Tag Archives: Hans Blix

beware the naysayers!

The following article is the Prologue of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter.

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 table of contents and a preface on why I started writing it.

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The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority… Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” 1                                                                     

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Two decades ago, relaxing in a local pub at the end of an anti-Iraq War march, I chanced upon a discarded copy of the magazine Red Pepper. Flicking through the pages, I came to a short article written by a person I will refer to only as R. A brave soul who had gone to Baghdad as the war drums beat loudly to hunker down as a human shield in the hope that her sacrifice would deter an attack on its civilian population. Impressed by her self-sacrifice but concerned that such goodwill might be hijacked and manipulated to serve the ends of Saddam’s regime, I decided to write a letter – helpfully, there was an email address appended to the article.

To my surprise, I received a very prompt and full reply, and more surprisingly, discovered that R was a Canadian grandmother. Here is part of the reply I received:

Thank you for writing. Your letter gives me courage that there is still time to stop the awful situation. I wish I knew how. But all I can think is that with the majority of the people in the world believing this war is wrong there has to be a way to stop the terrible madness. I am now in Albania. I left Iraq and drove back to France, then flew to Albania as I have a commitment here to build a garden in the centre of this terribly damaged country. I am very torn to have left Baghdad. Some of the friends I travelled with are still there. I am not able to contact them easily except by transmitting messages through the staff at the hotel where we were living. I am very touched by the hotel team when I call because they seem so glad to hear from me and I feel I have done so little.

The following day, March 11th, I wrote back as follows:

Dear R,

How kind of you to return my letter so swiftly. You can hardly imagine how surprised I was to discover not one but two replies to my short note. In some respects I am glad to hear that you have left Baghdad and certainly you have every reason to hold your head high and to tell your grandchildren about the courageous stand you and your friends have taken. Perhaps if you were naïve then that was only in your belief that thousands would follow you into danger, since it is hard to follow your grand commitment (and more importantly, most, like myself, quite frankly lack the courage, if not also the conviction, to do so). The fact that the media were more interested in Gustavo than the human volunteers says much, I feel, for our difficulty in seeing the innocence of others (it is easy to sympathise with a dog who “has no axe to grind” but what motivates the rest of you it is easy to wonder?) And many will be cynical, since it’s hard to comprehend acts of selflessness when you inhabit a world fashioned by the heartless demands of global capitalism.

It is worrying to hear that the other human shields have been moved to “strategic sites”. This was reported on the news and given as the reason why many had already left Iraq, and we have also heard that Saddam used human shields in the last conflict to protect his armaments. I hope that your friends will not allow themselves to be sacrificed to protect Saddam – that would be an appalling tragedy.

Your analysis of the crisis is spot on: “it is unforgivable that men of violence keep each other in power by persuading frightened people that violence is the only path”. We all should act against this barbarism. You have played a big part whereas a million in London have made our voices heard in a smaller way. You ask if I have any ideas. Then may I quote you again: “protest against this war loudly and strongly in whatever way you can”! And here I believe that in Britain more than anywhere we hold the real key. The population is split and it is reckoned that without a second resolution (which in any case will undoubtedly be vetoed by the French) only something like 30% are in favour of war, which means a very sizeable majority remain frustrated. Tony Blair is a frightened man and I don’t know if you saw how badly Jack Straw (our foreign secretary) lost his composure at the UN recently. So the ruling Labour Party is deeply divided (yesterday Clare Short, a cabinet member, described Blair as “reckless”). On top of this there is a groundswell.

Last week hundreds of schoolchildren in Britain abandoned their lessons and took to the streets. In Sheffield they marched into the university and drummed up support from the much older students and then collectively they marched into the city centre. This is unprecedented. And these disaffected groups have such a diverse make-up, crossing the usual boundaries of age, class, or nationality.

These are a few very good reasons for optimism though at heart I confess that I am pessimistic for the simple reason that Blair takes no notice. ONE MILLION march into London and all he does is to acknowledge our right to free speech! That is simply not enough! What kind of democracy is run on the whim of one man? What is needed then is some way of demanding Blair’s attention.

There is a plan that when war begins (as it surely will) people should drop whatever it is they are doing and congregate outside the town hall wherever they happen to be and protest. That we should block the streets, cause peaceful civil unrest, and demand our right to be heard. If this happens then it represents the beginnings of a sea-change in what might loosely be called politics. But will it happen? Will I join the protests? Certainly I support the idea. But success depends on solidarity and a movement of colossal size when probably most (myself included) will stay at our desks (either too disinterested or too cowed to take such daring unilateral action). In any case, when war has begun it will be hard not to think that we have already failed.

