Tag Archives: Tony Blair

who’s behind the racist ‘war on terror’? Alison Weir, Bill & Kathy Christison and others speak to Israel’s pivotal role

“Some of these conversations may get a little unpleasant. But you know what, we’re in a war. We’re clearly going into, I think, a major shooting war in the Middle East again.” — Steve Bannon (Nov 2015) 1

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A few background notes on Bannon-Trump and Israel

As Karl Rove was to Bush jnr, so Steve Bannon is the so-called “brains behind Trump”. A former navy officer and a vice president of Goldman Sachs, Bannon went on to achieve his greatest notoriety (to date) as executive chairman of ‘alt-right’ sound cannon Breitbart News, “a website that has pushed racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material” 2, and whose founder Andrew Breitbart referred to him affectionately as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement.

Yet notwithstanding Bannon’s more or less open advocacy for white supremacy in the US, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) was quick to invite White House chief strategist-in-waiting to their annual gala on November 20th. Here is ZOA Director Liz Berney making no apologies:

As Mondoweiss explains:

[T]he fact that the ZOA and other reactionary Zionist organizations, political figures and billionaires would support Trump, is not a surprise. What is surprising is that organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Community Relations Council, groups that constantly target Arab, Muslim, Black, Chicano and other progressive organizations who criticize Israel and groups that frequently equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, would take issue with the ZOA’s support for Trump.

Zionism and Israel rely on antisemitism to justify blatant colonization of Palestine, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, support for anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism, collaboration in US wars, attacks on anti-racist organizations in the United States, training of repressive police and military forces and an economy that relies heavily on surveillance and weapons trade. So, its natural allies are, reactionary, racist, repressive governments, elected officials, regimes, movements, religious and political organizations and people of wealth.

And, the ZOA’s validation of Bannon on Sunday night confirms what Palestinians and other anti-Zionists, including anti-Zionist Jews, have always known: Zionism does not equal Jewish, rather it is rooted in antisemitism; support for Israel does not reflect a commitment to the humanity of Jewish people; Zionism is racist and to be anti-racist one has to be anti-Zionist. 3

Click here  to read the full article entitled “Zionists embrace of Trump and Bannon is no surprise”.

For a fuller overview of Bannon’s seamy past, including the graphic details of the accusations made by his second wife Mary Louise Piccard of domestic abuse, I also recommend this concise exposé by independent journalist Abby Martin (although I do feel uncomfortable about Martin’s obfuscations in a defence of ‘globalism’):

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On the racist ‘war on terror’: who’s pushing for it and why…?

President Trump has issued an executive order suspending entry to the U.S for people from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Yemen (the order is called “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”). These same countries were the focus of the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015” under President Obama.

While reports on Trump’s ban emphasize that these are Muslim majority countries, analysts seem to have ignored another significant characteristic that these countries share.

With just a single exception, all of these countries were targeted for attack by certain top U.S. officials in 2001. In fact, that policy had roots that went back to 1996, 1991, 1980, and even the 1950s…

The fact is that Trump’s action continues policies influenced by people working on behalf of a foreign country, whose goal has been to destabilize and reshape an entire region. This kind of aggressive interventionism focused on “regime change” launches cascading effects that include escalating violence. 4

So begins a recent article by independent journalist, political historian and outspoken activist, Alison Weir. The foreign country she refers to “whose goal has been to destabilize and reshape an entire region” is Israel, of course, and Weir afterwards cites numerous sources including historical documents to back the charge that the ‘war on terror’ was founded on policy dictated not merely by a pro-Israel faction in Washington, but as part of long-standing Zionist strategy. Both these claim are incontrovertible as direct evidence below shows. Carefully evaluating the second claim, however, depends upon better establishing the true relationship between America and Israel; a tricky matter and one I shall come back to.

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The following is an extract taken from an article published by Haaretz in the immediate wake of the invasion codenamed Operation Iraqi Freedom that fourteen years ago unleashed a “shock and awe” campaign to topple Saddam Hussein and to kill and maim more than a million people:

In the course of the past year, a new belief has emerged in [Washington]: the belief in war against Iraq. That ardent faith was disseminated by a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives, almost all of them Jewish, almost all of them intellectuals (a partial list: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Eliot Abrams, Charles Krauthammer), people who are mutual friends and cultivate one another and are convinced that political ideas are a major driving force of history. They believe that the right political idea entails a fusion of morality and force, human rights and grit. The philosophical underpinnings of the Washington neoconservatives are the writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Edmund Burke. They also admire Winston Churchill and the policy pursued by Ronald Reagan. They tend to read reality in terms of the failure of the 1930s (Munich) versus the success of the 1980s (the fall of the Berlin Wall).

The article aptly entitled “White Man’s Burden” is based around interviews with a few of the aforementioned neo-con protagonists. One is William Kristol, described in the piece as “believed to exercise considerable influence on the president, Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld… [and] perceived as having been instrumental in getting Washington to launch this all-out campaign against Baghdad.”

Here is a little of what Kristol imparts to journalist Ari Shavit:

What is the war about? I ask. Kristol replies that at one level it is the war that George Bush is talking about: a war against a brutal regime that has in its possession weapons of mass destruction. But at a deeper level it is a greater war, for the shaping of a new Middle East. 5

Another extract reprinted below is taken from a Guardian article that had been published six months previously, with the preparations for the Iraq War already well underway:

The “skittles theory” of the Middle East – that one ball aimed at Iraq can knock down several regimes – has been around for some time on the wilder fringes of politics but has come to the fore in the United States on the back of the “war against terrorism”.

Its roots can be traced, at least in part, to a paper published in 1996 by an Israeli thinktank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Entitled “A clean break: a new strategy for securing the realm”, it was intended as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Binyamin Netanyahu. As the title indicates, it advised the right-wing Mr Netanyahu to make a complete break with the past by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism …”

Among other things, it suggested that the recently-signed Oslo accords might be dispensed with – “Israel has no obligations under the Oslo agreements if the PLO does not fulfil its obligations” – and that “alternatives to [Yasser] Arafat’s base of power” could be cultivated. “Jordan has ideas on this,” it added.

