Category Archives: Noam Chomsky

lions led by donkeys: heroes and villains in our war against Covid-19

Heroes

Heroic is a word that tends to be thrown around rather casually these days, with the unfortunate and inevitable consequence that it has become somewhat cheapened and degraded. There are times, however, when ‘heroic’, overworked as it is, becomes appropriate again. When searching for ways to describe acts of wholehearted self-sacrifice, it remains perhaps the only word that conveys this meaning with sufficient gravity.

The staff on the frontline in our hospitals, especially those working in intensive care, daily tending to the essential needs of critically ill patients, under extreme pressure because the wards they serve are already understaffed, are worthy of such a title even during ordinary times but it is during exceptional times of crisis when they truly earn the respect (if not the wage) that they fully deserve. Today’s sympathetic applause in countries and regions all throughout Europe is a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and deep public support; even here in Britain, where a weekly ritual has been somewhat stage-managed, the applause is no less heartfelt.

Because even the everyday heroic commitment of our hospital workers, seldom remembered by most of us in ordinary times, is now exceeded each and every day, as those same doctors and nurses who continue to tend to the sick patients, do so at serious risk to their own lives.

The consequence of a long-term lack of investment and mismanagement of the NHS has become very apparent resulting in inadequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that leaves staff highly vulnerable to infection. In response nurses and doctors are posting photographs of the sorts of makeshift alternatives they have been forced to rely on. In response to this, some have even received official gagging notices for reporting such vital information:

For example, A&E staff at Southend hospital in Essex have been warned that they could face disciplinary action if they raise the issue of PPE publicly.

In a memo on 26th March they were told: “The posting of inappropriate social media commentary or the posting of photographs of staff in uniform who are not complying with IPC [infection prevention and control] standards and social distancing requirements is unacceptable. Such behaviour will be considered under the disciplinary policy.

“Now, perhaps more than ever, NHS staff are in the public eye and we have a responsibility to convey a professional image and to role model positive messages about social distancing. It would be very sad for moments of inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour to undermine the respect that we and our colleagues have from the public.”

Others who speak out are being bullied with threatening emails or more formally threatened with disciplinary action:

  • An intensive care doctor who voiced unease about facemasks was told by their hospital that “if we hear of these concerns going outside these four walls your career and your position here will be untenable”.
  • Another intensive care specialist was called into a meeting with their bosses and disciplined after raising concerns.
  • A GP working at Chase Farm hospital in London was sent home for voicing unease.
  • A consultant paediatrician in Yorkshire was told in an email from their hospital that their social media output was being monitored and they should be careful.
  • A GP who appealed to her community on social media for more supplies of PPE was then barred by her local NHS clinical commissioning group from speaking out. “I was being warned I wasn’t toeing the party line,” she said. 1

Consecutive governments abandoned them, failing to supply essential equipment, or to even run systematic screening today, but in spite of this they have not abandoned us, carrying out their duties irrespective of the additional risks, and this again is why we pay tribute to their heroism.

On April 8th, RT’s ‘Going Underground’ featured an extended interview with journalist and film-maker John Pilger, who began by reminding us of the suppressed finding of Exercise Cygnus, a pandemic simulation run by the British government as recently as October 2016, which revealed the country’s health system to collapse from a lack of resources including “inadequate ventilation”. Pilger also speaks to the damage done to the NHS caused by underfunding and stealth privatisation of services and the shifting of blame for current government failures on to the Chinese:

Healthcare workers in America have also been left exposed to the risk of infection due to lack of essential equipment. Last Thursday [April 2nd], nurses and doctors at Montefiore medical center in the Bronx protested over the lack of PPE. “Every day when I go to work, I feel like a sheep going to slaughter,” said Dr Laura Ucik, a third-year resident at the centre:

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In homage, I could now embed a whole sequence of video clips featuring medical professionals working on the frontline in Italy, Spain, America, and Britain’s NHS. They would all tell you how desperate the situation has already become; how unprepared their own health service is; and how fearful they are for the wellbeing of the patients and themselves. But there is little point in doing this, since the stories they tell are widely available across most media platforms. So I shall include just a single example: Dr David Hepburn, a Critical Care Consultant, who had been infected with Covid-19, but soon after recovering from the illness at home, returned to work – as countless other healthcare professionals have selflessly done.

Last week, Hepburn had told C4 News about how the intensive care wards at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport where he works had run out of space, so patients were moved into operating theatres. And, on April 3rd, Channel 4 News interviewed him again at length:

Asked to paint a picture of the current situation inside the critical care unit, Hepburn told us:

“It’s controlled chaos at the moment… the difference at the moment is that everybody is desperately unwell, everybody is on a ventilator, so the acuity or the severity of illness is very high”

Whilst regarding the demographics of the patient population, he says:

“There are a lot of people who are in work, there are a lot of people who are younger, the pattern of illness that we’ve seen in Gwent, and I can’t speak for anywhere else, is much younger patients that we were expecting; you know when the reports were coming out of Wuhan we were led to believe that this was something that was particularly dangerous for the more elderly patients, but I would say that all of the patients we have got on intensive care are in their 50s or younger at the moment.”

Hepburn’s account is now the repeated one. Please keep his testimony in mind as we come to the villains of the story in the next part, and not because it is extraordinary or exceptional, but because it is so very ordinary and fact-based. He has no reason to distort the truth and nor do any of the other healthcare professionals courageously struggling behind the scenes to save people like us.

On April 7th, John Campbell provided a summary of 4th April audit by Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre 9 (ICNARC) based on data collected from 210 ITUs in the U. The report shows that the median age for admission for critically ill patients is just 61 years old, and that the first quartile is 52 years old (coincidentally my own age), which means a quarter of those admitted are younger than I am. Three-quarters were men and 62.9 percent of all patients required mechanical ventilation in the first 24 hours:

Meanwhile, if the heroes of this pandemic are easy to see, they are also easy to support.

Founded by Cardiology Registrar, Dr Dominic Pimenta, you can offer support at HelpThemHelpUs, which is a independent forum for volunteering.

Novara Media welcomed Dominic Pimenta on to their March 31st broadcast to talk about the government’s plan and to outline the ideas behind his own HelpThemHelpUs initiative:

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Villains

Whereas the heroes are few, the villains abound. Let’s begin with the idiots because these are the lesser villains, even though the media often likes to portray them as a more tremendous threat to our lives.

We have the daft ones who are hoarding all the toilet rolls (fighting off competitors in a raw Darwinian struggle for survival as they grab their stash), presumably in order to pile them high as a monument to their own craven stupidity. The still more selfish are those who bought so much perishable food that they have already discarded most of it in rubbish bins. If we want a law against stupidity then I would begin by charging these people first of all.

A special dishonourable mention must also go to those hiding behind online aliases and spreading a different kind of rubbish whether on social media platforms or within comment sections. Incendiary drivel to the effect that ‘China’s day of reckoning must come’; as if they committed a crime or an act of war, when we still don’t know for certain the origins of this virus – despite the repeated though wholly unsubstantiated claims that its origins must have been that Wuhan wet market. The underlying message is an old one: beware the yellow peril!

And I wonder how much of this dog-whistle warmongering might actually be the product of our own military or intelligence units; the output of Brigade 77 for instance, or other more clandestine psychological operations such as GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) with its remit that includes “posting negative information on internet forums” all paid for with British taxpayer money. (Obviously, if these were foreign agents we would call them ‘troll farms’ but those are all spewing out bad Russian disinformation, not the good dishonest British stuff!)

From this array of lesser fools, however, we must turn upwards to consider those above. And according to the original government strategy, based solidly on ‘the science’ (lots more on that as we continue), the nation required around 60% infection of the population, in accordance with Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty’s assessment, to ensure ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity, which meant letting the spread of the virus continue unchecked, was now the answer to tackling Covid-19. Taking his hands off the wheel entirely being Johnson’s first big plan!

If this approach still sounds like it might have been scientifically informed (as it was obviously meant to), then unfortunately you are mistaken. Herd immunity certainly helps to protect a population from the spread of infectious disease, however, ordinarily, this is acquired through programmes of vaccination, which are presumed to be safe. By encouraging ‘herd immunity’ to tackle the spread of a novel pathogen on the other hand, requires the infection of millions with a disease of unknown severity – what are the lasting health effects; what is the lethality? Such a policy is clearly reckless in the extreme. In fact, we still do not even know for sure that immunity to Covid-19 will be lasting, so there is a chance that herd immunity cannot be achieved at all.

But we are slowly learning how the lights had been blinking red for months and Boris Johnson’s inability to lead a coordinated response was unravelling before it had even started:

In the medical and scientific world, there was growing concern about the threat of the virus to the UK. A report from Exeter University, published on February 12th, warned a UK outbreak could peak within four months and, without mitigation, infect 45 million people.

That worried Rahuldeb Sarkar, a consultant physician in respiratory medicine and critical care in the county of Kent, who foresaw that intensive care beds could be swamped. Even if disease transmission was reduced by half, he wrote in a report aimed at clinicians and actuaries in mid-February, a coronavirus outbreak in the UK would “have a chance of overwhelming the system.”

With Whitty stating in a BBC interview on February 13th that a UK outbreak was still an “if, not a when,” Richard Horton, a medical doctor and editor of the Lancet, said the government and public health service wasted an opportunity that month to prepare quarantine restriction measures and a programme of mass tests, and procure resources like ventilators and personal protective equipment for expanded intensive care.

Calling the lost chance a “national scandal” in a later editorial, he would testify to parliament about a mismatch between “the urgent warning that was coming from the frontline in China” and the “somewhat pedestrian evaluation” of the threat from the scientific advice to the government.

This same ‘special report’ from Reuters published on April 7th, also discloses why there was so little preparedness:

According to emails and more than a dozen scientists interviewed by Reuters, the government issued no requests to labs for assistance with staff or testing equipment until the middle of March, when many abruptly received requests to hand over nucleic acid extraction instruments, used in testing. An executive at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford said he could have carried out up to 1,000 tests per day from February. But the call never came.

“You would have thought that they would be bashing down the door,” said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. By April 5th, Britain had carried out 195,524 tests, in contrast to at least 918,000 completed a week earlier in Germany.

Nor was there an effective effort to expand the supply of ventilators. The Department of Health told Reuters in a statement that the government started talking to manufacturers of ventilators about procuring extra supplies in February. But it was not until March 16th, after it was clear supplies could run out, that Johnson launched an appeal to industry to help ramp up production.

Charles Bellm, managing director of Intersurgical, a global supplier of medical ventilation products based outside London, said he has been contacted by more than a dozen governments around the world, including France, New Zealand and Indonesia. But there had been no contact from the British government. “I find it somewhat surprising, I have spoken to a lot of other governments,” he said. 2

Click here to read the full article published by Reuters, which is apologetically entitled “Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm”. (Pushing the blame from the government onto its scientific advisors won’t wash, however the report contains some valuable insights nonetheless.)

Notable by its absence from this Reuters’ account of events is the advice and guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is important because for a while Britain had stood entirely alone, having taken its decision to act in brazen defiance to the directives of WHO, whose chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued his starkest warning on March 13th: “do not just let this fire burn”.

One day earlier Prime Minister Johnson was still solemnly reminding us “many more families are going to lose loved ones” – my own father saying to me afterwards, I suddenly realised “that means me”. But then, at the eleventh hour, Johnson and his government embarked on an astonishing U-turn. And hallelujah for that!

The reason was the maths: 60% of 66 million is very nearly 40 million, and, assuming a case-fatality rate of 0.7% (the best estimate we had – based on S Korean figures), that makes 280,000 deaths. No need for sophisticated epidemiological modelling or a supercomputer, the back of any old envelope will do.

As the sheer scale of the predicted death toll began to dawn on Johnson and his advisors, out of the blue came a highly convenient “leak”. Seemingly it fell upon Dominic Cummings to assume the role of scapegoat as fresh justifications were sought for a swift and sudden change of policy, purportedly based on the findings of ‘new modelling’ – reading between the lines, someone had to take the bullet and quite frankly Cummings was already the most detested of the principle actors.

Here’s how that “leak” was reported by The Sunday Times:

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior aide, became convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave of the disease next winter if Whitty’s prediction that 60% to 80% of the population became infected was right and the UK developed “herd immunity”.

At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the government’s strategy. Those present say it was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”.

At the Sage meeting on March 12th, a moment now dubbed the “Domoscene conversion”, Cummings changed his mind. In this “penny-drop moment”, he realised he had helped to set a course for catastrophe. Until this point, the rise in British infections had been below the European average. Now they were above it and on course to emulate Italy, where the picture was bleak. A minister said: “Seeing what was happening in Italy was the galvanising force across government.” 3

Click here to read the full article published by The Sunday Times on March 22nd.

(Or perhaps he really did have that “Domoscene conversion”! In which case, we must conclude that government policy was actually concocted more on the basis of Cummings’ whims, which is not exactly “following the science” either, is it?)

Incidentally, anyone who continues to deny the government’s rapid and complete U-turn (including Julia Hartley-Brewer, who I’ll come back to later), I direct to an article featured on Buzzfeed News from March 31st, which reads:

BuzzFeed News has spoken to health experts in the UK and across Europe to find out why [Britain has done comparatively little testing for coronavirus]. The answer, they said, stemmed from Britain’s controversial initial strategy of mitigation of the virus (rather than suppression), rendering testing a secondary concern — an approach which has also contributed to a lack of preparedness and the capacity to carry out tests at scale.

The UK’s mitigation approach was devised by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. According to a person who has spoken to Whitty and [Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick] Vallance, they took the view that the UK should not attempt to suppress the outbreak entirely but rather prioritise protecting the elderly and vulnerable, and ensuring the NHS did not become overwhelmed, while allowing the rest of population to build up “herd immunity”.

This strategy meant that widespread testing of every coronavirus case was not a priority for the UK, the person said, since the government’s scientists were assuming that between 60% and 80% of the population would become infected.

Accordingly, no preparations were made to increase manufacturing or imports of testing kits, nor to expand the UK’s laboratory capacity. Imports of testing kits are now extremely difficult as other nations seek more than ever to keep them for their own use. 4

[Bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why.”

However, the government and its advisors, although nominally in charge of matters, and accordingly as reprehensible as they are, should not be too isolated once it comes to attributing responsibility. The media must take a considerable share of any blame too.

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From the outset, the whole story surrounding coronavirus was completely politicised. For months it was all about Chinese mismanagement and repression, following which, after China slowly regained control of the situation in Wuhan, press attention and opprobrium switched to Iran.

Oh, how we all chortled when the Iranian Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, was seen sweating out a fever as he tried to deliver a speech – in what sort of a tinpot regime does a Health Minister end up contracting the infection he is supposed to be fighting, hey? But shoe, other foot, media reframing… you get the picture:

Indeed, when Johnson himself was admitted to hospital and shortly afterwards moved to intensive care, a newspaper-led campaign encouraged people to gather outside again for a standing ovation to keep his spirits up. Of course, along with thousands of unfortunate victims still struggling for breath beside him, we wish him a full and speedy recovery, but this isn’t North Korea, and so, besides a handful of the party faithful, most of the country respectfully declined this nationwide call to lavish praise on the glorious leader.

On Good Friday, when another 980 deaths in hospitals alone were recorded – surpassing Spain and Italy’s worst recorded daily totals (figures for care homes are harder to establish), this was the headline in The Sun:

Only when Covid-19 gained a foothold in Europe was the tone adjusted, so that rather than peddling rumours about incompetence, due sensitivity was given instead to the suffering of the people – in this case, the Italian people.

Prior to the first European cases, there was also a lack of key information, and so it wasn’t until March that we first began to learn the full facts about the disease itself: how extremely virulent it is and not like flu at all, but SARS; how it doesn’t only attack the old and the vulnerable; how it is easily transmitted by asymptomatic spreaders and has a comparatively long incubation period; how between 5–10 percent of the victims require oxygen or mechanical ventilation, and many are left with irreparable lung damage. Suddenly China’s urgent need to construct new hospital facilities overnight became totally understandable.

Why were we left in the dark so long? Up until March Covid-19 still remained a blunt tool to beat the old enemies with, so presumably delving into cause of the crisis distracted too much from this propagandistic exercise. Yet this failure to fact-find – a routine matter for proper journalism – soon came back to haunt us.

Finally, a lack of widely available information accounts, at least in part, for why, three months on, Britain is desperately converting conference centres into thousand-bed hospitals: an impressive feat but one that also speaks to prior failures and a total lack of preparedness. China was our warning but the media was too sidetracked to stress this.

On April 5th, Sky News Australia released a “SPECIAL REPORT: China’s deadly coronavirus cover-up”, except that it isn’t and scarcely presents any evidence at all from China. Instead, it offers a montage of coverage from around the world, political talking heads, that are interspersed with images from a wet market (somewhere, presumably in South East Asia), overlaid with a breathless commentary and an ominous soundtrack. Today this passes for journalism apparently:

If the press instead had focussed more on the virulence of the disease, rather than always seeking a political angle, the public and governments of the West might have had greater cause to introduce tighter measures from the beginning, recognising the urgency of taking appropriate action to avoid suffering the same fate as the inhabitants of Wuhan. We could have closed our borders in time (yet they remain open even today) and made preparations for testing and contact tracing as they did in South Korea. But why take such drastic precautions if the problem is mostly one with the Chinese politburo and Iranian mullahs?

Indeed, as Rachel Shabi astutely reminds us in a more recent Guardian article, Britain is already blessed with teams of environmental health officers employed by local government who “have wide experience in contact tracing, a process used to prevent infections spreading and routinely carried out in outbreaks such as of norovirus, salmonella or legionnaires’ disease.”

As one of the environmental health workers she spoke to said, he was “struggling to figure out” why they hadn’t been given the go-ahead from the start. Another told her: “We are pretty good at infection control and contact tracing, it’s part of the job. We thought we’d be asked and were shelving other work.” In response, a spokesperson for Public Health England (PHE), said “the organisation did not call upon environmental health workers to carry out contact tracing for coronavirus, instead using its own local health protection teams.” 5

Hats off to Rachel Shabi for doing the legwork to expose this vital ‘missed opportunity’ by PHE and the government – examining the reasons behind this decision is now on the table for a public inquiry.

Unfortunately, much that passes for journalism today relies on scant research and little to no investigation at all. Instead it is informed by a diet of press conferences, press releases and press packs – all more or less pre-digested, all PR, and all oven-ready (as Johnson would say). Many reporters are the embedded and approved members of a press corps who grant their sources ‘quote approval’. Compounding this there is the groupthink and the self-censorship that has always existed.

In a well-known BBC interview with Noam Chomsky in 1996, Andrew Marr – who afterwards went on to become the BBC’s Political Editor – famously rebutted Chomsky’s accusation of a ubiquitous lack of media impartiality and journalistic integrity, demanding:

“How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are…”

Chomsky’s reply clearly rocks him: “I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” 6

It is understandable therefore (although not excusable) that those in the press and media have fallen into the easier habit of propagating and sanctioning accepted narratives, advocating official policy and being apologists for government mistakes and state crimes – after all, if you hold your nose, much of the job is done for you – readymade copy to cut and paste. And a climate of crisis furthers these temptations, cultivating this already indifferent attitude towards truth, and fostering journalistic practice that is non-confrontational on grounds of “national interest”.

By contrast, true journalism shares a lot in common with real science, which is similarly fact-based and objective. But to be fact-based and objective requires research and investigation, and this is tiresome and time consuming, so it’s easier not to bother.

Today, we see another consequence of this as the government shields itself behind ‘the science’, and the media once again provides it with cover. For instance, here is Sky News‘ Thomas Moore informing his audience as recently as March 27th that: “one of the government’s key advisors hazarded a guess this week that between half and two-thirds of those dying would probably have done so soon anyway.” [from 0:45 mins]:

How very Malthusian of him, you may think. How very: “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad.”

It would be nice to stop right there. This kind of pseudoscientific validation for ideologically-informed policy is hardly worthy of closer examination. In this instance it is simply insulting, not only to the vulnerable and elderly whose existence Moore is quite literally attempting to delete but to anyone with an ear for propaganda. (And so for this secondary reason, let us parse his words just a little.)

Key advisor…? CMO for England, Chris Whitty; or former President of R&D of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently appointed government CSA, Sir Patrick Vallance; or Chief Executive of NHS England and former senior executive of UnitedHealth Group, Sir Simon Stevens, or some otherwise anonymous, faceless, quite possibly, non-existent advisor: who knows? Perhaps it was Matt Hancock…? Or was this again, Dominic Cummings?

Hazarded a guess… Really, can you get any vaguer than this? On what distant planet could Moore’s statement be considered remotely journalistic?

Not to be outdone on April 2nd, the BBC issued a Twitter stream along very similar lines:

 

 

Such Malthusian talking points are also echoed throughout a wide range of publications but found most especially on the shelves reserved for opinions of the libertarian right. As an outstanding example of this, I refer readers to a column written by Dr John Lee that was published in The Spectator as recently as March 28th: the day after the Sky News broadcast above, and just a fortnight ago.

Dr Lee is one of those pundits who love to cherry pick statistics; a talent so honed that upon first reading anyone could be forgiven for thinking that not only have we all been dreadfully deceived by our lying eyes but also by all the hysterical staff working in our NHS hospitals who incessantly talk nonsense about a crisis.

“The moral debate is not lives vs money,” Lee decides on the basis of the numbers, adding emphatically, “It is lives vs lives.” In fact, boiling Dr Lee’s argument down more literally, he is balancing risk to the economy against number of deaths, although doubtless it sounds more reasonable and more dramatic too, when you say “lives vs lives”. Not that the economy doesn’t matter, but that evidently from Lee’s viewpoint it sits high above mere lives and behind a huge ‘greater than or equal to’ sign. That said, his main proposal is a fittingly modest one:

Unless we tighten criteria for recording death due only to the virus (as opposed to it being present in those who died from other conditions), the official figures may show a lot more deaths apparently caused by the virus than is actually the case. What then? How do we measure the health consequences of taking people’s lives, jobs, leisure and purpose away from them to protect them from an anticipated threat? Which causes least harm?

Incidentally, the ultimate question here – “Which causes the least harm?” – sheds interesting light on Dr Lee’s own personal morality, or at least the ideas that underpin and inform it. Those who have studied philosophy will indeed recognise his stance, and place it under the technical heading ‘Consequentialism’: that the ultimate basis for a moral judgment should be founded on whether any action (or inaction) will produce a good or bad outcome, or consequence. Another way of saying this is “the ends justify the means”.

Consequentialism is essentially a rerun and a quite fashionable version of Utilitarianism, where Utilitarianism, in turn, values human behaviour according to some measure of usefulness. Once you understand this, it becomes a lot easier to comprehend why someone with Dr Lee’s outlook might share Cummings’ preference to “protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”. The sacrifice of a few “useless eaters” (a phrase rightly or wrongly attributed to Kissinger) for the sake of the greater good. If I am being unkind to Dr Lee, then forgive me, but his words turn my own thoughts to Thomas Malthus again, who so eloquently justified the economic need for poor people to starve.

But I have digressed. The vital point to understand and remember here, as the establishment gatekeepers and government stenographers all insist, is that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan-Smith and the rest of the Conservative crew have always acted in strict accordance with the best scientific advice available. And that never at any stage were decisions taken with callous indifference even when it came to their original decision to pursue a quasi-scientific policy of ‘herd immunity’ by letting a few of our loved ones die:

Governments everywhere say they are responding to the science. The policies in the UK are not the government’s fault. They are trying to act responsibly based on the scientific advice given. But governments must remember that rushed science is almost always bad science.

That’s also Dr John Lee’s opinion by the way, as he reaches for a conclusion to his piece. The case he makes fails throughout to acknowledge any government accountability whatsoever; not even when it comes to deciding which advice to listen to. A case that he set out as follows:

In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging daily, I’m not sure that any prime minister would have acted very differently. 7

It’s the science, stupid – just so you know.

By the way, I call Dr John Lee, Dr Lee because this is how his article is attributed. And I think he wants you to recognise his expertise because he describes himself as “a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist”. There is nothing wrong, of course, in highlighting your own professional credentials. That said, the entire emphasis of his piece is that the government places trust in expertise as should you too. Thus, signing off in this fashion is a very effective way to pull rank on his readership. (Trust me on this, I’m a doctor too – I just don’t make a point of flaunting my PhD at every opportunity.)

If Dr John Lee wants you to get the message because he knows better, then for those who prefer to be browbeaten rather than condescended to, and as a quite different alternative, I offer the latest outpourings of small-‘c’ conservative rent-a-mouth Julia Hartley-Brewer.

Brewer is in fact the daughter of a GP, although happily she is otherwise as unqualified to proffer expert analysis on any subjects at all basically – unhappily, this doesn’t stop her and thanks to a public platform called Talkradio those unqualified and largely unsought opinions are broadcast across the nation on a weekly basis.

Recently she’s been doing a lot of Tweeting too, fulfilling her other obligation as a leading light amongst the commentariat. Here is one of her more recent efforts:

Yes, that’s right: the only thing that matters is whether Boris Johnson is following scientific advice. And he is – can’t you understand that? Now just shut up. I paraphrase, just a little; hardly at all really.

This brings me to reflect, finally and once again, on the dismal state of so much of today’s journalism and media more broadly, characterised, as it is, by wilful ignorance and woeful submissiveness to authority. Rigidly confined within an ever-tightening Overton Window, it speaks up for almost no-one, whether on the pressing question of how to fight coronavirus, or on most other vital issues of the day.

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1 From a report entitled “NHS staff ‘gagged’ over coronavirus shortages” written by Denis Campbell, published in the Guardian on March 31, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/31/nhs-staff-gagged-over-coronavirus-protective-equipment-shortages

2 From a ‘Special Report’ entitled “Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm” written by Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill, published in Reurters on April 7, 2020. https://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUKKBN21P1X8

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: ten days that shook Britain – and changed the nation forever” written by Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler, published in The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-ten-days-that-shook-britain-and-changed-the-nation-for-ever-spz6sc9vb

4 From an article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why”, written by Alex Wickham, Alberto Nardelli, Katie J. M. Baker & Richard Holmes, published in Buzzfeed News on March 31, 2020. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/uk-coronavirus-testing-explainer

5 From an article entitled “UK missed coronavirus contact tracing opportunity, experts say” written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian on April 6, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/06/uk-missed-coronavirus-contact-tracing-opportunity-experts-say

6 Interviewed for The Big Idea, BBC2, February 14, 1996. A complete transcript is available here: http://scratchindog.blogspot.com/2015/07/transcript-of-interview-between-noam.html

The broadcast has also been uploaded on Youtube in full and is embedded below:

7 From an article entitled “How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear?” written by Dr John Lee, published in The Spectator on March 28, 2020. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/The-evidence-on-Covid-19-is-not-as-clear-as-we-think

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, China, Iran, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky

‘Your Man in the Public Gallery’ – Craig Murray’s report from day 1 of the Assange hearing

The following report was published on Tuesday 25th by Craig Murray.

Woolwich Crown Court is designed to impose the power of the state. Normal courts in this country are public buildings, deliberately placed by our ancestors right in the centre of towns, almost always just up a few steps from a main street. The major purpose of their positioning and of their architecture was to facilitate public access in the belief that it is vital that justice can be seen by the public.

Woolwich Crown Court, which hosts Belmarsh Magistrates Court, is built on totally the opposite principle. It is designed with no other purpose than to exclude the public. Attached to a prison on a windswept marsh far from any normal social centre, an island accessible only through navigating a maze of dual carriageways, the entire location and architecture of the building is predicated on preventing public access. It is surrounded by a continuation of the same extremely heavy duty steel paling barrier that surrounds the prison. It is the most extraordinary thing, a courthouse which is a part of the prison system itself, a place where you are already considered guilty and in jail on arrival. Woolwich Crown Court is nothing but the physical negation of the presumption of innocence, the very incarnation of injustice in unyielding steel, concrete and armoured glass. It has precisely the same relationship to the administration of justice as Guantanamo Bay or the Lubyanka. It is in truth just the sentencing wing of Belmarsh prison.

When enquiring about facilities for the public to attend the hearing, an Assange activist was told by a member of court staff that we should realise that Woolwich is a “counter-terrorism court”. That is true de facto, but in truth a “counter-terrorism court” is an institution unknown to the UK constitution. Indeed, if a single day at Woolwich Crown Court does not convince you the existence of liberal democracy is now a lie, then your mind must be very closed indeed.

Extradition hearings are not held at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. They are always held at Westminster Magistrates Court as the application is deemed to be delivered to the government at Westminster. Now get your head around this. This hearing is at Westminster Magistrates Court. It is being held by the Westminster magistrates and Westminster court staff, but located at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. All of which weird convolution is precisely so they can use the “counter-terrorist court” to limit public access and to impose the fear of the power of the state.

One consequence is that, in the courtroom itself, Julian Assange is confined at the back of the court behind a bulletproof glass screen. He made the point several times during proceedings that this makes it very difficult for him to see and hear the proceedings. The magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, chose to interpret this with studied dishonesty as a problem caused by the very faint noise of demonstrators outside, as opposed to a problem caused by Assange being locked away from the court in a massive bulletproof glass box.

Now there is no reason at all for Assange to be in that box, designed to restrain extremely physically violent terrorists. He could sit, as a defendant at a hearing normally would, in the body of the court with his lawyers. But the cowardly and vicious Baraitser has refused repeated and persistent requests from the defence for Assange to be allowed to sit with his lawyers. Baraitser of course is but a puppet, being supervised by Chief Magistrate Lady Arbuthnot, a woman so enmeshed in the defence and security service establishment I can conceive of no way in which her involvement in this case could be more corrupt.

It does not matter to Baraitser or Arbuthnot if there is any genuine need for Assange to be incarcerated in a bulletproof box, or whether it stops him from following proceedings in court. Baraitser’s intention is to humiliate Assange, and to instill in the rest of us horror at the vast crushing power of the state. The inexorable strength of the sentencing wing of the nightmarish Belmarsh Prison must be maintained. If you are here, you are guilty.

It’s the Lubyanka. You may only be a remand prisoner. This may only be a hearing not a trial. You may have no history of violence and not be accused of any violence. You may have three of the country’s most eminent psychiatrists submitting reports of your history of severe clinical depression and warning of suicide. But I, Vanessa Baraitser, am still going to lock you up in a box designed for the most violent of terrorists. To show what we can do to dissidents. And if you can’t then follow court proceedings, all the better.

You will perhaps better accept what I say about the Court when I tell you that, for a hearing being followed all round the world, they have brought it to a courtroom which had a total number of sixteen seats available to members of the public. 16. To make sure I got one of those 16 and could be your man in the gallery, I was outside that great locked iron fence queuing in the cold, wet and wind from 6am. At 8am the gate was unlocked, and I was able to walk inside the fence to another queue before the doors of the courtroom, where despite the fact notices clearly state the court opens to the public at 8am, I had to queue outside the building again for another hour and forty minutes. Then I was processed through armoured airlock doors, through airport type security, and had to queue behind two further locked doors, before finally getting to my seat just as the court started at 10am. By which stage the intention was we should have been thoroughly cowed and intimidated, not to mention drenched and potentially hypothermic.

