Mason, also a regular at The Guardian, went one further tweeting the following challenge: ‘Dear NUJ colleagues at Morning Star: in what world does cheering on a war crime conform to union code of practice? Or any form of socialism?’

(Full disclosure: While I write for the Morning Star, I do not agree with the Morning Star’s front page description of what’s happening in Aleppo. Accordingly, I wrote a letter to the paper stating this, which was published on their letters page — like other letters I’ve recently written critical of their Syria coverage.)

To make sense of this uproar, it is useful to compare the reaction to the Morning Star front page on Aleppo to a recent three-page leading article in The Guardian’s Review section. With the front page of the Review section depicting a very presidential-looking Barack Obama next to the headline ‘Amazing Grace’, The Guardian asked seventeen leading authors to reflect on Obama’s legacy.

Before I consider the writers’ contributions, it’s worth stating some basic facts about the first black president’s time in office. Since 2008 the Obama Administration has bombed seven Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia), escalating the war in Afghanistan, and massively expanding the secret war in Somalia. In 2012 the New York Times reported that Obama had ‘embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties’ of US drone strikes that ‘in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.’ US counter-terrorism officials insisted this approach is based on simple logic, the New York Times explained: that ‘people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.’ According to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee the 2011 US-NATO bombing of Libya led to ‘political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in North Africa’. In Syria, Obama has been carrying out an illegal bombing campaign against Islamic State, and has provided extensive military support to Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government, and given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to send in arms to, thus playing a key role in escalating and prolonging the conflict.

The Obama Administration has supported Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen, with the Yemen Data Project reporting that one third of Saudi Arabian-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. With the US providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition, the war has played a key role in creating a dire humanitarian emergency, with the UN estimating as early as June 2015 that 20 million Yemenis — nearly 80 percent of the population — were in urgent need of food, water and medical aid. More broadly, the Obama administration has offered to sell $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia over its eight years in office, making Obama ‘the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history’, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel. Turning to the US’s other major regional ally, Obama has protected Israel more times at the United Nations than any other US president, recently agreeing a record $38 billion, 10-year US military aid deal with Israel.

At the tail end of George W Bush’s presidency US Special Forces were deployed in 60 countries. Under Obama today they are deployed in 135 countries — presumably why muckraker Matt Taibbi sees the US presidential race as being about choosing the next ‘imperial administrator’.

At home Obama ‘has waged a war against whistleblowers and official leakers’, according to Spencer Ackerman and Ed Pilkington. ‘On his watch, there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act — more than double those under all previous presidents combined.’ In April 2011 more than 250 American legal scholars signed a letter protesting against the Obama Administration’s treatment of Chelsea Manning arguing her ‘degrading and inhumane conditions’ were illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture. Described by some immigration NGOs as the ‘Deporter in Chief’, between 2009 and 2015 the Obama removed more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders. ‘Based on statements so far, Trump’s plan to remove the undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes is similar to what President Obama declared in 2014’, ABC News noted in August 2016. On climate change — an existential threat to humanity — Obama’s actions have been wholly inadequate, with the US turning up at the crunch 2009 Copenhagen climate talks with a paltry offer to make 17 percent reductions in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2020 (in comparison the European Union pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020). For Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University polling institute, this obstructionism was further proof Obama was ‘a conservative voice among world leaders’ on climate change.

So, what did the authors commissioned by The Guardian make of Obama’s time in office? ‘Brilliant and understated, urbane, witty, compassionate, composed, Barack Obama is a unique human being’, began Joyce Carol Oates’s contribution. Siri Hustvedt described Obama as ‘an elegant… moderate, morally upright’ black man. ‘Thank you for your grace, your intelligence, your curiosity, your patience, your respect for the constitution, your respect for people who don’t look like you or pray like you’, wrote Attica Locke. Pulitzer Prize winner Marilyn Robinson asserted Obama was ‘a deeply reflective man, an idealist whose ideal America is a process of advance and self-realisation.’ In the most critical piece, Gary Younge inverts reality, arguing Obama’s ‘victories saved the country from… war without end or purpose’. Noting that she opposed Obama’s use of ‘kill lists’, Professor Sarah Churchwell nevertheless felt the Obama family were ‘disciplined, distinguished, serious… there was not a whiff of scandal’. After he leaves office Churchwell hopes Obama will ‘keep fighting’ as he ‘remains a formidable champion to have on our side.’ Ending the contributions Aminatta Forna laments ‘The world will miss Obama. Deeply.’