It also urged Israel to abandon any thought of trading land for peace with the Arabs, which it described as “cultural, economic, political, diplomatic, and military retreat”.

“Our claim to the land – to which we have clung for hope for 2,000 years – is legitimate and noble,” it continued. “Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, ‘peace for peace’, is a solid basis for the future.”

The paper set out a plan by which Israel would “shape its strategic environment”, beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad.

With Saddam out of the way and Iraq thus brought under Jordanian Hashemite influence, Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and “roll back” Syria. Jordan, it suggested, could also sort out Lebanon by “weaning” the Shia Muslim population away from Syria and Iran, and re-establishing their former ties with the Shia in the new Hashemite kingdom of Iraq. “Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them”, the paper concluded. 6

Click here to read the full article written by Brian Whitaker.

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“The removal of Saddam remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies; engage a powerful and secular state in the fight against Sunni extremist terror, open political horizons in the GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council] states, remove a threat to Jordan/Israel, undermine the regional logic on WMD. The major challenge would be managing the regional reintegration of Iraq, without damaging important local relationships. Working for regime change could be a dynamic process of alliance building which could effect climatic change in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” […]

“… two further aims: climatic change in the psychology of regimes in the region, a pre-condition for progress in the Arab-Israel dispute … The problem of WMD is an element in driving for action in Iraq. In turn, this should open prospects for Arab‑Israeli talks, and, beyond, regional work to reduce the WMD inventories which threaten Europe as well.”

— From statements provided to the Chilcot Inquiry by anonymous ‘Secret Intelligence Service officer below the rank of chief’ known only as SIS4 and speculated to be Sir Mark Allen, a former director of MI6/SIS. 7

[bold emphasis added]

The ‘global war on terror’ was instigated on the basis a pack of outright lies. Here is a sample that serves as an aidemémoire:

Firstly, there never was a labyrinthine cave complex in the Tora Bora mountains infested with Jihadists… and Bin Laden wasn’t hiding there anyway. 8

Secondly, Saddam Hussein was no friend of al-Qaeda but an enemy who “was distrustful of al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime” 9

Lastly (in this extremely fleeting overview) – though Saddam did poison his enemies both during Iraq’s war against neighbours Iran as well as Kurdish and Marsh Arab minorities inside Iraq, the arsenal of WMDs (supplied by the West) were long gone. 10 Along with the concocted false alarm about yellowcake, any threat to the West posed by WMDs was a wholly manufactured fiction.

In fact, it is no longer at issue that the ‘war on terror’ was founded on multiple falsehoods. Nor is there any serious contention that the misinformation was quite deliberately fabricated and promulgated, even though during the lead up to war, this disinformation was consistently reported as factual and well-evidenced by the media. What the majority understood intuitively but our politicians and media generally failed to see is now acknowledged as historical fact. Bush lied. Blair lied. And the intelligence services supplied them with ‘dodgy dossiers’ to support those lies.

This is what Colin Powell said of Iraq in an interview given to CBS in December 2001, not even three months after the September 11th attack:

“Regime change would be in the best interest of the Iraqi people. It is a goal of the United States. But the United Nations’ goal is the inspectors and getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction.” 11

Moreover, in a paper from Tony Blair to George Bush entitled “The War against Terrorism: The Second Phase” also sent in December 2001 and since declassified, we find an overview for possible approaches to terrorist threats again in seven countries: Indonesia, Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iran, and of course Iraq. Five of these correspond with the seven on Trump’s first travel ban and four on General Wesley Clark’s notorious statement that the US plan was “we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”:

And here is one particularly revealing sentence in the missive from Blair to Bush:

It reads:

If toppling Saddam is a prime objective, it is far easier to do it with Syria and Iran in favour or acquiescing rather than hitting all three at once. 12

But though the details of these foundational myths have since unravelled, justification for the ‘war on terror’ is maintained to this day on the totally fraudulent basis of the original ad hoc justifications. We invade ostensibly to prevent the spread of global terrorism and we bomb to bring ‘freedom and democracy’. For it is as fundamental to twenty-first century subjugation of foreign lands as it was to prior imperialist conquests to appeal to “the white man’s burden” – and the singular difference today rests in the wording: post-modern racism is implicit and undeclared.

Within this story-making there is another facet of today’s racism that is eschewed. The actuality that a small and exceptionally powerful and well-connected neo-con faction has been operating behind the scenes in Washington to bring about regime change in Iraq is widely published, but what is seldom mentioned, is that they were working to promote the interests of a foreign power. The omitted part is discussed in that example of comparatively uncensored journalism published by Haaretz and quoted above. Yet even when the well-attested influence of Israel is discussed, it is rarer again to acknowledge that the ‘war on terror’ serves the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism of an ultra-Zionist agenda. Brian Whitaker’s Guardian piece, also quoted above, is somewhat exceptional in this regard.

The following is taken from an article written during the Bush years by former CIA analysts Bill and Kathleen Christison who also draw attention the blackout over discussing “dual loyalties” in Washington:

We write articles about the neo-conservatives’ agenda on U.S.-Israeli relations and imply that in the neo-con universe there is little light between the two countries. We talk openly about the Israeli bias in the U.S. media. We make wry jokes about Congress being “Israeli-occupied territory.” Jason Vest in The Nation magazine reported forthrightly that some of the think tanks that hold sway over Bush administration thinking see no difference between U.S. and Israeli national security interests. But we never pronounce the particular words that best describe the real meaning of those observations and wry remarks. It’s time, however, that we say the words out loud and deal with what they really signify.