Perhaps the best hope then is that we can forestall the war indefinitely – though the date indelibly in the Bush diary is March 17 – but the fact that France, Russia and Germany are refusing to co-operate and that Hans Blix has remained so unflinching throughout keeps the pressure on. We too must try to keep the pressure up, though this is difficult with time running short. One beautiful thing that happened yesterday was that at the end of a TV debate Tony Blair was actually slow hand clapped by the audience – he must be getting the message by now!

Before I finish, may I just ask about Albania? Albania is one of those places that gets forgotten. I have no idea what Albania is like these days (not that I have much idea what Albania was like during the Cold War). Then today I read an article in The Guardian newspaper saying that Britain is intending to send its asylum seekers to camps in Albania. For a government that claims to want “to liberate the people of Iraq” it takes a rather dim view of “illegal immigrants” who are we’re told “an increasing problem”. So we will send them away to camps in Albania, where The Guardian claims, they will be faced with rabies and encephalitis-carrying ticks amongst the other hazards. My government makes me sick. To judge from the tail of your email you have a much better chap in charge of Canada.

I hope that this letter finds you happy and well. I will send it to your old email address since there is nothing urgent contained within its rambling bulk. I hope I haven’t disillusioned you by taking a more pessimistic tone. And thank you for the quote from Lao Tzu (may we all be as wise) and let me finish with another, and one that is perhaps better known:

heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs

In the words of Philip Larkin, we should be kind to one another, while there is still time.

Warmest regards, James.

Little more than a week later, on March 20th (and so a mere three days after the date anticipated) war on Iraq began in earnest. Shock and awe missile strikes punishing those down on the streets of Baghdad who had no quarrel with us at all.

As the months passed, increasingly disillusioned with the state of world affairs and depressed by problems at work which were affecting me more personally, I had continued writing to R who was keen that we should keep in contact. She was still helping out on the garden project in Albania. Eventually, however, the correspondence between us dried up, perhaps, the ties were frayed as (when I look back honestly) I increasingly presented her with issues and problems, seeking her counsel as a sort of surrogate therapist, instead of maintaining proper relations as a distant friend. In any case, the last reply I received from R began as follows:

You sound like you are in a real muddle.

Suddenly finding you are about to lose your work, part-time or otherwise is disconcerting at the best of times. Indeed, we have never met in person but nonetheless, from your writing and description of yourself you sound like someone deep in thought and short on action. I hope it is not too presumptuous of me to say so. I am a bit of an introvert myself so I can recognize the symptoms. At least I think I can.

So….my best advice of the day is to get out and get in touch with the world. Stay connected. The world is full of good and decent people but you have to seek them out. I get terribly depressed when I listen to the American media talk about Iraq and suggest that an Iraqi life is not worth that of an Americans’. It makes me sick. But as Henry Miller said to Erica Jong…..”don’t let the naysayers get you down”. Life is long and all you can really do about it is get up each day and put one foot in front of the other.

Am I that transparent, I wondered. A few informal letters and I’m an open book! No doubt this is a reason her advice stuck with me ever since. 2 But the part of her letter that most caught my attention was the quote… “don’t let the naysayers get you down”. I have frequently pondered it ever since, before gradually forming an opinion that leads to a contrary but complementary conclusion. Not that we should let the naysayers get us down, obviously, but that aside from carrying a psychological shield to guard against their highly infectious gloom and doom, we might also take great care to guard against the eternal hope of the yea-sayers.

For though, in the West at least, we are lucky to be alive during times of incomparable plenty and considerable social freedom, not to mention relative peace and political stability, there is a great deal we are justified in feeling miserable and resentful about. Firstly, that this ‘best of all times’ is already under a sustained attack, and unless we organise our fight back then this decline is likely to accelerate, both our freedom and relative prosperity withering away altogether. But secondly, that we, the human race, have long since held far greater potential, and might easily surpass this false summit offered by our impressive western civilisations. For it is really not that our ease and pleasure still relies for its purchase on the burdened backs of those who distantly suffer; if indeed it ever truly did. There is no zero-sum game at work in this regard. Moving our slavery abroad has instead created a new and different kind of underclass at home, bringing unprecedented miseries since ones never before juxtaposed by such comparative wealth.

Not long ago, the vast majority of resources were remote and insecure. Mere survival forced almost everyone into hours of labour that were excessively long and hard. Today with abundant resources, human labour is being made redundant thanks to new technologies. It is self-evident that we need to find fairer methods for distributing our resources as well as a sensible approach to maximising the new freedom arising from our gradual replacement by automated systems. Certainly we should not let the Malthusian naysayers get us down, although we must of course guard against Pollyanna optimism too, and especially of those who tell us to enjoy the good times and stop moaning. For so long as the good times can and should be far better again, then surely moaning is the least we can do. We stop moaning at our peril!