I could quote many more lines from the contributions, but you get the picture: evidence-free eulogising from supposedly free-thinking, smart individuals whose worship of established power would shame Pravda. Yemen is never mentioned, nor is Pakistan or Somalia. Libya gets one mention — described by Lorrie Moore as something Obama ‘did not entirely succeed at’. Lionel Shriver provides the sole mention of Afghanistan, noting Obama has been ‘slow to get us out of the sinkhole of Afghanistan’. In short, the deadly impact of American military power is largely either ignored or downplayed.

Far from being an outlier, the authors’ shocking support for an American president who has caused the deaths of thousands of men, women and children, and destabilised entire countries, fits well with the Guardian’s broader coverage of the Obama Administration.

For example, a front-page Guardian article penned by Freedland about Obama’s July 2008 speech in Berlin breathlessly reported the then Democratic presidential candidate ‘almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water.’ In January 2011 Guardian columnist Madelaine Bunting argued Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was advancing a US foreign policy with ‘an explicitly feminist agenda’. In April 2015 a Guardian editorial referred to ‘the Obama-esque oath to first do no harm’. A year before Assistant Editor and foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall chided Obama for his ‘retreat from attachment to the imperious might, the responsibilities and the ideals that once made America an unrivalled and deserving superpower.’ Tisdall has form — in December 2013 he wrote of the ‘good causes for which western soldiers bravely fought and died’ in Afghanistan. What are these, you ask? Tisdall explains: ‘creating and safeguarding the space for extending women’s rights, human rights in general, universal education and child healthcare.’ World Affairs Editor Julian Borger went one better in July 2012, making the extraordinary claim that the US’s ‘military and civilian assistance’ to Egypt was ‘an investment in Middle East peace.’

On Syria, The Guardian has repeatedly downplayed the US’s extensive intervention in the ongoing war. Shockingly, The Guardian’s report of a July 2016 US airstrike that killed at least 73 Syrian civilians — the majority women and children, according to activists — appeared as a small report at the bottom of page 22. In May 2013 Tisdall provided a perfect case study for Mark Curtis’s concept of basic benevolence — how the ideological system promotes the idea Western foreign policy is driven by high principles and benign intentions — when he asserted Obama ‘cannot count on Russian (or, therefore, Chinese or UN security council) support to fix Syria.’

If, as Professor of Journalism Robert Jensen argues, the role of mainstream journalism in a democratic society is ‘to analyse and critique systems of power to help ordinary people take greater control over our lives’, then large sections of The Guardian’s reporting of the Obama Administration has failed miserably.

But now I am downplaying things: if one seriously considers the level of devastation, death and misery around the world the Obama Administration is responsible for, then The Guardian’s ongoing support for/ignoring/downplaying (pick one) of these crimes becomes nothing less than obscene. But while there were howls of outrage at the Morning Star’s front page on the war in Aleppo, there is a telling silence when it comes to the more subtle pro-US government propaganda pumped out by the far more influential Guardian. The Morning Star’s headline was simply unacceptable to the liberal commentariat. In contrast, The Guardian’s often positive coverage of Obama is considered a legitimate part of the broader media debate.

The difference, of course, is all about politics — who is doing the killing and who is being killed. ‘A propaganda system will consistently portray people abused in enemy states as worthy victims’, argue Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent. In contrast ‘those treated with equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be unworthy. The evidence of worth may be read from the extent and character of attention and indignation.’ And, of course, it’s all about which newspaper is doing the reporting — the small circulation, cash-strapped and generally left-wing Morning Star or the liberal, establishment newspaper that publishes the work of — and pays the salaries of — Jones, Freedland, Monbiot and Mason.

 

Do you have to gain power to make change?

Do you have to gain power to make change?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
19 November 2016 

“The greatest lesson that we can take from our history is that we can only implement our vision and apply our values when we win power and form a government”, Labour MP Owen Smith repeated ad nauseam during the recent Labour leadership contest. Owen Jones, generally considered to be on the left of the Labour Party, seemed to echo Smith on the issue of power and influence on his Youtube channel in August 2016. “Instead of sticking our fingers in our ears and going ‘lalalala it’s all fine’ there just needs to be strategy to improve those ratings”, the Guardian columnist argued about Labour’s poor poll ratings. “Otherwise we are finished, and the Conservatives will run the country for years. I’ll just keep doing my videos whinging about things, coming up with ideas. Waste of time. Just words, isn’t it? Just words.”