Dual loyalties. The issue we are dealing with in the Bush administration is dual loyalties — the double allegiance of those myriad officials at high and middle levels who cannot distinguish U.S. interests from Israeli interests, who baldly promote the supposed identity of interests between the United States and Israel, who spent their early careers giving policy advice to right-wing Israeli governments and now give the identical advice to a right-wing U.S. government, and who, one suspects, are so wrapped up in their concern for the fate of Israel that they honestly do not know whether their own passion about advancing the U.S. imperium is motivated primarily by America-first patriotism or is governed first and foremost by a desire to secure Israel’s safety and predominance in the Middle East through the advancement of the U.S. imperium.

“Dual loyalties” has always been one of those red flags posted around the subject of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict, something that induces horrified gasps and rapid heartbeats because of its implication of Jewish disloyalty to the United States and the common assumption that anyone who would speak such a canard is ipso facto an anti-Semite. (We have a Jewish friend who is not bothered by the term in the least, who believes that U.S. and Israeli interests should be identical and sees it as perfectly natural for American Jews to feel as much loyalty to Israel as they do to the United States. But this is clearly not the usual reaction when the subject of dual loyalties arises.)

Bill Christison had served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis & Kathleen Christison, a CIA political analyst, is the author of Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy and Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story. They are also co-authors of the book Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation.

Their Counterpunch article entitled “The Bush Neocons and Israel” was published in September 2004, and continues:

Although much has been written about the neo-cons who dot the Bush administration, the treatment of their ties to Israel has generally been [treated] very gingerly. Although much has come to light recently about the fact that ridding Iraq both of its leader and of its weapons inventory has been on the neo-con agenda since long before there was a Bush administration, little has been said about the link between this goal and the neo-cons’ overriding desire to provide greater security for Israel. But an examination of the cast of characters in Bush administration policymaking circles reveals a startlingly pervasive network of pro-Israel activists, and an examination of the neo-cons’ voluminous written record shows that Israel comes up constantly as a neo-con reference point, always mentioned with the United States as the beneficiary of a recommended policy, always linked with the United States when national interests are at issue. […]

The neo-con strategy papers half a dozen years ago were dotted with concepts like “redefining Iraq,” “redrawing the map of the Middle East,” “nurturing alternatives to Arafat,” all of which have in recent months become familiar parts of the Bush administration’s diplomatic lingo. Objectives laid out in these papers as important strategic goals for Israel — including the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the strategic transformation of the entire Middle East, the death of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, regime change wherever the U.S. and Israel don’t happen to like the existing government, the abandonment of any effort to forge a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace or even a narrower Palestinian-Israeli peace — have now become, under the guidance of this group of pro-Israel neo-cons, important strategic goals for the United States. The enthusiasm with which senior administration officials like Bush himself, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have adopted strategic themes originally defined for Israel’s guidance — and did so in many cases well before September 11 and the so-called war on terror — testifies to the persuasiveness of a neo-con philosophy focused narrowly on Israel and the pervasiveness of the network throughout policymaking councils. […]

The suggestion that the war with Iraq is being planned at Israel’s behest, or at the instigation of policymakers whose main motivation is trying to create a secure environment for Israel, is strong. Many Israeli analysts believe this.

Given the renewed close alignment of Trump-Bannon with Netanyahu and the ultra-Zionists, the culmination of the same article once again sounds disconcertingly prophetic:

The Armageddon that Christian Zionists seem to be actively promoting and that Israeli loyalists inside the administration have tactically allied themselves with raises the horrifying but very real prospect of an apocalyptic Christian-Islamic war. 13

Click here to read the full article.

Embedded above is a talk given by Kathy and Bill Christison on February 19th 2010 at the conference “The United States, Israel and Palestine: What Does Justice Require of US?” at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA. The title of their talk was “The U.S.-Israeli Partnership and the Impact on Palestine”.

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Alison Weir started out as a journalist, but after returning from a solo trip to the Palestinian territories in 2001, she left her job as editor of a weekly newspaper and became an outspoken activist and the founder of If Americans Knew.

Here is Weir delivering an impressive recent presentation entitled “100 Years of Pro-Israel Activism” on Thursday 16th February in Berkeley, California:

Her talk was in three sections. In the first half approximately she reports her own findings based on a meticulous statistical analysis of media bias in the reporting of Israel-Palestine. There afterwards follows a potted history about the origins of Political Zionism and its repercussions for the people of Palestine. And the final fifteen minutes is devoted to Trump’s first executive order banning the entry of Muslims from seven countries – this concluding section is a summarised version of the article quoted above (and returned to below).

Like the Christisons, Weir is unflinching when it comes to laying the blame for the ‘war on terror’, which is in actuality a war on Muslims, at Israel’s door. Appealing solely to evidence recovered from open sources, she is able to put together incontrovertible proof that finds Israel and America guilty as equal partners in the manufacture of the post-9/11 wars with the shared purpose of ‘remaking’ the Middle East. Here is a further extract from her latest article:

Another Ha’aretz article described how some of these individuals, high American officials, gave Israeli leaders tips on how to manage American actions and influence US Congressmen, concluding: “Perle, Feith, and their fellow strategists are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments and Israeli interests.”

Ha’aretz reported that the goal was far more than just an invasion of Iraq: “at a deeper level it is a greater war, for the shaping of a new Middle East.” The article said that the war “was being fought to consolidate a new world order.”

“The Iraq war is really the beginning of a gigantic historical experiment…”

We’re now seeing the tragic and violent result of that regime-change experiment. 14

At the risk of alienating her audience, Weir also puts the ongoing neo-con ultra-Zionist strategy of regime change – those ‘seven countries in five years’ as first leaked by General Wesley Clark – within a fuller historical context:

A document called “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties,” proposed by Israeli analyst Oded Yinon, was published by the World Zionist Organization in 1982.

The document, translated by Israel Shahak, called for the dissolution of existing Arab states into smaller states which would, in effect, become Israel’s satellites.