There was a separate media entrance and a media room with live transmission from the courtroom, and there were so many scores of media I thought I could relax and not worry as the basic facts would be widely reported. In fact, I could not have been more wrong. I followed the arguments very clearly every minute of the day, and not a single one of the most important facts and arguments today has been reported anywhere in the mainstream media. That is a bold claim, but I fear it is perfectly true. So I have much work to do to let the world know what actually happened. The mere act of being an honest witness is suddenly extremely important, when the entire media has abandoned that role.

James Lewis QC made the opening statement for the prosecution. It consisted of two parts, both equally extraordinary. The first and longest part was truly remarkable for containing no legal argument, and for being addressed not to the magistrate but to the media. It is not just that it was obvious that is where his remarks were aimed, he actually stated on two occasions during his opening statement that he was addressing the media, once repeating a sentence and saying specifically that he was repeating it again because it was important that the media got it.

I am frankly astonished that Baraitser allowed this. It is completely out of order for a counsel to address remarks not to the court but to the media, and there simply could not be any clearer evidence that this is a political show trial and that Baraitser is complicit in that. I have not the slightest doubt that the defence would have been pulled up extremely quickly had they started addressing remarks to the media. Baraitser makes zero pretence of being anything other than in thrall to the Crown, and by extension to the US Government.

The points which Lewis wished the media to know were these: it is not true that mainstream outlets like the Guardian and New York Times are also threatened by the charges against Assange, because Assange was not charged with publishing the cables but only with publishing the names of informants, and with cultivating Manning and assisting him to attempt computer hacking. Only Assange had done these things, not mainstream outlets.

Lewis then proceeded to read out a series of articles from the mainstream media attacking Assange, as evidence that the media and Assange were not in the same boat. The entire opening hour consisted of the prosecution addressing the media, attempting to drive a clear wedge between the media and Wikileaks and thus aimed at reducing media support for Assange. It was a political address, not remotely a legal submission. At the same time, the prosecution had prepared reams of copies of this section of Lewis’ address, which were handed out to the media and given them electronically so they could cut and paste.

Following an adjournment, magistrate Baraitser questioned the prosecution on the veracity of some of these claims. In particular, the claim that newspapers were not in the same position because Assange was charged not with publication, but with “aiding and abetting” Chelsea Manning in getting the material, did not seem consistent with Lewis’ reading of the 1989 Official Secrets Act, which said that merely obtaining and publishing any government secret was an offence. Surely, Baraitser suggested, that meant that newspapers just publishing the Manning leaks would be guilty of an offence?

This appeared to catch Lewis entirely off guard. The last thing he had expected was any perspicacity from Baraitser, whose job was just to do what he said. Lewis hummed and hawed, put his glasses on and off several times, adjusted his microphone repeatedly and picked up a succession of pieces of paper from his brief, each of which appeared to surprise him by its contents, as he waved them haplessly in the air and said he really should have cited the Shayler case but couldn’t find it. It was liking watching Columbo with none of the charm and without the killer question at the end of the process.

Suddenly Lewis appeared to come to a decision. Yes, he said much more firmly. The 1989 Official Secrets Act had been introduced by the Thatcher Government after the Ponting Case, specifically to remove the public interest defence and to make unauthorised possession of an official secret a crime of strict liability – meaning no matter how you got it, publishing and even possessing made you guilty. Therefore, under the principle of dual criminality, Assange was liable for extradition whether or not he had aided and abetted Manning. Lewis then went on to add that any journalist and any publication that printed the official secret would therefore also be committing an offence, no matter how they had obtained it, and no matter if it did or did not name informants.

Lewis had thus just flat out contradicted his entire opening statement to the media stating that they need not worry as the Assange charges could never be applied to them. And he did so straight after the adjournment, immediately after his team had handed out copies of the argument he had now just completely contradicted. I cannot think it has often happened in court that a senior lawyer has proven himself so absolutely and so immediately to be an unmitigated and ill-motivated liar. This was undoubtedly the most breathtaking moment in today’s court hearing.

Yet remarkably I cannot find any mention anywhere in the mainstream media that this happened at all. What I can find, everywhere, is the mainstream media reporting, via cut and paste, Lewis’s first part of his statement on why the prosecution of Assange is not a threat to press freedom; but nobody seems to have reported that he totally abandoned his own argument five minutes later. Were the journalists too stupid to understand the exchanges?

The explanation is very simple. The clarification coming from a question Baraitser asked Lewis, there is no printed or electronic record of Lewis’ reply. His original statement was provided in cut and paste format to the media. His contradiction of it would require a journalist to listen to what was said in court, understand it and write it down. There is no significant percentage of mainstream media journalists who command that elementary ability nowadays. “Journalism” consists of cut and paste of approved sources only. Lewis could have stabbed Assange to death in the courtroom, and it would not be reported unless contained in a government press release.

I was left uncertain of Baraitser’s purpose in this. Plainly she discomfited Lewis very badly on this point, and appeared rather to enjoy doing so. On the other hand the point she made is not necessarily helpful to the defence. What she was saying was essentially that Julian could be extradited under dual criminality, from the UK point of view, just for publishing, whether or not he conspired with Chelsea Manning, and that all the journalists who published could be charged too. But surely this is a point so extreme that it would be bound to be invalid under the Human Rights Act? Was she pushing Lewis to articulate a position so extreme as to be untenable – giving him enough rope to hang himself – or was she slavering at the prospect of not just extraditing Assange, but of mass prosecutions of journalists?

The reaction of one group was very interesting. The four US government lawyers seated immediately behind Lewis had the grace to look very uncomfortable indeed as Lewis baldly declared that any journalist and any newspaper or broadcast media publishing or even possessing any government secret was committing a serious offence. Their entire strategy had been to pretend not to be saying that.

Lewis then moved on to conclude the prosecution’s arguments. The court had no decision to make, he stated. Assange must be extradited. The offence met the test of dual criminality as it was an offence both in the USA and UK. UK extradition law specifically barred the court from testing whether there was any evidence to back up the charges. If there had been, as the defence argued, abuse of process, the court must still extradite and then the court must pursue the abuse of process as a separate matter against the abusers. (This is a particularly specious argument as it is not possible for the court to take action against the US government due to sovereign immunity, as Lewis well knows). Finally, Lewis stated that the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech were completely irrelevant in extradition proceedings.

Edward Fitzgerald then arose to make the opening statement for the defence. He started by stating that the motive for the prosecution was entirely political, and that political offences were specifically excluded under article 4.1 of the UK/US extradition treaty. He pointed out that at the time of the Chelsea Manning Trial and again in 2013 the Obama administration had taken specific decisions not to prosecute Assange for the Manning leaks. This had been reversed by the Trump administration for reasons that were entirely political.

On abuse of process, Fitzgerald referred to evidence presented to the Spanish criminal courts that the CIA had commissioned a Spanish security company to spy on Julian Assange in the Embassy, and that this spying specifically included surveillance of Assange’s privileged meetings with his lawyers to discuss extradition. For the state trying to extradite to spy on the defendant’s client-lawyer consultations is in itself grounds to dismiss the case. (This point is undoubtedly true. Any decent judge would throw the case out summarily for the outrageous spying on the defence lawyers).

Fitzgerald went on to say the defence would produce evidence the CIA not only spied on Assange and his lawyers, but actively considered kidnapping or poisoning him, and that this showed there was no commitment to proper rule of law in this case.

Fitzgerald said that the prosecution’s framing of the case contained deliberate misrepresentation of the facts that also amounted to abuse of process. It was not true that there was any evidence of harm to informants, and the US government had confirmed this in other fora, eg in Chelsea Manning’s trial. There had been no conspiracy to hack computers, and Chelsea Manning had been acquitted on that charge at court martial. Lastly it was untrue that Wikileaks had initiated publication of unredacted names of informants, as other media organisations had been responsible for this first.

Again, so far as I can see, while the US allegation of harm to informants is widely reported, the defence’s total refutation on the facts and claim that the fabrication of facts amounts to abuse of process is not much reported at all. Fitzgerald finally referred to US prison conditions, the impossibility of a fair trial in the US, and the fact the Trump Administration has stated foreign nationals will not receive First Amendment protections, as reasons that extradition must be barred. You can read the whole defence statement, but in my view the strongest passage was on why this is a political prosecution, and thus precluded from extradition.

For the purposes of section 81(a), I next have to deal with the question of how this politically motivated prosecution satisfies the test of being directed against Julian Assange because of his political opinions. The essence of his political opinions which have provoked this prosecution are summarised in the reports of Professor Feldstein [tab 18], Professor Rogers [tab 40], Professor Noam Chomsky [tab 39] and Professor Kopelman:-
i. He is a leading proponent of an open society and of freedom of expression.
ii. He is anti-war and anti-imperialism.
iii. He is a world-renowned champion of political transparency and of the public’s right to access information on issues of importance – issues such as political corruption, war crimes, torture and the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees.

5.4. Those beliefs and those actions inevitably bring him into conflict with powerful states including the current US administration, for political reasons. Which explains why he has been denounced as a terrorist and why President Trump has in the past called for the death penalty.

5.5. But I should add his revelations are far from confined to the wrongdoings of the US. He has exposed surveillance by Russia; and published exposes of Mr Assad in Syria; and it is said that WikiLeaks revelations about corruption in Tunisia and torture in Egypt were the catalyst for the Arab Spring itself.

5.6. The US say he is no journalist. But you will see a full record of his work in Bundle M. He has been a member of the Australian journalists union since 2009, he is a member of the NUJ and the European Federation of Journalists. He has won numerous media awards including being honoured with the highest award for Australian journalists. His work has been recognised by the Economist, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe. He is the winner of the Martha Gelhorn prize and has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, including both last year and this year. You can see from the materials that he has written books, articles and documentaries. He has had articles published in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Statesman, just to name a few. Some of the very publications for which his extradition is being sought have been refereed to and relied upon in Courts throughout the world, including the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. In short, he has championed the cause of transparency and freedom of information throughout the world.

5.7. Professor Noam Chomsky puts it like this: – ‘in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of profess to share he has performed an enormous service to all those in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing’ [see tab 39, paragraph 14]. So Julian Assange’s positive impact on the world is undeniable. The hostility it has provoked from the Trump administration is equally undeniable. The legal test for ‘political opinions’

5.8. I am sure you are aware of the legal authorities on this issue: namely whether a request is made because of the defendant’s political opinions. A broad approach has to be adopted when applying the test. In support of this we rely on the case of Re Asliturk [2002] EWHC 2326 (abuse authorities, tab 11, at paras 25 – 26) which clearly establishes that such a wide approach should be adopted to the concept of political opinions. And that will clearly cover Julian Assange’s ideological positions. Moreover, we also rely on cases such as Emilia Gomez v SSHD [2000] INLR 549 at tab 43 of the political offence authorities bundle. These show that the concept of “political opinions” extends to the political opinions imputed to the individual citizen by the state which prosecutes him. For that reason the characterisation of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence agency” by Mr Pompeo makes clear that he has been targeted for his imputed political opinions. All the experts whose reports you have show that Julian Assange has been targeted because of the political position imputed to him by the Trump administration – as an enemy of America who must be brought down.

Tomorrow the defence continue. I am genuinely uncertain what will happen as I feel at the moment far too exhausted to be there at 6am to queue to get in. But I hope somehow I will contrive another report tomorrow evening.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

Click here to read the same report on Craig Murray’s official website.

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‘Jewish support for Chris Williamson’: an open letter signed by 100 prominent Jews is censored by the Guardian

Reproduced in full below is an open letter signed by over a 100 prominent members of the Jewish community that was originally published in Monday’s Guardian. The next day it was removed “pending investigation”.

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Jewish support for Chris Williamson

Prominent members of the Jewish community, in the UK and abroad, write to defend the Labour MP Chris Williamson amid allegations of antisemitism.

We the undersigned, all Jews, are writing in support of Chris Williamson and to register our dismay at the recent letter organised by Tom Watson, and signed by parliamentary Labour party and House of Lords members, calling for his suspension (Anger over return of MP who said Labour was ‘too apologetic’ over antisemitism, 28 June).

Chris Williamson did not say that the party had been “too apologetic about antisemitism”, as has been widely misreported. He correctly stated that the Labour party has done more than any other party to combat the scourge of antisemitism and that, therefore, its stance should be less apologetic.

Such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine not only the Labour party’s leadership but also all pro-Palestinian members.

The mass media have ignored the huge support for Chris both within and beyond the Labour party. Support that includes many Jews. The party needs people like him, with the energy and determination to fight for social justice.

As anti-racist Jews, we regard Chris as our ally: he stands as we do with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It should also be noted that he has a longer record of campaigning against racism and fascism than most of his detractors.

The Chakrabarti report recommended that the party’s disciplinary procedures respect due process, favour education over expulsion and promote a culture of free speech, yet this has been abandoned in practice. We ask the Labour party to reinstate Chris Williamson and cease persecuting such members on false allegations of antisemitism.

Noam Chomsky, MIT
Norman Finkelstein, Lecturer and writer
Ed Asner, Actor
Prof Richard Falk, Princeton University
Leah Lavene and Jenny Manson, Jewish Voice for Labour
…and more than 100 others.

For the full list of signatories, click here. This letter was previously published in The Guardian, but was removed “pending investigation”.

Click here to find the same article as it appears reproduced by Off-Guardian.

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Additional:

As Kit Knightly of Off-Guardian writes:

The Board of Deputies of British Jews apparently formally complained to the Guardian regarding their “mishandling” of the letter. It was covered in the Jewish Chronicle and the Huffington Post.

Either way, the letter is gone.

Of course, it’s peculiar that this particular open letter had to sent in to them anyway, since The Graun usually like to advertise the views of Noam Chomsky. At least, as long as he’s criticising the government of Venezuela, or critiqueing the BDS movement.

When he’s deploring the US-backed coup in Venezuela, or dismissing the Russiagate accusations as “a bad joke”, he tends to get less publicity.

Funny that.

Perhaps more important than the presence of Chomsky’s name, or that of Norman Finkelstein, is the sheer number of CLP’s represented by the other signatories.

Well over a hundred Jewish Labour members, representing dozens of CLPs, all completely at odds with the Parliamentary Labour Party on this issue. For years this rift – between the MPs and their members – has been obvious. It seems to get wider all the time.

You see Tom Watson et al. accusing Labour members of “bullying” MPs by calling for de-selection. None of the MPs who defected to the absurd Change UK (or whatever their current name is) faced a by-election – which means several CLPs, and thousands of loyal Labour voters, have had their votes and MPs stolen from them. The Blairite wing of the PLP, spearheaded by Watson and his cabal of climbers, have not said a word about this.

When a general election comes, this will be an issue to watch.

It is an encouraging sign for those of us who try hard to spread the truth, at least. Because it means the totally created “antisemitism crisis” is being seen for what it is by a good portion of Labour members. Just another example of ordinary people, in the real world, clashing with the media bubble.

Returning to the letter, it’s actually hard to see why they would bother censoring it, yes it is counter to the establishment narrative, but it is hardly extreme. You could almost call deleting it a desperate thing to do. A move which shows the insecurity of their position. Whatever the eventually announced reason is for removing the letter, it is certainly the wrong thing to do, and not just ethically. The Streisand effect exists. Removing the letter simply calls attention to it, far smarter to just let it rot on the back pages of the internet.

Click here to read Knightly’s full response published by Off-Guardian.

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roll up the red carpet!

The following article is Chapter Five of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year and beyond. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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“All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others

— George Orwell 1

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I discovered recently and by happy accident that the author, Michael Young, who invented the term ‘meritocracy’, detested his own creation. Here’s how Young outlined his position in a Guardian article “Down with meritocracy”, published in 2001:

I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.2

But I shall save further thoughts of Michael Young until later, and begin here by considering what lies in the shadows of a meritocracy. After all, and at first glance, what on earth can be wrong with the purposeful restructuring of society in ways that prioritise ‘merit’ above all else? Isn’t this the epitome of a fair system?

As with examining most ideas, it is helpful first to step back a little to gain perspective. In this case, it is important to get a fuller grasp of what ‘merit’ means when buried within the heart of ‘meritocracy’. What does ‘merit’, in this narrow political sense, finally equate to?

Throughout the last two hundred and more years, including under progressive administrations such as Clement Attlee’s reforming government in Britain and FDR’s earlier New Deal for America, the political systems in the West have remained very solidly rooted in capitalism, and being so, they have remained inherently utilitarian in design. It follows that ‘merit’ (in our narrow definitional sense) must be gauged on the scales of those extant utilitarian-capitalist conventions: that ‘merit’ therefore becomes an adjunct of ‘utility’ or, in other words, ‘usefulness’.

Advocates of capitalism like to evoke the invisible hand of the market, which they say enhances productivity and safeguards against wanton overproduction, thereby ensuring society’s needs are met. Thanks to the market that which is wasteful falls away, and in consequence profits and earnings will flow to the most efficient producers. So it follows that within a meritocracy governed strictly by market forces, with the invisible hand steering our efforts unerringly toward ‘usefulness’, estimations of ‘merit’ ought to be fairly directly measureable in terms of salaries and wealth. Maximum profits and earnings tending to go to those who serve the most useful function and are, by dint of this, the most ‘merited’. The losers are those who merit little since they provide little to nothing of use, and, conversely, the winners contribute most gainfully in every sense…

There is already a suffocating tightness in this loop; a circularity that brings me to consider the first serious objection against meritocracy, if only the most trivial and conspicuous. For judged solely by its own terms just how meritocratic is our celebrated meritocracy? Hmmm – need I go on? Very well then, I shall offer this brisk reductio ad absurdum:

Let’s start where the debate ordinarily ends, with the topic of professional footballers… To most people, the excessive salaries paid to footballers stands out as an egregious example of unfairness. I share the same view, but wonder why we stop at footballers. They are not alone; not by a long chalk.

Indeed, given that our utilitarian-capitalist meritocracy does in fact function as it is presumed to function, then it follows that most top sportsmen (to a lesser extent, sportswomen too), including footballers, but also tennis players, golfers, F1 drivers, cyclists, athletes, etc – sports of low popularity by comparison – as well as pop idols, TV celebrities and film stars (not forgetting agents and the retinue of hangers-on) are, by virtue of their fabulous incomes, not merely most deserving of such high rewards, but also, by direct extension, some of the most ‘productive’ amongst us. Would any deign to defend this high visibility flaw in our socio-economic system? Truth is that many on this ever-expanding list are rewarded for just one thing: fame – thanks to another self-perpetuating cycle in which fame makes you wealthy, and then wealth makes you more famous again.

Nor does such rightful utilitarian calculus reliably account for the gargantuan salaries and bonuses (and who else gets bonuses in excess of their salaries!) of so many bankers, hedge fund managers and other financiers who callously wrecked our western economies. With annual remuneration that outstrips most ordinary worker’s lifetime earnings, the staggering rewards heaped upon those working in The City and Wall Street have little relationship to levels of productivity and usefulness, but worse, remuneration is evidently disconnected from levels of basic competence. Instead we find that greedy ineptitude is routinely and richly rewarded, if only for the ‘made men’ already at the top and lucky enough to be “too big to fail”. In light of the crash of 2008, any further talk of “the classless society” ought to have us all running for the exits!

Then we come to the other end of our meritocratic muck-heap. And here amongst the human debris we find contradictions of an arguably more absurd kind. I am referring to those disgustingly unworthy winners of our many lotteries – you know the types: petty criminals, knuckle-draggers and wastrels (the tone here is strictly in keeping with tabloid outrage on which it is based) who blow all their winnings on a binge of brash consumerism and a garage full of intoxicants. Conspicuous consumption of the most vulgar kinds! How dare they squander such hard, unearned dosh on having fun! But wait a minute… surely the whole point of running a lottery is that anyone can win. Have we forgotten the advertisement already? So if we are really serious about our meritocracy then perhaps we should to be stricter: no lotteries at all! Yet a cursory consideration of this point presents us with far bigger hurdles by far. For if we are truly committed to the project of constructing a meritocracy (and we must decide precisely what this means), it is vital to acknowledge the fact that life is inherently beset with lotteries. Indeed when roundly considered, this represents an existential dilemma that potentially undermines the entire project.

For life begins with what might best be described as our lottery of inheritance. Where you are born and to whom, the postal code you reside in, the schools you attended, your religious (or not) upbringing, whether you happen to carry one or two x-chromosomes, and the colour of your skin… the whole nine yards. Your entire existence happened by extraordinary chance and each and every aspect of it owes an unfathomable debt to further blind chance.

Therefore, in our most puritanical understanding of meritocracy, lotteries relating to the guessing of random numbers will be abolished altogether, in order to set a precedent, although still these other lotteries, life’s lotteries, remain inescapable. Which is devastating blow to the very concept of fully-fledged meritocracy, since whatever meritocracy we might choose to build will always remain a compromise of one kind or another.

In point of fact, however, we have been moving instead in the completely opposite direction. There has been a tremendous and rapid growth in lotteries of all shapes and sizes: from the casino economy working to the advantage of financial speculators at the top; to the rise of online casinos and the latest betting apps, mathematically honed to suck money from the pockets of the desperate and sometimes destitute pipedreamers at the bottom. Further indications of how far our society truly diverges from even the most rudimentary notions of meritocracy.

So there is plenty of scope for devising a better version of meritocracy; one that isn’t so riddled with blatant inconsistencies and arbitrary rewards. A more refined meritocracy operating according to common sense fairness and consistency, with built-in checks and balances to ensure the winners are more consistently worthy than the losers. A more level playing field bringing us closer to the ideal – for surely a better devised version of meritocracy is the fairest system we can ever hope to live under. In fact, I beg to differ, but before entering further objections to the sham ideal of meritocracy, I wish first to celebrate the different areas in which greater equality has indeed been achieved and ones where it is still dangerously lacking.

During the Q&A session following a lecture entitled “Capitalist Democracy and its Prospect’s” that he delivered in Boston on September 30th, 2014, Noam Chomsky speaks to why the notion of a capitalist democracy is oxymoronic. He also discusses the widespread misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s economic thinking, especially amongst libertarians, and specifically regarding the misuse of his terms ‘invisible hand’ and ‘division of labour’.

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There is no denying that at the start of the twenty-first century our own society has, and in a number of related ways, been made fairer and more equal than it was just thirty years ago when I was a school-leaver. Most apparent is the sweeping change in attitudes towards race and gender. Casual racism wasn’t merely permissible in seventies and early eighties Britain, but an everyday part of the mainstream culture. The sporadic Black or Asian characters on TV were neatly allotted into their long-established stereotypes, and comedians like bilious standup Bernard Manning had free rein to defile the airwaves with their popular brands of inflammatory bigotry. Huge strides have been taken since then, and social attitudes are unalterably changed for the better. Today the issue of diversity is central to political debate, and social exclusion on the grounds of race and gender is outlawed.

In the prophetic words of abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”; words famously borrowed by Martin Luther King in a celebrated sermon he delivered in the year of 1965.3 It was a momentous year: one that marked the official end to racial segregation in the Southern United States with the repeal of the horrendous Jim Crow laws, and the same year when Harold Wilson’s Labour government passed the Race Relations Act prohibiting discrimination in Britain on “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic and national origins”.

On August 28th (last Tuesday) ‘Democracy Now’ interviewed co-founder and chair of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, who was arrested and indicted after speaking outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He describes how during his trial Judge Julius Hoffman ordered him to be gagged and bound to his chair [from 9:15 mins]:

Did Bobby Seale’s treatment provide inspiration for Woody Allen’s madcap courtroom scene in ‘Bananas’? [from 5:00 mins]:

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As Parker and King understood well, of course, the arc of the moral universe does not bend of its own accord but requires tremendous pressure from below. And so it was, again in 1965, after shockwaves sent by Wilson’s government through former colony Rhodesia, that in efforts to avoid the end of its apartheid system, the white minority government under then-Prime Minister Ian Smith, declared independence, and an armed struggle for black liberation ensued. It was a bloody struggle that would grind on throughout the 70s, but one that ended in triumph. Meanwhile, apartheid in neighbouring South Africa outlasted Rhodesia for a further decade and a half before it too was dismantled in 1994 and the rainbow flag could be hoisted.

In solidarity with Nelson Mandela and leading the armed struggle had been Joe Slovo, a commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who fought alongside deputy Ronnie Kasrils; both the sons of émigré Jews. Also prominent within the anti-apartheid resistance were other Jewish figures including Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, and Ruth First – an activist, scholar and wife of Joe Slovo, she was murdered by a parcel bomb sent to her in Mozambique. Ironically, today Israel stands alone as the last remaining state that legally enforces racial segregation, but even the concrete walls and barbed wire dividing the West Bank and Gaza cannot hold forever.

This video footage was uploaded as recently as Wednesday 29th. It shows a young Palestinian girl living under Israeli control in Hebron having to climb a closed security gate just to get home:

The fence had been extended in 2012 and fitted with a single gate to provide entrance to the Gheith and a-Salaimeh neighborhoods in Hebron. The footage below was recorded by B’Tselem in May 2018 and shows other students unable to return from school and their mothers beseeching the Border Police officers to open it. The officers say in response that the gate is closed as “punishment” for stone throwing; a collective punishment that is prohibited under international law:

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Likewise, homosexuality, which until astonishingly recent times remained a virtually unspoken taboo, was decriminalised as comparatively recently as 1967 – the year of my birth and coincidentally the same year aboriginal Australians received full citizenship and the right to vote.

Before the Sexual Offences Act came into force, gay men faced prosecution and a prison sentence (lesbians slipped through the legal loophole due to technicalities surrounding the delicate issue of penetration), whereas today they enjoy the equal right to marriage, which cynics will doubtless say entitles them to an alternative form of imprisonment, but hurrah for that… since irrespective of one’s views on the institution of marriage, equality under law is indicative of genuine social progress. The same goes for the transformation of attitudes and legal framework in countering discrimination on grounds of gender, disability and age. Discrimination based on all these prejudices is plain wrong, and liberation on all fronts, an unimpeachable good.

In these ways, our own society – like others across the globe – has become more inclusive, and, if we choose to describe it as such, more meritocratic. Yet many are still left out in the cold. Which people? Sadly, but in truth, all of the old prejudices linger on – maybe they always will – but prime amongst them is the malignant spectre of racism.

For overall, as we have become more conscious and less consenting of racism than in the past, the racists, in consequence, have adapted to fit back in. More furtive than old-style racism, which wore its spiteful intolerance so brashly on its sleeve, many in the fresh crop of bigots have learned to feign better manners. The foaming rhetoric of racial supremacy is greatly moderated, and there is more care taken to legitimise the targeting of the chosen pariahs. Where it used to be said how “the Coloureds” and “the Pakis” (and other labels very much more obscene again) were innately ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘doped-up’ and ‘dirty’ (the traditional rationalisations for racial hatred), the stated concern today is in difference per se. As former BNP leader Nick Griffin once put it:

[I]nstead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.4

And note how identity politics here plays to the right wing just as does to the left, better in fact, because it is a form of essentialism. In effect, Griffin is saying ‘white lives matter’, when of course what he really means is ‘white lives are superior’. But talk of race is mostly old hat to the new racists in any case, who prefer to attack ‘culture’ over ‘colour’.

In multicultural Britain, it is the Muslim minority, and especially Muslim women, who receive the brunt of the racial taunts, the physical abuse, and who have become the most preyed upon as victims of hate crimes, while the current hypocrisy lays blame at their door for failing to adopt western values and mix in; a scapegoating that alarmingly recalls the Nazi denigration and demonisation of the Jews. It follows, of course, that it is not the racists who are intolerant but the oppressed minority who are or who look like Muslims. By this sleight of hand, Islamophobia (a very clumsy word for a vile creed) festers as the last manifestation of semi-respectable racism.

When it was released in 1974, “Blazing Saddles” shocked audiences. It is no less shocking today, but the difference today is that no-one could make it. No contemporary film in which every third word is a vile racist expletive would pass the censors. Yet as it plunges us headlong into a frenetic whirlwind of bigotry, and as all commonsense rationality is suspended, nothing remains besides the hilarious absurdity of racial prejudice. Dumb, crude, and daring: it is comedy of rare and under-appreciated genius. As Gene Wilder puts it “They’ve smashed racism in the face and the nose is bleeding, but they’re doing it while you laugh” [6:15 mins]. Embedded below is a BTS documentary tribute entitled “Back in the Saddle” [Viewer discretion advised]:

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“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” quipped Oscar Wilde.5 And though the accusation at the heart of his bon mot may be contested, that most people certainly do judge by appearances really cannot be. Briefly then, I wish to consider a few of the most overlooked but widespread social prejudices, which though seldom so vicious and of less clear historical significance than other such virulent strains as sexism and racism, are long-standing and ingrained prejudices nonetheless. These tend to be prejudices against certain types of individual, rather than against interconnected “communities”. Prejudices so commonplace that some readers will doubtless see my digression as trivial, or even laughable, and yet there is good reason to delve into the matter as it opens up a bigger question, and, once expanded upon, more fundamentally challenges our whole notion of meritocracy. So here goes… (I am braced for the many titters and guffaws and encourage you to laugh along!)

Firstly, there is a permitted prejudice on the one hand against short blokes (trust me, I am one), and on the other against fat ladies. Short men and fat women being considered fair game for ridicule literally on the grounds that we don’t shape up. Which would be fine – believe me, I can take a joke – except that in playing down the deep-seated nature of such prejudice, as society generally does, there are all sorts of insidious consequences. For it means, to offer a hopefully persuasive example, that whenever satirists (and I use the term loosely, since genuine satire is rather thin on the ground) lampoon Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than holding him to account for his reactionary politics and unsavoury character, they go for the cheaper shot of quite literally belittling him (and yes, prejudice in favour of tallness saturates our language too). Worse still, Sarkozy had the gall to marry a taller and rather glamorous woman, which apparently makes him a still better target for wisecracks about being a short-arse (it’s okay, I’m reclaiming the word). As a result, Sarkozy is most consistently disparaged only for what he couldn’t and needn’t have altered, instead of what he could and should have. No doubt he takes it all on the chin… presuming anyone can actually reach down that far! Yes, it’s perfectly fine to laugh, just so long as we don’t all continue pretending that there is no actual prejudice operating.

Moreover, it is healthy for us to at least admit that there is a broader prejudice operating against all people regarded in one way or another as physically less attractive. Being fat, short, bald or just plain ugly are – in the strictest sense – all handicaps, which, and though far from insurmountable, represent a hindrance to achieving success. Even the ginger-haired enjoy a less than even break, as Neil Kinnock (who was unfortunate enough to be a Welshman too) discovered shortly after he was elected leader of the Labour Party.

Indeed, most of us will have been pigeon-holed one way or another, and though we may sincerely believe that we don’t qualify to be categorised too negatively, our enemies will assuredly degrade us for reasons beyond our ken. But then, could we ever conceive of, for instance, the rise of something akin to let’s say an “ugly pride” movement? Obviously it would be comprised solely of those self-aware and unblinkingly honest enough to see themselves as others actually see them. This envisaged pressure group would comprise an exceptionally brave and uncommon lot.