First chapter…

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1 Martin Luther King, jr, Strength to Love. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963/1981: 27-28

2 In the same letter, R also suggested “putting one foot in front of the other” more literally, recommending, to help clear away the cobwebs, that I might like to walk the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, a major route of Christian pilgrimage which starts from many locations in France, Belgium, German or inside Spain itself extending for over a thousand miles and finishing at Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Spanish province of Galicia. I have yet to pick up her prescription (though perhaps one day in the future I shall).

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Filed under Albania, « finishing the rat race », Iraq

Syria’s ‘red line’ was always a green light for the military-industrial complex

Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly for capture and bringing to justice of Osama Bin Laden, our western war machine has been grinding along in a very high gear. Smoking out new enemies (almost all of whom were former allies) and claiming fresh justifications for expanding in new directions; this first spate of twenty-first century wars has left a thick trail of blood across Asia and North Africa. War in Iraq. War in Yemen and Pakistan (by means of drones as well as more conventional weaponry). War in Libya. And now the drums are beating still more loudly again. More loudly than they have been at any time in the two years since our “military intervention” in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi.

Putting aside the questions of morality and legality for a moment, and merely judging the various attacks and invasions by outcomes alone, and what do we find? Afghanistan torn to pieces and in a state of perpetual tension, Iraq, the same if not worse, Libya, little better. Assessing this endless policy of war then, and in terms purely of expediency, we have to judge that it has been an abject failure. A political failure, that is, in terms of bringing order and stability – the vital foundations to stated aims of genuine and lasting “freedom and democracy” – to any of the chosen victim nations, as well as an horrific failure for the millions unlucky enough to be visited by its terrifying wings of death and destruction. Aggressive and continual warfare does not bring peace and harmony, but then who ever said it does?

Of course, what war does reliably produce, aside from the immediate and inevitable chaos and carnage, is a tremendous opportunity for making money. New contracts for oil and gas reserves, contracts for reconstruction of the very infrastructure so artfully destroyed, not to mention the huge rolling contracts for those directly invested in maintaining the war machine itself. Profiteering from war being for the most part what war is all about.

But the conflict in Syria is markedly different, some will argue. The country being already in the grip of a terrible civil war with many thousands displaced, seriously wounded or having already lost their lives in the conflict. Still there is no end in sight and only a more fully committed western intervention can save lives and ultimately rescue a failing state. On top of which, this is a war against an oppressive regime (which it is – not that this mattered at all when Assad was in favour) and so we are compelled to take sides and back the opposition forces. The argument is a familiar one…

Prior to the aerial assaults on Libya – the establishment of the so-called “no-fly zone” which quickly opened the way for a more fiercely aggressive campaign, ending with the deliberate bombardment of the civilian population in Sirte – we heard the same justifications. Just as we heard those justifications when it came to expanding the war in Iraq once the primary excuse of Saddam’s WMDs was shown to be a lie. The warmongers certainly know how to pull our strings and each time they do so we are in the habit of forgetting about the previous lies and deceptions.

Almost exactly one year ago, on August 20th 2012, speaking at an impromptu news conference at the White House, President Obama said:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus […]

We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.

It is a significant statement for two reasons. Only the second time mainstream attention had been diverted towards Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal – at this time there had still been no evidence whatsoever of any use of chemical weapons by either side in the conflict – as well as the first mention of that “red line” which the Syrian government were forbidden to cross. Of course use of chemical weapons against a civilian population is already a war crime under international law, but Obama is actually saying something altogether more ambiguous.

What he says, to reiterate, is that if “we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized” then this is a “red line for us”. His emphasis is not at all on which side is doing the moving around or the wielding.

In saying this, of course, he has presented the military-industrial complex with their hope of yet another green light, establishing an important pretext for escalating US involvement towards full-blown war in Syria. As the Washington Post reported:

The president’s remarks represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. In July, he warned that Assad would be “held accountable by the international community” if he made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical munitions.

On Monday, an administration official said that Obama did not intend to flag any change in policy in his latest remarks and that the appetite for military intervention remains low.

But “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.1

Click here to read the full Washington Post article.

Just short of a year later, on May 16th 2012, the BBC news reported that “US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence”:

President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.

However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks. […]

“Our militaries are constantly sharing information. We have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside Syria,” he said.

“Those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as [that of] our allies and friends and neighbours.”

However, he added that “more specific information” was needed.2

Click here to read the full article on the BBC news website.