In an analysis of the plan, Shahak pointed out: “[W]hile lip service is paid to the idea of the ‘defense of the West’ from Soviet power, the real aim of the author, and of the present Israeli establishment is clear: To make an Imperial Israel into a world power.”

Shahak noted that Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon planned “to deceive the Americans after he has deceived all the rest.”

Shahak wrote that reshaping the Middle East on behalf of Israel had been discussed since the 1950s: “This is not a new idea, nor does it surface for the first time in Zionist strategic thinking. Indeed, fragmenting all Arab states into smaller units has been a recurrent theme.”

As Shahak pointed out, this strategy was documented in a book called Israel’s Sacred Terrorism (1980), by Livia Rokach. Drawing on the memoirs of the second Prime Minister of Israel, Rokach’s book described, among other things, a 1954 proposal to execute regime change in Lebanon. 15

Click here to read Alison Weir’s full article about Trump’s Muslim ban, which concludes:

I suggest that everyone – both those who deplore the order for humanitarian reasons, and those who defend it out of concern for Americans’ safety – examine the historic context outlined above and the U.S. policies that led to this order.

For decades, Democratic and Republican administrations have enacted largely parallel policies regarding the Middle East and Israel-Palestine. We are seeing the results, and most of us are deeply displeased.

I would submit that both for humanitarian obligations and for security necessities, it is urgent that we find a different way forward.

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Additional: “Is the US Waging Israel’s Wars?”

Many throughout the Muslim world and beyond are asking this question: What are the real reasons behind the US invasion of Iraq and its wish to overthrow the governments of Syria and Iran?

For all their grandiose posturing, in truth, Iraq, Syria and Iran have never posed a direct threat to the US mainland. Put simply, they’re too far away from the neighbourhood. So why would the US be willing to expend so many human lives and so much treasury on changing the regimes of countries it doesn’t like?

Asks award-winning political commentator Linda S. Heard in a piece entitled “Is the US Waging Israel’s Wars?” published in April 2006 also reprinted by Counterpunch.

Heard continues:

A premise, which many in the Arab world believe, should also be dissected. Is the US manipulating and remoulding the area so that Israel can remain the only regional superpower in perpetuity?

This is not as fanciful as one might imagine on first glance. Read the following strangely prophetic segment from an article published in 1982 by the World Zionist Organisation’s publication Kivunim and penned by Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Yinon’s strategy was based on this premise. In order to survive Israel must become an imperial regional power and must also ensure the break-up of all Arab countries so that the region may be carved up into small ineffectual states unequipped to stand up to Israeli military might.

And she directly quotes part of Oded Yinon’s original strategy:

“The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front. Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.

“An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and Lebanon.

“In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul and Shiite areas in the South will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”

Heard also reviews the situation as it then appeared some twenty-four years on:

The eight-year long Iran-Iraq War that ended in 1988 was responsible for over a million casualties but did not result in Yinon’s desired break-up. Iraq still stood as a strong homogenous entity.

Iraq was, however, severely weakened in 1991 as a result of the Gulf War brought about by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Still, the country remained unified.

It took the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation to destabilize Iraq and split the country on sectarian lines. Indeed, its new constitution is drawn around a loose federation with partial autonomy for the northern Kurds and the southern Shiites, and the country is now rife with sectarian, religious and ethnic strife. Some say “civil war”.

Turning to Syria, until the March 2003 invasion of Iraq Syria under President Bashar Al-Assad enjoyed reasonably good relations with the West. We should also remember that Syria fought alongside the US-led allies during the Gulf War. Syria also voted, albeit reluctantly, for the UN resolution that oiled the invasion, and was a strong partner in the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

Then, lo and behold, Syria could do no right. Suddenly, it was accused to all kinds of ‘crimes’ from hiding Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, harbouring insurgents and terrorists, and allowing the free passage of fighters and arms into Iraq.

Heavy pressure was then put on to Damascus to end its de facto occupation of Lebanon following the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and, now the Syrian government is being investigated by the UN, accused of involvement.

Today the US is actively engaged in weakening the Al-Assad government and is supporting opposition parties. If it is successful, experts predict that Syria, like Iraq, will fall victim to sectarianism and internecine conflict.

Ten years on and Syria has indeed “fall[en] victim to sectarianism and internecine conflict”.

Heard finishes off with a brief discussion about how although Yinon’s essay does not focus on Iran, Israel is already leading the charge against its “purported nuclear ambitions”. She concludes:

Back to the question of whether the US is, indeed, waging wars on behalf of Israel. In short, we can’t be certain and we may never know since the Bush White House has sealed its private tapes and papers for 100 years.

There is one thing that we do know. Oded Yinon’s 1982 “Zionist Plan for the Middle East” is in large part taking shape. Is this pure coincidence? Was Yinon a gifted psychic? Perhaps! Alternatively, we in the West are victims of a long-held agenda not of our making and without doubt not in our interests. 16

Click here to read Linda Heard’s full article.

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1 From Breitbart News Daily recorded on November 27, 2015 beginning at 5:25 mins. https://soundcloud.com/breitbart/breitbart-news-daily-brandon-darby-bob-price-november-27-2015

2 From an article entitled “Inside Donald Trump’s Chaotic Transition” written by Philip Elliott and Zeke J Miller, published in Time magazine on November 21, 2016. http://time.com/4574493/donald-trump-chaotic-transition/ 

3 From an article entitled “Zionists embrace of Trump and Bannon is no surprise” published in Mondoweiss on November 20, 2016. http://mondoweiss.net/2016/11/zionists-embrace-surprise/ 

4 From an article entitled “Trump’s Muslim ban: Israeli strategic plans to ‘remake the Middle East’ from 2001 and before targeted the same countries” written by Alison Weir, published by If Americans Knew on February 4, 2017. http://ifamericaknew.org/history/muslimban.html

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[The neo-con] doctrine maintains that the problem with the Middle East is the absence of democracy and of freedom. It follows that the only way to block people like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden is to disseminate democracy and freedom. To change radically the cultural and political dynamics that creates such people. And the way to fight the chaos is to create a new world order that will be based on freedom and human rights — and to be ready to use force in order to consolidate this new world. So that, really, is what the war is about. It is being fought to consolidate a new world order, to create a new Middle East.