Then what of the arguably more delicate issues surrounding social class? Indeed, we might reasonably ask ourselves why is there such an animal as social class in the first place? And the quick answer is that people are inherently hierarchical. That “I look up to him because he is upper class, but I look down on him because he is lower class”, to quote again the famous skit from The Frost Report. But now pay proper attention to the vocabulary and its direct correspondence with the physical stature of the three comedians.6

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Class and stature side-by-side, just as they are in the dictionary – and as they have been throughout recent history thanks to dietary deficiencies. Here is a visual gag with etymological parallels: the word ‘stature’ itself a double entendre. But, and unlike physical stature, class is already inextricably tied into levels of wealth and success, and virtually impossible to escape in any society – the Soviet system and Mao’s China were arguably more deeply class-riven than our own purportedly “classless” societies.

Incidentally, I in no way advocate the drafting of future legislation to close the gap on these alternative forms of everyday discrimination: demanding social justice for all those with unpopular body shapes, or who speak with the wrong accent, or stutter, or who have chosen to grow patches of hair in the wrong places, or whatever it is (beards became fashionable after I wrote this!). That would instantly make our lives intolerable in another way: it would be (as the Daily Mail loves to point out) “political correctness gone mad!” After all, prejudice and discrimination come in infinite guises, so where could we finally draw the line?

All of which brings me to our last great tolerated prejudice, and one that is seldom if ever acknowledged as a prejudice in the first place. It is our own society’s – and every other society’s for that matter – very freely held discrimination on the grounds of stupidity. And no, this is not meant as a joke. But that it sounds like a joke makes any serious discussion about it inherently tricky.

Because the dim (and I have decided to moderate my language to avoid sounding unduly provocative, which is not easy – I’ll come to other tags I might have chosen in a moment) cannot very easily stand up for themselves, even if they decide to try. Those willing to concede that their lives are held back by a deficit in braininess (sorry, but the lack of more appropriate words is unusually hampering) will very probably fail to grasp much, if anything at all, of the bigger picture, or be able to articulate any of the frustrations they may feel as daily they confront a prejudice so deeply entrenched that it passes mostly unseen. Well, it’s fun to pick on the idiots, blockheads, boneheads, thickos, cretins, dimwits, dunderheads, dunces, knuckleheads, dumbbells, imbeciles, morons, jerks, and simpletons of the world isn’t it? It is the cheaper half of every comedy sketch, and in all likelihood will remain so; with much of the rest that brings us merriment being the schadenfreude of witnessing the self-same idiots cocking up over and over again. And finally, is there really a nicer word that usefully replaces all the pejoratives above? Our casual prejudice against the dim has been indelibly written into our dictionaries.

On May 13th, 1999, comedian George Carlin was invited to deliver a speech to the National Press Club at Washington D.C. He used the occasion to poke fun at the tortuous abuse of language by politicians as well as the growing tyranny of an invented “soft language”, which includes what he describes as ‘the tedious liberal labeling’ of minorities. His speech is followed by an entertaining Q&A session:

Here’s a little more from Carlin dishing the dirt on political correctness:

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Now if I’d been writing say a hundred years ago (or even more recently) the available vocabulary would have been a little different. For it was permissible during the first half of the last century to speak and write about the problem of ‘feeble-mindedness’ – a term that implies an innate (and thus inherited) ‘disability’. Moreover, as part of a quasi-scientific conversation, social reformers including intellectuals and political thinkers got into the habit of discussing how this affliction (as it was then regarded) might best be eradicated.

Those on the political left were no less shameful in this regard than those on the right, with radical thinkers like H.G. Wells 7 and George Bernard Shaw, chipping in alongside the youthful Winston Churchill8; all scratching their high brows to think up ways of preventing the spread of such evidently bad stock from ruining good society – ‘the feeble-minded’, for reasons never dwelt on by the pioneering eugenicists, not the least bit incapable of passing on their enfeebled genes.

Thanks again to genuine social progress it is unacceptable to speak (openly) about the elimination of the underclasses in our societies today, or to openly speculate on means of halting their uncontrolled and unwanted proliferation (though I write very much in terms that Wells, Shaw and Churchill would have understood). But eugenics, we should constantly remind ourselves, was a great deal more fashionable not so very long ago – even after the concentration camps and worryingly under alternative names it finds advocates still today (for instance, the Silicon Valley techies gather nowadays for conferences on transhumanism, the artificial ‘enhancement’ of humanity, which is one way in which eugenics has reemerged9).

Today’s progressives (and keep in mind that Wells and Shaw both regarded themselves as progressives of their own times) prefer to adopt a more humanitarian position. Rather than eliminating ‘feeble-mindedness’, the concern is to assist ‘the disadvantaged’. A shift in social attitude that is commendable, but it brings new hazards in its stead. For implicit in the new phraseology is the hope that since disparities stem from disadvantage, all differences between healthy individuals might one day be overcome. That aside from those suffering from disability, everyone has an approximately equivalent capacity when it comes to absorbing knowledge and learning skills of one form or another, and that society alone, to the advantage of some and detriment of others, makes us smart or dim. But this is also false, and cruelly so – though not yet barbarously.

For differences in social class, family life, access to education, and so forth (those things we might choose to distinguish as environment or nurture) are indeed significant indicators of later intellectual prowess (especially when our benchmark is academic performance). So it makes for comfortable presupposition that regarding intelligence (an insanely complex matter to begin with) the inherent difference between individuals is slight, and upbringing is the key determinant, but where’s the proof? And if this isn’t the whole picture – as it very certainly isn’t – then what if, heaven forfend, some people really are (pro)created less cognitively proficient than others? Given that they did indeed receive equivalent support through life, it follows that failure is “their own fault”, is it not?

In any case, intelligence, like attractiveness, must be to some degree a relative trait. During any historical period, particular forms of mental gymnastics are celebrated when others are overlooked, and so instruments to measure intelligence will automatically be culturally biased (there is a norm and there are fashions) to tally with the socially accepted idea of intelligence which varies from place to place and from one era to the next. There can never be an acid test of intelligence in any pure and absolute sense.10

Furthermore, whatever mental abilities happen to confer the mark of intelligence at any given time or place, obviously cannot be equally shared by everyone. As with other human attributes and abilities, there is likely to be a bell curve. It follows, therefore, that whatever braininess is or isn’t (and doubtless it takes many forms), during every age and across all nations, some people will be treated as dimmer, or brighter, than their fellows. And notwithstanding that whatever constitutes intelligence is socially determined to some extent, and that estimates of intelligence involve us in a monumentally complex matter, it remains the case that an individual’s capacity for acquiring skills and knowledge must be in part innate. This admission is both exceedingly facile and exceedingly important, and it is one that brings us right to the crux of meritocracy’s most essential flaw.

For how can those who are thought dim be left in charge of important things? They can’t. Which means that it would be madness to give the dimmest people anything other than the least intellectually demanding jobs. The meritocratic logic then follows, of course, that being less capable (and thus relegated to performing only the most menial tasks) makes you less worthy of an equal share, and yet this cuts tangentially across the very principle of ‘fairness’ which meritocracy is supposed to enshrine. For wherein lies the fairness in the economic exclusion of the dim? To reiterate what I wrote above, our prejudice is so deeply ingrained that to many such exclusion will still appear justified. As if being dim is your own lookout.

For whether or not an individual’s perceived failure to match up to society’s current gauge of intelligence is primarily down to educational ‘disadvantage’ (in the completest sense) or for reasons of an altogether more congenital kind, we may justifiably pass over the comfortable view that equal opportunity (laudable as this is) can entirely save the day. Degrees of intellectual competence – whether this turns out to be more socially or biologically determined – will always be with us, unless that is, like Wells, Shaw and Churchill (together with a many other twentieth century social reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, and the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger) we opt instead for the eugenic solution – and I trust we do not. But bear in mind that programmes of forced sterilisation kept running in regions of the western world long after WWII right up to the 1970s.11 Earlier calls to weed out the “feeble-minded” that never fully went away, but instead went underground.

On March 17th 2016, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed Adam Cohen, co-editor of TheNationalBookReview.com and author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck”, who explained how:

After World War II, we put the leading Nazis on trial for some of the worst things that the Nazis did. One of those very bad things was they set up a eugenics program where they sterilized as many as 375,000 people. So we put them on trial for that. And lo and behold, as the movie [“Judgment at Nuremberg”] shows, their defense was: “How can you put us on trial for that? Your own U.S. Supreme Court said that sterilization was constitutional, was good. And it was your own Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of your most revered figures, who said that. So, why are we the bad guys in this story?” They had a point.

Click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

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Now for those further thoughts from the man we might describe as “the father of meritocracy” – even though he would certainly hate it! This is Michael Young speaking out against about his accidental bastard child and the decisive role it is has played in reshaping our societies:

I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been. If branded at school they are more vulnerable for later unemployment.

They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves.

It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none. No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that.12

This meritocracy we live in today, as Michael Young points out, is not just a distant remove from the fairest society imaginable, but in other ways – psychological ones especially – arguably crueller than any older, and less enlightened, -ocracies.

Embedded below is one of a series of lectures “Biology as Ideology” given by distinguished geneticist and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in 1990. Lewontin here explaining how erroneous theories of biological determinism have been used to validate and support the dominant sociopolitical theories and vice versa. He also offers his subversive thoughts on meritocracy:

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Inevitably, ‘merit’ is equated with, and thus mistaken for, ‘success’, and this is true not only for our self-declared meritocracy, but universally. Think about it: if millions of people love to read your books, or to listen to your songs, or just to watch your delightful face on their TV screens, then who would not leap to the conclusion that what they do is of the highest ‘merit’? How else did they rise to stand above the billions of ordinary anonymous human drones?

The converse is also true. That those who remain anonymous are often in the habit of regarding themselves as less significant – in fact psychologically less real – than others in the limelight they see and admire: the celebrities and the VIPs. Which brings me to a lesson my father taught me; an observation which reveals in aphoristic form the inbuilt fault with all conceptions of meritocracy: VIP being a term that makes him curse. Why? For the clinching fact that every one of us is a “very important person”. If this sounds corny or trite then ask yourself sincerely, as my father once asked me: “Are you a very important person…?”

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Famously, Van Gogh sold just a single painting in his lifetime13, but then we all know that millions of terrible painters have also sold one (or less than one!) Not so widely known is that a great deal of Schubert’s music was lost when, in the immediate aftermath of his death, it was recycled as waste paper; but then again, thousands of dreadful composers have also had their music posthumously binned. So the odds are that if you can’t sell your music or publish your book, then you’re just another of the billions, rather than an as yet unappreciated master and another Van Gogh or Schubert. For aside from posterity, and no matter how much we might like to conjure one up, there is no established formula for separating ‘merit’ from ‘success’, and no good reason for supposing we will ever discover such a razor.

In reality therefore, any form of meritocracy will only ever be a form of success-ocracy, and in our own system, money is the reification of success. A system in which success and thus money invariably breeds more success and more money because unavoidably it contains positive and negative feedback loops. For this reason the well-established ruling oligarchies will never be unseated by means of any notional meritocracy – evidence of their enduring preeminence being, somewhat ironically, more apparent in the American republic, where dynasties, and especially political ones, are less frowned upon, and in consequence have remained more visible than in the class-ridden island kingdom it abandoned and then defeated. But even if our extant aristocracies were one day uprooted wholesale, then meritocracy simply opens the way for that alternative uber-class founded by the “self-made man”.

Indeed, ‘aristocracy’, deriving from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratia) and literally meaning “rule of the best”, sounds a lot like ‘meritocracy’ to me. Whereas governance by those selected as most competent (the other way ‘meritocracy’ is sometimes defined) is better known by an alternative name too – ‘technocracy’ in this case – with the select order of technocrats working to whose betterment we might reasonably ask. Meritocracy of both kinds – and every meritocratic system must combine these twin strands – has fascistic overtones.

The promise of meritocracy has been seductive largely because of its close compatibility with neoliberalism, today’s predominant, in fact unrivalled, politico-economic ideology. Predicated on the realism that humans do indeed have an ingrained predisposition to social hierarchy (something that traditional concepts of egalitarianism sought to abolish), it offers a reconfigured market solution to foster a sort of laissez-faire egalitarianism: the equalisation of wealth and status along lines that are strictly “as nature intended”. Furthermore, it appeals to some on the left by making a persuasive case for “equality of opportunity”, if always to the detriment of the more ambitious goal of “equality of outcome”. A sidelining of “equality of outcome” that has led to a dramatic lowering of the bar with regards to what even qualifies as social justice.

Moreover, the rightward drift to meritocracy involves the downplaying of class politics in favour of today’s more factional and brittle politics of identity. This follows because under meritocracy the rigid class barriers of yesteryear are ostensibly made permeable and in the long run must slowly crumble away altogether. In reality, of course, social mobility is heavily restricted for reasons already discussed at length. But this abandonment of class politics in favour of the divisiveness of identity politics is greatly to the benefit of the ruling establishment of course. Divide and conquer has been their oldest maxim.

Interestingly, of the many advocates of meritocracy – from Thatcher to Reagan; Brown to Blair; Cameron to Obama; Merkel to May – none have bothered to very precisely define their terms. What do they mean to imply by ‘merit’ and its innately slippery counterpart ‘fairness’? And whilst they talk of ‘fairness’ over and over again – ‘fairness’ purportedly underlying every policy decision they have ever taken – the actual direction all this ‘fairness’ was leading caused a few to wonder whether ‘fairness’ might be wrong in principle! Like other grossly misappropriated abstract nouns – ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ spring instantly to mind – the difficulty here is that ‘fairness’ is a handy fig-leaf.

Instead, and if we genuinely wish to live in a society striving for greater equality, then the political emphasis ought not to be placed too heavily on wooly notions like ‘merit’ or ‘fairness’ but upon enabling democracy in the fullest sense. The voice of the people may not be the voice of God, but it is, to paraphrase Churchill (who mostly hated it), the least worst system.14 One person, one vote, if not quite the bare essence of egalitarianism, serves both as a fail-safe and a necessary foundation.

Of course, we must always guard against the “tyranny of the majority” by means of a constitutional framework that ensures basic rights and freedoms for all. For democracy offers an imperfect solution, but cleverly conceived and justly organised neither is it, as so many right-wing libertarians are quick to tell you: “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”. This sideswipe is not just glib, but a better description by far of the extreme right-wing anarchy they advocate. In reality, it is their beloved ‘invisible hand’ that better ensures rampant inequality and social division, and for so long as its influence remains unseen and unfettered, will continue to do so, by rigging elections and tipping the scales of justice.

Democracy – from its own etymology: rule by the people – is equality in its most settled form. Yet if such real democracy is ever to arise and flourish then we must have a free-thinking people. So the prerequisite for real democracy is real education – sadly we are a long way short of this goal too and once again heading off in the wrong direction. But that’s for a later chapter.

Next chapter…

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Addendum: our stakeholder society and the tyranny of choice

Prior to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders (for further thoughts on Sanders read my earlier posts), mainstream politics in Britain and America, as more widely, were converged to such a high degree that opposition parties were broadly in conjunction. Left and right had collapsed to form a single “centrist” amalgam in agreement across a wide range of diverse issues spanning race relations, gender equality, immigration, environmentalism, to foreign policy, and most remarkably, economics. In Britain, as in America, the two major parties ceased even to disagree over the defining issue of nationalisation versus privatisation because both sides now approved of the incorporation of private sector involvement into every area of our lives. “Big government”, our politicians echoed in unison, is neither desirable nor any longer possible. Instead, we shall step aside for big business, and limit ourselves to resolving “the real issues”.

The real issues? Why yes, with the business sector running all the fiddly stuff, governments pivoted to address the expansion of individual opportunity and choice. Especially choice. Choice now became the paramount concern.

Even the delivery of essential public services, once the duty of every government (Tory and Labour alike), began to be outsourced. No holy cows. It became the common doctrine that waste and inefficiency in our public services would be abolished by competition including the introduction of internal markets and public-private partnerships, which aside from helping to foster efficiency, would, importantly, diversify customer choice once again.

Under the new social arrangement, we, the people, became “stakeholders” in an altogether more meritocratic venture. Here is Tony Blair outlining his case for our progressive common cause:

“We need a country in which we acknowledge an obligation collectively to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it. One Nation politics is not some expression of sentiment, or even of justifiable concern for the less well off. It is an active politics, the bringing of a country together, a sharing of the possibility of power, wealth and opportunity…. If people feel they have no stake in society, they feel little responsibility towards it, and little inclination to work for its success. ….”15

Fine aspirations, you may think. But wait, and let’s remember that Blair was trained as a lawyer, so every word here counts. “Sharing in the possibility of power…” Does this actually mean anything at all? Or his first sentence which ends: “…to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it” – “it” in this context presumably meaning “the country” (his subject at the beginning). But every citizen already has a stake in the country, doesn’t s/he? Isn’t that what being a citizen means: to be a member of a nation state with an interest, or ‘stake’ (if we insist) in what goes on. However, according to Blair’s “One Nation” vision, members of the public (as we were formerly known) are seemingly required to become fully paid-up “stakeholders”. But how…?

Do we have to do something extra, or are our “stakeholder” voices to be heard simply by virtue of the choices we make? Is this the big idea? The hows and wheres of earning a salary, and then of spending or else investing it; is this to be the main measure of our “stakeholder” participation? In fact, is “stakeholder” anything different than “stockholder” in UK plc? Or is it less than this? Is “stakeholder” substantially different from “consumer”? According to the Financial Times lexicon’s definition, a stakeholder society is:

“A society in which companies and their employees share economic successes.”16

Well, I certainly don’t recall voting for that.

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We are increasingly boggled by choice. Once there was a single electricity supply and a single gas supply – one price fitting all. Now we have literally dozens of companies offering different deals – yet all these deals finally deliver an entirely identical supply of electricity and gas. The single difference is the price, but still you have to choose. So precious moments of our once around the sun existence are devoted to worrying about which power company is charging the least amount. And the companies know all this, of course, so they make their deals as complicated as possible. Perhaps you’ll give up and choose the worst of options – for the companies concerned, this is a winning strategy – thinking about it, this is their only winning strategy! Or, if you are of a mind to waste a few more of your precious never to be returned moments of existence, you may decide to check one of the many comparison websites – but again, which one? Just one inane and frustrating choice after another. And more of those tiresome tickboxes to navigate.

But choice is everything. So we also need to worry more about the latest school and hospital league tables. It is vital to exercise our right to choose in case an actual ambulance arrives with its siren already blaring. In these circumstances we need to be sure that the ambulance outside is bound for a hospital near to the top of the league, because it is in the nature of leagues that there is always bottom – league tables giving a relative assessment, and ensuring both winners and losers.

And provided, an entirely free choice – and not one based on catchment areas – what parent in their right mind elects to send their offspring to a worse school over a better one? So are we just to hope our nearest school and/or hospital is not ranked bottom? Thankfully, house prices save much of the time in helping to make these determinations.

Meantime I struggle to understand what our politicians and civil servants get up to in Whitehall these days. Precisely what do those who walk the corridors of power find to do each day? Reduced to the role of managers, what is finally left for them manage?

And where is all of this choice finally leading? In the future, perhaps, in place of elections, we will be able to voice our approval/dissatisfaction by way of customer surveys. With this in mind, please take a moment to select the response that best reflects your own feelings:

Given the choice, would you say you prefer to live in a society that is:

 More fair

Less fair

Not sure

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 Quote taken from Chapter 10 of George Orwell’s satirical fairytale Animal Farm published in 1945. After the animals have ceased power at the farm they formulate “a complete system of thought” which is designed to unite the animals as well as preventing them from returning to the evil ways of the humans. The seventh and last of these original commandments of ‘Animalism’ is straightforwardly that “All animals are equal”, however, after the pigs have risen to dominance again, the sign is revised and so this last commandment reads “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

2 From an article entitled “Down with meritocracy: The man who coined the term four decades ago wishes Tony Blair would stop using it” written by Michael Young, published in the Guardian on June 29, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

3 Quote taken from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood delivered on February 25, 1965. In fuller context, he said:

“And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

An audio recording of King’s speech and a full transcript is available here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm

4 Quote taken from a meeting on April 22nd, 2000 with American white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, that was recorded as “American Friends of the British National Party” video.

In fuller context Griffin says:

“Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle we got ourselves in a position where we control the British Broadcasting media and then we tell ’em really how serious the immigration problem was, and we tell them the truth about a lot of the crime that’s been going on, if we tell ’em really what multiracialism has meant and means for the future, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say yes every last one must go.  Perhaps they will one day.  But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.  My primary identity quite simply is there (points to veins in wrist). That’s the thing that counts.”

The clip was shown in BBC1’s Panorama: Under the Skin first broadcast on November 25, 2001.

The transcript is available here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_25_11_01.txt

5 Although these words are frequently attributed to Wilde himself, they actually belong to one of his characters. To Lord Henry Wotton who says “To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Taken from Chapter 2 of Wilde’s once scandalous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

6 The “Class Sketch” was first broadcast on April 7, 1966 in an episode of David Frost’s satirical BBC show The Frost Report. It was written by Marty Feldman and John Law, and performed by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in descending order of height!

7 Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901), is one of H.G.Wells’ earliest blueprints for the future. Set in 2000, a youthful Wells (aged 34) suggested an altogether more matter of fact solution to the problem of what he then called “the People of the Abyss” than a promise of education, education, education (the commentary is my own of course):

“It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future, to other masses, that they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with power as superior peoples are trusted, that their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and detrimental in the civilizing fabric, and that their range of incapacity tempts and demoralises the strong. To give them equality is to sink to their level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped in their fecundity…”

Which is putting it most politely! Oh dear, oh dear! What has happened to the clarion call for freedom and equality (and here I mean equality of opportunity, since to be fair Wells was ever the egalitarian, consistently keener on meritocracy than any of the more radical ideals of wealth redistribution). Might it be that the young Mr Wells was showing off his truer colours? Let us go on a little:

“The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully, and efficiently will be to die.”

Just who are the hideous hoards who Wells so pities and despises (in roughly equal measures)? Let us read on:

“…the small minority, for example, afflicted with indisputably transmissible diseases, with transmissible mental disorders, with such hideous incurable habits of the mind as the craving for intoxication…”

But he’s jesting… isn’t he?

“And I imagine also the plea and proof that a grave criminal is also insane will be regarded by them [the men of the New Republic] not as a reason for mercy, but as an added reason for death…”

Death? Why not prison and rehabilitation…?

“The men of the New Republic will not be squeamish either, in facing or inflicting death, because they will have a fuller sense of the possibilities of life than we possess…”

Ah, I see, yes since put like that… yes, yes, death and more death, splendid!

“All such killing will be done with an opiate, for death is too grave a thing to be made painful or dreadful, and used as a deterrent for crime. If deterrent punishments are to be used at all in the code of the future, the deterrent will neither be death, nor mutilation of the body, nor mutilation of the life by imprisonment, nor any horrible things like that, but good scientifically caused pain, that will leave nothing but memory…”

An avoidance of nasty old pain… that’s good I suppose.

“…The conscious infliction of pain for the sake of pain is against the better nature of man, and it is unsafe and demoralising for anyone to undertake this duty. To kill under the seemly conditions of science will afford is a far less offensive thing.”

Death, yes, a more final solution, of course, of course…

This is horrifying, of couse, especially in light of what followed historically.

Deep down Wells was an unabashed snob, though hardly exceptional for his time. Less forgivably, Wells was a foaming misanthropist (especially so when sneering down on the hoi polloi). But mostly he longed to perfect the human species, and as a young man had unflinchingly advocated interventions no less surgical than those needed to cure any other cancerous organ. But then of course, it was once fashionable for intellectual types to seek scientific answers to social problems: programmes of mass-sterilisation and selective reproduction.

His Fabian rival George Bernard Shaw had likewise talked of selective breeding in his own quest to develop a race of supermen, whilst Julian Huxley, Aldous’s big brother, was perhaps the foremost and pioneering advocate of eugenics, later coining the less soiled term ‘transhumanism’ to lessen the post-Nazi stigma. Judged in the broader historical context therefore, Wells was simply another such dreaming ideologue.

That Wells was also one of the first to use the term “new world order” maybe of little lasting significance, however totalitarian his visions for World Socialism, but importantly Wells was never in the position to realise his grander visions, in spite of being sufficiently well-connected to arrange private meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who entertained him over dinner, and with Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin. Finally, he was unable to inspire enough significant others to engage in his “open conspiracy”.

All extracts below are taken from Anticipation of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Chapman & Hall, 1901

8

Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.

The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, of which Churchill had been one of the early drafters. The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from an early age.” “Idiots” were defined as people “so deeply defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.”

Extract taken from a short essay called “Churchill and Eugenics” written by Sir Martin Gilbert, published on May 31, 2009 on the Churchill Centre website. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/594-churchill-and-eugenics

9 “Population reduction” is another leftover residue of the old eugenics programme but freshly justified on purportedly scientific and seemingly less terrible neo-Malthusian grounds – when previous “population reduction” was unashamedly justified and executed on the basis of the pseudoscience of eugenics, the pruning was always done from the bottom up, of course.

10 Aside from being the invention of pioneering eugenicist Francis Galton, the IQ test was an pseudo-scientific approach that first appeared to be validated thanks to the research of Cyril Burt who had devised ‘twin studies’ to prove the heritability of IQ. However, those studies turned out to be fraudulent:

“After Burt’s death, striking anomalies in some of his test data led some scientists to reexamine his statistical methods. They concluded that Burt manipulated and probably falsified those IQ test results that most convincingly supported his theories on transmitted intelligence and social class. The debate over his conduct continued, but all sides agreed that his later research was at least highly flawed, and many accepted that he fabricated some data.”

From the current entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85886/Sir-Cyril-Burt

11

Eugenics is now rightly abjured, and if only for its abominable record for cruelty. But the cruelty of the many twentieth century programmes of eugenics was hardly incidental. Any attempt to alter human populations to make them fit an imposed social structure by means of the calculated elimination and deliberate manipulation of genetic stock automatically reduces people to the same level as farm animals.

It should be remembered too that what the Nazis had tried to achieve by mass murder across Europe was only novel in terms of its extremely barbarous method. Eugenics programmes to get rid of “inferior” populations by forced sterilisation having been introduced earlier in America and surreptitiously continuing into the 1970s. For instance, there was a secret programme for the involuntary sterilisation of Native American women long after the World War II.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html

12 From the same Guardian article entitled “Down with meritocracy” written by Michael Young, published in June, 2001.

13 Van Gogh famously sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles. A painting that now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold nor came to public attention until after his death.

14

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

— Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

15 Tony Blair speaking in Singapore on January 7, 1996.

16 The source for this definition is given as the Longman Business English Dictionary (although the link is lost). http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=stakeholder-society

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Filed under analysis & opinion, « finishing the rat race », financial derivatives, neo-liberalism, Noam Chomsky

illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations

Recent historical background

In October 2011, Russia drew a line in the sand when it vetoed western intervention in Syria.

The UN security council is expected to seek a fresh resolution on Syria after Russia and China on Tuesday night vetoed a draft that threatened sanctions, a security council source said.

The veto by Russia, which was supported by China, provoked the biggest verbal explosion from the US at the UN for years, with its ambassador Susan Rice expressing “outrage” over the move by Moscow and Beijing.

Rice also walked out of the security council, the first such demonstration in recent years. While walkouts are common at the UN general assembly, they are rare in the security council. 1

Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.

In response, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, provided his own translation of the Russian statement of explanation for their veto:

The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.

Let me be clear to all; Russia’s position with regard to the conflict in Libya in no way stems from any special ties with the Gadaffi regime, to the extent that several States represented around this table had a great deal warmer relationships with the Gadaffi regime than Russia. It is the people of Libya who have determined the destiny of Gadaffi.

In the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.

The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.

The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.

The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.

The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.

This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.

As Murray points out, the validity of the Russian statement is borne out by the facts on the ground, even if the mainstream media has turned away from presenting the true horror of the atrocities that have been committed by Nato and the rebel forces in the name of freedom and democracy, most especially in the case of Sirte:

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view to the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO have in effect declared being in Gadaffi’s political camp a capital offence. There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue”. It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post in full.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya was one of very few independent journalists reporting inside Libya. He consistently dismissed the official story of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This is what he had to say in an interview at the end of July 2011:

Without question, it has to be emphasized that the NATO-led bombings have deliberately targeted Libyan civilians and have sought to punish the civilian population in Libya. Water facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, schools, food facilities, hotels, civilian vehicles, restaurants, homes, government office buildings, and residential areas have all been bombed. This includes the Libyan Supreme Court, a civilian bus, a Down’s Syndrome facility, a children’s vaccination centre, and Nasser University. The NATO claim that military command and control buildings are being targeted is nonsense and untrue.

The NATO goal has not been to protect civilians, but to provoke civilians into blaming Colonel Qaddafi and his regime for the war and NATO’s war crimes against the Libyan people. NATO believes that the brutality of its bombings of Libyan civilians and its strategy to create a shortage of fuel, money, medicine, food, and water would cause regime change in Tripoli by pushing the Libyan population to oust Qaddafi. 2

And here is Mahdi Nazemroaya giving an eyewitness account at a Toronto Conference for “The Truth about Libya” a few months later on Sept 9th, when he spoke passionately against the lies of the mainstream media that covered up the horrors of the NATO intervention:

Craig Murray likewise points out that: “NATO action in Libya went way beyond what the Security Council had actually authorised, which was a no fly zone to protect civilians, a ceasefire, and negotiations between the parties” and goes on to describe Susan Rice’s reaction to the Russian statement as ‘pathetic’:

Having absolutely abused UNSCR 1973, plainly NATO was seriously damaging the ability of the Security Council to work together in future, and making quite certain that China and Russia would not for many years agree to any SC Resolutions which might be open to similar abuse. I know the American Envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, and have in the past worked with her and had great respect for her; she was genuinely committed to the fight against apartheid. But her histrionic walkout in reaction to a Russian statement which was both plainly true, and an eminently forseeable result of America’s own rash actions, was just pathetic.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post.

That Russia and China will resort to appeals to ‘humanitarianism’ only when it suits their own geostrategic agenda is true, of course. In this instance, Russian being primarily concerned to protect its interests in Syria, which includes the Tartus naval base 3. But then it’s always so much easier to see through the hypocrisy coming out of Beijing and Moscow, than when it comes from the lips of our own leaders — Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama at the time — or, more importantly, from a media that is unswervingly loyal to the same corporate and establishment interests.

War is a racket, remember that – not my words but those of Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated general in America’s history. And in his famous anti-war pamphlet of the same name, first published in 1935, he writes:

“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

Or, as Craig Murray rewrites it for our contemporary times:

“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.

Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitised media tells you. The BBC have reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That is an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.

I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke. From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.

If there is full scale “intervention” in Syria then we can certainly expect similar results, because, and in spite of the humanitarian justifications that will undoubtedly be given, the real motivation remains the same. A grab for power and money. As Butler says: it’s just a racket.

*

Earlier chemical attacks in Syria

During the half decade in which a sustained proxy war has engulfed Syria, there have now been two alleged chemical attacks which have prompted demands for direct military “intervention” against Assad. The first happened four years ago when Obama accused the Syrian regime of “crossing a red line” following a release of sarin gas in Ghouta. Allegations which Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh afterwards refuted, challenging Obama’s claims that US intelligence possessed solid evidence proving Assad’s guilt, and more importantly, revealing that the origins of the sarin used in the attack “didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad. 4

The article quoted above entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th, 2014.