However, despite what the two Owens assert about the futility of opposition, the historical record suggests a far more hopeful conclusion.

“Power is not the only factor instrumental in creating change”, Salim Lone, a former Communications Director at the United Nations, noted in a letter to The Guardian in May 2016. “In fact it’s what one does in ‘opposition’ that has historically paved the way for real change. Humanity’s progress has resulted primarily from the struggles of those who fought for change against entrenched power.” US author Rebecca Solnit agrees, noting just before the US presidential election that “election seasons erase the memory of movements that worked for years or decades, outside and around, below and above electoral politics.” She describes these as “the histories that matter.”

Producing change while not in power can broadly be separated into two camps: transformation that is forced on an unwilling ruling elite, and government policies that are stopped or modified by strong opposition. And let’s not forget that any change from below almost always involves an extra-parliamentary direct action struggle, from the setting up of trade unions and women winning the vote to the success of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s – all forced on an initially resistant ruling class. In the 1990s direct action played a key role in stopping the “biggest road building programme since the Romans” planned by the then Tory government and the attempt to introduce GM food to the UK.

Indeed, a close reading of the news demonstrates that successfully making change while not in power happens all the time. Last month The Guardian headline was “Poland’s abortion ban proposal near collapse after mass protests”. Back in the UK, Corbyn’s Labour Party has inflicted a number of defeats on the government – on planned cuts to tax credits and housing benefit, and the proposed prison contract with Saudi Arabia. It was a Tory-led Government, let’s not forget, that introduced gay marriage – 25 years after they introduced the anti-gay Section 28. And responding to the Chancellor’s recent announcement about investing in the economy, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell quipped “It’s clear Philip Hammond is now borrowing from Labour to invest in his own speech”.

Unsurprisingly governments will try to take the credit for any popular changes – former Prime Minister David Cameron making it known he had personally intervened in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, for example. But rather than taking the powerful at their (retrospective and self-justifying) word, a more accurate explanation of the process of positive change is highlighted by Tony Benn’s famous dictum: “It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”

Of course, being in power is preferable to not being in power. Far more change is obviously possible when one is in control, when it can be planned, coordinated and sustained. Those attempting to force change from the outside do not have control of the process, the timing or the details. However, it is important not to underestimate the power of social movements and activism – the power of ‘ordinary’ people to create real, long-lasting change.

Indeed, with Donald Trump likely to be in the White House for the next four years it is essential this hopeful understanding of political change is widely understood and acted upon. The signs are promising: with Trump reviled and distrusted by a large section of the American public, it is likely there will be a much needed resurgence of progressive activism following the unjustified lull during the Obama Administration. Trump is dangerously unpredictable, so making predictions about his foreign policy is difficult, US dissident Noam Chomsky noted in a recent interview. However, he ended on a note of optimism: “What we can say is that popular mobilization and activism, properly organized and conducted, can make a large difference.”

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 October 2016

Setting out their Propaganda Model of the Mass Media in 1988, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explained the media “serve to mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity” – that is, large multinational corporations. They set out a number of caveats to their model, explaining the media are not a solid monolith. “Where the powerful are in disagreement, there will be a certain amount of tactical judgements on how to attain generally shared aims, reflected in the media debate.” In contrast, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.”

The recent reporting by The Guardian of the on-going debate about the expansion of Heathrow airport is a perfect illustration of the continuing relevance of Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model.

Between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October five news reports appeared in the newspaper about the story. The first report sets the tone – a survey of parliamentary opinion, noting the MPs who are “plotting to undermine the anticipated government approval of the third runway at Heathrow”. The report is anchored around the findings of the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies, a former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, which backs Heathrow expansion, and whether the expansion of Gatwick airport is a viable alternative. It also explains that the Scottish Government (Scottish National Party), trade unions, business, airlines and many MPs support Heathrow expansion. In opposition are MPs representing constituencies close to Heathrow (though no reason is given for their opposition).

The subsequent reports highlight the cabinet split on the issue and the Labour Party’s support for Heathrow expansion despite the opposition of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. “Our livelihoods depend on the jobs and economic prosperity Heathrow expansion will bring”, explained a letter the Unite union delivered to Downing Street. Issues with noise pollution and local air quality are mentioned.