Possibly in response to Obama, and just a few days later on May 19th, Patrick Cockburn wrote an article for The Independent entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons”. Drawing an inevitable but nevertheless important comparison between the on-going claims and counter claims of Syrian WMDs with “the fiasco over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” he wrote that:

Poison gas is a terrifying weapon. People are still dying in Iran from the effects of ingesting it a quarter of a century ago. It is one of the few weapons to be banned with partial success between its first use on a mass scale in the First World War and again by Saddam Hussein with even greater intensity against Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s.

It is right, therefore, that the alleged attack by the Syrian armed forces using chemical weapons against Saraqeb, a rebel-held town south-west of Aleppo on 29 April, should be carefully investigated.

Cockburn further adding:

Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight.3

About two weeks prior to all of this, on May 6th, the BBC had also reported that Carla Del Ponte, a leading member of a UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria gave a statement on Swiss TV claiming there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that the rebel forces had used the nerve agent sarin:

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV on Sunday, Ms Del Ponte, who serves as a commissioner on the panel, said: “Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.

“According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

The article went on the add:

Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed.4

Click here to read the full article.

Her statement was controversial, of course, and the same UN commission then quickly issued a press release saying it “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”

Click here to read the UN press release also from May 6th.

And then on June 14th, CNN reported on a rather less equivocal statement made by the White House:

Syria has crossed a “red line” with its use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels, a move that is prompting the United States to increase the “scale and scope” of its support for the opposition, the White House said Thursday.

The acknowledgment is the first time President Barack Obama’s administration has definitively said what it has long suspected – that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war.

The evidence according to Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, was sufficient to justify an “increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the (rebel Supreme Military Council)” and even if, as the same article further admitted:

… many of the rebel fighters are militants with pro-al Qaeda sympathies, the same stripe of militants America has battled in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They include an group called the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group that the United States says has links to al Qaeda.5

Meanwhile, at the end of July, the Assad government finally allowed access to international UN chemical weapons inspectors:

Syria has agreed to allow UN investigators to visit three sites where chemical weapons have allegedly been used, the UN has said.

The inspectors will go “as soon as possible”, a statement from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said.

They are expected to investigate three locations of suspected use, including one in Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo.6

Then a week ago [Sunday 18th] that team arrived in Syria:

The 20-member team of UN weapons inspectors and public health specialists checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus on Sunday, but declined to speak to reporters on their arrival.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Associated Press news agency that Syria will “fully cooperate” with the team.7

Just days later, on Wednesday [August 21st], and almost a year to the day after President Obama had first laid down the US “red line”, there was a chemical attack that could no longer be disputed. With images so terribly shocking because they were irrefutably real. Hundreds at least, and more likely thousands, of bodies of adults and children killed by poisoned gas.

And the finger of blame was very easy to point, with bellicose French foreign minister Laurent Fabius characteristically quick out of the blocks:

France’s foreign minister has said a “reaction with force” could be needed if Syria is proved to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

Laurent Fabius’s comments come a day after Syrian activists said hundreds of people died in such attacks in the Ghouta area of the capital, Damascus.8

And not to be outdone, William Hague, who says he doesn’t need verification from any UN inspectors because he is quite certain Assad was behind the chemical attack, was promptly rattling the British sabre:

“I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria,” said Mr Hague.

“I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.”9

Hague’s position is seemingly the straightforward one. That with all of the victims trapped inside rebel controlled Eastern Ghouta, it is self-evident that the attack must have been launched by government forces. For why would the rebels attack their own people?

We might speculate on this in a moment, but first let’s ask a related but different question – and this is a hard question to ask because it is a question that is inevitably cold and calculated. However, the question itself is simple enough; it is cui bono? Just who is likely to gain the most from this atrocity?

For it is well known that the rebel forces have been in retreat, and so why would Assad or anyone else in his regime authorise attacks of this kind given that they are fully aware of the very serious repercussions? By crossing Obama’s “red line”, Assad is, presuming that he called for the attack, in all likelihood opening the door for an all-out Nato intervention. So aside from being an horrific war-crime, for which he may very well be made personally accountable at a later date, permitting such a massacre would also be tantamount to committing strategic suicide.

So what then of the rebel forces? Certainly they have much to gain strategically from orchestrating such an attack (assuming they had the means to do so). With the help of direct military assistance from western forces they might reverse their recent losses and finally oust Assad. But are they really callous enough to attack their own people to achieve such ends?

The sorry and for many unpalatable truth is that the Syrian civil war now involves a great many factions and that within those factions comprising the so-called “rebels” there are many fighters who are undoubtedly this callous. Foreign fighters who have crossed the border from war-torn Iraq or else flown in from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even parts of Europe, and who are openly pro-al Qaeda. They did not arrive with the objective of securing “freedom and democracy” for Syria but in efforts to impose a hardline Islamist regime of their own design. Bands of terrorist death squads who are known to behead their enemies and eat their hearts. Now does it seem plausible that a gang of such thugs, provided with the means to do so, might poison the innocent victims of Ghouta?