From an article entitled “White Man’s Burden” written by Ari Shavit, published in Haaretz on April 3, 2003. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/white-man-s-burden-1.14110

6 From an article entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam” written by Brian Whitaker, published in the Guardian on September 3, 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/03/worlddispatch.iraq

7 From The Report of the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot Report), Section 3.1, p 364, §307 and §310. www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/247919/the-report-of-the-iraq-inquiry_section-31.pdf

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Let’s not forget that Bin Laden’s own design experiments were regularly thwarted. First there were the famous Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan. According to the press, these really were the stuff of Bond movies. A month after 9/11, the Independent published a sensational description of Tora Bora as an impregnable base built deep inside a mountain. The Times then printed an even more preposterous cross-section of “Bin Laden’s underground fortress”, equipped with its own hospitals, offices, bedrooms, hydroelectric power supply, and roads big enough to drive a tank into, apparently. The US did little to deny it. Presented with this fantasy design, Donald Rumsfeld stated, “there’s not one of those, there are many of those“.

From an article entitled “Why did Osama bin Laden build such a drab HQ?” written by Steve Rose, published in the Guardian on May 4, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/may/04/bin-laden-build-compound-lair

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There is no evidence of formal links between Iraqi ex-leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda leaders prior to the 2003 war, a US Senate report says.

The finding is contained in a 2005 CIA report released by the Senate’s Intelligence Committee on Friday.

The committee concluded that the CIA had evidence of several instances of contacts between the Iraqi authorities and al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s but that these did not add up to a formal relationship.

It added that the government “did not have a relationship, harbour or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates”.

It said that Iraq and al-Qaeda were ideologically poles apart.

“Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaeda to provide material or operational support,” it said.

From an article entitled “Saddam ‘had no link to al-Qaeda’” published by BBC news on September 9, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/5328592.stm

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It is long established that Iraq — with assistance from the U.S. and other Western countries — produced enormous quantities of chemical weapons during its eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. After Iraq was expelled from Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations Security Council sent inspectors to ensure that Iraq disclosed and destroyed its entire chemical (and biological and nuclear) weapons programs. Iraq repeatedly said that it had done so, while the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations claimed it was still hiding pre-1991 weaponry.

From an article entitled “Twelve Years Later, US Media Still Can’t Get Iraqi WMD Story Right”, written by Jon Schwarz, published in The Intercept on April 10, 2015. https://theintercept.com/2015/04/10/twelve-years-later-u-s-media-still-cant-get-iraqi-wmd-story-right/ 

11 From interview on CBS Face the Nation broadcast on December 2, 2001, transcribed and reprinted in The Report of the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot Report) Section 3.1, p 351, §229. www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/247919/the-report-of-the-iraq-inquiry_section-31.pdf

12 Paper Blair [to Bush], 4 December 2001, ‘The War Against Terrorism: The Second Phase’.  www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/243731/2001-12-04-note-blair-to-bush-the-war-against-terrorism-the-second-phase.pdf

13 From an article entitled “The Bush Neocons and Israel” written by Bill and Kathleen Christison published in Counterpunch on September 6, 2004. http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/09/06/the-bush-neocons-and-israel/ 

14 From an article entitled “Trump’s Muslim ban: Israeli strategic plans to ‘remake the Middle East’ from 2001 and before targeted the same countries” written by Alison Weir, published by If Americans Knew on February 4, 2017. http://ifamericaknew.org/history/muslimban.html

15 From an article entitled “Trump’s Muslim ban: Israeli strategic plans to ‘remake the Middle East’ from 2001 and before targeted the same countries” written by Alison Weir, published by If Americans Knew on February 4, 2017. http://ifamericaknew.org/history/muslimban.html

16 From an article entitled “Is the US Waging Israel’s Wars?” written by Linda S. Heard, published in Counterpunch on April 25, 2006. http://www.counterpunch.org/2006/04/25/is-the-us-waging-israel-s-wars/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, USA

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.

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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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Private Eye reminds us of Angela Eagle’s highly dubious origins

Wirral In It Together

11th July 2016 – Wallasey

Our MP, Angela Eagle, this morning announced her intention to stand as a Labour leadership candidate.

On learning about this prospect a couple of weeks back, some locals found it surprising, and many more found it astonishing, given that she’d scraped a very poor 4th in the poll for deputy leader, conducted in the summer of 2015.  Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader, and the man she’s challenging for that leadership, breezed home superbly well with a virtual 60% mandate from members – a new record.  This was followed by solid by-election successes and a huge rise in membership which continues to this day.

A small crumb of comfort for Angela was that her own Wallasey branch of the local Constituency Labour Party had graciously nominated her for deputy (a nomination that still stands) and selected Corbyn, whom she seemed supportive of at the time, to be leader.

But how did Angela repay her local members’ and Corbyn’s loyalty and…

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#JezWeCan: why I’m voting for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader

As ballot papers for the Labour Party leadership contest are sent out, here are a few of the reasons I believe Jeremy Corbyn stands head and shoulders above the other candidates. To judge Corbyn better yourself, my own views are interspersed with a selection of recent interviews he has given.

Click here to read “Why I’m standing” on Jeremy Corbyn’s official jeremyforlabour.com website.

When Jeremy Corbyn announced his last minute intention to stand in the Labour leadership election he was dismissed as a 100-1 outsider, but a few months on and he’s become the odds-on favourite – the latest polls in fact putting him so far ahead of his rivals that it seems he may win outright victory in the first round. This is remarkable, however it shouldn’t surprise anyone.