As the Propaganda Model predicts, driven by a huge intra-aviation industry public relations struggle, The Guardian’s reporting reflects the assumption that airport expansion is needed, and the heated debate about how best to do this – Heathrow or Gatwick? – is extensively covered. Powerful actors such as MPs, business, unions and the commission headed by the pro-business Davies, are given space to put forward their views. All this will come as no surprise to Labour MP Chris Mullin, who said of his time as aviation minister from 1999 to 2001: “I learned two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments have usually given way to them.”

However, as Herman and Chomsky predict, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.” Thus, when it comes to airport expansion, voices concerned about climate change – a global crisis that, if taken seriously, is a direct challenge to the pro-growth, neoliberalism that dominates political thinking in the West – are marginalised.

Yes, climate change is mentioned in The Guardian reporting – in three of the five articles – but its placement and frequency is telling. As Herman and Chomsky argue, the fact awkward information appear in the media “tells us nothing about whether that fact received the attention and context it deserved, whether it was intelligible to the reader or effectively distorted or suppressed”. Climate change is not mentioned in the headlines or the introduction paragraphs – the most paragraph of any news story – of any of the five reports. For example, alongside sections on “the political issues” and “the economic issues”, chief environmental correspondent Damian Carrington is given space to talk about “the environmental issues”, though he chooses to focus on local air and noise pollution. A quote from Greenpeace’s UK Executive Director in the 18 October article saying “a third runway at Heathrow would be an air pollution and carbon timebomb” is relegated to the last sentence of the half page report. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is also quoted in the 20 October Guardian report – but in the penultimate paragraph.

So, how important is climate change to the debate on airport expansion?

With the first six months of 2016 breaking global temperate records, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research warned “we are on a crash course” with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperatures to under 2oC “unless we change course very, very fast.” Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, broadly concurs, telling me a few months after Paris that it is “reasonable to say 3-4oC is where we are heading, and probably the upper end of that”. Important point: previously Anderson has said a 4oC temperature increase will be “incompatible with organised global community”. More worrying still: Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, sees climate change “an existential crisis for the human species”.

Aviation is set to make up a quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to Friends of the Earth. Writing in The Guardian’s comment pages, George Monbiot – opposed to all airport expansion in the UK – notes that the Climate Change Act means the UK needs to reduce carbon emissions by a steep 80 percent by 2050. If flights increase at the level Davies’s Commission expects those cuts would have to rise to 85 percent. Alice Larkin, Professor of Climate Science & Energy Policy at the University of Manchester, is clear: “Policy measures aimed at increasing capacity and supporting further growth in air travel such as new runways, particularly within richer nations, are at odds with the Paris Agreement.”

What all this very obviously means is, contrary to The Guardian’s woeful news coverage of the issue, the earth’s climate should be at the centre of the debate on airport expansion in the UK.

As the Green Party’s Rupert Read tweeted recently: “In an age of rising manmade climate chaos, it is ludicrous that the debate is ‘Heathrow or Gatwick’, when what the future needs is: NEITHER.”


Here are links to the five Guardian news reports published on Heathrow between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October (NB the online version of articles are often different to the article that is published in the newspaper):

Saturday 15 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/14/anti-heathrow-mps-plan-undermine-government-third-runway-approval
Monday 17 October 2016:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/16/heathrow-airport-expansion-third-runway-labour-decision
Tuesday 18 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/17/heathrow-third-runway-close-to-getting-government-green-light
Wednesday 19 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/18/airport-expansion-vote-put-on-hold-for-more-than-a-year-by-theresa-may
Thursday 20 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/19/cameron-aide-said-government-was-exposed-on-heathrow-over-air-quality

Who is Angela Eagle?

Who is Angela Eagle?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 June 2016

Interviewed a couple of days ago by Sky News about Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Labour leader, the increasingly impressive journalist Paul Mason explained that corporate-friendly Labour MPs will trigger a leadership election and choose “the leftist person they can” to stand against Corbyn.

It turns out this candidate will likely be former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle, who ITV News reported will challenge Corbyn for the leadership. It is likely that Eagle will be the sole candidate to stand, as the anti-Corbyn section of the Parliamentary Labour Party understand they cannot dilute the non-Corbyn vote like they did in the 2015 Labour leadership campaign.