Here is Patrick Cockburn writing on Wednesday [August 21st] in the immediate aftermath of the chemical attacks :

Like the Iraqi opposition to Saddam, who provided most of the evidence of WMDs, the Syrian opposition has every incentive to show the Syrian government deploying chemical weapons in order to trigger foreign intervention. Although the US has gone cold on armed involvement in Syria, President Obama did say a year ago that President Bashar al-Assad’s use of such weapons was “a red line”. The implication is that the US would respond militarily, though just how has never been spelt out.

But the obvious fact that for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons would be much against their own interests does not prove it did not happen. Governments and armies do stupid things. But it is difficult to imagine any compelling reason why they should do so since they have plenty of other means of killing people in Eastern Ghouta, such as heavy artillery or small arms, which they regularly use. Every day, Damascus resounds to the sound of outgoing artillery fire aimed at rebel strongholds.

And Cockburn reminds us:

In June, the US said it has conclusive evidence for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and would therefore give aid to the rebels. The US action was most likely precipitated by the government’s loss of the town of al-Qusayr and a fear that the Damascus government might be starting to dominate the battlefield. Chemical-weapons experts expected the US to go out of its way to prove its conclusions were correct by being open about the origin of tested materials and the means by which they reached laboratories in the US. They also wanted details of the laboratory testing but little of this was produced.10

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article.

There is a lurking danger whenever it comes to talking of “humanitarian intervention” and meaning war, because, and at the very least, it is an approach that deliberately places ends above and wholly beyond means. So just when will the peace dividends become redeemable in places like Iraq and Libya? And how much more war must it take before we can finally straighten Syria out?

Unlike William Hague, I certainly believe that we should wait for the expert verdict of the UN inspectors. If they find that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical attack on Ghouta then under international law those responsible (whoever they are) must be brought to justice. Air strikes are another matter entirely, however, since even if Assad and his cronies are deposed in such a fashion, then how do the Syrian people benefit from victory by a pro-al-Qaeda opposition intent on holy war? The lessons of Iraq and Libya have obviously not been learned, but then the military-industrial complex has no desire for learning that war doesn’t pay – to the victors, the spoils: this is the only thing they’ve ever needed to understand.

And how can anyone still believe Obama (or his supporters) when he calls for another “humanitarian intervention” in one place whilst in another he is bombing families and children with drone attacks? Rather, it is the justification to be used when that other justification of WMDs doesn’t wash. A fig leaf that has consistently been used to disguise the greater ambition which was first publicly laid out by the notorious neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century: the urgent call for neo-imperialist hegemony and “full spectrum dominance”. This has always been the real post-9/11 agenda, and even if the principal actors have changed that agenda has not.

So if we do see an American-led or Nato attack against Syria then the dangers are obvious enough. With Syria being the close ally both of Iran and Russia, the onward march towards the unthinkable, a full-blown world war, might become unstoppable. For reasons of simple expediency therefore it is very unwise to attack Syria, but then neither should we attack Syria for any purported reason of “humanitarianism”. Enough of war altogether – if we really want peace in the Middle East as elsewhere then we have to begin with negotiations.

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Update:

On Tuesday [Aug 27th], Russia Today spoke with Hans Blix, who headed the UN’s weapon inspection team to Iraq before and during the 2003 US -led invasion. He told them:

I think that the public opinion and the media in the west will be pressuring their governments to do something. They say that this is such a horrible thing that there must be punishment, there must be action. You cannot sit with your hands just folded. So the public say that, you know, we call for police – we call for a world police – but the question is who is the world police? Is it the United States? Is it Nato? It should be the security council.

And after an intervention, which could take place – I don’t exclude that it’s going to happen – what will they do? Will it just have been a punch on the nose and then telling the belligerents in Syria that they go back and continue [to] fight the war?

The mandate [for the UN inspectors] is to establish whether chemical weapons have been used or not. And the way they go about that is that they go to sites and they may take samples of dust and of water and they will have to analyse that and send it to independent laboratories – to laboratories. They cannot just accept samples given to them from some rebels or from some side. That will not tell them who committed the attack, but at least it will be able to tell them that yes, chemicals were used.

We see it in the main as a contest between rebels and the government in Syria, but of course the intervention is [already] there – it is in large measure a wrestling match between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And on that wrestling match, the US is on the side of Saudi Arabia, because they would like to isolate Iran.

Certainly Saudi Arabia is not in Syria to work for human rights. It is there because they want to weaken Iran. That’s the main purpose.