In a follow up article Hersh also provided supporting evidence that the Ghouta attack was most probably carried out by al-Qaeda factions in Syria who quite definitely did have the means:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

And Hersh finally went on to implicate Turkey as likely collaborators in the Ghouta atrocity and other less widely reported chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat. 5

Read more here and here.

Following Tuesday’s [April 4th] chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, some 30 miles south of Idlib city, Assad stands accused once again, this time by Trump, of crossing “many, many lines – beyond a red line”. On this occasion, no evidence has yet been provided aside from video footage that purportedly shows rescuers trying to resuscitate victims of an alleged aerial attack. The images are indeed extremely harrowing, but what precisely are we witnessing? The plain fact that the only footage available carries the logo of the al-Qaeda linked White Helmets is grounds alone to query the authenticity of the story.

Quoted below is the gruesome conclusion drawn by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) and associated medical experts after closely analysing similarly disturbing video footage of White Helmet responders dealing with an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015:

‘Lifesaving’ procedures on the children showed in the White Helmets videos were found to be fake, and ultimately performed on dead children. 6

In a related report Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, a prominent figure in the resistance movement against the Pinochet Dictatorship (biographical notes from his current wikipedia entry are reproduced as a footnote ), adds that:

SWEDHR took the time to get the dialogue in the White Helmet movie translated. At 1:16 the doctor in full light green and a gray & black jumper says:

”Include in the picture (meaning in the film or the frame -translators note) the mother should be underneath and the children on top of her, hey! Make sure the mother is underneath.”

Perhaps, if the video had been subtitled, the UN officials [who watched the film in the closed-door session at the UN Security Council] might have queried this overt staging of an event that one must assume, was chaotic, harrowing and stressful. Perhaps, they would have found it strange, that in the midst of a “chemical weapon” attack, one of the medics, attempting to save the lives of three Syrian children, would be concerned with the positioning of their bodies for the camera. 7

Click here and here to read the full reports from Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). [hat tip to Burning Blogger of Bedlam]

It is noteworthy that the wikipedia entry for SWEDHR may soon be deleted. Here is a screenshot as it currently appears (apologies for the size but I wanted to capture the full article):

And here is a close up of the banner at the top — observe how the various “issues” are all dated April 2017:

*

Lacking the legal sanction of a UN Security Council resolution or approval from Congress, it is on the basis of similarly doubtful and unsubstantiated video evidence that Trump so hastily launched his $100 million offensive – an initial salvo which is presumably set to open yet another front in the West’s ever-expanding post-9/11 warzone. Neo-con David Ignatius even made this extraordinary comparison writing in the Washington Post:

Then came those pictures of the Syrian children. With Thursday night’s action, Trump reached one of those unforeseen tipping points on which decisions of war and peace so often rest: the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the “Zimmermann telegram” of 1917, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964, the Iraqi WMD delusion in 2003. What all these triggers for war have in common is that people didn’t see them coming. 8

Anyone with even a passing interest in history will recognise that what those pretexts to major wars in Ignatius’ list share in common is a good deal less superficial than “that people didn’t see them coming”. It is common knowledge that the last two examples were outright lies (not “delusions”), but serious and lingering doubts also remain over the seemingly willful negligence accompanying the separate tragedies which accelerated US entry into each of the world wars. For deceit and deception is not only part and parcel of war itself, more often than not it is a necessary catalyst to instigate war.

Above is a Mail Online report published in January 2013 that was subsequently removed.

Below is a screenshot of the CNN article by award winning journalist Elise Labott, the original link was later redirected to CNN blogs:

Click here to read more about these earlier reports at Global Research.

*

As the rush to a new war quickens, here are just a few pleas for restraint – extracts from articles and interviews (the transcripts are my own) from a wide range of dissenting but considered and well-informed perspectives.

Trump’s war crime

Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, at the UN Security Council meeting on April 7th:

Holding up an enlarged photo of Colin Powell’s “weapons of mass destruction” speech, Llorenti made an impassioned plea to hold the U.S. to account for Thursday’s unprovoked attack on Syria, noting the U.S. history of imperialist interventions in other nations, including Latin America.

“Now the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That’s not what international law is about.”

The Andean nation currently holds a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

“I believe it’s vital for us to remember what history teaches us and on this occasion (in 2003), the United States did affirm, they affirmed that they had all the proof necessary to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but they were never found … never were they found,” the Bolivian envoy told the emergency Security Council meeting on Friday.

Arguing that the U.S. acted unilaterally and in flagrant violation of the U.N. charter, the Bolivian envoy called for a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

“The United States was preparing once again and carried out a unilateral attack,” Llorenti said. “The missile attack, of course, is a unilateral action. They represent a serious threat to international peace and security.”

Click here to read the full article on telesur.

Llorenti also reminded delegates:

“After [the Iraq] invasion there were 1 million deaths and it launched a series of atrocities in that region. Could we talk about ISIS if that invasion had not taken place? Could we be talking about the series of horrendous attacks in various parts of the world had that invasion, this illegal invasion not taken place?” [from 8 mins]

*

To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.

Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.

In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamour for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.

However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?

No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.

Click here to read the full article by political analyst John Wight published in Counterpunch.

*

Cui bono?

On Wednesday 6th in the immediate aftermath of the gas attack inside Khan Sheikhoun, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was interviewed by Sky News. He said:

Ask who benefits – clearly it’s not the Syrian regime or the Russians who are benefitting. And I believe it’s highly unlikely that either were behind what’s happened. There are different possibilities. One is that all of it is fake news: the images, the videos, the information all come from opposition sources and not from any credible independent journalists.

It’s also possible that the pictures show the aftermath of a bombing attack which happened to hit a jihadi chemical weapons munition dump. We know for a fact that the jihadi’s were storing chemical weapons in schools in Eastern Aleppo because these were seen later by western journalists. This is one distinct possibility.

We never learn, do we? Iraq’s chemical weapons – remember that one? We were stampeded. Aleppo, we were told that there was a holocaust going on – massacres – didn’t happen. Independent reporters went in afterwards and saw no evidence of massacres. What we did see were fighters being bussed out quietly. And we discovered subsequently that a lot of the footage was fake.

Asked whether western intervention in 2013 “might have changed things”, Ford replies:

Well, it’s not profitable to discuss the what-might-have-been – personally, I think it was correct in 2013 not to intervene on the side of the jihadis. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that most of the people, when they thought about it for a second, would ask themselves: well, what’s going to replace Assad and the secular regime which is protecting minorities, Christians, women’s rights? I don’t think the Islamists would have been a better bet, and that is even more the case today. Remember that in Idlib where this happened is a rats’ nest of the most extreme jihadis.

Dogs returning to their own vomit. They made all these mistakes: Iraq, Libya – they never learn and they would like to reproduce the same scenario in Syria. Fortunately, the Trump administration moved only last week – and this may be significant here – moved only last week to disown the Obama policy of trying to unseat the Syrian regime. Trump’s people said: we’re more interested in unseating ISIS – that’s our priority. And you may think it’s significant that this attack comes days after that. Now if the jihadis wanted to complicate Trump’s task of making America’s policy more sensible, they wouldn’t have gone about it any other way than trying to mount a piece of fake news like this.

*

The media has helped spread the war fever. New York Times columnist and Iraq war cheerleader Thomas Friedman reflexively proposed that Syria be partitioned, with U.S. troops if necessary. On CNN, correspondent Arwa Damon wept over the lack of U.S. resolve, suggesting that a bombing campaign against Damascus would somehow salve the wounds of Syria.

But there has been one issue major media outlets have refused to touch, and that is the nature of the rebels who would gain from any U.S. military offensive. Who holds power in Idlib, why are they there and what do they want? This is perhaps the most inconvenient set of questions for proponents of “humanitarian” military intervention in Syria.

The reality is that Idlib is substantially controlled by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has gone through a series of rebranding schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jabhat al-Nusra. In the province it rules, al-Nusra has imposed what a leading scholar has described as a Taliban-like regime that has ethnically cleansed religious and ethnic minorities, banned music and established a brutal theocracy in which it publicly executes women accused of adultery.

Even analysts who have repeatedly called for U.S.-led regime change in Syria have described Idlib as the “heartland of al-Nusra.”

Click here to read the full article by Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton, published in Alternet on Wednesday 5th.

The same piece includes the following insightful update (with all links maintained from original):

Several hours after this article was published, the U.S. attacked the Syrian government, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, in the city of Homs. ISIS seized on the opportunity and launched an offensive against the Syrian government immediately after the U.S. strike. The attack was likewise applauded by the Salafi jihadist militia Ahrar al-Sham, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

*

On Saturday 8th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Peter Oborne, Associate Editor of the Spectator magazine, and Middle East Eye columnist, who has visited Syria during the war and is about to return. Here extracts from what Oborne said:

Well the pictures are terrible – really shocking and awful. But the question is: what’s behind them; what could have created this situation; and was the Syrian government/regime involved? And I think it’s very unwise to jump to immediate conclusions. That’s what history teaches you. Intelligence agencies produce stuff which is unreliable and false: you know going back to WMD before the Iraq invasion. You got back to the reasons given for the Libyan intervention, five years after that, and then the attempts to get western involvement in the wake of the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta. I just think that we need to pause.

I think there should be an investigation: it’s very shocking what’s happened. But to immediately blame the Assad regime and then say look we’ve got to go to war is not the sensible response. […]

Matthew Rycroft [British ambassador to the UN Security Council] is a young man, and he’s probably not that experienced, and he’s probably a bit naive. Intelligence agencies need to assess in a responsible and adult way what happened. And to suddenly launch World War Three – which this potentially could become –on the back of a whole series of media reactions to a very serious and terrible event is not sensible. We need to know the truth about what happened first.

One of the questions is cui bono – who benefits? And if you look at the situation of the Assad regime now you can’t really say that it’s in their interest to go around dropping chemical weapons. They knew four years ago in 2013, the United States came very close to bombing Damascus in the wake of that [chemical incident at Ghouta]. Now do they want that to happen? I don’t think so.

From the perspective here in London, you know, it looks like the war is almost over. Do you want to reignite something absolutely terrible? […]

I can’t look into the mind of President Trump, but I was surprised. We know that there has been a constituency to go to war in Syria. In my view, to get involved in that would have made things far worse – led to far more innocent deaths, to far more deaths of children. And if the West is going to pile into Syria then it’s going to cause unintended consequences on a limitless scale, as we saw when we used the false justification of WMD in Iraq. So much better is to sit back, pause, use proper intelligence techniques to work out and analyse what did happen, and respond over time. But what we are seeing now is hysteria. […]

We don’t know how many people have died in Syria because of the terrible war which has been going on for the last four years. Is it 200,000? Is it 400,000? I don’t know. How many lives have been destroyed? How many children have died? (All the rest of it…) If any situation called for restraint, this is the one.

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has just come back from Saudi Arabia. She’s trying to sell British arms, etc (I presume) to Saudi. Saudi has a long-standing determination to destroy the Assad government in Syria. And I’d just like to be clear about what Mrs May’s… you know, you need to be aware of who Mrs May talks to. It is not in the interests of humanity or the world to get involved in a new war in Syria to take it in a fresh direction on the basis of an event we know practically nothing about.

*

The immediate fall out

President Donald Trump’s missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Western Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. While the attack undoubtedly lifted the morale of the jihadists who have been rampaging across the country for the last six years, it had no military or strategic value at all. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground.

The attack did however kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.

Is that the change that Trump wanted?

As of Friday, Russia has frozen all military cooperation with the United States.  According to the New York Times:

“In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems and reportedly planned to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus….

Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.” (New York Times)

The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business. That, of course, is the President’s prerogative, but it would be foolish not to think there will be consequences.

Click here to read the full article by Mike Whitney published in Counterpunch. The same piece also includes Mike Whitney’s transcription of part of a 14 minute interview on Thursday’s Scott Horton show with former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi. It is reproduced below:

Philip Giraldi: I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t — and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.

Scott Horton: Tell me everything you can about your sources or how you are learning about this?

Philip Giraldi: Okay. These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.

Scott Horton: So current CIA officers are thinking about going public right now?

Philip Giraldi: They are, because they’re that concerned about the way this thing is moving. They are military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty and they are seeing the intelligence the US government has in its hands about what happened in Syria, and the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons – a bomb – and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.

Scott Horton: You say this thing is moving really fast. How fast is this thing moving?

Philip Giraldi: It’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern among the people who are active duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday and so was our ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous “red lines” and they are essentially fearful that this is going to escalate. Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. The Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit ant reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.”

Whitney writes:

I think you’ll find that listening to the whole show is worth the time. [click here to listen]

Giraldi’s observations are persuasive but not conclusive. There needs to be an investigation, that much is certain. (The show was taped before the missile attack, which does show that Giraldi was right about “how fast” things were moving.)

Whitney also quotes from a recent statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

And here’s another thing readers might find interesting: The Russians have an impressive grasp of Washington’s global strategy, in fact, their analysis is vastly superior to anything you’ll read in either the western journals or the establishment media.  Here’s a short clip from a recent speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“The concept of managed chaos appeared long ago as a method of strengthening US influence. Its basic premise is that managed chaos projects should be launched away from the United States in regions that are crucial for global economic and financial development. The Middle East has always been in the focus of politicians and foreign policy engineers in Washington. Practice has shown that this concept is dangerous and destructive, in particular for the countries where the experiment was launched, namely Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan…In Iraq, Syria and Libya, this chaos was created intentionally.

…Responsible politicians have come to see that the managed chaos theory is destroying life in many regions. Some parties can benefit in the short term from fluctuations on the raw materials markets provoked by the revolutions orchestrated by external forces, but this theory ultimately backfires at its engineers and executors in the form of massive migration inflows, which terrorists use to enter these countries. We can see this in Europe. Terrorist attacks have been staged even in the United States. The Atlantic Ocean has not protected it from the terrorist threat. This is the boomerang effect.” (Lavrov)

“Managed chaos”. Brilliant. That’s Washington’s foreign policy in a nutshell. That’s why there’s been no effort to create strong, stable, secular governments that can provide security for their people in any of the countries the US has destroyed in the last 16 years, because this long string of failed states that now stretches from North Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (The ‘arc of instability’) create a permanent justification for US military intervention as well as strategic access to vital resources.

*

Update:

Here is US Congressman Thomas Massie challenging the official narrative on CNN to the undisguised chagrin of the anchor:

The original upload is no longer available so here’s another version courtesy of CNN:

Click here to listen to former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, interviewed on Scott Horton show on April 6th.

*

There is also Professor Theodore Postol’s analysis of the hastily drafted White House Intelligence Report, released on April 11th: “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria

The reports concludes:

The White House report at that time also contained other critical and important errors that might properly be described as amateurish. For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that. The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions. These errors were clear indicators that the White House intelligence report had in part been fabricated and had not been vetted by competent intelligence experts.

This same situation appears to be the case with the current White House intelligence report. No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report, like the earlier Obama White House Report, was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.

What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology”

For a more comprehensive summary of the report I recommend this article by independent journalist Eva Bartlett.

*

In a talk given on April 14th, Noam Chomsky directs attention to Theodore Postol’s analysis and also challenges the official White House narrative:

*

Finally – perhaps not to everyone’s taste – here is James Corbett’s sardonic quick-fire dissection of the same events in four minutes flat:

*

1 From an article entitled “Syria sanctions: ‘outraged’ US seeks fresh resolution after double veto blow” published in the Guardian on October 5, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/05/syria-sanctions-us-fresh-resolution

2 Taken from an interview of Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya for the publication Eurasia. The interview was conducted at the end of July 2011 by two Italian researchers from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences/L’Istituto di Alti Studi in Geopolitica e Scienze Ausiliarie (IsAG), Chiara Felli and Giovanni Andriolo. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26774

3

The Russian expansion of the Tartus would include the installation of an air defence system with S-300 PMU2 Favourite ballistic missile system that would be a virtual threat to the Ceyhan, maritime traffic, the flow of oil, and would provide an air defence shield for vital portions of Syria that are strategically important, especially in the event of a war. In essence Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Syria would be protected from either Israeli or American aerial bombardment. It is clear that the Russian aims in Syria are a symmetrical reaction to American objectives for the Middle East and part of a global chess game.

From an article entitled “Russian Base in Syria, a Symmetrical Strategic Move” written by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, on July 28, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=2839

4 From an article entitled “Whose sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 35, No. 24, December 19, 2013. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

5 From an article entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 36, No. 8, April 17, 2014. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

6 From a report entitled “White Helmets Movie: Updated Evidence From Swedish Doctors Confirm Fake ‘Lifesaving’ and Malpractices on Children” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/white-helmets-movie-updated-evidence-from-swedish-doctors-confirm-fake-lifesaving-and-malpractices-on-children/ 

7

From a report entitled “Swedish Doctors for Human Rights: White Helmets Video, Macabre Manipulation of Dead Children and Staged Chemical Weapons Attack to Justify a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in Syria” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/swedish-doctors-for-human-rights-white-helmets-video-macabre-manipulation-of-dead-children-and-staged-chemical-weapons-attack-to-justify-a-no-fly-zone-in-syria/ 

Marcello Ferrada de Noli had a classical liberal ideological background, influenced by his eldest brother, a lawyer with previous membership in the right-wing Liberal Party. However, he later evolved towards left-liberal and social-libertarian positions. At age 22, Marcello Ferrada de Noli was one of the founders of MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. MIR was a Chilean political party and former left-wing guerrilla organization (founded on October 12, 1965) prominent in the resistance to the Pinochet Dictatorship. Together with his old-time school friend Miguel Enríquez (died in combat 1974) and Marco A. Enríquez, Ferrada de Noli was an author of the Political-military Theses of MIR – known also as La Tesis Insurreccional – the first document of MIR approved in its foundation congress of 1965;[6][7][8] there he represented left-libertarian standpoints.

During the government of the Christian Democratic Party, President Eduardo Frei Montalva declared MIR to be illegal and Marcello Ferrada de Noli was posted in the nationwide published wanted-list of thirteen fugitive MIR leaders,[9] together with his friends Miguel Enríquez, Bautista van Schouwen, and others. Later captured in August 1969[10] Ferrada de Noli was acquitted without trial after having been kept in isolation[11] at Concepción prison (La Cárcel). Altogether he had been captured or imprisoned on seven occasions for his political activities in Chile during his time in the MIR but was never condemned by a Chilean court.

In the aftermath of the resistance to the military coup of 1973 Marcello Ferrada de Noli was captured in Concepción and taken first to the Stadium and later was imprisoned in Quiriquina Island Prisoners Camp. After his liberation he went to Italy, where he was one of the witnesses before the Russell Tribunal which investigated human rights violations in Chile and Latin America. He then became a member of the Russell Tribunal Scientific Secretariat in Rome.[12]

8 From an article entitled “Trump enforces the ‘red line’ on chemical weapons” written by David Ignatius, published in the Washington Post on April 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-faces-a-moral-test-in-syria/2017/04/06/bea8bdde-1aee-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html?utm_term=.fb0a06a21135

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Craig Murray, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, USA

Trump false flag? Noam Chomsky needs to get his facts straighter

In a recent interview [March 27th] given to Jan Frel of Alternet, Noam Chomsky suggested that when people become aware Trump’s promises are “built on sand”, to maintain his popularity he might be tempted to stage a terrorist event:

I think that we shouldn’t put aside the possibility that there would be some kind of staged or alleged terrorist act, which can change the country instantly.

Click here to read a transcript of the full interview.

Today, he clarified those earlier remarks on Democracy Now! saying:

The other possibility is a staged attack of a minor kind. And how hard would that be? Take the FBI technique, which they’re using constantly, of creating situations of entrapment. Well, suppose one of them goes a little too far, that you don’t stop it right in time. That wouldn’t be hard to work out. I don’t particularly anticipate it, but it’s a possibility.

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Although careful to avoid the term, Chomsky is alerting us to the possibility of false flag attacks; a valid concern given how “black ops” of this kind have a well-documented history whether it comes to manufacturing consent for wars (Gulf of Tonkin, USS Liberty), scapegoating opponents (Reichstag Fire, COINTELPRO) or more straightforwardly building and escalating a ‘strategy of tension’.

Chomsky also rightly draws attention to the repeated entrapment of ‘terrorist suspects’ by the FBI – a tactic I covered in this earlier piece – and to the possibility that “one of them goes a little too far”. Presumably he knows about former Egyptian army officer and FBI informant Emad Salem and the murky role he played in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993:

But Chomsky is also well aware that false flag attacks are not the province of the President or his administration. That “black ops” are, of necessity, ‘deep state’ enterprises – planned and executed by intelligence services and/or private contractors with the skills needed to carry them out. Even “a staged attack of a minor kind” involves advanced planning and is not done on the whim of any President.

Trump is certainly a con man with gangland connections, and his presidency is a rising threat to all of us. But the surmise that he or any other President can just click his fingers to conjure up a false flag attack merely to improve poll ratings is pure fantasy. Chomsky knows better than that. So why is he saying this? Why now?

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NATO, the EU, and peace in our time…?

In 2003, the British government published a Defence White Paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Chapter 3 was headed “Further Requirements for Defence”; it opens as follows:

There are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO – but the threat from proliferation and international terrorism remains very real and in the worst case could result in serious casualties and significant disruption to the national economy and our way of life. 1

[bold emphasis added]

However, more recently, following Nato’s deployment of thousands of troops to the Baltics and Poland, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg defended his decision telling German newspaper Bild, “[it] is an appropriate response” to Russia’s “aggressive actions”:

“We want to show our partners that we are there when they need us. And we want to show potential attackers that we react when they threaten us.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

To understand this extraordinary and troubling volte-face from “no major conventional threats” (2003) to the current ‘new Cold War’ hostilities and Russia singled out as a “potential attacker”, it is helpful if we retrace the steps just a little further again. Back to the early ’90s as the rubble of the Berlin Wall lay strewn and the dust had barely settled.

*

Nato’s chequered retreat

Once the Cold War ended (officially at least), Nato’s raison d’être was inevitably thrown into question. If it was to re-establish its role in the world, then it urgently needed to rediscover a purpose. The breakdown of Yugoslavia and the ongoing civil war between the republics perfectly served these ends. Nato became the peacemaker.

With UN Security Council Resolution 816 calling for the enforcement of “a no-fly zone” over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nato entered the conflict in April 1993. For the first time in its history, it was directly engaged in combat. (Note the bold highlight – it will be repeated later.)

The Bosnian War (1992–1995) happened during an unprecedented period of modern history. In the immediate wake of the West’s “victory” in the Cold War, anti-imperialist voices were at their weakest. Consequently, with anti-war opposition stifled, there was almost nothing by way of countervailing analysis or commentary.

By the time of the Kosovo War (1998–1999), the silencing of dissent became more intense again. The proclaimed success of Nato’s earlier intervention ending the Bosnian War with the negotiated settlement of the Dayton Accords had engendered an atmosphere in which anti-war sentiment had been completely marginalised and opposition voices were quiescent.

As in Bosnia, Nato’s campaign in Kosovo was presented as a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that pre-Iraq and -Libya did not possess such a deathly, hollow ring. It was a propaganda line that would be adopted as an article of faith, particularly, it seemed, within ranks of the liberal left. And those who protested too loudly against the bombing were judged to be appeasers – there was little outcry at the time.

One journalist who spoke up against the official narrative was John Laughland. The following extract is taken, however, from a later article published in 2007 by the Guardian: it is Laughland’s response to the now largely forgotten verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after it ruled that Serbia was not guilty of the massacre Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. 3

In the piece, Laughland challenges some of the half-truths that had inculpated the Serbs and their leader, “the Butcher of the Balkans”, Slobodan Milošević:

The international court of justice (ICJ) did condemn Serbia on Monday for failing to act to prevent Srebrenica, on the basis that Belgrade [Milošević] failed to use its influence over the Bosnian Serb army. But this is small beer compared to the original allegations. Serbia’s innocence of the central charge is reflected in the court’s ruling that Serbia should not pay Bosnia any reparations – supplying an armed force is not the same as controlling it. Yugoslavia had no troops in Bosnia and greater guilt over the killings surely lies with those countries that did, notably the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica itself. Moreover, during the Bosnian war, senior western figures famously fraternised with the Bosnian Serb leaders now indicted for genocide, including the US general Wesley Clark and our own John Reid. Should they also be condemned for failing to use their influence? 4

Click here to read John Laughland’s full article.

This is Noam Chomsky, another critic of the Kosovo war, answering questions regarding the guilt or otherwise of Milošević and the Serbian forces:

Investigative journalist John Pilger was another who spoke out strongly at the time and continues to do so now:

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “this new Hitler”. David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.

This was the justification for Nato’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure. It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious “peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Albright delivered an “offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces “outside the legal process”, and to the imposition of a neo-liberal “free market”, Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an “Appendix B”, which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted “precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s “command and control”. In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato’s crimes. 5

Click here to read John Pilger’s latest article [August 23rd] in full.

For an alternative perspective on Nato and the West’s involvement in the breakup of Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, I also recommend Boris Malagurski’s controversial Canadian documentary The Weight of Chains which is embedded below – although the style is light, the content is serious and, on the whole, well-documented:

*

The West’s about-turn

But then came the attacks of September 11th, which presented the Nato alliance with a fresh threat – purportedly of existential proportions. Overnight, everything was changed. Indeed, on September 12th, Nato met in emergency session and, for the first time in its history, invoked Article 5  of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

The “Global War on Terror” was thereby launched with Nato at the helm, although during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF-A), of course, only America and Britain sent out forces to overthrow the Taliban. The other Nato allies looked on and waited. Meanwhile, Canadian and US forces were jointly mobilised under Operation Noble Eagle (ONE) around the North American continent.

It was later, in October 2003, under the mission title International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when Nato forces stepped fully into the fray. Here is how BBC news had then reported the story:

Nato is repositioning itself for a future as a key force in the “war on terror”, according to its US ambassador, Nicholas Burns.

The organisation has been struggling to define its role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat from which was the basis of its foundation. […]

Questions have been asked about Nato’s role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the alliance intervened in Kosovo, it did not formally operate in the military campaigns in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  […]

“Nato’s purpose is to be on the front lines, to fight the war on terrorism for Europeans, and for Americans and Canadians.

“That’s where we’ve turned the organisation, that’s how we’ve transformed it over the last two years.”

In particular, Mr Burns stressed the role the newly-established rapid response force would play.

The force is designed to be able to deploy within days to anywhere in the world if needed, with between 20,000 and 30,000 troops.

Mr Burns refuted suggestions that it would merely be a tool of American foreign policy. 6

[bold emphasis in original]

A decade on and, after the 2014 Wales Summit, that same Nato Response Force (NRF) has been enhanced with the formation of a “spearhead force” or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) within it. And the prime target is no longer “terror”, but Russia instead (already by 2014, history had turned full circle):

At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO agreed the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges. This is the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War. The RAP addresses risks and threats from the east and the south. […]

Due to the changed security environment on NATO’s borders, the RAP includes ‘assurance measures’ for NATO member countries in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure their populations, reinforce their defence and deter potential aggression. 7

This is taken from Nato’s official release on its Readiness Action Plan (RAP) and note that references to Russia remain oblique throughout – although you certainly don’t need to be a mind-reader to understand the real message, which goes on as follows:

To facilitate readiness and the rapid deployment of forces, the first six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) – which are small headquarters – were inaugurated in Central and Eastern Europe. Two more NFIUs are being set up in Hungary and Slovakia. Headquarters for the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania were also established. In addition, a standing joint logistics support group headquarters is being set up.

And whereas Nato (at least in their public documents) are timid when it comes to mentioning the name of their latest (and oldest) enemy, the closely-affiliated think tank Atlantic Council  is altogether brazen:

Firstly, the VJTF’s size does not pose a credible deterrent to Russia, particularly with regard to the Baltic States, which are widely viewed as the flash point for any potential NATO-Russia confrontation. Russia has undertaken massive impromptu military exercises involving up to 100,000 troops along its borders with the Baltic States. It would be difficult for a NATO force of 5,000 to deter Russia from afar. […]

The VJTF should be high on the agenda of the Alliance’s seminal Warsaw Summit in July, and for good reason. Russia has become emboldened by its military forays in Ukraine and Syria. In the unlikely event it sets its sights on NATO territory next, NATO must ensure its spearhead force is sharp enough to respond. 8

Likewise, following a meeting of Nato ministers of defence last February, Nato released this more coded announcement:

“NATO Defence Ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The enhanced forward presence will be “multinational, to make clear that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond,” he stressed. 9 [bold highlight added]

Stoltenberg is thus invocating Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – Nato’s call to arms.

In short then, the “War on Terror” has allowed Nato’s existence to be kept on ice. Ready for when the Cold War could begin again in earnest.

*

Nato and the EU pincer

At last month’s Warsaw summit [on July 8th], Nato issued a official joint declaration with the EU for the first time in its history. The declaration begins:

We believe that the time has come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership.

Continuing:

Today, the Euro-Atlantic community is facing unprecedented challenges emanating from the South and East. Our citizens demand that we use all ways and means available to address these challenges so as to enhance their security.

Now let us unpick this opening statement. Firstly, notice the fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy. After all, “our citizens” did not get a vote on the actions of the long-standing Nato-EU strategic partnership and we certainly have no say whenever it comes to Nato’s long-standing meddling in “the South and East”.

In fact, contrary to this official statement, “the Euro-Atlantic community” (presuming this uncertain label attaches to the people of Europe and America) has been consistently opposed to the post-9/11 spate of wars. Our only consistent and clear demand having been for a cessation to hostilities. Yet in spite of the wishes of the “Euro-Atlantic” majority, a perpetual “Global War on Terror” is ravaging Central Asia, the Middle East and (though rarely if ever reported upon) many territories in North Africa. This extended warzone – reduced in the Nato-EU lexicon to ‘the East and the South’ – involves multiple interconnected battles which spill over into each other causing incalculable misery to some of the poorest people on earth, and very much to the detriment of our own western security.

We read on:

The substantial cooperation between NATO and the EU, unique and essential partners, established more than 15 years ago, also contributes to this end.

In light of the common challenges we are now confronting, we have to step-up our efforts: we need new ways of working together and a new level of ambition; because our security is interconnected; because together we can mobilize a broad range of tools to respond to the challenges we face; and because we have to make the most efficient use of resources. A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing. Together they can better provide security in Europe and beyond. [bold emphasis added]

This post-Brexit statement signed by Presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk, and Secretary General of Nato, Jens Stoltenburg, is all about a deepening collaboration between the two organisations. An arrangement that, amongst other things, will involve “Facilitat[ing] a stronger defence industry and greater defence research and industrial cooperation within Europe and across the Atlantic.”

Is this the same EU that proponents say brings peace in our times?

*

James Baker’s booby trap

For those puzzled by the relationship between Nato and the EU, here are a few vital statistics – encyclopaedic background details. Firstly, the EU and Nato individually comprise 28 member countries. Of these countries, 22 are joint members of both bodies. A club of nations including many that once fell behind the Iron Curtain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, plus the formerly occupied Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. 10

As Soviet satellites under Moscow’s thumb, these states were once the buffer zone between the USSR and the West. Today there is no buffer.