In the upcoming leadership contest, Eagle and her supporters will no doubt claim she represents Labour members, and poor and vulnerable people. However, as Noam Chomsky wisely noted “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story”.

As Eagle was elected to parliament in 1992, she has an extensive political record that people might want to consider before casting their vote in the Labour leadership election:

  • According to the They Work For You website she has “generally voted for a stricter asylum system”.
  • According to the They Work For You website in January and March 2004 she “voted in favour of university tuition fees increasing from £1125 per year to up to £3000 per year”.
  • She supported the introduction of ID cards.
  • In 2006 she supported the Blair Government’s plan to detain terrorism suspects for up to 90 days without charge.
  • In March 2013 she abstained on the vote about the Coalition Government’s Workfare programme, the scheme in which people on Jobseekers Allowance are forced to carry out unpaid work in order to keep receiving their benefits.
  • In July 2015 she abstained on the vote for the Welfare Bill, which proposed to cut tax credits, reduce the benefit cap to £20,000 (£23,000 in London) and called for £12bn more cuts. According to the government’s own figures, over 300,000 poor children will be pushed further into poverty, with 40,000 more children sinking below the poverty line, as a result of the benefit cap. Child Poverty Action Group noted “the majority of households affected by the benefit cap are lone-parent households and the main victims are children”.
  • She supports the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
  • In March 2003 she voted for the illegal and aggressive invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of approximately 500,000 people, according to the latest survey.
  • According to the They Work For You website she has “consistently voted against an investigation into the Iraq war”.
  • She supports the retention of Trident nuclear weapons.
  • In September 2014 she voted in favour of air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq.
  • In December 2015 she voted in favour of air strikes on Islamic State in Syria.

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.

Dangerous omissions and intellectual obfuscation: the ‘left-wing’ case for Trident

Dangerous omissions and intellectual obfuscation: the ‘left-wing’ case for Trident
by Ian Sinclair

Open Democracy
24 May 2016

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as the Leader of the Labour Party has generated a number of articles from left and centre-left writers attempting to steer a course, as they see it, between Corbyn’s support for scrapping Trident on the one hand, and the Tory government’s plans to renew the nuclear weapons system on the other.

In April 2016 Paul Mason, considered by many to be one of the most left-wing journalists working in the mainstream, produced a short video for the Guardian titled ‘The leftwing case for nuclear weapons’. A day later he published an article called ‘A new defence doctrine for Labour’, which fleshed out his thesis. According to Mason, Labour should support the renewal of Trident. And should Scotland vote for independence and to scrap Trident, then Labour should support the movement of the nuclear base from Faslane in Scotland to a location in England.

Similarly, in October 2015 Jonathan Leader Maynard, a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a Research Associate of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, published a piece on the New Statesman website arguing for a consideration of the many options other than full replacement of Trident or complete disarmament. His proposal? Britain should “possess as limited and low-cost a nuclear deterrent as possible, for the exceptionally unlikely scenarios when it could be needed in the medium-term.”

Stop the War Coalition’s Lindsey German wrote a good, quick response to Mason, noting how his “left wing case for nuclear weapons” is actually “no different from the right wing case for nuclear weapons.” However, there are a number of very serious problems with both Mason’s and Maynard’s articles, problems which are common in other commentaries on the topic, so I think are worth highlighting and considering.

Language problems

In her influential 1987 journal article ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals’, Carol Cohn explored how the language used to discuss nuclear weapons is laden with unspoken, often subtle ideological and propagandistic framing. After spending considerable time speaking with and observing experts (almost all men) in the field, Cohen “was gripped by the extraordinary language used to discuss nuclear war. What hit me first was the elaborate use of abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enabled the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words.”

Mason and Maynard are both guilty of using bland and deliberately misleading military and government-derived definitions and terminology, with both authors unwittingly defining and discussing the topic in particularly establishment and military-friendly ways. I suspect both authors would be horrified by this suggestion, so let me provide examples of the hidden assumptions and framing in their arguments.

Defence?

Both Maynard and Mason our happy to unquestionably and uncritically refer to Trident as part of the UK’s “defence policy”. “Defence” is, of course, a deeply political, deeply problematic descriptor for UK military policy that critical writers and thinkers have tried to draw attention to and unpack. It was, after all the Ministry of War before it was given a PR makeover and renamed the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, after the aggressive and deadly invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – interventions described by Maynard as part of “defence spending” – surely only the most brainwashed would continue to refer to the UK’s “defence policy” without breaking into fits of laughter?