Yes, I think you’re right in saying that Iran and the US and Russia ought to get together and to try to sort out and to get a solution for Syria – it might even make it less difficult to solve the nuclear problem concerning Iran.

1 From an article entitled “Obama issues Syria a ‘red line’ warning on chemical weapons” written by James Ball, published by the Washington Post on August 20, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-issues-syria-red-line-warning-on-chemical-weapons/2012/08/20/ba5d26ec-eaf7-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html#no_link1

2 From an article entitled “US has seem Syria chemical weapons, says Obama” published by BBC news on May 16, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22562372

3 From an article entitled “Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on May 19, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-has-no-reason-to-use-chemical-weapons-8622335.html

4 From an article entitled “UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’” published by BBC news on May 6, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188

5 From an article entitled “White House: Syria crosses ‘red ine’ with use of chemical weapons on its people” written by Barbara Starr, Jessica Yellin and Chelsea J. Carter, published by CNN on June 14, 2013. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/13/politics/syria-us-chemical-weapons

6 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors to visit Syrian sites” published by BBC news on July 31, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23524536

7 From an article entitled “UN chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Syria” published by BBC news on August 18, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23747375

8 From an article entitled “Syria ‘chemical’ attack: France says force may be needed” published by BBC news on August 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23795088

9 From an article entitled “William Hague believes Assad behind chemical attack” published by BBC news on August 23, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23812398

10 From an article entitled “The evidence of chemical attack seems compelling – but remember – there’s a propaganda war on” written by Patrick Cockburn published in The Independent on August 21, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-evidence-of-chemical-attack-seems-compelling–but-remember–theres-a-propaganda-war-on-8778918.html

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Syria

distracted from distraction by distraction

Logging into my email account, half-glancing through the scrolling headlines on Yahoo news, as you do, come on now, be honest… well a few days ago, they went as follows: – “Robbie in Strictly thrust ban”; “Xmas elf stolen, OAP sought”; “Push-up bra model is a man” – the usual crud in other words, but then there’s often an odd-one-out, and on the occasion in question it happened to be this: “Why Britain is moving closer to war with Iran”. And it jolted me, which is not something that generally happens as the Yahoo titbits roll past, dulling my senses and enfeebling my mind with tawdry ‘human interest’ slush and air-brushed celebrity dross.

According to the news, of course, the decade-long war on neighbouring Iraq is over. So we hear Obama making speeches about the completion of a successful mission, and reports of the compete withdrawal of US troops from the country. But all of this is only a half-truth (and the biggest lies, as Orwell pointed out, are frequently those of omission).

The larger official truth is that as ordinary US troops are being moved out, thousands of ‘contractors’ (i.e., mercenaries) will remain in place, although not Blackwater this time, since Blackwater were banned from Iraq after the massacre of civilians at Nisoor Square in 2007.1 Perhaps you remember it? Here is Jeremy Scahill speaking on Democracy Now! in December 2008 about “the token prosecution of a handful of Blackwater guys” involved in that massacre:

Click here to find the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

And then, two year later, Democracy Now! also reported on how all charges against those Blackwater operatives were subsequently dismissed by federal judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington:

Click here to find the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

As a consequence, Blackwater is gone… or at least, by name, it is gone…

The security firm once known as Blackwater on Monday changed its name for the second time in less than three years as its owners continue to reshape the company they bought from its founder a year ago.

The Arlington-based company announced it will no longer be known as Xe Services and is now called Academi. The name is inspired by Plato’s Academy in ancient Greece and is designed to connote elite, highly disciplined warriors who are thinkers as well as fighters.2

Taken from a recent article [Dec 12th] in the Washington Post.

With US troops finally leaving, Academi are, surprise, surprise, one of the private military contractors heading the queue for a piece of the new action:

Returning to the immediate situation elsewhere in the Middle East, and our attention is rapidly being switched to that other old enemy, Iran. For even though war against Iran has been a constant theme ever since 9/11 (and before), the sabre-rattling is suddenly louder than ever.

If we turn back to October, for instance, we had that ridiculous fiasco of an Iranian plot involving a used-car salesman and an alleged attempt to assassinate a Saudi ambassador. This was good enough to send all the hawks in Washington and abroad squawking for immediate retaliation. Concurrently, Craig Murray’s exposé on the deeper scandal of the Liam Fox and Adam Werritty affair, was uncovering, little by little, firm evidence that a secret Israeli plot has already been hatched to foment a war with Iran. Somehow the mainstream media has managed to put a cap on that story, although it perhaps leaked out just enough to maintain the illusion that we still have a free press.