And here is another piece of the historical geostrategic jigsaw, albeit a forgotten one – at least in the West – that Nato membership of every one of these former Eastern Bloc countries is in contravention to Western promises made shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall; a deal (declared though never formally signed) that if Russia acceded to the reunification of Germany then the old Eastern Bloc would remain non-aligned:

What the US secretary of state [James Baker] said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker’s words, “no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” 11

The West’s double-dealing, though a dusty footnote in the West, is very well-remembered in Russia. The loss of twenty-four million lives during the Second World War (one third of the total fatalities) gives Russians good reason to fear an invasion – especially one from the west – its concerns about Nato’s eastward expansion are perfectly understandable.

*

Encirclement

During the last seven decades of the post-war nuclear age, a fragile peace held out. Just. As much, if not more, by sheer luck than judgement. Indeed, our world very narrowly escaped all-out thermonuclear obliteration on numerous occasions – two of the best known incidents remembered in an earlier post. Here is a more detailed overview titled “Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew” written by Gunnar Westberg and published in Counterpunch.

We did not need hindsight to see that the first Cold War was an era of astonishing madness, but with the aid of hindsight we do know that the madness itself was premised on a wholly non-existent threat of Soviet invasion. The Kremlin had no plans to launch an attack and there never had been a “missile gap” of any kind. Instead, the USSR was mainly preoccupied with quelling dissent amongst its own downtrodden population (or crushing those desperate to flee the occupation of its Eastern Bloc satellites).

Yet, in spite of the lack of an authentic communist threat, the superpowers repeatedly went to the brink of Armageddon, and had it not been for the remarkable courage and cool-headed reason of (at least) two men (both Russians – or, more accurately, Soviets) who held their nerve during moments of extreme crisis, there would be little that remains of our wonderful and shared European heritage besides a few smouldering mounds of rubble.

So what of Russia today? Is it planning to invade the West? Let us consider the evidence as dispassionately as we can.

Eighteen months ago it was widely reported (and believed by most in the West) that Russian battalions and, even more crucially, columns of tanks had begun crossing into Eastern Ukraine. At one point, Poroshenko held up Russian passports as evidence – there were six. 12 The principle claims, however, turned out to be completely bogus, though retraction by our media has been understandably muted. Russia did not invade Ukraine, and there is literally no evidence that it had any intention of doing so. (Crimea was not invaded, and though the territory was annexed following a referendum that was never legally sanctioned, the majority of Crimeans evidently welcomed the return of their territory to Russia – the reason there was no bloodshed.)

It is undeniable that Russia has covertly aided the ‘rebels’ in Eastern Ukraine (or the ‘separatists’ – both labels are propagandistically skewed and there is no absolutely neutral alternative), just as America has provided military assistance to Kiev. However, when the ‘rebels’ held a referendum of their own, the Russians ignored the results. They preferred not to be dragged directly into a war with Kiev. Meanwhile, while some Russians did indeed cross the border to fight, so did many westerners – individuals in fact joined the armed factions on both sides in the conflict.

Perhaps more revealing was Russia’s judicious response when Turkey shot down one of its jet fighters flying close to the Syrian border last winter. Was their jet violating Turkish airspace? The Russians said it didn’t; the Americans said it did – no evidence was ever released to prove the Russians guilty:

Either way, if Russia was wishing to spark a wider war, then what better provocation could The Kremlin find? In refraining from a retaliatory strike, however, Russia was careful to avoid a potential tripwire and an escalation into a full-blown war against a Nato member.

By contrast we have recently seen Nato forces, with the EU’s mutual aid and consent, engaged in one of the largest military exercises since the end of the first Cold War:

For more than 10 days, 30,000 troops backed by large numbers of vehicles, aircraft and ships will be deployed in one of the biggest exercises on NATO’s eastern flank since the end of the Cold War, a move likely to put further strain on the already-tense relations between the Kremlin and the West.

The Anakonda-16 exercise, which includes manoeuvres such as a night-time helicopter assault and the dropping of US paratroopers to build a temporary bridge over the Vistula river, is being held one month before a NATO summit in Warsaw that will approve more troops to be stationed in eastern Europe. 13

Stretched out for 450 miles across the length of Poland, more than 30,000 troops from 24 nations played out war games on Russia’s borders. These forces actually included German tank divisions; the first to move in sight of Russia’s border since 1941. According to The Independent article quoted above, this sent out a “clear message to Russia”.

Is there also a clue in the name of this “clear message” too? After all, an anaconda is a snake, but not just any old snake, the largest snake in the world – and it kills its prey by constriction.

At the same time, Nato formally switched on the first stage of its $800 million state of the art “missile defence” shield in Romania and broke the ground on a sister site in Poland. Ostensibly to protect Europe against Iranian nukes, which are, of course, non-existent, the system is rather blatantly directed against Russia’s security. Understood in terms of the twisted but unavoidable logic of nuclear deterrence, this becomes a far greater provocation than mere tanks rolled up to the Russian border. For if Russia’s deterrent is effectively defused, then, rendered defenceless, Russia is de facto under attack.

Indeed, to better navigate the geopolitical landscape of today, rather than hastily dismissing the Russian outlook as deeply paranoid (as we are encouraged to view it), we might try to step into their shoes for a moment. Suppose, for instance, a potentially hostile power – let’s say China – deployed thousands of troops to Ireland. Would Britain raise any concern? Or suppose China built bases in Mexico… there are none but that doesn’t stop the howls of red scare rumour-mongering. And we do not even need imagine the response were Russia to install its latest “regional missile defence system” in Cuba… Another missile crisis, anyone?

But then, Russia is routinely portrayed as the aggressor by the western media, so now consider these further incontestable facts:

Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. 14

On July 6th Sibel Edmonds’ alternative outlet ‘Newsbud’ broadcast a discussion with Montenegrin author, political activist and university professor, Filip Kovacevic, who had recently authored a piece published by ‘BoilingFrogsPost’  in which he analyses “The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg”.

Here Kovacevic explains why he believes Nato’s influence is undergoing serious decline, and the danger this poses of more widespread international conflict:

*

America über alles

The Russian army can outgun British troops on the battlefield, according to a shock Ministry of Defence report.

So begins a flabbergasting article even by Daily Mail standards entitled perhaps even more hilariously “Shock Ministry of Defence report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield… [blah, blah, blah]”

This same piece continues:

The leaked assessment warns that rocket launchers and other weapons at Moscow’s disposal were superior to ours – while its mastery of electronic warfare technology was ‘game changing’. 15

Well, I say “blah, blah, blah” although the headline actually reads “… as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin”.

If true, then surely that represents a move to the good? Or is the Daily Mail and the MOD proposing that Britain might one day wish to test its relative might on the battlefield against Russia?

The peace we have enjoyed in Europe is becoming extremely fragile again. Outside Europe, after two decades of sustained neo-imperialist adventuring, we have destroyed lives and devastated ancient civilisations, spreading only chaos and pandemonium. The havoc we have wrecked is certainly coming back to haunt us, both directly and indirectly. But far more dangerous to the West is the immediate threat we pose to Russia. If Russia fights back, then everything is lost.

To prevent the unthinkable, there has to be a rollback. Our perpetual meddling in “the South and East” is already generating a crisis close to Russia’s borders. If this meddling moves along to Iran (as is being mooted again), then Russia will be directly drawn into conflict against the West.

Equally pressing, however, is the requirement to normalise diplomatic relations with Russia. Sanctions historically are a precursor to war, but surely even the biggest warmongers cannot seriously contemplate war with Russia. So why inflict such counterproductive damage on our own European economies when this tactic of isolation achieves nothing except to serve the vested interests of neo-cons in Washington? There has to be rapprochement with Russia.

With relations between Russia and Europe (or, better still, the West) restored, the resolution of many conflicts and international disputes becomes foreseeable again. It also becomes possible to end the overwhelmingly dire threat of thermonuclear exchange, accidental or otherwise. Such a genuine commitment to multilateral disarmament could and should have happened long ago – shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the official ending of Cold War hostilities. Instead, as we know, Nato and the West opportunistically pressed eastward.

Nato was inaugurated to confront a perceived communist threat – a threat, largely imagined, that has since been vanquished altogether. In light of this irreversible change in international relations, Nato’s dissolution ought thereafter to become a final peacetime objective. For what function does Nato serve in any truly post-Cold War world? To ensure its own survival it will always look for enemies elsewhere.

In an extended piece recently published in The Atlantic arguing the case for Nato, former Fulbright Professor of Political Science at Moscow State University and ardent globalist, Ira Straus, writes candidly that:

The main, but unstated, reason the U.S. has troops in Europe nowadays is not for the defense of Europe but because it is a cheaper, more convenient location for getting to the Mideast than the continental U.S. It costs us more, not less, when we keep all our troops at home.

We have an irrationally small number of troops in Europe today (64,000). It would be cheaper for us if we put three times as many of our troops in Europe.

Under the heading “The [American] people support NATO as a plus for American power, and they’re right”, Straus continues:

Most people have the common sense to support their own society and their own power. NATO is the greatest extension that America has in the world. It is a kind of Greater America (and so is its informal additional wing in the Pacific). Trump likes American greatness and building big. This is the place for it.

The Alliance is what has preserved America’s greatness no matter how weak or incompetent its leaders. 16

So yes, Nato is “a kind of Greater America” although in reality they operate together as a sort of ‘good cop, bad cop’ team. America lost its reputation long ago and is less squeamish about getting its hands bloodied. Nato generally turns up afterwards and mops up.

Meanwhile, the more soft-spoken but firm Atlanticist alliance between Nato and the EU, with neighbouring HQs in Brussels and joined-at-the-hip foreign policy agendas (EU foreign policy is totally reliant on Nato), has also been instrumental in expanding post-9/11 Western influence militarily into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, throughout many other regions of North Africa, into Syria, and within Ukraine. And whatever the EU may have dreamed of becoming — no matter how many Nobel Peace Prizes it receives! — it is no longer tenable to claim that it is in the business of making peace.

Ties between the EU and Nato ought now to be loosened rather than strengthened, as is actually happening. Last month’s joint statement supplying further proof, if any were needed, that the EU is really just a different arm of our aggressively expanding military-industrial complex:

A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing.

Is this the Europe we were hoping to build?

*

 Additional:

Afshin Rattansi spoke with John Pilger in an extended interview broadcast on RT’s Going Underground on August 31st. The subjects covered included the last days of the Obama presidency, the race between Sanders, Clinton and Trump, and the looming threat of global conflict. Pilger says:

“The United States is in a frenzy of preparation for conflict of some kind. And conflict of some kind can lead to war of the real kind – against China and against Russia – on two fronts. The greatest build-up of forces since the Second World War has happened in Eastern Europe and in the Balkan states.” [from 9:00 mins]

“The full American so-called “interest” has gone to a country [Ukraine] that means ‘borderland’ and through which the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the early 1940s at the cost of something like 27 million lives. Imagine – and this is something that we’re not allowed to imagine – imagine the equivalent in the United States. The border with Mexico. The border with Canada. Well, we can imagine it because it happened when the Russians unwisely put missiles into Cuba, and we almost had then World War III.

“But I think what is striking in a country like the United States which has constitutionally the freest media in the world. These war preparations against Russia and against China have not been mentioned. A great silence covers them.

“When China is mentioned it’s about its aggressive moves in the South China Sea. It’s very interesting to see how the American public is being primed to accept so-called “aggressive moves” by China when in fact they are clearly defensive moves. The United States has something like 400 major bases encircling China like a great noose. Well, actually it’s an arc: it starts in Australia, it goes all the way through Asia – the Philippines (where they’re back – were thrown out a few years ago, but they’re back now), Thailand, Japan and Korea.

Looking straight at Shanghai is Okinawa. Okinawa has 32 American military installations. Japan has 130 in all. Okinawa is interesting – it’s about the size of Long Island. If you imagine Long Island as a Chinese base looking straight at New York, that’s the equivalent. [from 10.50 mins]

*

1 From a 2003 British government white paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”, Ch3, p. 11. http://archives.livreblancdefenseetsecurite.gouv.fr/2008/…/whitepaper2003.pdf  

2 From an article entitled “Jens Stoltenberg: NATO troop deployment right response to aggressive Russia”, written by Hanne Cokelaere, published in Politico.eu on June 6, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/jens-stoltenberg-nato-troop-deployment-right-response-to-aggressive-russia/ 

3

THE HAGUE, Feb. 26 — The International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time called the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 an act of genocide, but determined that Serbia itself was not guilty of the enormous crime.

Nonetheless, it faulted Serbia, saying it “could and should” have prevented the genocide and, in its aftermath, should have punished the Bosnian Serbs who systematically killed close to 8,000 men and boys in July 1995.

The ruling resulted from a civil lawsuit Bosnia had brought against Serbia, the first in which one country sued another for genocide. […]

The ruling appeared to give some satisfaction — and frustration — to both sides. It freed Serbia of the stigma of being a genocidal nation and absolved it from having to pay war reparations, as demanded by Bosnia.

At the same time, Bosnia obtained what it said it wanted from the outset: a recognition of Serbia’s guilt.

From an article entitled “Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide” written by Marlise Simons, published in The New York Times on February 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/world/europe/27hague.html?ref=world&_r=0

4

Slobodan Milosevic was posthumously exonerated on Monday when the international court of justice ruled that Serbia was not responsible for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The former president of Serbia had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court in The Hague. By implication, Serbia cannot be held responsible for any other war crimes attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.

The allegations against Milosevic over Bosnia and Croatia were cooked up in 2001, two years after an earlier indictment had been issued against him by the separate international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the height of Nato’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Notwithstanding the atrocities on all sides in Kosovo, Nato claims that Serbia was pursuing genocide turned out to be war propaganda, so the ICTY prosecutor decided to bolster a weak case by trying to “get” Milosevic for Bosnia as well. It took two years and 300 witnesses, but the prosecution never managed to produce conclusive evidence against its star defendant, and its central case has now been conclusively blown out of the water.

From an article entitled “Lies of the vigilantes” written by John Laughland, published in the Guardian on February 28, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/28/warcrimes.balkans

5 From an article entitled “Provoking nuclear war by media” written by John Pilger, published on August 23, 2016. http://johnpilger.com/articles/provoking-nuclear-war-by-media

6 From an article entitled “Nato turns to terrorism fight” published in BBC news on October 18, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3201578.stm

7 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_119353.htm

8 From an article entitled “It’s Time to Sharpen NATO’s ‘Spearhead’ Force” written by Robbie Gramer, published by the Atlantic Council on March 21, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/it-s-time-to-sharpen-nato-s-spearhead-force

9 From an article entitled “NATO boosts its defence and deterrence posture” published by Nato on its official website on February 10, 2016. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_127834.htm

10 28 NATO member countries: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

28 EU member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.

11

Of course there was a promise not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, says in Moscow today. However, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, says that there were no such assurances from the West. Even the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern military alliance, “was beyond our imagination,” he says.

For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a “clear commitment.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.

After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

From an article entitled “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?” written by Uwe Klussman, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe, published in Der Spiegel on November 26, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html

12 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31206434

13 From an article entitled “NATO allies launch largest military exercise since end of Cold War in clear message to Russia” written by Wiktor Szary, published in The independent on June 6, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anakonda-16-nato-allies-launch-largest-military-exercise-since-end-of-cold-war-in-poland-in-clear-a7068141.html

14 From an article entitled “Baiting the bear: Russia and Nato” written by Conn Hallinan, published in Counterpunch on May 4, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/04/baiting-the-bear-russia-and-nato/

15 From an article entitled “Shock Ministry of Defense report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin” written by James Tapsfield, published by the Daily Mail on August 10, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3732828/Russian-forces-defeat-battlefield-shock-Ministry-Defence-report-warns.html

16 From an article entitled “Is America Getting a Bargain With NATO?” written by Nicholas Clairmont, published in The Atlantic on August 23, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/natos-a-deal/496952/  

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, did you see?, Europe, John Pilger, Kosovo, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Serbia, USA

more lies, more war: plus ça change…

Before offering thoughts and analysis of my own, I would like to draw attention an interview given by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger who spoke to Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground broadcast on November 25th. It was the Western powers, he reminds us, aided by a compliant press, who gave birth to ISIS:

Minor clarification: Although former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas made his statement on TV regarding British plans for regime change in Syria in 2013, Dumas was referring to a meeting that took place in London in 2009, “two year before the violence in Syria”. 1

*

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”

He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” 2

As reported by the Guardian, published on September 16th 2004.

Release of the Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has been repeatedly and indefinitely delayed, but so what. We already know perfectly well what is being covered up and smoothed over. We know the essence of what Chilcot is compelled to tell us, presuming the inquiry intends to maintain any modicum of credibility. That we went to war not on a lie, but a dossier of lies, and a conspiracy hatched between Washington and Whitehall: between Bush and Blair and the rest of the vipers. We know all this just as we knew what Kofi Annan belatedly informed the world eighteen months after the “shock and awe” invasion and long after it had cost the lives of almost a million innocent victims. Of course there was no legal sanction from the United Nations. We knew all that even as Kofi Annan had “kept a tactful silence” (as the Guardian diplomatically puts it).

Just as we know, when Cameron speaks about the 70,000 “moderate rebels” that he is also lying. Simple as that. Not simply because such claims are utterly false, and anyone who knows anything at all about the war in Syria knows they are false, but, more importantly, because, as former UK Ambassador Craig Murray writes of the ‘moderates’: “their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, [is] an open al-Qaida affiliate.”

Which means that when Cameron addressed the 1922 Committee in efforts to rally his own troops prior to the parliamentary vote on air strikes, saying “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”, he was not just slurring the opposition leader and those millions of others who continue to protest against the wars, but wilfully suspending reality. For it is he who wishes to support the so-called ‘moderates’ like Jabhat al-Nusra, and not Corbyn or anyone else in the Stop the War Coalition.

In fact, the single member of the cabinet who has been telling the truth is our much maligned Chancellor, George Osborne. “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.” So said Osborne at a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), adding how “it was a ‘source of real pride’ for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.” 3

Osborne’s careless words supply the truth we are rarely privileged to hear. For Osborne is rejoicing that Britain is back in the business of imperialism; the business that the CFR exists to promote and coordinate. When he chirps up about how “Britain has got its mojo back” he is telling his audience that the (‘Great’) game is afoot once again – and inadvertently giving us an insight into how the Anglo-American establishment truly sees its role in the world. A glimpse into the unspeakable callousness of the neo-colonial mindset and, for those prepared to listen more closely, a justification for all of Cameron’s “noble lies”.

*

I marched against the Iraq War. Two million of us took to the streets of London to voice our opposition. According to opinion polls we represented the views of around 80% of the British public (which given the tremendous scale of the street protests was surely a realistic estimate). The majority in Britain (and elsewhere – mass demonstrations happened throughout many parts of Europe) could see straight through the paper-thin veil of deceit. The baloney about the trail of Niger yellowcake, those other weapons of mass distraction, and, perhaps most preposterously, of Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. We were fully cognisant that the real goal was a regime change in an oil-rich region of the world and we were sick of war. Yet the majority of MPs were apparently taken in, as they have been surprisingly keen to admit ever since. One has to marvel at their astounding gullibility.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short (they treat us with such contempt) 4 – international law, was beginning to fray at the edges, but remained intact. Shortly afterwards, however, in September 2003, “[Kofi] Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.” 5 Had he issued that same “stern critique” twelve months earlier the world might still be a safer place.

International order has indeed broken down. Since Iraq, that breakdown was catalysed by our disastrous “intervention” in Libya; Obama’s “kinetic action” launched on the back of more convenient lies 6 to bring about another regime change. In this instance the UN did sanction a “no-fly zone” (under UNSCR 1973), however conditions of the resolution were promptly violated. 7 Another war without end had been set raging.

To compound matters, our “victory” in Libya (i.e., the overthrow of Gaddafi) had been accomplished with air support for the gangs of Jihadists who made up the infantry. Thereafter the Jihadists installed themselves as the region’s warlords. So after “we came, we saw [and] he died”, as Hillary Clinton ingloriously gloated over witnessing Gaddafi’s bloody corpse, Libya (once the most developed nation on the African continent), benighted by Salafist backwardness, was transformed into a bridgehead for al-Qaeda to spread deeper into Africa or to stopover on their way to the Middle East.

Meanwhile the people of Yemen who have endured so much misery inflicted by the butchers of al-Qaeda and under the more spectral menace of US drones, are now bombed to hell by despotic neighbours Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spilling the blood of forces opposed to al-Qaeda in yet another illegal war. But, like the drones high above, the plight of Yemen is off the radar and rarely seen. International law be damned!

And now, as the West prepares to intensify its fight against the terrorists in Syria, let us remind ourselves how ISIS began, not in Syria, but neighbouring Iraq. A decade of unremitting bloodshed making Iraq fertile ground for terrorism to take root; the new imperialism, like the old, makes many martyrs and leaves thousands more irate and desperate for revenge.

It was inside Iraq where the gangs that make up ISIS first assembled before penetrating the border into Syria. They were joined by fellow extremists who gained access through the even more porous Turkish border. Some had defeated Gaddafi, others came via Afghanistan, and still others had been directly recruited by their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Whatever their origins, by virtue of being the enemies of Assad, they found powerful friends within the Gulf States and amongst the Western powers alike.

ISIS, just like al-Qaeda from which it splintered, is a monster of our making. It would never have arisen without the trauma of war nor could it have flourished if there had not been such a vacuum of power following the wars in Iraq and Libya. Moreover, Jihadist groups have been covertly funded and trained ever since we first used them to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are pawns in a bigger game, periodically manoeuvred, as in Libya, and, as such, there are some in Washington, London and Paris who are very unwilling to give them up cheaply.

Indeed, the trick so far has been to redefine these “rebels” (as we call them) as either ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’, which is more easily achieved thanks to their unfortunate  habit of fighting amongst themselves. Rebranded FSA and ISIS, they are then portrayed as goodies and baddies respectively. In reality, however, all of the significant factions in Syria are terrorists. Murderers with a taste for crucifying and decapitating their victims. The only real difference is that the so-called ‘moderates’ – which include such notorious al-Qaeda factions as Jabhat al-Nusra – are the ones the West believes it might later do business with.

For half a decade the conflict in Syria has rumbled on as a proxy war; a full-scale invasion always on hold. After the chaos of Iraq and Libya (not forgetting Afghanistan or Yemen) it became very much harder to tug our collective conscience with pleas of a need of “humanitarian intervention” or that older fallback tactic of scaring us with WMDs – both ploys were tried against Syria but failed. In order to fully enter the conflict, therefore, the militarists finally settled on a tried and tested alternative strategy.

Ostensibly in search of terrorist super(bogey)man Osama Bin Laden (wanted dead or alive, remember him?), the war that kicked off this century of war was predicated on the existential threat from a new form of global terrorism. And this becomes the narrative once again with last month’s carnage and horror in Paris serving as the latest European 9/11.

The postponed frontal assault on Assad might yet begin, but for now air strikes will be directed towards ISIS in a partial war that was initiated more than a year ago in any case. Meanwhile, regime change has never been officially taken “off the table”.  Thus, Nato member forces, although ordered to bomb ISIS and any Syrian infrastructure in their way, continues to avoid attacks on ‘moderates’. And yet everyone who’s anyone within The Pentagon, the US State Department, the White House, or equivalent positions in Britain and other European states, obviously knows the unspeakable truth.

Meantime, all serious journalists are also able to see through the lies. They are aware that distinction between good and bad “rebels” is bogus – they have frequently written about it and only pretend to forget. And they must see, as anyone with an iota of intelligence can, that bombing ISIS will not miraculously disarm terrorists and prevent further atrocities in Europe or elsewhere. But deplorably, with the honourable exception of a few like (most prominently) Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and Chris Hedges, the press continues to play along. Stenographers of power instead of its interrogators.

When Bush first declared the “war on terror”, all true journalists would have stood up and rebuked such nonsense. For you cannot wage war on an abstract noun, let alone defeat it. Instead, by committing themselves to endlessly regurgitating the only officially sanctioned line of narrative, the media has endorsed and reinforced the greatest lie of our age. For “war on terror” was code for waging our war of terror and an unchallengeable premise for illegal invasions and occupations.

It was the camouflage under which the neo-imperialist agenda could freely operate. International law has been smashed in its wake. And the “war on terror” turned truth on its head in other ways too, transforming its victims into villains, emblematically and, in consequence of its crimes, sometimes literally. Today it lets Cameron demonise peace activists as “terrorist sympathisers” and never apologise.

Now, with the attacks in Paris and the escalation of the Syrian conflict, the “war on terror” has been put centre stage again. We may not often hear it referred to as the “war on terror”, but it is. A battle to defeat ISIS, that terrorist band formerly known as al-Qaeda: only the names have been changed.

And remember Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short – because the lies are no less contemptuous now than then. The media laps it all up, of course, as they are compelled to do. To maintain the illusion they so assiduously helped construct. So expect more lies, and expect more war… plus ça change.

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Additional:

In an article published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 15th [the day after I posted this], correspondent Mike Whitney presented a Russian perspective on the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS. He writes:

Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries – including some in the G-20 itself – were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?

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Update:

On Friday 18th, Counterpunch published a follow-up article by Mike Whitney in which he reflects on the upshot of John Kerry’s announcement at the Moscow talks of what he says “has got to be the biggest foreign policy somersault in the last two decades”:

Then of course came the real stunner, the announcement that the US had suddenly changed its mind about toppling Syrian President Bashar al Assad and–oh by the way–‘we’d love to work with you on that ISIS-thing too.’  Here’s what Kerry said:

“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria……(the focus is no longer) “on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad…….”

There’s no question that when the United States and Russia work together our two countries benefit. Despite our differences we demonstrated that when our countries pull together, progress can be made.”

The US is “not seeking regime change in Syria”?

No one saw that one coming. Maybe someone should remind Kerry that the Decider in Chief Obama reiterated the “Assad must go” trope less than two weeks ago. Now all that’s changed?

Whitney then offers what he sees as the Russian perspective again, continuing:

Here’s what Putin said immediately after Kerry left:

“I have repeatedly stated and I am ready to stress once again: we will never agree with the idea that a third party, whoever this party is, has the right to impose its will on another country. This does not make any sense and it’s a violation of international law.”

Sounds pretty inflexible to me. Then he added this tidbit as if to underscore the fact that Obama’s meaningless policy reversal will not effect Russian’s military offensive in any way, shape or form:

“As soon as we notice the political process has begun, and the Syrian government decides it is time to stop the airstrikes, [we are going to stop]. …. The sooner it [the process] starts the better.”

In other words, show us you’re sincere and maybe we can do business together. But, until then….

Meanwhile, as the Saudis “desperately [try] to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for the many groups of terrorists that have torn Syria to shreds” by “launch[ing] an initiative to create a  ‘Islamic military alliance devoted to combating global terrorism’”, Whitney asks “what’s this new charade all about?” Here’s his answer:

It’s another attempt for the Saudis to get a shoe in the door so they can raise more hell in Syria. They think that if they create a “broad-based international coalition” then they’ll be able to deploy their homicidal crackpots into Syria with impunity. It’s all part of the neocon plan to rip Syria apart by occupying a vast stretch of land in east Syria and west Iraq to establish Sunnistan, a de facto terrorist sanctuary where the Washington-Ankara-Riyadh axis can continue its proxy campaign for as long as they want keeping the Middle East in a permanent state of anarchy until the elusive Caliphate finally emerges and the last drop of oil has been extracted by avaricious western oil giants.

Click here to read Mike Whitney’s full article entitled “John Kerry’s Moscow Lovefest”.

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1

Read more here: http://nsnbc.me/2013/06/16/dumas-top-british-officials-confessed-to-syria-war-plans-two-years-before-arab-spring/  

2 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

3 From an article entitled “Chancellor George Osborne says UK has ‘got its mojo back’ with air strikes” written by Iain Macwhirter, published in Herald Scotland on December 8, 2015. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14129765.Osborne__UK_has__got_its_mojo_back__with_air_strikes/

4 No, this is not an urban myth. In the opening days of the Iraq War, President Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uses the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL) as the name of the Iraq war as the following youtube clip shows:

When it was pointed out the acronym spelled out “OIL”, the mission name was quickly changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Further proof is available from the White House archives: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030324-4.html

5 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

6 “Gaddafi is feeding his troops Viagra and ordering them to rape the womenfolk of the rebels … well, maybe. Or is truth, as usual, the first casualty in this war?” This is the strapline for an article by Patrick Cockburn entitled “Lies, damn lies, and reports of battlefield atrocities” published by The Independent on June 19, 2011.

Cockburn writes:

Battlefronts are always awash with rumours of impending massacre or rape which spread rapidly among terrified people who may be the intended victims. Understandably enough, they do not want to wait around to find out how true these stories are. I was in Ajdabiyah, a front-line town an hour and a half’s drive south of Benghazi, earlier this year when I saw car loads of panic-stricken refugees fleeing up the road. They had just heard an entirely untrue report via al-Jazeera Arabic that pro-Gaddafi forces had broken through. Likewise al-Jazeera was producing uncorroborated reports of hospitals being attacked, blood banks destroyed, women raped and the injured executed.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/patrick-cockburn-lies-damn-lies-and-reports-of-battlefield-atrocities-2299701.html

Sadly, al-Jazeera was not the only news outlet presenting similarly unsubstantiated rumours as truth. You can read a further analysis here: http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/08/26/lies-war-and-empire-nato%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Chumanitarian-imperialism%E2%80%9D-in-libya/ 

7 In an interview given in December 2012 to Eric Bailey of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Noam Chomsky said this when he was asked whether intervention to prevent the destruction of Benghazi as had been claimed:

Well, we don’t know if Benghazi was going to be destroyed, but it was called to prevent a possible attack on Benghazi. You can debate how likely the attack was, but personally, I felt that was legitimate – to try to stop a possible atrocity. However, that intervention lasted about five minutes. Almost immediately, the NATO powers (France and Britain in the lead and the United States following) violated the resolution, radically, and became the air force of the rebels. Nothing in the resolution justified that. It did call for “all necessary steps” to protect civilians, but there’s a big difference between protecting civilians and being the air force for the rebels.

http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-146-2012/?searchterm=noam%20chomsky

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray, Iraq, John Pilger, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Saudi Arabia, Syria

25 lost years in a vicious circle of war: from the fall of the wall to Cold War 2.0 and beyond (absit omen)

On April 19th, James E. Cartwright, a former Marine Corps general, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Vladimir Dvorkin, a retired major general who headed the research institute of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, co-authored an op-ed published in the New York Times entitled “How to Avert a Nuclear War”. It began:

We find ourselves in an increasingly risky strategic environment. The Ukrainian crisis has threatened the stability of relations between Russia and the West, including the nuclear dimension — as became apparent last month when it was reported that Russian defense officials had advised President Vladimir V. Putin to consider placing Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert during last year’s crisis in Crimea.