For in a political age dominated by the “centrism” (so-called) of the “Third Way” (Blair’s not Mussolini’s), and consumed by image über alles with advert-style messages that glide slickly on a well-oiled surface of spin, Corbyn stands apart. He doesn’t expend his energies obsessing over soundbites, or how to gesture and strut more assertively. Nor does he get mixed up with publicity stunts like ordering pasties to prove his close allegiance to the ordinary bloke, or masticating awkwardly on bacon butties to show he’s normal or British (or something), or the unveiling tombstones to soon-to-be sunken promises, and we can be as near as certain that Corbyn never will. Yes, Ed Miliband had some god awful advisors, but then why did he keep on taking their god awful advice…? Short answer: to keep up with the Camerons, of course – bad decision!

Is that a scaffold we see behind you, Ed?

Corbyn comes ungarnished. He doesn’t need props to cling tight to, or even a fancy suit to make him look more dashing. Because instead of daft stunts and the rest of the trimmings, Corbyn wins support by virtue of sincerity, intelligence and the authority which comes from a lifetime dedicated to political campaigning. For Corbyn has always spoken truth to power, which is the bigger reason he stands apart.

Here is Corbyn recently interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s “Going Underground”:

Staunchly anti-“austerity”, anti-TTIP, anti-fracking, Corbyn, who has been an ardent anti-war activist throughout his years as a backbencher, is today a prominent figure both within the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestinian solidarity movement (reasons his name already features so large in my tag cloud right), just as he once championed gay rights and spearheaded the anti-Apartheid movement of the 80s (an era when championing these issues was a recipe for marginalisation).

More courageously still, Corbyn led the vanguard when it came to brokering an Irish peace accord. Unafraid of controversy, he invited Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president and persona non grata, to talks in London a full decade prior to the start of official negotiations which would lead to the Good Friday Agreement (and shortly before Adam’s voice was banned altogether from British television).

Here is a more extended interview in which Corbyn discusses with Hassan Alkatib his personal role in trying to bring about a peace settlement in Northern Ireland; his experiences in Gaza; his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; and his support for Chilean, Palestinian and Irish independence:

Unlike the bulk of today’s career politicians, who plot their narrow course into office with the obligatory PPE degree from Oxford firmly in hand, Corbyn is able to draw upon firsthand experience in many fields both before and since he became an MP. He has worked as a union representative, as an elected councillor, and was a member of a public health authority, but, arguably more importantly, Corbyn is most well-versed in the intricacies of foreign policy. From Ireland to the Middle East, to Latin America, and beyond – across the world, Corbyn has been there and done that; including campaigning to bring former Chilean dictator Pinochet to trial, just as he has more recently (during this Labour leadership campaign in fact) been outspoken in his calls for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes.

Indeed, in the most recent interview given on the BBC [Newsnight August 4th], Corbyn explained why Iraq War was illegal and why he believes Tony Blair should be prosecuted:

In short, Corbyn is a conviction politician – a tag so dreadfully sullied by Margaret Thatcher and others on the right, but one that once characterised the most admired and respected figures of the left. He is, as the late Tony Benn (one such illustrious leftist) so elegantly distinguished, a political ‘signpost’ and not a ‘weather vane’. Integrity that is a big part of the allure which persuades many hundreds of thousands of supporters (myself included) to sign up on the Labour register to cast their vote. It is a quality that the mainstream media, so utterly hung up on matters of image and spin, simply can’t get to grips with at all. A quality so rare in contemporary politics that they try very hard to pretend it has never existed.

Click here to read a summary of “15 times when Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history”.

For today there is an astonishing dearth not only of talented, imaginative and honourable politicians (“honourable members” – you really have to laugh!) but, and as a direct consequence, an ever-worsening deficit of democracy. A de facto one party line that serves the corporate sponsors and the special interests, while abandoning the rest of us to a counsel of despair. ‘The mother of parliaments’ reduced to the role of little more than a big business facilitator, with its recent cohorts of members determined, so it seems, to lessen themselves of the already diminished burden of real responsibility, preferring to function instead in some lesser capacity as the middle managers of out-sourced state interests.

Rather than serving the public good, as any government in a democracy should, by, for instance, rebuilding dilapidated infrastructure (a long overdue project in Britain), bolstering public services, hospitals, schools, and pensions and generally improving the standard of living for all – actually not very much to ask for in the Twenty-First Century – our governments have instead repeatedly sold our nation down the river (with sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts). But then, our politicians themselves are sell-outs, who seek election in order to get one foot in the revolving doors of the corporatocracy. It is evident, however, that Corbyn is not intent to follow them through it, why would he be? He is not a career politician, but a campaigner turned politician. And with Corbyn as a leader of Labour, “austerity” and “privatisation” – cuts and sell-offs to use their proper names – the chosen neo-liberal means for transferring wealth from the poor to the richest one-percent will not be so routinely passed off as the only remedy for an ailing economy.

Up until now, the electorate has simply sucked it all up and why? Because – and it is hard to over-emphasise the importance of this – (New) Labour, our only serious opposition party south of Hadrian’s Wall, presented no substantial alternative. This is a deplorable situation which last month culminated in Harriet Harman, the Party’s interim leader, capitulating to Tory government’s latest slashing and gouging Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Yes, Harman’s position was criticised by three of the four leadership election candidates, but actions speak louder than words:

Out of the four leadership candidates, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall all abstained on the proposals. Jeremy Corbyn voted against. 1

Corbyn voted against – did anyone seriously doubt he wouldn’t?

And this was Corbyn’s response in Parliament to the Tory’s atrocious budget:

Derided as “hard left”, in truth, Corbyn is rather moderate and, above all, a democrat, whereas most of those who accuse Corbyn of extremism fall into two (overlapping) camps: deliberately mendacious or else suffering from psychological projection. Because whether fully cognisant or unwitting dupe, they are unable to see beyond a prevailing orthodoxy for which Tariq Ali perspicaciously coined the term “extreme centre”. A hollowed out politics with an axis so precipitously skewed to the right that refuseniks are, by comparison at least, ‘extreme’ – ‘hard left’ of an ‘extreme middle’.