In this latest wave of mainstream propaganda, and like a deja vu happening all over again, we are told that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has “increasing concern” regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. Yet in terms of balance, there is little or no mention of veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s repeated dismissal of any solid evidence for such alarmist claims.3 We’ve also had Dick Cheney’s more recent demands, that instead of asking Iran to give back America’s missing surveillance drone, Obama should have ordered an airstrike instead.4 Now if, conversely – and God knows how this could ever happen – an Iranian spy drone had been shot down over Texas, well Tehran would have been flattened already. But then as Cheney’s record shows: might is right (although the Iranians might contend that possession is still nine tenths of the law). Meanwhile, as Obama tried to get his spy plane back, trouble at the British embassy allowed Foreign secretary William Hague to seize yet another opportunity for threatening “serious consequences” for Iran, whilst adding: “it’s a nice little place you’ve got here, you wouldn’t want anything to happen now, would you…?”

But really this is scary stuff. The stuff of nightmares coming true. Since any kind of military attack on Iran would mean the near certain prospect of a huge conflagration across the Middle East, involving multiple millions of fatalities. It would mean a return to the height of the Cold War standoff, with Russia and the USA squaring up directly in efforts to secure access to resources and a battle that could so easily go nuclear. It is no exaggeration to say that any attack on Iran might be the spark that ignites a world war – THE WORLD WAR. So why, when this is featuring as headline news, as it did on Yahoo, are still we hearing so little outspoken opposition? In fact, why is it that, for the most part, no one mentions any of the wars much at all these days? Even Yahoo news has moved on… to “Woman lives Xmas every day”; “Celebs wearing bad jumpers”; “Kate tops good manners list”; “Military Wives outselling Little Mix”; “Why Britain is moving closer to war with Iran” Hang on, there it is again… WAR WITH IRAN!!! Not that it needs to be written in capitals, apparently.

Nearly a decade ago, as the false accusations against Iraq were just beginning to spin our course to a bloody conflict, it was enough to galvanise millions to voice their opposition on the streets; and it was the voice of a two million strong protest in London which undoubtedly forced Blair to lie in parliament. A few years later, when Bush had the whole God-forsaken ‘Axis of Evil’ in his sights, and war against Iran was being seriously mooted for the first time since 9/11, there was also plenty of public discussion and a loose gathering of opposition. Back then, the anti-war movement still sustained a little momentum. Whereas, it would seem that a similar build-up this time around is being accomplished so stealthily that there is next to no resistance.

Every week or so brings another story, and a further opportunity for publicity-seeking politicians to puff themselves up with talk of the “serious consequences” for Iran, and it’s almost as if no one actually believes the bluster any more. Or perhaps the public simply accepts that the war’s going to happen whatever they do, and they’re just dog-tired of fighting. Or could it be some deadly combination of both disbelief and fatalism, and the fact that we’ve now been sold a dummy on Iran enough times to finally kill off all reason to have a response.

Here, for example, is Michel Chossudovsky speaking on Russia Today about the building of a pretext to attack Iran and the terrible repercussions of such action back in February 2010:

A decade ago, Hans Blix, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and then head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, had refused to bow to pressure from Washington and to twist the evidence in favour of the existence of WMDs in Iraq. In a saner world, Hans Blix would surely have received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to stop the illegal war on Iraq, but instead his honourable part in that shameful episode of imperialist adventuring has been largely written out.

This week Russia Today interviewed Hans Blix and asked him about the unstable situation in North Korea as well as the rising threat of war against Iran:

“Well there are some similarities in the escalation of the language and the threats that we had in the case of Iraq, and now have in the case of Iran. On the other hand, we must remember that in the case of Iraq they talked about the weapons that in fact did not exist. Today they are talking about Iranian intentions that may or may not exist. But the difference is that Iran certainly has a lot of nuclear installations. Iraq did not have that.”

Asked his opinion of whether Iran is any kind of imminent threat to any nation at this point, Blix replied:

“I don’t think so really. It is true that Ahmadinejad has come out [with] some very bad language about wiping Israel off the map of the world. But I think, and most people with me think, that he’s really talking to the Arab streets. He has wanted to destabilise Arab states that have supported the United States. Iran does not have a track-record of aggression. In fact, it was Iraq that attacked Iran. So I don’t see an immediate threat from Iran. But I can understand that Israelis are nervous.”

And does Blix think that Iran has a nuclear weapon?