Diplomatic efforts have done little to ease the new nuclear tension. This makes it all the more critical for Russia and the United States to talk, to relieve the pressures to “use or lose” nuclear forces during a crisis and minimize the risk of a mistaken launch. 1

I shall return to consider the recent warning put out by Generals James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin, but wish first to review just a few of the many foolhardy steps that have led us right back to nuclear confrontation with Russia.

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Birth pangs of the New Cold War

The world is facing the prospect of major war, perhaps nuclear war – with the United States clearly determined to isolate and provoke Russia and eventually China. This truth is being turned upside down and inside out by journalists, including those who promoted the lies that led to the bloodbath in Iraq in 2003.

These are the words of veteran investigative journalist John Pilger speaking at The Logan Symposium back in December:

You can also read a full transcript of his speech in the form of an article entitled “War by media and the triumph of propaganda”.

As the Berlin Wall came tumbling down on that wintery evening twenty-five years ago, so many (myself included) breathed a tremendous sigh of relief and thereafter fell into a stupor. The peace dividend was coming at last, and we couldn’t go on waiting to enjoy it. Instead, the party started up right there and then, and no-one wished to look back.

But it turned out that there was no peace dividend, for the simple reason that there was no lasting peace. In fact, the western powerbrokers – the undisputed victors of the Cold War – didn’t find the prospect of peace especially attractive. Seeing their main competitor suddenly against the ropes, and thus finding themselves unrivalled, they instead spied an opportunity. The way was temporarily clear for the pursuit of an unassailable global supremacy, and if realising this half-disclosed ambition required more war rather than less, as indeed it would, then so be it – in both military and economic spheres, the unofficial demand was to let battle commence! To maximise success, the empire must be rapidly expanded, and without delay.

Any understanding of the history of the past quarter of a century requires a recognition of this overarching geopolitical thrust for a unipolar world order (one that was openly declared at the turn of the millennium by Washington’s already rampant neo-con faction who named it “Project for a New American Century” or PNAC). It is the same reason why, as The Nation magazine reported back in 2014:

In 2013, elite US forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM [Special Operations Command] Public Affairs. This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences. 2

Click here to read more about “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries”.

Here is another empire on which the sun never sets, but the novelty of it is, that this time around the empire pretends to be no empire at all.

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The road to hell

When the lies have been stacked up so high and for such a long time, it is becomes an exhausting and demanding effort to try to peer beneath them. But we have to keep trying. As a free society we simply cannot afford to let the truth of recent historical events be sacrificed to the memory hole, and a false narrative hoisted in their stead. When truth is discarded to the flames, freedom shrivels with it. This was the main message Orwell was trying to tell us in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

During the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West has never stopped the fighting. The peace dividend entirely spent on armaments and bloodshed.

Indeed, it took less than a year following the heady celebrations of November 9th 1989, before George Bush Snr set about launching the first fresh offensive. It happened against our former ally Saddam Hussein when a dispute over oil rights with the neighbouring dictatorship in Kuwait provided the excuse to attack. The First Iraq War (or Gulf War) kicked off under Operation Desert Shield on August 2nd 1990.

As these two despotic regimes butted heads, the average American needed a good reason to get behind a western intervention in favour of either one, and so the world’s largest (as of then) public relations firm Hill & Knowlton were hired – incidentally, H & K are the same firm who ran campaigns to discredit medical research on the dangers of smoking, and who now work for the fracking industry.

Back in 1990, it was Hill & Knowlton who found a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only as Nayirah, who described in the most harrowing details what she personally witnessed in Kuwait City:

“I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she said. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”

As it transpired, however, Nayirah was no ordinary Kuwaiti citizen. She was, in fact, a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family. Moreover, heartbroken Nayirah was simply acting out her part, having been coached by none other than Hill & Knowlton’s vice-president Lauri Fitz-Pegado, whilst her own father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s US Ambassador, was sat listening to her entirely fictitious sob story.

More than anything else, it would be Hill & Knowlton’s elaborate deception that helped propel the West into its first war of the ‘post-wall’ era (if I may coin a useful term). The direct human cost would be more than 20,000 lives.

But the First Iraq War did not last long. It was a blitzkrieg and one that merely whet the appetite of our slavering military-industrial complex. By February 28th 1991, the Iraqis were fleeing Kuwait, and this rapidly retreating convoy offered a tantalising target for the generals. Photojournalist Peter Turnley later wrote:

During the Persian Gulf War, 1991, the pool system created by the military was meant to be, and was, a major impediment for photojournalists in their quest to communicate the realities of war. This fact does not diminish the great efforts, courage, and many important images created by those among my colleagues who participated in these pools. While you would have a very difficult time, now, finding an editor of an American publication who wouldn’t condemn that pool system and its restrictions, most publications and television entities at the time more or less bought the program before the war began. This reality has been far less discussed than the critiques of the pools themselves.

I refused to participate in the pool system. I was in the Gulf for many weeks as the build-up of troops took place, then sat out the air war, and flew from Paris to Riyadh as soon as the ground war began. I arrived at the “mile of death” the morning of the day the war stopped. It was very early and few other journalists were present. It was a scene of incredible carnage. Strewn over this one-mile stretch of highway were cars and trucks with wheels still turning, radios still playing, and there were bodies scattered along the road. Many people have asked, “How many people died during the war with Iraq?” The question has never been well answered. 3

Click here to view a slideshow of Peter Turnley’s Gulf War photographs including those taken of one of the massacres on the so-called “Highways of Death” out of Kuwait City.

How many thousands were killed during this retreat is disputed, but what is known with greater certainty is that although the war was ended, the slaughter was only beginning. After the war, two “no-fly zones” were put in place and these remained until a more intensive “shock and awe” bombing campaign in December 1998 called Operation Desert Fox, which itself cost an estimated two thousand lives. But worse than this ongoing war of attrition were the sanctions which had first been imposed shortly after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and which persisted long after Saddam was deposed. Sanctions being another form of warfare, and costing the lives of many hundreds of thousands more, a disproportionate number of whom were also children.

In 1998, then-US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, described the United States as “the indispensible nation”, saying: “But if we have to use force, it is because we are America.” 4 Two years earlier, when in the midst of US sanctions, which as US Ambassador to the United Nations she had been in large part responsible for, she was asked “We have heard that half a million children have died, I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima… is the price worth it?” Albright replied bluntly: “We think the price is worth it.” 5

And let us not forget the still rising numbers of casualties who have had their lives ruined because of our extensive use of depleted uranium. I refer you to a short post I wrote about the terrible effects on the residents of Fallujah in particular.

Embedded below is investigative journalist John Pilger’s documentary “Paying the Price – Killing the Children of Iraq” which was produced by Carlton Television and first aired on ITV in 2000:

 

Even before the 2003 war, we were attacking Iraqi civilians with our inhumane economic sanctions. Yet where were the media protesting against this injustice?

So wrote John Pilger in an article entitled “Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s” which he published in the New Statesman in October 2004 (the ‘Second’ Iraq War now well underway). He continues:

In October 1999, I stood in a ward of dying children in Baghdad with Denis Halliday, who the previous year had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations. He said: “We are waging a war through the United Nations on the people of Iraq. We’re targeting civilians. Worse, we’re targeting children . . . What is this all about?”

Halliday had been 34 years with the UN. As an international civil servant much respected in the field of “helping people, not harming them”, as he put it, he had been sent to Iraq to implement the oil-for-food programme, which he subsequently denounced as a sham. “I am resigning,” he wrote, “because the policy of economic sanctions is . . . destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.”

Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck, another assistant secretary general with more than 30 years’ service, also resigned in protest. Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, followed them, saying she could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people. Their collective action was unprecedented; yet it received only passing media attention.

John Pilger had been one at the forefront of opposing the sanctions against Iraq during the 1990s, but his had been just another voice in the wilderness. The reason was simple as Pilger points out:

“When truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” He might have been referring to the silence over the devastating effects of the embargo. It is a silence that casts journalists as accessories, just as their silence contributed to an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a defenceless country. […]

Up to the fall of Baghdad, the misinformation and lies of Bush and Blair were channelled, amplified and legitimised by journalists, notably by the BBC, which defines its political coverage by the pronouncements, events and personalities of the “village” of Whitehall and Westminster. Andrew Gilligan broke this rule in his outstanding reporting from Baghdad and later his disclosure of Blair’s most important deception. It is instructive that the most sustained attacks on him came from his fellow journalists. 6

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

In brief, this is how the war party seized power. They have maintained themselves ever since by force feeding the general public, through the conduit of a subservient and compliant media, a diet of poisonous lies and murderous deception. What began with Bush Snr’s “humanitarian intervention” in The Gulf, then after 9/11 became a “war on terror”, has slowly and surreptitiously been morphed again into a series of “humanitarian interventions”.

‘Interventions’ that have helped to spread the ‘terror’ (meaning ‘terrorism’), deliberately so, thanks to support for the al-Qaeda ‘rebels’ first in Libya and later in Syria. Western foreign policy during the last quarter of a century has been ruinous for anyone who dared to step in the way and disastrous for those who wish to have a sustained peace. It turns out that the notorious “highways to death” in Kuwait were to be precursors for a road to hell for the whole world.

And so we leap forward to Ukraine…

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Kiev as our dubious ally

The name of “our” enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory. The leaders of these obstructive nations are usually violently shoved aside, such as the democrats Muhammad Mossedeq in Iran and Salvador Allende in Chile, or they are murdered like Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. All are subjected to a western media campaign of caricature and vilification – think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin

This is John Pilger again (a decade on), in an article published last May. And Pilger is better informed than most on how bloodthirsty and duplicitous the West’s stop-at-nothing quest for neo-imperialist expansion has been, because he has personally plotted the tracks of its devastation during the last half century from South East Asia to South America, and from the Middle East to Africa. Pilger continues:

Washington’s role in Ukraine is different only in its implications for the rest of us. For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler. Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed. The Russians defended themselves, as they have done against every threat and invasion from the west for almost a century. […]

Like the ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ukraine has been turned into a CIA theme park – run by CIA director John Brennan in Kiev, with “special units” from the CIA and FBI setting up a “security structure” that oversees savage attacks on those who opposed the February coup. Watch the videos, read the eye-witness reports from the massacre in Odessa this month. Bussed fascist thugs burned the trade union headquarters, killing 41 people trapped inside. Watch the police standing by. A doctor described trying to rescue people, “but I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate… I wonder, why the whole world is keeping silent.” 7

And in February, Pilger added a hard-hitting follow-up entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue”. He begins:

The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazi iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism.

“To initiate a war of aggression…,” said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, “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.”

Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery. They are the progeny of modern fascism, weaned by the bombs, bloodbaths and lies that are the surreal theatre known as news.

Like the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent, repetitive media and its virulent censorship by omission.

After first reminding the reader of the secret history behind our interventions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kosova, Afghanistan, and Libya, he then returns to Ukraine, writing:

In the 1990s, as former Soviet republics, eastern Europe and the Balkans became military outposts of Nato, the heirs to a Nazi movement in Ukraine were given their opportunity. Responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews, Poles and Russians during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian fascism was rehabilitated and its “new wave” hailed by the enforcer as “nationalists”.

This reached its apogee in 2014 when the Obama administration splashed out $5 billion on a coup against the elected government. The shock troops were neo-Nazis known as the Right Sector and Svoboda. Their leaders include Oleh Tyahnybok, who has called for a purge of the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” and “other scum”, including gays, feminists and those on the political left.

These fascists are now integrated into the Kiev coup government. The first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the governing party, is co-founder of Svoboda. On February 14, Parubiy announced he was flying to Washington get “the USA to give us highly precise modern weaponry”. If he succeeds, it will be seen as an act of war by Russia. […]

[At the same time,] The Kiev regime turned on the ethnic Russian population in the east with the ferocity of ethnic cleansing. Deploying neo-Nazi militias in the manner of the Waffen-SS, they bombed and laid to siege cities and towns. They used mass starvation as a weapon, cutting off electricity, freezing bank accounts, stopping social security and pensions. More than a million refugees fled across the border into Russia. In the western media, they became unpeople escaping “the violence” caused by the “Russian invasion”. The Nato commander, General Breedlove – whose name and actions might have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – announced that 40,000 Russian troops were “massing”. In the age of forensic satellite evidence, he offered none. 8

Incidentally, for anyone who believes that talk of a fascist coup in Kiev is merely the repetition of Kremlin propaganda, I direct you to read my earlier posts on the subject, but first to simply reflect upon the image below. It shows the headquarters of the “Euromaidan” protest movement and features as its centrepiece a portrait of Nazi collaborator and mass murderer, Stepan Bandera:

I also recommend watching this excellent overview (embedded below) by psychologist Stanislav Byshok, a leading authority on the rebirth of fascism in Ukraine who co-authored with Alexey Kochetkov Neonazis and Euromaidan: From Democracy to Dictatorship, which provides a comprehensive study of how fascist groups, covertly backed by the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, ousted the elected government and seized power in Ukraine (warning: many of the images are disturbing):

However, as the war drums continue to be pounded hard in America and Britain, strain does appear to be developing between the Nato powers. Especially after German chancellor, Angela Merkel, alongside French president, François Hollande, were able to broker a peace deal between Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. With the fragile ceasefire of the Minsk II accord in place, Der Spiegel also went on the offensive, most especially against neo-con hawk General Breedlove:

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

It wasn’t only General Breedlove who found himself in Der Spiegel’s firing line:

In reporting on the meeting later, the German tabloid Bild reported that [Victoria] Nuland referred to the chancellor’s early February trip to Moscow for talks with Putin as “Merkel’s Moscow stuff.” No wonder, then, that people in Berlin have the impression that important power brokers in Washington are working against the Europeans. Berlin officials have noticed that, following the visit of American politicians or military leaders in Kiev, Ukrainian officials are much more bellicose and optimistic about the Ukrainian military’s ability to win the conflict on the battlefield. “We then have to laboriously bring the Ukrainians back onto the course of negotiations,” said one Berlin official. […]

Nuland has also been open — at least internally — about her contempt for European weakness and is famous for having said “Fuck the EU” during the initial days of the Ukraine crisis in February of 2014. Her husband, the neo-conservative Robert Kagan [co-founder of PNAC], is, after all, the originator of the idea that Americans are from Mars and Europeans, unwilling as they are to realize that true security depends on military power, are from Venus.

When it comes to the goal of delivering weapons to Ukraine, Nuland and Breedlove work hand-in-hand. On the first day of the Munich Security Conference, the two gathered the US delegation behind closed doors to discuss their strategy for breaking Europe’s resistance to arming Ukraine.

On the seventh floor of the Bayerischer Hof hotel in the heart of Munich, it was Nuland who began coaching. “While talking to the Europeans this weekend, you need to make the case that Russia is putting in more and more offensive stuff while we want to help the Ukrainians defend against these systems,” Nuland said. “It is defensive in nature although some of it has lethality.” 9

Of course, the despicable Victoria Nuland and fellow neo-con General Breedlove are the new imperialists. Openly so, even if they do speak from both sides of their dishonourable mouths.

*

Reductio ad Hitlerum

The “coming of Hitler” is a rallying cry of war lovers. It was heard before Nato’s “moral crusade to save Kosovo” (Blair) in 1999, a model for the invasion of Iraq. In the attack on Serbia, 2 per cent of Nato’s missiles hit military targets; the rest hit hospitals, schools, factories, churches and broadcasting studios. Echoing Blair and a clutch of Clinton officials, a massed media chorus declared that “we” had to stop “something approaching genocide” in Kosovo, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote in 2002 in the Guardian. “Echoes of the Holocaust”, said the front pages of the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The Observer warned of a “Balkan Final Solution”. 10

These are words of John Pilger taken from in a short and very pointed article titled “The war lovers” which he wrote nearly a decade ago. The greatest fear at that time was that Bush looked dead set on attacking Iran (Iran having been designated the last to fall on Wesley Clark’s well-known list of neo-con targets), but thankfully history played out differently. Attack on Iran was indefinitely postponed, although if Netanyahu gets his way, it may not be delayed for much longer.

Also at the time of Pilger’s piece, with the neo-cons even more ascendant in Washington, we had the unseemly spectacle of Donald Rumsfeld comparing Hugo Chavez to Hitler. 11 Of course, Chavez had earlier compared Bush to the Devil 12, however the difference was that Chavez had no intention of attacking America (since obviously Venezuela is no position to attack), whereas Washington, as Chavez knew very well, had certainly been behind the coup of April 2002, which briefly succeeded (albeit for less than 48 hours) in toppling his elected government.

As Pilger says, whenever the West starts likening any foreign leader to Hitler, then this marks a point in an escalation that brings us closer to declaring war. Because comparing anyone to Hitler is tantamount not only to saying that such a person is impossible to negotiate with, but that it would be wilfully irresponsible to do so. It would be an act of collaboration, of appeasement. This is unthinkable:

Poor Prince Charles got into terrible trouble last week for stupidly saying something sensible. He was stitched up by the only witness to his perspicacious outburst, 78-year-old Marienne Ferguson. During a tour of the Canadian Museum of Immigration, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was telling him how her family had fled Poland in 1939 just as the Germans invaded, when the prince apparently said: “And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.” “I must say I agree with him,” Ferguson later said, as she dobbed him in to the world’s media, heralding headlines proclaiming that “Prince Charles says Putin is like Hitler!”

This is the opening paragraph of a Guardian article written last May by comedian David Mitchell. Mitchell then continues:

I agree with him too – and he’s not the first to say it. He’s echoing the views of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Canadian foreign minister John Baird, Czech senate speaker Milan Stech and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Vladimir Putin’s current foreign policy towards Ukraine is uncannily similar to Hitler’s behaviour towards Czechoslovakia and Poland in advance of his annexation of those countries in the 1930s. The prince’s comparison is apt and chilling, and the fact that Putin shows no sign of wanting to exterminate an ethnic group, but is content merely to marginalise and harass a sexual orientation, does nothing to undermine it. 13

So Putin is Hitler says Prince Charles. Says Hillary Clinton. Says Wolfgang Schäuble. Says (as we will see) David Cameron along with no lesser authority on fascism than Senator John McCain – someone happy to associate with the likes of Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the right wing nationalist party Svoboda…

… and such a friend to Kiev that he was more recently invited to join Poroshenko’s International Advisory Council on Reforms:

“I was honored to be asked to join Ukraine’s International Advisory Council on Reforms, a forum for discussing ways to ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security and support the country’s democratic future in the face of Russian aggression. However, under provisions of the U.S. Constitution concerning the interaction of Members of Congress with foreign governments, I am obligated to decline the invitation.” 14

And so says marvellously perspicacious comedian David Mitchell; let us never forget the heavyweight intellects too.

Come the end of the year, however, and the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, was presenting the case with more restraint and a modicum of circumspection – this time it was left to Lincoln Mitchell (no relation I presume) to dish the dirt, while offering an assessment of Putin that is actually more credible:

Following the Russian invasion of Crimea, however, Hitler analogies dominated western perceptions of Mr. Putin. Among those making that comparison were British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Paul Johnson writing for Forbes, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Most of these comparisons focused on Hitler’s brutal policies towards Germany’s neighbors in the late 1930s, rather than genocide and mass murder, but a Hitler comparison is always made with the deliberate aim of making the target seem as evil and dangerous. Gradually the Hitler meme faded away; and in recent days the media has been filled with stories about how the Russian economy is in collapse and Putin may not last in power much longer.

Mr. Putin cannot both be Hitler and so weak that a rise in global oil prices threatens his regime. Similarly, he cannot simultaneously both pose a Hitler-like threat yet be unable to maintain his grip on power due to a currency devaluation. The narratives about Mr. Putin that dominated 2014 are thus mutually exclusive, but they are also individually suspect. 15

Truth be told, there are an awful lot of deeply unpleasant world leaders today, just as there were yesterday. Some of these are our allies and some are not – but we pick and choose with little regard for morality or integrity, and according instead to what is more profitable and most expedient. Now if the principle charge to be made against Putin (once an ally but now a foe) is that he is responsible for the oppression of minority groups in Russia, then on that charge he stands justly accused. If you charge that he is a nationalist, this stands too. But if your charge is that he is an incorrigible military expansionist – which is the principle charge in these rather daft comparisons to Hitler – then the facts, duly considered, stand very much against you.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this terrible conflict in Ukraine was started with horribly bloody massacre and the overthrow of an unpopular but still elected government. News of who was really behind that the Maidan “protests” was drip-fed by our media, but prominent amongst the protagonists were the leaders of Svoboda and, worse again, of Right Sector. Thus the so-called Ukraine crisis began with a fascist-led coup and not an invasion. Indeed, there never has been any kind of Russian invasion and there is no verifiable or even convincing evidence that Putin has ever intended one – here is a little more from Der Spiegel:

[But] For months now, many in the Chancellery simply shake their heads each time NATO, under Breedlove’s leadership, goes public with striking announcements about Russian troop or tank movements. To be sure, neither Berlin’s Russia experts nor BND intelligence analysts doubt that Moscow is supporting the pro-Russian separatists. The BND even has proof of such support.

But it is the tone of Breedlove’s announcements that makes Berlin uneasy. False claims and exaggerated accounts, warned a top German official during a recent meeting on Ukraine, have put NATO — and by extension, the entire West — in danger of losing its credibility.

There are plenty of examples. Just over three weeks ago, during the cease-fire talks in Minsk, the Ukrainian military warned that the Russians — even as the diplomatic marathon was ongoing — had moved 50 tanks and dozens of rockets across the border into Luhansk. Just one day earlier, US Lieutenant General Ben Hodges had announced “direct Russian military intervention.”

Senior officials in Berlin immediately asked the BND for an assessment, but the intelligence agency’s satellite images showed just a few armored vehicles. Even those American intelligence officials who supply the BND with daily situation reports were much more reserved about the incident than Hodges was in his public statements. One intelligence agent says it “remains a riddle until today” how the general reached his conclusions. […]

At the beginning of the crisis, General Breedlove announced that the Russians had assembled 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and warned that an invasion could take place at any moment. The situation, he said, was “incredibly concerning.” But intelligence officials from NATO member states had already excluded the possibility of a Russian invasion. They believed that neither the composition nor the equipment of the troops was consistent with an imminent invasion.

The experts contradicted Breedlove’s view in almost every respect. There weren’t 40,000 soldiers on the border, they believed, rather there were much less than 30,000 and perhaps even fewer than 20,000. Furthermore, most of the military equipment had not been brought to the border for a possible invasion, but had already been there prior to the beginning of the conflict. Furthermore, there was no evidence of logistical preparation for an invasion, such as a field headquarters. 16

Click here to read the full report in Der Spiegel.

And back to John Pilger:

If Putin can be provoked into coming to their aid, his pre-ordained “pariah” role in the West will justify the lie that Russia is invading Ukraine. On January 29, Ukraine’s top military commander, General Viktor Muzhemko, almost inadvertently dismissed the very basis for US and EU sanctions on Russia when he told a news conference emphatically: “The Ukrainian army is not fighting with the regular units of the Russian Army”.  There were “individual citizens” who were members of “illegal armed groups”, but there was no Russian invasion. This was not news. Vadym Prystaiko, Kiev’s Deputy Foreign Minister, has called for “full scale war” with nuclear-armed Russia.

On February 21, US Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, introduced a bill that would authorise American arms for the Kiev regime. In his Senate presentation, Inhofe used photographs he claimed were of Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, which have long been exposed as fakes. It was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s fake pictures of a Soviet installation in Nicaragua, and Colin Powell’s fake evidence to the UN of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Yes, Russia has covertly backed the anti-government rebels in the East, just as parties within the West (often with ties to George Soros) covertly instigated the “revolution”, then backed the unelected provisional “government”, and since then have cozied up to the partially elected government in Kiev (a government not recognised by the majority in the East). Yes, Putin annexed Crimea, but Russian forces were already based on the peninsula and the seizure was bloodless because the majority of people living in Crimea urgently wanted to be with Russia. After all, if Crimea had stayed within Ukraine, then it would doubtless have been dragged into the civil war too. Instead of relative prosperity, it would presumably have suffered shelling by its own government forces and been raided by their closely-allied fascist brigades.

So if Putin is a villain in this piece, then he is very far from alone – Pilger once more:

The intensity of the smear campaign against Russia and the portrayal of its president as a pantomime villain is unlike anything I have known as a reporter. Robert Parry, one of America’s most distinguished investigative journalists, who revealed the Iran-Contra scandal, wrote recently, “No European government, since Adolf Hitler’s Germany, has seen fit to dispatch Nazi storm troopers to wage war on a domestic population, but the Kiev regime has and has done so knowingly. Yet across the West’s media/political spectrum, there has been a studious effort to cover up this reality even to the point of ignoring facts that have been well established… If you wonder how the world could stumble into world war three – much as it did into world war one a century ago – all you need to do is look at the madness over Ukraine that has proved impervious to facts or reason.” 17

Click here to read John Pilger’s complete article.

*

The fog of war

By February this angle was starting to alter. If the equation Putin equals Hitler now looked flimsy, there were alternative comparisons that might be made to “skilful, ruthless dictators” who are less historically outstanding. To present the case afresh, the Guardian gave the floor to Oxbridge historian Tim Garton Ash, who drew up new parallels as follows:

Vladimir Putin is the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger. Behind a smokescreen of lies he has renewed his drive to carve out a puppet para-state in eastern Ukraine.

And this “Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger” (which translates as something akin to ‘Hitler-lite’) must be stopped, of course, because the whole point of comparisons like this is that room for negotiation can again be abruptly closed off:

Preoccupied by Greece and the eurozone, Europe is letting another Bosnia happen in its own front yard. Wake up, Europe. If we have learned anything from our own history, Putin must be stopped. But how? In the end, there will have to be a negotiated solution.

In the end, yes – but not right now. Instead, Garton Ash implores the West to “ratchet up the economic sanctions” (warfare by economic means) as well as ramping up the propaganda (and apologies here for any disturbing images that may be conjured to mind after reading Garton Ash’s next paragraph):

Last year a Russianist of my acquaintance was sitting naked and at ease in the hot tub with a friend of his in Moscow after several vodkas, as is the Russian custom [just so you know], when this highly educated Russian asked: “So tell me, honestly, why do you support the fascists in Kiev?”

We need to counter this propaganda not with lies of our own but with reliable information and a scrupulously presented array of different views. No one is better placed to do this than the BBC. The US may have the best drones in the world, and Germany the best machine tools, but Britain has the best international broadcaster. 18

Propaganda directed towards the Russians (sorry, I mean “reliable information”) is however unlikely to strike such a blow. Most Russians do indeed speak excellent English and would doubtless be lulled by the unimpeachable voice of “the best international broadcaster” were it not for the peculiar fact that history leaves them better equipped at sifting news than those of us who grew up in ‘the free West’ – if your only source of information is Pravda, you soon get wise to “reliable information”!

But never mind, because this latest propaganda offensive, which is what Garton Ash is really announcing in his article, will not be so strictly targeted at the Russian people. Not if the powerbrokers in the West have realised, as they surely must, that most Russians are already a lost cause. No, the latest rounds of propaganda will be disseminated to influence attitudes on the home front in the information war. In fact, reading deftly between the furrowed lines of his agitation, Garton Ash is explaining how brainwashing is good for us – our brainwashing, obviously.

Because propaganda is rather desperately needed if we are to keep these wars going:

So the challenge is to shorten that period and stop the mayhem. To do this Ukraine needs modern defensive weapons to counter Russia’s modern offensive ones. Spurred on by John McCain, the US Congress has passed a Ukraine Freedom Support Act which allocates funds for the supply of military equipment to Ukraine. It is now up to President Obama to determine the timing and composition of those supplies. […]

Only when Ukrainian military defence can plausibly hold Russian offence to a stalemate will a negotiated settlement become possible. Sometimes it takes guns to stop the guns.

Yes, “sometimes it takes guns to stop guns” and especially when you’re dealing with a person like “the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger.”

Now please let’s remember too that Tim Garton Ash has a prodigious record as warmonger (I’ll bet he was the bully’s mate at school), also leading calls for earlier Nato “interventions” like the one in Kosovo with pronouncements quoted above, but ones I will quote again: that “we” needed to stop “something approaching genocide”. As it transpired, however, Kosovo was just the latest in our production line for wars, sold to a still naive western audience (since this was prior to the Iraq War Part 2) on the tried and tested basis of exaggeration and lies.

More from John Pilger and that same New Statesman article published March 2006:

The “mass graves” in Kosovo would justify it all, they said. When the bombing was over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The FBI arrived to investigate what was called “the largest crime scene in the FBI’s forensic history”. Several weeks later, having found not a single mass grave, the FBI and other forensic teams went home.

In 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included Serbs, Roma and those killed by “our” allies, the Kosovo Liberation Front. It meant that the justification for the attack on Serbia (“225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59 are missing, presumed dead”, the US ambassador-at-large David Scheffer had claimed) was an invention. To my knowledge, only the Wall Street Journal admitted this. A former senior Nato planner, Michael McGwire, wrote that “to describe the bombing as ‘humanitarian intervention’ [is] really grotesque”. In fact, the Nato “crusade” was the final, calculated act of a long war of attrition aimed at wiping out the very idea of Yugoslavia.

Noam Chomsky was another of exceptionally few political commentators to raise questions at the time of Nato’s involvement in Kosovo:

The tumult having subsided, it should be possible to undertake a relatively dispassionate review and analysis of NATO’s war over Kosovo. One might have expected the theme to have dominated the year-end millennarianism, considering the exuberance the war elicited in Western intellectual circles and the tidal wave of self-adulation by respected voices, lauding the first war in history fought “in the name of principles and values,” the first bold step towards a “new era” in which the “enlightened states” will protect the human rights of all under the guiding hand of an “idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity,” now freed from the shackles of archaic concepts of world order. But it received scant mention.

A rare exception was the Wall Street Journal, which devoted its lead story on December 31 to an in-depth analysis of what had taken place. The headline reads: “War in Kosovo Was Cruel, Bitter, Savage; Genocide It Wasn’t.” The conclusion contrasts rather sharply with wartime propaganda. A database search of references to “genocide” in Kosovo for the first week of bombing alone was interrupted when it reached its limit of 1,000 documents.

As NATO forces entered Kosovo, tremendous efforts were undertaken to discover evidence of war crimes, a “model of speed and efficiency” to ensure that no evidence would be lost or overlooked. The efforts “build on lessons learned from past mistakes.” They reflect “a growing international focus on holding war criminals accountable.” Furthermore, analysts add, “proving the scale of the crimes is also important to NATO politically, to show why 78 days of airstrikes against Serbian forces and infrastructure were necessary.” […]

Despite the intensive efforts, the results of “the mass-grave obsession,” as the WSJ analysts call it, were disappointingly thin. Instead of “the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect,.. the pattern is of scattered killings,” a form of “ethnic cleansing light.” 19

 

Ostensibly the fight for Kosovo had been a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that has since taken on a far hollower ring – and for many, especially amongst those notionally of the left, this became adopted as something like an article of faith (we can consider the reasons for this in a moment). In reality, however, the Nato campaign had been just another strategic conflict, and with victory against the Serbs, the West immediately took up an option to annex a new state. Yes, Kosovo was our Crimea, except with land seized for what is now the largest foreign US base set up since the Vietnam War, Camp Bondsteel, by means of a high-intensity bombing offensive. By contrast, the Russians, who already had military presence including a large naval base at Sevastopol, captured Crimea without any bombing whatsoever – no loss of life, because the majority in Crimea, ethnic Russians who had better reason to fear Kiev than the Kremlin, welcomed the transfer of control. 20

Pilger again:

For me, one of the more odious characteristics of Blair, and Bush, and Clinton, and their eager or gulled journalistic court, is the enthusiasm of sedentary, effete men (and women) for bloodshed they never see, bits of body they never have to retch over, stacked morgues they will never have to visit, searching for a loved one. Their role is to enforce parallel worlds of unspoken truth and public lies. That Milosevic was a minnow compared with industrial-scale killers such as Bush and Blair belongs to the former. 21

Click here to read John Pilger’s short article “The war lovers” and here to read Noam Chomsy’s longer “Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo”.