The extreme centre

Maynard describes unilateral disarmament, like full replacement, as an “extreme option”, before noting “unilateral complete disarmament” is “just as dangerous” as fully replacing Trident. Mason doesn’t make such explicit statements about scrapping Trident but like Maynard’s article his piece is implicitly trying to steer a course to what he sees as the middle ground – which includes the retention of nuclear weapons – between the left and right of the Labour Party. Orwell would be impressed. “War policy” becomes the much more benign “defence policy”. Reducing the ability of the UK’s armed forces to commit genocide is “extreme” rather than an urgent rationale, humane and moral task. Adhering to international law (see below) is “extreme” while retaining a reduced nuclear weapons capability is the sensible, right thing to do. The problem with framing one’s argument in terms of the mythical centre ground is that it ignores the global context which shows it is those who support retaining nuclear weapons that are extreme, unusual and in the minority: currently just nine nations possess nuclear weapons, which means over 180 nations on earth do not have nuclear weapons.

National Security

Both Mason and Maynard uncritically invoke the highly-loaded, and again, highly-contested term “national security” in their defences of the retention of nuclear weapons. Do all sections of society equally gain from notions of “national security”? Who makes the decisions regarding “national security”? By what actions is it achieved? One key use of the term is obviously as propaganda – deployed to close down awkward questions such as these. Even if one were to accept the term at face value, there is little evidence to suggest nuclear weapons positively influences national security.

Mason makes the extraordinary claim that “a government prepared to make significant inroads into the power and wealth of the elite needs to demonstrate it can safeguard national security.” Back in the real world, anyone who has been awake and sentient since 2001 will have noticed that successive UK (and US) governments have consistently carried out actions that have predictably endangered the lives of British people at home and abroad. As Noam Chomsky has observed, the dirty little secret of “national security policy” is that “security is at most a marginal concern of security planners”.

Independent?

Maynard begins his piece by referring in passing to “Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent”.  Interestingly, James Strong, a fellow International Relations Lecturer with a PhD from the University of Oxford, is also happy to refer to the UK’s “independent nuclear deterrent”. Unfortunately for our Oxford graduates, this is simply not true. In July 2014 the Guardian’s Defence and Security specialist (see, the Guardian is at it too) penned an article titled ‘UK’s nuclear deterrent entirely dependent on the US – crossparty report’. Quoting a new report from the independent all-party Trident Commission, Richard Norton-Taylor explained the life expectancy of Trident could be measured in months without the cooperation of the US. “Not only are Britain’s Trident missiles in a common pool shared with the US and maintained in Kings Bay, Georgia”, he explains, “its nuclear warheads are designed and maintained at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston with the help of US know-how, as recently declassified documents on the UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement confirmed.”

In 2015 the former 2nd Division commander Major General Patrick Cordingley noted the US “control everything about our nuclear deterrent, we can’t fire it without them… we could simply not press the button and fire one ourselves, we just can’t do it, I promise you.” This is echoed by Ted Seay, a senior policy consultant at the London-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), who spent three years as part of the US Mission to NATO, who has also noted “It would also be unthinkable for the UK to launch a strike outside of NATO… to say that you could launch a unilateral attack over the heads of NATO and Washington might be theoretically true, but practically speaking it’s rubbish.”

A deterrent?

Of course, “deterrence” itself – repeatedly referred to by Mason and Manyard – is another example of terminology that is far from neutral or descriptive but rather ideologically loaded in support of nuclear weapons culture. First, it suggests a defensive posture. Indeed, Maynard’s examples suggest he is only able to consider British nuclear policy as defensive in nature, discussing how nations such as Argentina or “an ISIS-like entity” could attempt “to elicit considerable concessions out of Britain on our vital interests”. The problem with this framing is that, like virtually every war throughout history, most nuclear arsenals and weapons systems are publicly justified as defensive. But with much of history showing that the words uttered by established power are generally meant to disguise its actions, what I’d like to politely suggest is maybe highly educated, privileged and influential members of the elite should have developed a sufficiently critical mind to not blindly repeat the underlying assumptions behind government’s framing of an issue. In reality the UK threatened to use nuclear weapons during the war on Iraq in 2003 – that is it has carried out, in the words of activist and author Milan Rai, nuclear terrorism. So far from deterring a threat to the UK’s “national security”, in this instance Trident was used to discourage another government from resisting the US and UK’s aggressive invasion of their nation. Second, the theory of deterrence is based on the assumption that all antagonists are rational actors. What, then, to make of Maynard’s baffling argument that Trident should be retained  in case “a really ghastly regime, perhaps an ISIS-like entity that gains statehood and then acquires nuclear weapons”? In an inversion of most observers understanding of the uselessness of Trident in the face of terrorism, Maynard maintains this entity “might be more prone to launch them directly against the UK or our allies if the certainty of deterrent is not present.”