No, I think nobody really thinks they have a nuclear weapon, and I think one must read that [IAEA] report rather carefully. What they say is that they see some evidence that could be explained if they were dealing with a weapon or aiming at a weapon. And that they’ve seen some other evidence that is very hard to explain unless they were working towards a weapon. But they have not said that they established that Iran actually intends to do it. They might stop short of a weapon. […]

We know from the case of Israel that they do not admit that they have nuclear weapons. They say that they will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Maybe one day the Iranians will also say that we also will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and maintain a situation of ambiguity. But I think it would be better if all the parties came to the conclusion that they should have neither nuclear weapons nor enrichment capability.

The bitter irony might yet be that during a time of so much cause for righteous indignation over the economic collapse and the imposition of ‘austerity measures’ across the world, and as political dissent reaches new peaks with protests spreading from city to city, and from nation to nation, the way is accidentally left open for the warmongers: a way to stifle rising popular dissent by another means. After all, war is not only good for business, it is also an ideal pretext for flushing out unruly dissent, whilst persuading the rest of the masses to rally around the flag and accept a little more hardship.

But who cares, some of you may be thinking, since in almost precisely one year’s time, the world is going to end, or so they say… You’ve seen the movie, right? No, okay – me neither. But you know about the Mayan calendar, I presume, and since when have the Mayans ever been wrong about anything:

“The timewave will culminate on 21 December 2012. At that point novelty on the planet will reach infinity. This would be an endpoint – a time at which anything and everything conceivable to the mind would occur at the same time.”

What do you mean, “who says so?” They say so – the future-seers…

No, I’m not going bonkers! I’m merely quoting from a book entitled “Worldshift 2012: Making Green Business, New Politics & Higher Consciousness Work Together”. Look, it’s a serious book, or so it claims. It has a foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev, and describes itself as “The Club of Budapest’s Handbook of Conscious Change”. The late Václav Havel was an honorary member of the same group, as are Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu, not to mention Peter Gabriel and Bianca Jagger. And I’m quoting from Chapter 3: “The 2012 Horizon: The Time in ‘Timely Change’”. It’s all taken from a section on “The 2012 Prophesies”, which closes as follows:

“None of these prophesies and predictions [of impending doom/imminent change] is one hundred percent certain, but in their ensemble they are highly significant. When we also take the time-horizon given by the cross-impact of global trends into account, we get serious grounds for viewing the end of 2012 as a critical point in history, when the fate of humankind could hang in the balance.”5

Don’t you see? – they’re taking “the time-horizon given by the cross-impact of global trends into account”, which is important, right? These guys aren’t mucking around…

Although they do concede a slightly lower than a one hundred percent guaranteed certainty that the end of 2012 will prove to be such a critical point in history, giving us at least a slim chance nothing much will happen (aside the continuing economic meltdown which can only be reversed by currently off-the-table and unfashionable policy changes). And obviously we must hope that all of this rehashed scaremongering about Iran is just another distraction that will fizzle out and be forgotten. Much as, no doubt, the whole ‘End of Days’ doomsday business about 2012 and ‘The Rapture’ (which have somehow been grafted together and used to bewitch Christian fundamentalists across the Bible Belt of America so they regard every new catastrophe as if it were a divine blessing) will quickly be forgotten in a year’s time. If I’m wrong then I’ll humbly eat the smouldering remains of my hat…

And should the insanity of the powers within Washington know no bounds, and, in which case, the balloon really does go up, then Yahoo news probably won’t be alone in carrying the big story. I’m guessing that it’ll read something like this: “Justin Bieber cuts himself shaving on hearing news that World War III has started”. Bless him.

“Justin — is that you in the bathroom again?”

Cartoon courtesy of George Bennett Boswell*.

1 See BBC news article entitled “Blackwater incident: What happened” published December 8, 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7033332.stm

2 From an article entitled “Former Blackwater security firm changes name again, from Xe to Academi, as changes continue”, published in the Washington Post on December 12, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/former-blackwater-security-firm-changes-name-again-from-xe-to-academi-as-changes-continue/2011/12/12/gIQAhyxhpO_story.html

3 See “Iran and the I.A.E.A.” posted by Seymour M. Hersh for The New Yorker on November 18, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2011/11/iran-and-the-iaea.html#ixzz1eNafDh4A

4 See “’They’ll likely send the drone back in pieces’: Dick Cheney rips Obama for failing to act on downed spy plane”, written by Thomas Durante, published in the Daily Mail on December 13, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2073428/Dick-Cheney-rips-Obama-failing-act-downed-US-drone-Iran.html

5 Taken from “Worldshift 2012: Making Green Business, New Politics & Higher Consciousness Work Together”, written by Ervin Laszlo, published in 2009 by Inner Traditions. ISBN 978-1-59477-328-0

*Although based around an idea I suggested, the artwork is entirely the creation of my very talented 11 year-old nephew George.

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Filed under Craig Murray, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jeremy Scahill, Seymour Hersh