*

All war is an abomination and, as General Smedley Butler very ably dissects in his famous pamphlet, it is always a racket. But worse, war then serves as a putrid breeding ground for further atrocities. For these and other reasons, war ought to be reserved as a desperate fallback and a last resort, but instead, and especially so during this quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell, and since the West was free to operate within a de facto unipolar world order, we have never stopped going to war.

To justify this reign of terror, our propaganda machine has been working tirelessly too. For extended periods, mere recourse to threats of terrorism have served this purpose extremely well, however, whenever those nominally of liberal-leftist persuasion are sworn into office, the humanitarian excuse plays better again. And the advantageous repetition of this alternative catalogue of lies then depends upon the obedience and compliance of those parts of the media also nominally progressive and supposedly speaking from the left:

The Guardian‘s role in the Kosovo campaign, along with its Sunday sister paper, the Observer, was a crucial one—even within the framework of the near unanimous support offered by the media to NATO. The newspapers are widely regarded as the house journals of Britain’s liberal intelligentsia and were previously seen as a forum for dissenting views—including criticism of the military activities of the major powers.

So writes Mike Ingram in an article published by the World Socialist Web Site, continuing:

Like so many former reformists, liberals and pacifists, however, the Guardian and Observer have lurched ever further to the right. Their hawkish stand in defence of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia aided the Blair government in its efforts to both justify the war and intimidate the relatively small numbers of liberals, intellectuals and artists who maintained an oppositional stance.

The Observer editorialised against the war’s opponents, claiming in March last year, “There is no alternative…. We have to live in the world as it is, not some Utopia.” Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote on March 25, “The old left needs to look at the world that’s actually taking shape. Wednesday’s Lords ruling on Pinochet suggests a new brand of international law, one that doesn’t allow heads of state to kill and maim indiscriminately, even within their own sovereign lands. The night-sky over Belgrade tells the same story. Together they’re making the world a less cosy place for dictators—and safer for the weak and powerless.” Whole articles were devoted to denunciations of those who opposed the war and exposed NATO propaganda, such as the playwright Harold Pinter and journalist John Pilger.

With such a despicable record to defend, the Guardian clearly did not feel it could simply ignore The Hague tribunal’s latest admissions. Instead, it felt obliged to reiterate NATO’s own threadbare rationale for the bombing of Serbia in a pathetic attempt at self-justification. It is to be hoped that those who in the past naively took the newspaper’s claim to editorial integrity at face value will draw the appropriate conclusions from this sorry episode. 22

Click here to read Mike Ingram’s full article.

Admitting to responsibility for any part in the prosecution of illegal (or merely illegitimate) wars would mean accepting a heavy burden of guilt, and the mainstream media (especially those sham left broadsheets with their liberal reputation to uphold) ought to carry that burden. Instead, they would prefer that we forget the key role they had in permitting such carnage. We must not follow them into amnesia.

Neither should we forget any of the atrocities. The “shock and awe” unleashed over Baghdad as well as over the cities of Tripoli and Sirte in Libya, and the daily horrors of our other victims like those in Fallujah, including the babies not yet born, but already poisoned by the Nato’s huge arsenal of chemical weapons – white phosphorous and (worse) depleted uranium.

For whenever the wish is to incite new wars, we must anticipate that this same media will again play along just the same, promulgating official rumours of another foreign menace that has drifted into the neo-imperialist crosshairs. Phrases like “mass graves”, “ethnic cleansing” and even words like “genocide” will be promptly bandied about. But it is war alone that unfailingly produces “mass graves”, whilst “genocide” is a word we reserve and use only when our enemies are doing the slaughtering. The first casualty of war is indeed the truth, and since we are perpetually at war, truth has little part to play in any of the justifications for the West’s ever more capricious response to what is really taking place in the killing fields of today’s constantly expanding warzone.

*

Interlude: so who won the war anyway?

“Two World Wars and One World Cup” goes the stupid football chant: half-jesting, three quarters-jeering. Claiming the bragging rights to results in a war is never a seemly matter; but then this is straight off the Jeremy Clarkson page of humour. Less snide than grand petrolhead poobah, but awash with the same undercurrents of latent bigotry; the pretence is all in the feigning of those chanting that we are actually laughing up the xenophobia itself. It’s clever. It’s post-ironic.

In exchange, the German fans sing back in full-throated unison: “Football coming home”; the English anthem of the Euro ’96 tournament skilfully adapted by deliberately missing out the apostrophe-‘s’ and misplacing the Anglo-Saxon emphasis – after all, we know their English is as immaculate as their football – but to maximise the more Teutonic staccato impact such alterations were demanded. And you have to laugh at the genuine double irony of their gesture: double because it nods to how they recognise that the English imagine they don’t even have a sense of humour… genuinely sophisticated (and typically German!)

All of which is absolute unadulterated silliness: the chant, my analysis, the whole shebang. Silliness because frankly I needed a respite (and perhaps you did too); a break from the unremitting seriousness of thinking and writing about war and its atrocities. For war itself is silly, brutally and horrifically so. A stupendously absurd human folly. Or why else would we find Dr Strangelove so hilarious (I speak personally), if not because it is both one hundred percent believable and one hundred percent pure farce.

On the whole, Hollywood gets war all wrong – just as it gets most other things all wrong – but on this occasion quite deliberately so, because Hollywood is literally in the business of selling, and whenever war becomes one of our primary commodities, then Hollywood pitches war. But Kubrick was a maverick. And he got war consistently right, though differently so in each of his three markedly different war films.

First he presents the tragedy of the First World War in Paths of Glory and next he brought us the farce in his Cold War masterpiece, Strangelove, the ultimate black as pitch comedy, and finally, he brilliantly fused those twin faces into the stunning Vietnam War tragicomedy, Full Metal Jacket. The most lasting evil of warfare is the way it dehumanises, he tells us, the unremitting horror ending in “the thousand-yard stare”, and with it, every evil numbed and absolutely banal. In the film’s final scene, Kubrick sums up perfectly; our heroes marching through the smouldering ruins of Huế (one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war) singing: “Who’s the leader of the club, that’s made for you and me…      M-I-C– K-E-Y– M-O-U-S-E!

By virtue of such obscene consequences, comparison of war with all other human activities fails. Comparisons with football are as ridiculous as they are dubious, as most football fans know. Yet comparisons to games are inevitable and unavoidable, heinous and sickening as war is, for so long as we continue fighting. For war has so many hallmarks of a game. It has rules and strategies; advances and setbacks; and, most importantly, winners and losers – winning and losing being as determinable outcomes in every war as in any game. So we all-too easily get into the habit of playing at this war game just as little boys like to play cowboys and Indians, or if we are more cerebrally inclined, chess perhaps… these are war games and football is too (most games are war as allegory).

However, this particular English football chant is sillier again, because it also expresses an overarching and rather commonly held English delusion. A national myth that England (meaning Britain, obviously!) somehow singlehandedly won not just the World Cup in 1966 (thanks to a Polish linesman), but also both world wars. And though it is correct to say that Germany was twice defeated, whilst adding that reparations demanded after their first defeat, fuelled a nationalistic fervour for a rematch; with respect to who actually “won the war” – well, that has always been more debatable.

Obviously, no-one dwells very long on claims to victory in World War One in any case: that mud-drenched stalemate of “the war to end all wars”. All that warrants remembrance is how 16 million people lost their lives and 20 million more were wounded, and perhaps that the highpoint was a Christmas truce and truly extraordinary football match (in reality lots of informal games), whilst the vain horrors of trench warfare were temporarily suspended. But after the exchange of gifts, the sing-song and kickarounds, the men trooped across no-man’s land back to their gun emplacements and the thick mud of the long graves where most would perish. Which exemplifies the forlorn stupidity of war again – war being such an idiotic pursuit, and supremely so.

The Second World War, however, presents us with one of those exceptional instances when war itself most likely spared even greater horrors; on this occasion, reversing the otherwise inexorable advance of a truly monstrous ideology. It was the war that saved our humanity and what remained of European civilisation. With this firmly in mind, the bloodiest conflict in all of history must also be judged to have been a necessary evil; indisputedly so.

This is certainly not to say World War Two could not have been avoided. It might well have been if it were not for the failures of those in power, and especially some within the highest echelons of the Anglo-American establishment. Hitler’s rise to power and his subsequent rearmament of his Nazi regime depended upon friendly relations with major industrialists and financiers both in Britain and America. A few had backed him to the hilt. Without such generous support, as well as prior support for Mussolini’s rise in Italy, it is hard to refute the claims that fascism would never have needed defeating at all. But this is counterfactual history, and putting such what ifs also to one side, as the situation stood by the end of the 1930s, Hitler’s war machine was ready to crush all before it; the die had been cast. Leaving all else aside, war had become inevitable.

It is indeed pertinent to ask, therefore, who precisely did win the war against Hitler and fascism? But this involves two questions, not one. Irrefutably, in a vitally importance sense, the winner of World War Two was America, since America was the last major power still standing with its commercial and industrial capacity unscathed. Post-war America was bound to take the lead whilst all other developed nations both in Europe, as well as those in the Far East, lay in ruins. With next to no competition, where else could the world turn to procure its goods? This ensured boom times for those same American industrialists who had collaborated with the Nazi programme, not to mention financiers like Prescott Bush, who had bankrolled Hitler. Now they would reap the rewards not just of German annihilation, but of the annihilation of all of Eurasia. And let’s not pretend that the Second World War was not a racket too – indeed, that it was, provides a central motif for Joseph Heller’s classic anti-war novel, Catch 22 (its other central theme being the inane futility of all wars).

The other half of this same question “who won the war”, when less ambiguously framed, becomes a question regarding which of the Allied forces was most instrumental in defeating Hitler’s Nazi regime. And we love to believe, of course, as the terrace chant goes, that it was plucky little England (…I mean Britain, sorry) ‘who stopped his little game’ – which is also to paraphrase the wonderfully witty lyrics of the Dad’s Army theme tune – itself a wink and a genuine acknowledgement to the bigger, starker truth. Not that there is any doubting the extraordinary heroism of British or other Allied forces, but that flimsy claims to an entirely homemade backs-to-the-wall victory rest very heavily on collective amnesia.

For almost precisely four years following the Dunkirk evacuation in late May 1940 (in truth a desperate and humiliating retreat after the calamitous military failings of our first offensive onto the continent) and up until the heroic success of the Normandy landings in early June 1944, it wasn’t the British, or our Commonwealth allies, or even the mighty Americans, who were spearheading the desperate fight against the Nazi offensive. Instead, the British and Commonwealth forces had been initially redirected to protect the colonies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and, in the aftermath of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the American forces were also helping out with our North African campaign, or else island hopping across the Pacific Theatre. Thus, for the longest span during the war, it was the Russians, with the aid of some logistical support but otherwise alone, who had faced down three-quarters of the entire German military, not to mention the armies of the other Axis powers (neighbours Finland included).

Certainly, they had enjoyed some indirect support, especially during the later stages of the war, by way of strategic bombing raids carried out by British and American pilots. These set back Germany industrial production (though not by much, nor for very long), whilst larger attacks against cities like Hamburg and then Berlin had also dented morale and redirected some of the German forces away from the Eastern Front – of course, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians is not just morally reprehensible, but strictly speaking a war crime, which is why “Bomber” Harris is rightly denounced for his love of setting cities ablaze (the firestorming of Dresden, his farewell atrocity), although he was only doing what the Germans did, and the Americans did (the area bombing of Tokyo also came very late in the war) and were yet to do (testing out their new A-bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki)… the rules of war are always infinitely flexible.

The bombs undoubtedly helped to weaken German resistance as the D-Day offensive approached, and then with a great deal of support from the French Resistance, the liberation of Paris and the Low Countries quickly followed, but much of this “Second Front” simply arrived too late to turn the war. And Hitler’s last gasp assault in the Ardennes, which ended with the famous coup de grace at the Battle of the Bulge, had been an ill-advised rearguard response to the Russian victory on the Eastern Front.

I once asked a friend who did wargaming as a hobby, why it was, in light of so many historical precedents of failure, the Germans had countenanced the idea that their own invasion of Russia would be other than disastrous. In reply, he told me how he had re-enacted the German campaign along the Eastern Front on more occasions than any other battle. I was fascinated, he said, that no matter what strategies I tried out, I could never get the Russians to win. Yet in reality, of course, they did win (just as they always do when playing at home) although the human cost of defending their nation is only barely comprehendible. Perhaps the reason my friend could never successfully re-enact the event is because here was a military victory that owed a great deal more to the stubborn endurance and sheer fortitude of the people as it did to the ruthlessness and cunning of the Soviet commanders, or even the ultimate military might of the Red Army.

The siege of the city of Leningrad would endure from September 1941 to January 1944 (872 days in total), and throughout this time its population were not only bombarded by the Wehrmacht but simultaneously starved into submission – Hitler’s plans were not just to conquer his “Lebensraum”, but to eradicate most of the native Untermenschen in the process, clearing the way for an Aryan repopulation. With the city blockaded and encircled by German artillery, those trapped inside were reduced to consuming bread made from sawdust, soup from wallpaper paste, rats and shoe leather.

At Stalingrad, the Russians hunkered down and fought a fierce guerrilla war not so much from street to street as from one building to the next. The death rate was higher still, and here the meat-grinder also kept on turning for nearly six months (Aug 1942 – Feb 1943); the city’s infrastructure likewise pulverised into a wasteland. 23 Yet more than any single battle, it would be the Russian defence of Stalingrad that turned the advantage in favour of the Allies.

By the end of the war, a greater number of Russians (civilians and soldiers) had been killed than people from any other nation – the scale of atrocities committed by the occupying Japanese puts China at a close second. But even compared to the Chinese, Russian fatalities surpass both in absolute terms and by percentage. Britain and America jointly suffered the loss of just a little fewer than one million lives; a figure comparable to Russian deaths at Leningrad alone (as well as those at Stalingrad). In fact, more lives were lost on the Eastern Front than from all of the other fighting during the war. Some 24 million Russian lives, a third of the final total. 24

Yet, after enduring the onslaught of the titanic “Operation Barbarossa” blitzkrieg, then grimly digging in to survive for two more terrible years, the Russians would ultimately succeed not only in halting Hitler’s advance, but in pushing the Eastern Front back from the gates of Moscow and then a thousand miles to Berlin. In short, it was Russia more than any other nation that might justly claim to have “won the war” – they simply had to, because we left them with very little alternative.

With a decimated population and their major cities pounded to heaps of rubble, in another important sense, Russia had been the greatest loser in the war too. So if the peril of history is that it will be forgotten, then let us continue to remember now the huge debt of gratitude owed to the sacrifice of the Russian people. And in the light of such comparatively recent national trauma, with the deaths of 24 million within living memory, we ought to be careful too before insinuating that Russians suddenly hate fascism any less than we do. Seventy years after the defeat of the Nazis, do we dare say so to their faces?

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The unthinkable climax (absit omen)

Those who remember the last Cold War may have noticed how that gnawing sense of doubt which once lurked at the back of our minds has returned to haunt us. The intimation, though faintly heard, that some day – a day very much like this one – the same faint and insubstantial dread will manifest a solid form and leap out from behind our backs to shout BOO – M! The intimation not merely of one’s own death, but of megadeath: annihilation so complete that our secret, unspoken wish is we don’t survive to see the aftermath. Of course, we did survive all those post-war decades, and twice only by the skin of our teeth (see addendum), but then, when it ended, it was as if we stuffed all our finger-bitten memories into an old suitcase and left them in the attic to accumulate dust…

The fact is that we are still living with the nuclear-strike doctrine of the Cold War, which dictated three strategic options: first strike, launch on warning and post-attack retaliation. There is no reason to believe that Russia and the United States have discarded these options, as long as the architecture of “mutually assured destruction” remains intact.

For either side, the decision to launch on warning — in an attempt to fire one’s nuclear missiles before they are destroyed — would be made on the basis of information from early-warning satellites and ground radar. Given the 15- to 30-minute flight times of strategic missiles, a decision to launch after an alert of an apparent attack must be made in minutes.

Also taken from the warning put out by Generals James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin in their recent New York Times op-ed.

It did not take long from the defeat of the Nazis before the Cold War was in full swing. A nuclear arms race, very quickly turning thermonuclear, boosted thanks to the entirely erroneous and scaremongering supposition of the so-called “missile gap”. False intelligence reports indicating that the Soviet Union, not so long since ruined by a Nazi invasion, was somehow in possession of an arsenal of superior killing power. Although chimerical, this “missile gap” was eagerly seized upon, and especially by those in the business of selling arms. The military-industrial complex was about to flourish as never before.

It was Kubrick again, who most brilliantly parodied the sheer paranoia involved in much of the strategy at the height of Cold War tensions during the 50s and 60s. In the utterly insane climax to Dr Strangelove, those gathered in the war room, and abruptly confronted with the prospect of their own annihilation, listen to Strangelove’s plan for survival inside underground bunkers. But even sealed deep underground, the threat of the Red menace looms in a different way. The feckless and licentious General “Buck” Turgidson, played by a deadpan George C. Scott, explains the problem this way:

“We ought to look at this from the military point of view. I mean, supposing the Russkis stashed away some big bombs, see, and we didn’t? When they come out in 100 years, they could take over!”

Concluding with unfailing logic:

“Mr President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!” 25

Of course, whenever we come to talk about the end of the world, it becomes seriously hard to think straight. The idea itself is inclined to make us go potty. WWIII or WW3. Just the abbreviated monikers are freaky enough to cause a shiver. In full, the Third World War sounds improbably futuristic, as it genuinely will be, in the circumstance of its abominable occurrence. So we all try not to mention that particular war, just as we are disinclined to talk about death more generally, which is similarly hard to imaginatively get to grips with, if not quite so dreadful a prospect.

Talking about death is not polite behaviour, but then talking about WW3 is far worse again, although soon, if we let it, we make the unspeakable impossible to speak about. Then it becomes more literally unthinkable, which it is too, yet by being literally unthinkable it comes to seem absolutely impossible! It is tempting to stop there. Insouciance is appealing, and, after all, the leaders of our nations, crazed as many unquestionably are, are ultimately no less restrained than the rest of us by desires for self-preservation. And who amongst us would be crazy enough to unleash such an almighty and terminal firestorm of “mutually assured destruction”? (The Cold War doctrine nattily abbreviated as MAD).

It is comforting to put our trust in such common sense prevailing, however, memory tugs at my impassivity if I try. For besides the worrying shifts in both military capability as well as in doctrine (something I will briefly return to), recent history also gives cause for greater concern.

Conversely, there are a few I am now hearing who muse upon the imminent prospect of a general war as if its impending outbreak has become a fait accompli. A pair of colleagues at work, for instance, who ordinarily assume a more lackadaisical air, were earnestly discussing the very real likelihood of being conscripted in its event (they are younger than me). When I interjected that if they believed a world war might actually be on the cards, then oughtn’t they to strive harder to avert it, the one replied: “I can’t even persuade them to give me a pay rise.” An amusing retort, I had to admit.

The Doomsday Clock has recently been reset. In January, its committee of keepers took the decision to move its symbolic hands to three minutes to midnight:

The last time the clock read three minutes to midnight was in 1983 when “US-Soviet relations were at their iciest” according to the bulletin. The lowest ever reading was of 11.58 in 1953 when the US decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any nuclear bomb.

The highest reading was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, when the Cold War officially ended and the US and Russia began cutting their nuclear arsenals. 26

So what, you might say, they are simply telling us what we knew all along. That old Cold War hostilities have been refrozen. Speaking as one whose childhood spanned more than a decade of those old Cold War tensions, this is surely bad enough, but what is worse is that thirty years ago it would have taken a catastrophic accident to have triggered all-out nuclear war. An accident that very nearly happened (twice)…

Well no, in fact, there are also other less infamous incidents when the world came to the brink of a nuclear escalation. One such may have happened during the Six-Day War in 1967, when the USS Liberty, an unarmed America reconnaissance ship, was attacked and nearly destroyed by Israeli forces. As a BBC documentary “Dead in the Water” (2002) revealed, once the attack had been falsely attributed to the Egyptians, the Americans, under the command of President Lyndon Johnson, launched but recalled (just in time) a nuclear-armed aircraft targeted against Cairo:

The deployment of nuclear weapons is officially denied, as indeed is “Operation Cyanide”, the alleged plan that allowed Israel to attack the Liberty, a sitting duck, in order to use the false flag to bring America into the Six-Day War. But then, the official story maintains instead that Israel’s attack was a terrible mistake, and this is completely untenable.

*

Military technologies have since advanced, of course, but so too have the doctrines of war. In fact, during the first Cold War, Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, made a pledge of “no first use” (NFU); a policy that China still maintains today. 27 But with the development of shorter-range “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapons, the idea within military circles has grown that we must keep the option to deploy “sub-strategic” nuclear weapons for battlefield use. And this means that nuclear war has become a great deal more thinkable – with hindsight the old doctrine of MAD doesn’t look half so mad after all. Although as John Pilger exposed in his documentary The Truth Game (embedded below), this doctrine of deterrence had been superseded at least as early as 1983. In fact, his film contains footage of a NATO ‘limited’ nuclear and chemical war exercise in West Germany, which Pilger himself describes as “a dry run for the unthinkable”:

But today we must also speak of other unspeakables. Of the out and out madmen. The neo-cons, those neo-Strangeloves (aka Breedloves), as well as less prominent crazies at or close to the Nato helm:

“This is not about Ukraine. Putin wants to restore Russia to its former position as a great power,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s former Secretary-General, “There is a high probability that he will intervene in the Baltics to test Nato’s Article 5.”

From a report published in The Telegraph on February 5th, which explains how:

Article 5 states that a military attack on any one Nato country is an attack on all of them, triggering collective mobilization. It has been invoked just once in the 66-year history of the alliance, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. 28

Thankfully, Fogh Rasmussen is gone. Perhaps some better sense may now prevail, although that will be difficult so long as General Philip Breedlove keeps his post as Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (SACEUR).

Moreover, it has become essential that voices within the media do begin to break the silence and speak with honestly about the nature and true cause of this escalating threat. In this respect, the report in Der Spiegel (quoted extensively above) is heartening. Let us pray too that the fragile Ukrainian ceasefire brokered by Merkel and Hollande continues to hold. But still we have the prospect of tensions escalating in the Middle East between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. All of these need to be defused, which itself relied upon cooperation between the major powers: Russia, China and America. So these are exceptionally dangerous times, but if enough of us choose to make a serious commitment to peace, then I believe that peace can and will ultimately prevail.

The final words I leave with John Pilger, who has a distinguished record of speaking both with honesty and with courage. This is how he finished his speech in December:

In the 18th century, Edmund Burke described the role of the press as a Fourth Estate checking the powerful. Was that ever true? It certainly doesn’t wash any more. What we need is a Fifth Estate: a journalism that monitors, deconstructs and counters propaganda and teaches the young to be agents of people, not power. We need what the Russians called perestroika – an insurrection of subjugated knowledge. I would call it real journalism.

It’s 100 years since the First World War. Reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the height of the slaughter, British prime minister David Lloyd George confided in C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

It’s time they knew. 29

*

Additional:

‘American Committee for East-West Accord’ discuss Russia, Ukraine and the New Cold War

The following, two-part video roundtable discussion took place in Brussels on March 2, 2015. It featured Gilbert Doctorow, moderator, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Cohen and Katrina Vanden Heuvel. The presentations by the three speakers was followed by discussion with the audience.

The event was organized by the newly created ‘American Committee for East-West Accord’. This was its second event in Brussels. The committee has recently been registered as a non-profit association in New York state. Its next roundtable discussion will take place in Berlin in May on the subject of German foreign policy.

The extract above is quoted from a new website dedicated to the current crisis: http://newcoldwar.org/roundtable-discussion-in-brussels-with-john-mearsheimer-stephen-cohen-and-katrina-vanden-heuvel/

*

Addendum: Memories of an older, colder war

Just inside the backdoor to my best friend’s house, underneath the washing lines close to where the bicycles were propped, and adjacent to the downstairs lavatory, there was a small grey box fitted to the painted exterior brick wall. The box had just one swivel switch with a milled edge that turned a loudspeaker on and the volume up. And whenever this switch was clicked on, the box emitted a continuous ticking tone – on and on like a mysterious telephone receiver eternally left off its hook.

My friend was the eldest son of the village bobby, so his house accommodated the village police station too. Occasionally we played with this little grey box, which was forbidden, but it was too tantalising to leave alone. Because if it were ever to alter its tone, my friend explained, no longer ticking but warbling instead and in some fashion we thankfully never heard, then this was the alarm that signalled we had passed a point of no return. For it meant that World War Three had started.

This box in the corner of his dad’s porch, with a tick that needed to be checked on daily, if not hourly (though, of course, never was), was apparently deemed an efficient way to relay such important news back in the 1970s. But then, under the circumstances, just what was his policeman father supposed to do, had he ever tuned in one morning to hear such strange apocalyptic warbling? I gathered that in such an event, his primary civic duty was to ensure that the church bells were ringing. But then who in the village would possibly have comprehended that church bells were communicating such a dire warning? It hardly mattered. We knew we would soon be dead. The bells were tolling for the loss of all life.

Meanwhile, there was also the then-famous government handbook, Protect and Survive. Maybe you remember it? In the event of all-out nuclear war, the best thing to do, it advised us solemnly but calmly, was to stay indoors and paint the windows white. Following which, we should then set about building our inner shelter. The recommendation was to lay low in a cubby-hole under the stairs for a few weeks. Failing that – for instance, if you lived in a bungalow – the advice was to take some doors off their hinges and lean them against an inside wall. Not an outside wall – you didn’t want to increase your risk of radiation sickness. Oh, and don’t forget the tin opener or the toilet paper… be sure to have ample. Nuclear dens might have sounded like fun, but actually they didn’t. The prospect of nuclear annihilation was nothing like the fear of the bogeyman: even to a child, the danger was palpable. The Cold War was no fun at all.

About the same time, a future friend, who being a decade older than me had already embarked on his economics degree at Sheffield, was selected for a walk-on part in the classic BBC TV docudrama Threads (1984). He was vaporised somewhere around the top of Fargate, he tells me.

Threads was a huge hit, of course. A horror show we could really believe in. Because life at the height of the Cold War meant adjusting one’s sense of everyday reality to accommodate the omnipresence of such a vague, yet inescapable, existential threat. At the backs of our minds, a barely conceivable awareness that all-out thermonuclear oblivion might be around the next bend – or four minutes away to be precise (so make sure you’ve got plenty of that white paint and a decent screwdriver handy). And each time my friend and I played with that little grey switch, turning its volume up and listening for its distantly pulsing mechanical heart, the dread was there, never getting closer or further away, just there, forever. Maybe a nuclear holocaust was about to burst out and devour us all… turn it off!

Meanwhile, behind the threat, a constant danger of sudden and total annihilation was real enough. My parents had lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when Kennedy and Khrushchev played out their notorious game of Russian roulette: Armageddon postponed thanks only to the good sense of the commander of a Soviet submarine, Captain Vasili Arkhipov 30 A little less well-known is that another Soviet officer saved our bacon as recently as September 1983, just a month prior to a top secret military exercise called Operation Able Archer. This involved the mass deployment of Nato troops very close to East European border, and it had caused senior Russian military officers to commence preparations for a counterattack.

Back in September, however, it had been the more mechanistic malfunctioning of one of the Soviet Union’s early warning systems that very nearly triggered doomsday. Fortunately, the cool-headed response of the station’s commanding officer, Stanislav Petrov, had averted catastrophe. 31 Then in November, with the Russians still twitchy, and this huge drill taking place on their frontier, with Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl holed up in bunkers, and Nato simulating the release of its own nuclear arsenal, the Russians collectively maintained their cool once again. All of which passed with the vast majority of folks in Britain (my own family very much included) utterly oblivious to any of it. Which was certainly one less thing to worry about!

Skipping forward to the end of the Cold War, and as The Berlin Wall came tumbling down on that crisp October day in 1989, we might be forgiven for thinking that with the arms race over, soon we would have money and time for far more worthwhile and useful projects. That our grander hopes for a brighter and better future would soon be fulfilled. Yet our individual shares in the peace dividend have instead been frittered away.

Living conditions are worsening. Wages have stagnated. Housing is in increasingly short supply. And more and more of us are being forced to eke out a meagre, if survivable, living. This is intolerable foolishness, and worse, it is foolishness that, if a new Cold War is allowed to build, will only get more foolish and intolerable.

*

1 From an article entitled “How to Avert a Nuclear War”, written by James E. Cartwright & Vladimir Dvorkin, published in The New York Times on April 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/20/opinion/how-to-avert-a-nuclear-war.html?_r=1

2 From an article entitled “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries” written by Nick Turse, published in The Nation magazine on January 16, 2014, and originally published at TomDispatch.com.

http://www.thenation.com/article/177964/americas-secret-war-134-countries

3 From an article entitled “The Unseen Gulf War” written by Peter Turnley in December 2002, first published with photographs by The Digital Journalist, and reproduced by Archipelago vol 7. http://www.archipelago.org/vol7-2/turnley2.htm

The article continues:

“That first morning, I saw and photographed a U.S. Military Graves Detail bury in large graves many bodies.

I don’t recall seeing many television images of the human consequences of this event, or, for that matter, many photographs published. A day later, I came across another scene on an obscure road further north and to the east, where, in the middle of the desert, I found a convoy of lorries transporting Iraqi soldiers back to Baghdad. Clearly, massive firepower had been dropped, and everyone in sight had been carbonized. Most of the photographs I made there have never been published anywhere, and this has always troubled me.”

4

“It is the threat of the use of force [against Iraq] and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

From an interview Madeline Albright gave in reply to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today Show” on February 19, 1998.  http://fas.org/news/iraq/1998/02/19/98021907_tpo.html

5 Taken from an interview Madeline Albright gave in reply to Lesley Stahl‘s question on CBS’s 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996.

6 Taken from an article entitled “Why we ignored Iraq in the 1990s” written by John Pilger, originally published in the New Statesman on October 4, 2004. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-we-ignored-iraq-in-the-1990s

7 Taken from an article entitled “Break the silence: a world war is beckoning” written by John Pilger, published on May 13, 2014. http://johnpilger.com/articles/break-the-silence-a-world-war-is-beckoning

8 Taken from an article entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue” written by John Pilger, published on February 26, 2015. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-rise-of-fascism-is-again-the-issue

9 From an article entitled “Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine” published in Der Spiegel on March 6, 2015. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-concerned-about-aggressive-nato-stance-on-ukraine-a-1022193.html

10 From an article entitled “The war lovers” written by John Pilger published on March 23, 2006. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-war-lovers

The same article was republished by News Statesman as “John Pilger doesn’t buy the sales pitch of political war lovers” on March 27, 2006.  http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152875

11

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler, reflecting continuing tension in relations between the United States and the Latin American government. […]

“He’s a person who was elected legally — just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally — and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.”