Another accusation I hear is that Corbyn is ‘a throwback’ or ‘a relic’, which comes with the latent presumption that progress in politics flows always in one direction. But this standpoint is ahistorical. Movements rise and fall, and many times social change pivots to become something appearing to be its opposite: revolution follows restoration; intolerance begets tolerance; and permissiveness bubbles up after droughts of prohibition; and the reverse applies in every case. ‘Progress’ does not sail unerring onward to the bright horizon, but gets caught up on strong currents, drifts into doldrums, and tacks back and forth to find a better course. This is why history repeats, or, as Mark Twain put it better, it rhymes.

During the last three decades (at least) the western world has been neither progressing nor merely regressing, but careering recklessly down a socio-economic cul-de-sac that ends with a cliff. We need to find reverse as fast as we possibly can. For as hard-line “free market” capitalism rushes us into a second financial meltdown (less than a decade after the last close catastrophe), it reveals itself not merely as an ideology without compassion, but as an inherently flawed system incapable of ensuring basic needs and a comfortable life for a majority of people. Rotten to the core, it is ripe for the dustbin of history.

Thus, Corbyn’s late arrival is propitious. In any case, given such an abiding commitment to peace, human rights, and social justice, it is Corbyn who looks forward, and not his detractors – those are the reactionaries, both in the strict sense and more simply by virtue of being opposed to real change (which are sullied words once again, but can be reclaimed). By any regular definition of the term, Corbyn has always been the true progressive.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win”, said Mahatma Gandhi, although in Gandhi’s day it took a while to proceed through the check list, whereas in our (dis)information age progress has significantly quickened. So once the leadership campaign was underway, Corbyn was ignored only momentarily, and afterwards rather briefly ridiculed, before quickly coming under a sustained barrage of heavy fire – most conspicuously from figures within his own party: the old guard of New Labour being especially vitriolic. “Anyone but Corbyn” – how’s that for negative campaigning?

Then there is the media itself. Here, for instance, is Newsnight producer Ed Brown explaining “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” from BBC Newsnight Live [published on Monday 17th]:

So, in theory, if you, the “stop Corbyn” voter thought that, say, Burnham’s supporters are more likely to have Corbyn as their next preference than Cooper’s, you should put Burnham ahead of Cooper in your preference list even if you ACTUALLY prefer Cooper to Burnham – because it’ll starve Corbyn of the extra votes he’d get if Burnham was knocked out.

The thing is, I am not aware of any decent evidence that this is the case. We have very few polls on the Labour leadership election – and those that exist (necessarily) have small samples of what Burnham and Cooper’s second preferences would be. Very roughly speaking, the polling tables I’ve seen suggest supporters of both split their second preferences about 30/70 between Corbyn and his opponent. So it’s not clear which of these you should give a higher preference to tactically stop Corbyn anyway. 2

Is Ed Brown sticking by BBC’s duty to remain impartial? I let you judge for yourself. Meanwhile, this was Channel 4 news reporter Cathy Newman desperately trying to derail Corbyn by shamelessly playing the anti-Semitism card:

“Mr Corbyn, tell me, have you stopped being a Holocaust Denier?” Unsavoury yes, but these are truly desperate tactics. To return to Gandhi’s famous remarks, “… and then you win.”

I very much hope that Corbyn does win the selection (the result is not due until September 12th), though I anticipate further last-ditch manoeuvres by the both the corporate media and the establishment left as it does everything in its power to block his progress. Whatever the result, however, his campaign has been a resounding success which, in and of itself, marks the prospect for a sea change in political consciousness – another step for a movement that is gaining traction and momentum not only in Britain but across southern Europe as well as vast swathes of the United States – as evinced by the (largely unreported in Britain) momentous surge in support for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The nitty-gritty of Corbyn’s proposals will need refinement and polishing, but keep in mind that this is a campaign for party leadership and not for government. Importantly, Corbyn says that he is committed to reforming the party itself, and his track record proves both a commitment to fighting for the oppressed and a genuine readiness to serve a greater cause (the democratic one).

At present we are faced with two wars, an economic one at home and another comprised of drone attacks and proxy wars abroad which is now forcing millions of people to flee to our shores. These wars are not unconnected. If Corbyn is elected leader then our resistance to both will be reinvigorated. He is the anti-war candidate. Moreover this country will see a political debate once again – absent since the days of Michael Foot three decades ago.

Click here to follow the hashtag #JezWeCan

(For a discussion of the fall of Old Labour I refer readers to a previous post.)

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Update:

What is taking place in the Labour party is a democratic explosion unprecedented in British political history. Last week more than 168,000 registered to vote in Labour’s leadership election – on one day. About 400,000 people have applied to join Labour as members or supporters since May, tripling the size of the party to more than 600,000.

Writes columnist and associate editor of the Guardian, Seumas Milne, in an excellent article published on Thurs 20th entitled “Jeremy Corbyn’s surge can be at the heart of a winning coalition”. He continues:

You only have to go to one of the campaign’s huge rallies to understand that the idea this is the product of political or union manipulation is laughable – and that his supporters don’t only want a different kind of Labour leader: they want to change the political system.

Meanwhile, the claim that the other leadership candidates – steeped as they are in the triangulating “pro-business” politics of the 1990s – can offer a winning electoral alternative to Corbyn’s commitment to what are in fact mostly mainstream public views, looks increasingly implausible.

Andy Burnham has now broken ranks with the “anyone but Corbyn” bloc, while the Blairites are swinging behind the studiedly New Labour Yvette Cooper. But their spat looks like a battle for second place.

And the nature of the coalition Milne refers to in the title to his piece?