The improbable nuclear apocalypse?

Maynard argues “nuclear apocalypse” is a “science fiction improbability”. He would do well to read the 2014 Chatham House report ‘Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy’ before making such foolish statements. “The decades since 1945 have been punctuated by a series of disturbing close calls”, the report’s authors note, highlighting 13 instances when nuclear weapons were perilously close to being used. “The probability of inadvertent nuclear use… is higher than had been widely considered”, they conclude. Eric Schlosser, author of the 2013 book ‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety’, summarised the story of just how close the world came to a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis:

“On October 27 1962, off the coast of Cuba, when American forces dropped practice depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to the surface, two of the three officers in charge of the sub voted to respond by firing nuclear weapons. They mistakenly believed the submarine was under attack. Vasili Arkhipov, the second-in-command, refused to authorise the use of nuclear weapons, and the vote to do so had to be unanimous. Arkhipov’s refusal prevented the world’s first nuclear war.”

None of these frightening close calls are mentioned by Mason or Maynard in their support for the retention of nuclear weapons. Why?

International Law

Neither Mason nor Maynard deem international law important enough to mention, let alone discuss. This seems especially odd when one remembers Maynard is a Research Associate of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. [my emphasis added]

Neither mentions the fact that Britain is a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which states “each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament this requirement under Article VI was strengthened at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, with the addition of the commitment by the nuclear weapons states to “an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” According to seven International Law specialists writing to the Guardian in 2006, the replacement of Trident would constitute a material breach of the NPT. A 2005 legal opinion produced by Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin agrees, as does Kofi Annan, who noted as the United Nations Secretary-General in 2006 that “All of the NPT nuclear-weapon States are modernizing their nuclear arsenals or their delivery systems. They should not imagine that this will be accepted as compatible with the NPT.”

And should the UK ever threaten to use or actually use a nuclear weapon – that is, commit genocide (again, a word strangely absent from Mason’s and Maynard’s articles) – the International Court of Justice concluded in 1996 that this “would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and roles of humanitarian law.” This judgement is based on the 1977 Geneva Convention Protocol which states “the civilian population shall not be the object of attack” and bans “methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”

Increasing proliferation

Finally, both authors do not mention the effect and influence that nations possessing nuclear weapons have on other nations. As Professor Mary Kaldor noted last year during an London School of Economics public event on Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy the UK’s continued ownership of nuclear weapons “legitimises a sort of discourse in which power depends on destruction capacity. And what that means is that obviously there is a reason for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons. Sooner or later some mad person might get them. So the only thing our having nuclear weapons does is to say to people ‘having a nuclear weapon makes you important’. And then everybody else wants to have the same.” In short, there is a direct link between the retention of Trident and the likelihood of further proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world, as the Director of Medact pointed out in 2006.

The elusive informed national debate

Writing in the Guardian in 2013 Schlosser argued “Britain has never had a full, vigorous debate about its nuclear weapons, based on the facts.” Chockful of crucial omissions, obfuscation and ideologically loaded language, Mason’s and Maynard’s articles do not get us any closer to this much needed informed national discussion. Indeed, by uncritically repeating all of the dubious terms and definitions above, the authors are effectively helping to normalise the politically questionable definitions and terms that help to provide linguistic support for the retention of Trident.

More broadly, at the same time they unwittingly reveal uncomfortable truths about their own establishment and military-friendly mindsets, the authors also inadvertently raise awkward questions about the intellectual standards and rigour of the supposedly top university in the country and our so-called quality media. To paraphrase Will Hunting, the numerous errors, slips and omissions that Mason and Maynard make are so basic and obvious that they could be easily found, understood and bettered by anyone willing to spend £1.50 in late charges at their local public library.