From an article entitled “Rumsfeld Likens Chavez To Hitler” written by John Kreiser from Associated Press, published by CBS news on February 3, 2006. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rumsfeld-likens-chavez-to-hitler/

12

Brandishing a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, cemented his reputation as Washington’s chief irritant yesterday with a fiery performance at the United Nations.

In a 15-minute address to the annual gathering of international leaders in New York, President Chávez said he could still “smell sulphur” left behind by the “devil”, George Bush, who had addressed the chamber 24 hours before.

His speech, which veered between a rousing appeal for a better world and a florid denunciation of the US, included the claim that President Bush thought he was in a western where people shot from the hip: “This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire.”

Mr Chávez complained that his personal doctor and head of security had been prevented from disembarking at New York airport by the American authorities. And then he coined the phrase that will now forever be etched into UN history as one of the more colourful criticisms levelled at the US president from his own turf: “This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the devil. It smells of sulphur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.”

He went on to accuse the US of double standards on terrorism. “The US has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere … I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.”

From an article entitled “Chávez attacks ‘devil’ Bush in UN speech” written by Ed Pilkington, published by the Guardian on September 21, 2006. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/21/usa.venezuela

Not that the UN assembly was entirely in disagreement: after a sharp intake of breath, many delegates laughed and applauded:

Delegates and leaders from around the world streamed back into the chamber to hear Mr Chávez, and when he stepped down the vigorous applause lasted so long that it had to be curtailed by the chair. [Ibid.]

13 From an article entitled “Poor Prince Charles – it must be grim being haunted by Nazis at every turn”, written by David Mitchell, published in the Guardian on May 25, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/25/prince-charles-putin-hitler-david-mitchell

14 From a statement made by John McCain released on May 14, 2015. http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=48d5a75f-9c4a-44db-8908-02dccbbbcc71

15 From an article entitled “Is Vladimir Putin a Wimp or a Russian Hitler?” written by Lincoln Mitchell, published in the Observer on December 26, 2014. http://observer.com/2014/12/is-vladimir-putin-cool-or-hitler-or-both/ 

16 From an article entitled “Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine” published in Der Spiegel on March 6, 2015. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-concerned-about-aggressive-nato-stance-on-ukraine-a-1022193.html

17 Taken from an article entitled “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue” written by John Pilger, published on February 26, 2015. http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-rise-of-fascism-is-again-the-issue

18 From an article entitled “Putin must be stopped. And sometimes only guns can stop guns” written by Tim Garton Ash, published in the Guardian on February 1, 2015. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/01/putin-stopped-ukraine-military-support-russian-propaganda

19 From an article entitled “A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo” written by Noam Chomsky, published by Z Magazine in April–May, 2001.  http://www.chomsky.info/articles/200005–.htm

The piece continues:

“Most killings and burnings [were] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA-UCK] had been active” or could infiltrate, some human-rights researchers reported, an attempt “to clear out areas of KLA support, using selective terror, robberies and sporadic killings.” These conclusions gain some support from the detailed OSCE review released in December, which “suggests a kind of military rationale for the expulsions, which were concentrated in areas controlled by the insurgents and along likely invasion routes.”

The WSJ analysis concludes that “NATO stepped up its claims about Serb ‘killing fields’” when it “saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by NATO’s bombs.” NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea presented “information” that can be traced to KLA-UCK sources. Many of the most lurid and prominently-published atrocity reports attributed to refugees and other sources were untrue, the WSJ concludes. Meanwhile NATO sought to deny its own atrocities, for example, by releasing a falsified videotape “shown at triple its real speed” to make it appear that “the killing of at least 14 civilians aboard a train on a bridge in Serbia last April” was unavoidable because “the train had been traveling too fast for the trajectory of the missiles to have been changed in time.”

The WSJ analysts nevertheless conclude that the “heinous” crimes, including the huge campaign of expulsion, “may well be enough to justify” the NATO bombing campaign, on the principle of retrospective justification.

20 According to the 2001 census 1,450,400 (60.4%) of the 2,401,200  living in Crimea are ethnic Russians. This compares with 576,600 (24.0%) Ukrainians and 245,200 (10.2%) Crimean Tatars. Data from wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Crimea#Ethnicities_.26_languages

21 From an article entitled “The war lovers” written by John Pilger published on March 23, 2006. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-war-lovers

The same article was republished by News Statesman as “John Pilger doesn’t buy the sales pitch of political war lovers” on March 27, 2006.  http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152875

22 From an article entitled “War crimes tribunal report shows Western powers exaggerated Kosovo victims of ethnic cleansing” written by Mike Ingram, published by the World Socialist Web Site on August 22, 2000. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/08/koso-a22.html

23 It is believed that between 1.1–1.3 million civilians died during the siege of Leningrad.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect_of_the_Siege_of_Leningrad_on_the_city#Civilian_casualties

A further 1,017,881 Soviet soldiers were reported killed, captured or missing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad#Lifting_the_siege

At Stalingrad, the USSR reportedly suffered 1,129,619 total casualties;[96] 478,741 personnel killed or missing, and 650,878 wounded or sick. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad#Casualties

24 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties#Human_losses_by_country

25 General “Buck” Turgidson’s fuller quote is:

“Yeah, I think it’d be extremely naive of us to imagine that these new developments [i.e., the end of civilisation!] are gonna cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mine shaft space in order to breed more prodigiously than we do thus knocking us out through superior numbers when we emerge. Mr President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!”

 

26 From an article entitled “Doomsday clock: We are closer to doom than at any time since the Cold War, say scientists” written by Tom Bawnden, published in The Independent on January 22, 2015.

27 http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/policies/no-first-use_1995-04-05.htm

28 Taken from an article entitled “Putin could attack Baltic States warns former Nato chief” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in The Telegraph on February 5, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11393707/Putin-could-attack-Baltic-states-warns-former-Nato-chief.html

29 Taken from a speech and article entitled “War by media and the triumph of propaganda” written by John Pilger, delivered at The Logan Symposium on December 5, 2014 and published here: http://johnpilger.com/articles/war-by-media-and-the-triumph-of-propaganda

30

“The nature of the threats was dramatically underscored last October, at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, attended by key participants from Russia, the US, and Cuba. Planners knew at the time that they had the fate of the world in their hands, but new information released at the Havana summit was truly startling. We learned that the world was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily Arkhipov, who blocked an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian submarines were attacked by US destroyers near Kennedy’s “quarantine” line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could have “destroyed the Northern hemisphere,” as Eisenhower had warned.”

From Confronting the Empire delivered by Noam Chomsky at the III World Social Forum, on February 2, 2003. http://www.chomsky.info/talks/20030201.htm

31

“MOSCOW – It was just past midnight as Stanislav Petrov settled into the commander’s chair inside the secret bunker at Serpukhov-15, the installation where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States. Then the alarms went off. On the panel in front him was a red pulsating button. One word flashed: “Start.” It was Sept. 26, 1983, and Petrov was playing a principal role in one of the most harrowing incidents of the nuclear age, a false alarm signaling a U.S. missile attack… Petrov’s role was to evaluate the incoming data. At first, the satellite reported that one missile had been launched – then another, and another. Soon, the system was “roaring,” he recalled – five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched, it reported. Despite the electronic evidence, Petrov decided – and advised the others – that the satellite alert was a false alarm, a call that may have averted a nuclear holocaust. But he was relentlessly interrogated afterward, was never rewarded for his decision and today is a long-forgotten pensioner living in a town outside Moscow. He spoke openly about the incident, although the official account is still considered secret by authorities here… “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” Petrov said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.” Petrov’s decision was based partly on a guess, he recalled. He had been told many times that a nuclear attack would be massive – an onslaught designed to overwhelm Soviet defenses at a single stroke. But the monitors showed only five missiles. “When people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles,” he remembered thinking at the time. “You can do little damage with just five missiles.”

Extract from “I Had A Funny Feeling in My Gut” written by David Hoffman of Washington Post Foreign Service, published on Wednesday, February 10, 1999; Page A19. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/coldwar/shatter021099b.htm

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Iraq, John Pilger, Kosovo, Kuwait, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, USA

Oh, what a lovely war…! Gaza, ISIS and Ukraine

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits.

An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.

The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by historical standards. Some of the recent headlines about Iraq or South Sudan make our world sound like a very bloody place, but today’s casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Even the Vietnam War had many more deaths than any recent war involving an affluent country.

So says Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen, writing an opinion piece for The New York Times.

Not enough war! – at first glance Cowen’s argument might appear not just shocking, but plainly nonsensical (or “counterintuitive” as Cowen puts it), although that’s mainly because ordinary folk (such as you and I) are in the habit of forgetting how war is extremely good business – if only for those in the business of war. What Cowen’s article reveals above all, therefore, is a cold calculating detachment that has always been secretly preferred by those moving within select circles. A moral relativism that has come to dominate in our degenerate age of coldly calculating neo-liberal orthodoxy. Cowen is unabashed in telling it like it (i.e., as he wishes to find it), because the vision of a better, saner alternative has been totally abandoned by his type.

He writes:

It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.1

Reading Cowen’s case for war causes me to remember Orson Welles’ famous speech in The Third Man:

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

It reminds me too of the less celebrated scene that leads into Orson Welles’ most famous soliloquy. When high over postwar Vienna, gently rocking in a cabin on that famous old Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (played by Welles), who is racketeering in penicillin, justifies his actions to his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), saying that he really shouldn’t worry so much about what happens to ‘the dots’:

Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

*

Gaza

The Gaza Strip is tiny. Twenty-five miles long and less than ten miles wide, yet home to nearly two million Palestinians. Unsurprisingly then, it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It also happens to be one of the poorest.

Since 2007, Gaza has been blockaded on all sides. And with its air space tightly restricted and regularly patrolled by Israeli fighter jets and drones it is not so much a reservation for Palestinians, the majority of whom are forced to live in refugee camps composed of concrete shacks and open sewers, but also their de facto internment camp. For Gaza as a whole might better be thought of as the world’s largest prison:

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

So begins Noam Chomsky in an article he entitled “Impressions of Gaza” published in late 2012. Chomsky continues:

Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the US and Israel, backed by the timid European Union, at once imposed a brutal siege, along with intensive military attacks. The US also turned at once to standard operating procedure when some disobedient population elects the wrong government: prepare a military coup to restore order.

Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms and protected by US diplomacy.2

The Gaza War, as Operation Cast Lead is also known, cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians at least 900 of whom were civilians. Over 4,000 homes were destroyed and more than 50,000 residents displaced. On the Israeli side, ten soldiers were killed (four due to friendly fire) and three civilians also lost their lives. These figures alone show how this previous “Gaza War” was actually no war at all, but a one-sided, single-minded slaughter.

Then, in 2012, there was Operation Pillar of Cloud (sometimes translated, presumably to heighten the absurdity, as Operation Pillar of Defense). A blitzkrieg of aerial bombardment that ended with more than a hundred Palestinian civilians dead. Pillar of Defense – hardly. Pillar of something most definitely… and yet another tissue of lies.

And now, less than two years on, we are in the midst of another massacre being carried out under the even more risibly named Operation Protective Edge. To date more than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed (a number that grows by the hour), the majority of whom are again civilians, and predominately women and children.

For what happens every few years is simply this: the Israeli generals, at the behest of their government, make the decision to “mow the lawn”. Meanwhile, the official pretext remains, that the escalating spiral of violence is solely the fault of Hamas and that hostilities will end only once the firing of Hamas rockets on Israel is stopped. The fact is, of course, that Israeli hostilities are never-ending. That those hostilities will end once Gaza is no longer a prison camp, which is a decision only Israel can make. Meanwhile, the regular collective punishment of the Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas can neither be morally nor legally sanctioned, and from a strategic point of view it is inexpedient in the extreme – presuming that the long-term aim really is to bring an end to the cycles of violence. For whilst clearly in violation of international law, this current outrage is not just extremely damaging to Israel’s international reputation, but also, and inevitably, it is bolstering support for Hamas, and just as their influence was beginning to wane. We must conclude therefore that those in charge of Israel are either remarkably stupid, or that they are more intent on keeping the conflict going, as well as keeping Gaza under siege, rather than seeking any offers of lasting peace.

*

After writing this, I came across an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, Head of the Israeli Institute of Strategic Studies, and published in the Jerusalem Post. In the piece, Sherman unflinchingly calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip. He writes:

Mowing the lawn’ won’t cut it

The reluctance to face unpalatable realities has spawned new terminology to paper over intellectual surrender, and mask unwillingness to accept the need for regrettably harsh but essential policies.

First, we were told that since there was “no solution” to the Israel-Arab conflict, we should adopt an approach of “conflict management” rather than “conflict resolution.”

Now we have a new term in the professional jargon to convey a similar perspective: “mowing the grass.” This is the name for an approach that entails a new round of fighting every time the Palestinian violence reaches levels Israel finds unacceptable.

Its “rationale” – for want of a better term – was recently articulated by Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, as: “The use of force, not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather [as a] long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities.”

Sadly, what we have seen is that far from “debilitating the enemy capabilities,” because said enemy keeps reappearing, spoiling for a fight, ever bolder with ever-greater capabilities.

It is an open question just how many more rounds of “mowing” the residents of southern Israel will endure before losing confidence that the government will provide adequate protection and choose to evacuate the area.

No, periodically mowing the lawn is not a policy that can endure for long – it simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.3

Click here to read Martin Sherman’s full article.

*

ISIS

Where did ISIS come from?” a friend asked a few months ago. Well, although they first spread their obscene wings in the war on Syria, I reminded him, and in common with all factions within al-Qaeda, you can actually trace their ugly origins right back to Saudi Arabia. Then there is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was al-Baghdadi who officially founded the group he called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – now translated, for reasons unknown to me, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or ISIS) – during April last year. Back then, ISIS were closely affiliated with another al-Qaeda faction known as Jabhat al-Nusra but soon afterwards bloody factional infighting caused a rift and a formal separation from the rest of al-Qaeda.4

More recently again, in fact just a month ago, al-Baghdadi called on other Muslims to rush to the aid of his pan-Islamic caliphate, now simply called ‘Islamic State’, whose caliph is, somewhat unsurprisingly, al-Baghdadi himself.5 At the time indeed the news was full of it – constantly repeating those promotional videos for ISIS. There is a growing concern that British Muslims may be attracted to the Jihadist cause by these glossy new commercials, we kept hearing… like a commercial.

Aside from having generous sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and fingers have been pointed toward Saudi Prince Adbul Rahman al-Faisal in particular6 – many in the ranks of this latest batch of Islamists were also more directly assisted with training courtesy of the British, French and US across the border in Jordan. This is denied, of course, since officially we only trained “ the moderates”. But then prior to the well-advertised emergence of ISIS, western powers had become remarkably candid in their disinterest when it came to making careful distinctions between the various “rebel forces”. Any enemy of Assad was a friend of ours.

And, in reality, the moderates in the Syrian conflict had been rather quickly squeezed out (as I pointed out in a number of previous articles), so that when groups like al-Nusra and then ISIS moved in to spearhead the continuing offensive, the West had knowingly continued to back them (I refer the reader again to previous posts and recommend following the “al-Nusra” tag).

Not that this feckless approach to foreign policy is particularly novel. Al-Qaeda was always an American formulation, having been purpose-built to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since which time, its growth has been encouraged less directly thanks to power vacuums which followed in the wake of attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria. Added to which, weapons and forces from Libya were more deliberately transported into Syria as Seymour Hersh, amongst others, has since exposed. So, and to answer my friend’s question more fully, ISIS is to a very great extent our own monster. For it is western foreign policy that has allowed ISIS to establish itself, and without continued support from the Gulf States – our allies – ISIS might now be rather promptly eradicated.

If the aim is to stop al-Qaeda in their tracks (or at least their latest branch, ISIS), then it would be very much more profitable to pull the whole operation out by its roots – roots that lie fully exposed in Saudi Arabia. So instead of drone attacks or air strikes on Iraq (and in the likely future Syria), why aren’t we sending our ultimatum to the Saudis?

*

Ukraine

The conflict over Palestine goes back some seventy years to the very formation of Israel, and whilst the rise of al-Qaeda across wide expanses of Iraq and Syria can easily be traced to the illegal Iraq War that was ignited by Bush and Blair more than a decade ago (and which has never properly ended), the immediate origins of today’s escalating “crisis” in Ukraine take us back just a few months.

Divisions between East and West regions, pro- and anti-Russia, that had been festering but were mostly dormant found a new expression. What was then widely presented as a grassroots pro-European uprising in fact turning out to be nothing other than a EU-inflamed and US-coordinated colour revolution ending in a bloody coup. Not a glorious liberation from oligarchy, but simply the replacement of one oligarchical coterie with another, more western-oriented oligarchical coterie. Worse, for this new clique were openly affiliated with leading members of the extreme right. The fascist party Svoboda now linked arms with the even more odious Right Sector as both sought a share of power; grabbing the chance of appointing one another into office.

Embedded below is an uncharacteristically candid BBC report about who really seized power in Kiev. It was broadcast in February on Newsnight:

Has the subsequent election (which was not even recognised as legitimate in many Eastern regions) of chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko as President of Ukraine helped to reign in the extremists? Well, this is the situation as it currently stands: three members of the cabinet including Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych are Svoboda representatives, whilst the speaker of parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov, more recently announced the complete dissolution of the Communist Party faction in the Verkhovna Rada. The banning of political parties is one measure of how far Ukraine is from functioning like a democratic state. Another being the monthly fist fights that take place inside the Rada.

This was April:

And this happened just a few weeks ago:

There is also President Poroshenko himself. The following is taken from a Guardian report published on Sunday July 13th , little more than one month after he had assumed office:

Over the weekend there was an escalation of both military action and rhetoric in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian jets carried out air strikes against separatist positions. On Friday, 23 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in an attack using Grad missiles.

“For every soldier’s life, the militants will pay with dozens and hundreds of their own,” said Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, after Friday’s attack.7 [bold emphasis added]

Hardly the voice of reconciliation. And lastly, a more recent report, this time from BBC news, which delves into who exactly is fighting on the pro-government side of the conflict:

Mikael Skillt is a Swedish sniper, with seven years’ experience in the Swedish Army and the Swedish National Guard. He is currently fighting with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Ukrainian volunteer armed group in eastern Ukraine. He is known to be dangerous to the rebels: reportedly there is a bounty of nearly $7,000 (£4,090; 5,150 euros) on his head. […]

As to his political views, Mr Skillt prefers to call himself a nationalist, but in fact his views are typical of a neo-Nazi. […]

Mr Skillt believes races should not mix. He says the Jews are not white and should not mix with white people. His next project is to go fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because he believes Mr Assad is standing up to “international Zionism”.

Leaving Mr Skillt’s sordid opinions to one side, what are the thoughts of his comrades in arms?

Not all of Mr Skillt’s views are widely shared in the Azov Battalion, which is about 300-strong in total.

He says his comrades do not discuss politics much, though some of them may be “national socialists” and may wear swastikas. On the other hand, “there is even one liberal, though I don’t know how he got there”, he adds, with a smile in his voice.8

So much for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, an already latest benighted region suffering from an extreme economic crisis, and now deeply fractured by a terrible civil war from which, the UN reports, a hundred thousand refugees have already fled9, and where another thousand civilians have so far lost their lives.10

*

For months, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating intense pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.” Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased even more since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, intensified its artillery and air attacks on eastern cities defenseless against such weapons.

The reaction of the Obama administration—as well as the new cold-war hawks in Congress and in the establishment media—has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that have risen to the level of war crimes.11

So writes Stephen Cohen, who is professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, in an article published by The Nation magazine on June 30th. A few weeks later, on July 18th, Cohen appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the ramifications of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and the loss of all 298 lives on board. Asked: “what do you think we should understand about what has taken place?”; Cohen began:

The horror of it all, to quote Conrad, watching your reports on Gaza, knowing what I know but what’s not being reported in the mainstream media about what’s been going on in eastern Ukraine cities—these cities have been pounded by Kiev—and now this. “Emeritus,” as you call me, means old. I’ve seen this before. One function of cold war is innocent victims. The people who died, nearly 300, from many countries, are the first victims, nonresidential victims, of the new Cold War. This crash, this shootdown, will make everything worse, no matter who did it.

There are several theoretical possibilities. I am not a conspiracy buff, but we know in the history of the Cold War, there are provocations, people who want to make things worse. So, in Moscow, and not only in Moscow, there are theories that somebody wanted this to happen. I just can’t believe anybody would do it, but you can’t rule anything out.

The other possibility is, because the Ukrainian government itself has a capability to shoot down planes. By the way, the Ukrainian government shot down a Russian passenger jet, I think in 2001. It was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia. It was an accident. Competence is always a factor when you have these weapons.

Another possibility is that the rebels—we call them separatists, but they weren’t separatists in the beginning, they just wanted home rule in Ukraine—that they had the capability. But there’s a debate, because this plane was flying at commercial levels, normally beyond the reach of what they can carry on their shoulders.

There’s the possibility that the Russians aided and abetted them, possibly from Russian territory, but I rule that out because, in the end, when you don’t know who has committed a crime, the first question a professional investigator asks is, “Did anybody have a motive?” and the Russians certainly had no motive here. This is horrible for Putin and for the Russian position.

That’s what we know so far. Maybe we’ll know more. We may never know who did this.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Most of the news media went into a rapid and sustained feeding frenzy after the downing of flight MH17, but the question of whether or not it was the Russian separatists who shoot down the plane using “Putin’s Missile” remains hanging. One very laudable exception to the rule was tenacious Associated Press reporter Matt Lee. Here is Lee questioning US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, about the lack of evidence being presented. His main question: is there anything besides those uploads on social media? Her flustered answer can be summed up succinctly as no:

In defending the inherent flimsiness of the US position, which is that it’s suddenly common sense to trust in social media, Marie Harf told Lee that the State Department does have other evidence which proves the separatists were responsible, though she intimates that it is too sensitive to be released. But then the same US State Department made identical claims a mere twelve months ago, and had they been believed, we might have been rushed to launch air attacks against Damascus. As it turned out, however, the White House was lying and deliberately exaggerating the evidence they really held about the sarin attack on Ghouta. Contrary to what Marie Harf asserts, therefore, it is common sense to presume that the State Department would be prepared to deliberately lie again.

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s subsequent disclosure of the US evidence relating to the gas attack on Ghouta.

As the civil war in Ukraine worsens, we have been constantly reminded that this is Putin’s war. Just as the cause of the tragedy of MH17 was “Putin’s missile!” Not that Putin organised the overthrow of an elected government in Kiev, nor that Putin ordered a missile strike against a passenger plane, nor even that Putin’s “separatist” forces are deliberately shelling homes in Eastern Ukraine – the shelling of homes, as in Gaza, is the work of government forces. Putin is not presumed guilty on any of these counts even by his most vehement opponents, but he is found guilty on the grounds that he is covertly backing the anti-Kiev rebels (as we might alternatively call them), and arming them. Guilty, in other words, of doing what the West have done and are very likely still doing in Syria.

I take no pleasure in defending Putin, who is rightly vilified on so many other counts, but the facts remain and should speak for themselves. And it is Russia, not Putin, that we should be talking about in any case. For Russia has her own interests, and so long as Nato continues its encirclement, whoever holds office in the Kremlin will be held to account for protecting those interests. But we are being encouraged to obsess over Putin. What was once Bin Laden, Bin Laden, Bin Laden… is now Putin, Putin, Putin!

Meanwhile, the facts surrounding the crash of MH17 are still unclear. Not only do we not know which army fired the missile, but, with absolute certainty, we still do not know whether it was a missile that brought down the plane. Until a full and independent forensic investigation can establish the truth of what happened, we will continue remain in the dark.

Click here to read an article by Jason Ditz, writing for antiwar.com [July 22nd], which outlines the flimsiness of the evidence thus far presented by the US State Department.

*

Final thoughts

I was exploring the byways of the web recently, scrolling across old territory and keeping a careful eye out for neglected news stories and offbeat opinions, when I came across a Guardian article from a decade ago that firmly arrested my attention. The article began as follows:

Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected Anglo-American claims that Saddam Hussein already possesses weapons of mass destruction and told Tony Blair that the best way to resolve the conflict of evidence is not war, but the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

With a tense Mr Blair alongside him at his dacha near Moscow, the Russian president took the unusual step of citing this week’s sceptical CIA report on the Iraqi military threat to assert: “Fears are one thing, hard facts are another”.

Times were rather different then, of course – as the closing statement in the same article reminds us:

Mr Blair called Mr Putin “a critical partner for ourselves and the whole of the western world.”

And times were different in another way too:

In his remarks Mr Blair, very much the bridge between the hawks in Washington and wider global scepticism, again said that “conflict is not inevitable” but that the international community must give a “strong and clear signal” to Baghdad to comply with its demands.12

Conflict was indeed not inevitable, but it happened anyway. And as the leakedBush-Blair memo later revealed, only months after meeting with Putin, Blair had been scheming with Bush on plans to launch their invasion – including a discussion of ways they might provoke Saddam Hussein into a confrontation. In the finish, however, no provocation was needed; barefaced lies would be enough.

Today marks a moment precisely a hundred years since the western world first went mad for war. The centenary of the start of that “war to end all wars”. Which didn’t happen: the wars go on. The blood-drenched mud of the trenches providing fertile ground for the rotten fruit of fascism to grow upon. The interwar period turning out to be just a lull before the still greater storm of carnage which was the Second World War – the bloodiest war that the world has ever known. Since when, with a Cold War promptly established against our former ally Russia, conflicts have constantly flared up in places far and wide. For sadly, no other century in history can compete with this last one when it comes to war.

It appears that pressure is rising again, with the many on-going regional wars worsening and spreading, and so one wonders with horrible trepidation where all this might be leading. Especially now that we are giving a “strong and clear signal” not to Baghdad but to Moscow. For what is the West’s real objective when it comes to tightening sanctions on Russia? Is the aim simply to pressure Putin with the hope of unseating him (an unlikely outcome given his current popularity), or will this eventually lead to a full-blown economic war. Sanctions in the past have opened the way for military conflict, so does war against Russia remain unimaginable… well yes, for the sane it does!

But there are also those who dream along the lines of Tyler Cowen. They view war as an opportunity, more than a threat, because they know that war is good for business. “Victims?” says Harry Lime, “Don’t be melodramatic.” Lime is a villain, but he knows the score.

War is a Racket is a pamphlet that was written by America’s most highly decorated soldier, General Smedley Butler. In it Butler explains, in painstaking detail, who actually won the First World War. The major corporations and financiers were its only real victors, he tells us, pointing out how the same can be said for all of the many other wars he helped to fight in. And so, as today we solemnly remember the sacrifice of the millions who laid down their lives a century ago, let this be the lasting lesson we take from that war. “War is a racket. It always has been.” Lest we forget.

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Update:

Israel’s month-long assault has so far left at least 1,865 Palestinians dead. As Israel pulled its ground forces from the Gaza Strip under the 72-hour ceasefire, Democracy Now! spoke with Jewish author, historian and political activist Norman Finkelstein, to discuss the events of the last month, and what in light of the new ceasefire, the likely outcome of talks will be. He began:

Well, the first thing is to have clarity about why there is a ceasefire. The last time I was on the program, I mentioned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, he basically operates under two constraints: the international constraint—namely, there are limits to the kinds of death and destruction he can inflict on Gaza—and then there’s the domestic constraint, which is Israeli society doesn’t tolerate a large number of combatant deaths.

He launched the ground invasion for reasons which—no point in going into now—and inflicted massive death and destruction on Gaza, where the main enabler was, of course, President Obama. Each day he came out, he or one of his spokespersons, and said, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Each time he said that, it was the green light to Israel that it can continue with its terror bombing of Gaza. That went on for day after day after day, schools, mosques, hospitals targeted. But then you reached a limit. The limit was when Israel started to target the U.N. shelters—targeted one shelter, there was outrage; targeted a second shelter, there was outrage. And now the pressure began to build up in the United Nations. This is a United Nations—these are U.N. shelters. And the pressure began to build up. It reached a boiling point with the third shelter. And then Ban Ki-moon, the comatose secretary-general of the United Nations and a U.S. puppet, even he was finally forced to say something, saying these are criminal acts. Obama was now cornered. He was looking ridiculous in the world. It was a scandal. Even the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was now calling it a criminal act. So finally Obama, the State Department said “unacceptable,” “deplorable.” And frankly, it’s exactly what happened in 1999 in Timor: The limits had been reached, Clinton said to the Indonesian army, “Time to end the massacre.” And exactly happened now: Obama signaled to Netanyahu the terror bombing has to stop. So, Obama—excuse me, Netanyahu had reached the limit of international tolerance, which basically means the United States.

The youtube clip embedded above is a slightly truncated version of the original. Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Tuesday’s [Aug 5th] Democracy Now! also interviewed Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security at MIT and a leading missile expert, who believes there is no convincing evidence that Israel’s much-vaunted missile interception system Iron Dome is effective. This has not stopped President Obama signing a bill on Monday which grants an additional $225 million in emergency funding for Israel to replenish its arsenal of interceptor missiles for Iron Dome. American “foreign aid” that will be transferred directly into the pockets of one of America’s largest weapons companies, Raytheon. Postol doesn’t describe this as a racket, but if the Iron Dome is really as unreliable as he claims, then what else can such an enormous transfer of money from public to private hands be called…?

Click here to read the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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To hear more about the rise of ISIS, I also recommend the following Democracy Now! interview with Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, speaking on August 13:

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1 From an article entitled “The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth” written by Tyler Cowen, published by The New York Times on June 13, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/upshot/the-lack-of-major-wars-may-be-hurting-economic-growth.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1

3 From an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, published in The Jerusalem Post on July 24, 2014. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Into-the-fray-Why-Gaza-must-go-368862

7 From an article entitled “Ukraine’s shelling could have irreversible consequences, says Russia” written by Shaun Walker, published by the Guardian on July 13, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/13/ukrainian-shell-russian-border-town-donetsk

8 From an article entitled “Ukraine conflict: ‘White power’ warrior from Sweden” written by Dina Newman, published by BBC news on July 16, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28329329

9 “Since the start of 2014, approximately 110,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Russia – with only 9,600 requesting asylum – while more than 700 others went to Poland, Belarus, Czech Republic and Romania.”

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48159#.U96_7qOg6Uk

11 From an article entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities” written by Stephen F. Cohen, originally published in The Nation magazine on June 30, 2014 (revised on July 7 and July 17). http://www.thenation.com/article/180466/silence-american-hawks-about-kievs-atrocities#

12 From an article entitled “Putin demands proof over Iraqi weapons” written by Michael White, published in the Guardian on October 12, 2002. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/oct/12/russia.politics

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