There isn’t in any case only one possible coalition of voters that could beat the Tories in five years’ time. And the idea that any of Corbyn’s rivals stands a better chance of winning back support in Scotland, from disaffected working-class and middle-income voters, Ukip or the Greens is hard to credit.

It’s possible, of course, that the relentless attacks will tip the vote against Corbyn after all. But if not, he will face an even more ferocious onslaught thereafter. That will come not only from the Conservatives and the media, but from sections of the Labour establishment that can be expected to launch a parliamentary campaign to undermine and unseat him.

But Corbyn will have an unprecedented democratic mandate if he wins, backed by a movement of hundreds of thousands. And not only is he committed to creating a leadership of “all the talents”, he also plans to open up Labour’s long-dormant internal democracy. Corbyn makes a point on the stump of emphasising that his policy ideas are currently only “proposals” and “suggestions”.

Click here to read Seumas Milne’s full article.

Seumas Milne also appeared on Saturday’s [Aug 22nd] episode of RT’s Sputnik hosted by George Galloway to discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party leadership campaign. In part 2 of the same show, Galloway spoke with Shadia Edwards-Dashti of the Stop the War Coalition:

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Additional:

On Friday [Aug 21st], RT’s flagship discussion show Crosstalk was given over to debate the rise and electability of Jeremy Corbyn. It featured Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition, Scottish left-wing activist and political commentator Chris Bambery, and academic Steven Fielding. The complete episode is embedded below.

One clarification I would like to make is that contrary to host Peter Lavelle’s claim to have heard Corbyn admitting on Channel 4 news to reading Karl Marx [10 mins in], in actual fact Corbyn was responding to a question about whether or not he did read Marx. In response to that very direct question, Corbyn said something to the effect that he felt he perhaps should have read more Marx because Marx was obviously an influential thinker, before turning the question around on the interviewer saying, (and I paraphrase from memory) he has influenced us all don’t you think, you included:

 

To finish I have also decided to embed a short clip of ‘the artist taxi driver’ delivering one his most effervescent and inspirational rants. A set of variations on the theme of “end the madness of Jeremy Corbyn” – I know this will not be to everyone’s taste, but I include it because I don’t disagree with a single syllable:

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1 From an article entitled “Welfare bill: These are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the Tories’ cuts” written by Jon Stone, published in The Independent on July 21, 2015. The opening paragraphs read:

Below are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the second reading of the Conservatives’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

The main changes in the Bill are reducing the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolishing legally binding child poverty targets, cuts to child tax credits, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, and cuts to housing benefit for young people.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/these-are-the-184-labour-mps-who-didnt-vote-against-the-tories-welfare-bill-10404831.html

2 From an article entitled “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” written by Ed Brown, published by BBC news on August 17, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-politics-33139218

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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…

*

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?

*

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

thought(s) for the day: eleventh hour musings on Election 2015

A few hours ago I picked up a somewhat blunt pencil at a polling station in the constituency of Sheffield Central and cast my vote. Around the country an estimated 30 million other people will have done likewise by the time the polling stations close at 10 pm. Following which, we must wait, expectantly.

It is too late for persuasion and so this article is purely for the record – I meant to post sooner but simply couldn’t finish it (not satisfactorily — and though it needs further polishing I’m out of time, sorry). Yet the message I have been wishing to convey is a comparatively simple one. That whatever else happens, the Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys must be defeated.

This atrocious Con-Dem Coalition government has failed our nation in every conceivable way, and even if we choose to judge only by economic performance (I have included something on this as an addendum). Indeed, were it not for Rupert Murdoch and his central role in a far dirtier campaign than any since the 70/80s, both government parties would surely have been routed in this election. Shockingly, the Tories may yet hold on to power:

It’s forty years since anybody has won power in a UK general election without the backing of Rupert Murdoch. He’s not happy about the prospect. That’s the explanation for the surreal juxtaposition of the Sun covers from England and Scotland: 1

Image and text taken from one of a sequence of excellent articles written by John Lanchester and published by the London Review of Books.

Under other circumstances, I would have voted for a genuine anti-austerity alternative, either TUSC or Left Unity, however, given the nature of our “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, I have opted instead for Labour. The rest is (just) details…

*

Five years ago, as the last dregs of the constituency results trickled in at about 4 o’clock, it became clear that there would be no overall victory in the General Election. Instead we had drifted to a stalemate: a hung parliament. And given how our peculiar (and extremely unfair) FPTP system habitually returns majority governments, this state of post-electoral limbo was difficult to grasp, especially as we crawled off late to bed. Next day there was an almost palpable sense that something important had been left undone. Electorus interuptus.

Many of us felt relieved nonetheless, that the Tories had not prevailed with an outright majority, given how the polls had been consistently forecasting a Tory win. At least they had until about a fortnight prior to polling day, when this happened:

Get used to it. The whole 2010 general election changed on the night of Thursday 15 April. It may now stay changed until polling day. Our ICM poll today maps the key elements of this new emerging electoral landscape. The Conservatives, until recently the likely winners on 6 May, now only have 33% support, ensuring a struggle to win enough votes or seats for victory. Labour, previously battling to get on terms with the Tories, have now slumped to 28%, third in votes for the first time since 1983, though strong in seats, courtesy of the first-past-the-post system. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, given and seizing their chance at last, have surged 10 points into second place. It is possible that what Lord Tebbit yesterday dubbed “the Clegg bubble” may burst between now and 6 May, of course. But don’t rely on that. It is just as possible that another strong performance in this week’s debate will give the Lib Dem wagon another hearty push, send their rivals into tailspins and have Whitehall mandarins scrabbling for Lib Dem telephone numbers. Either way, politics has changed. There is a new electoral reality. And about time too. And doesn’t it actually feel rather good? 2

So began an effusive Guardian editorial, and not since David Steele instructed his party members to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”, had centrist hyperbole touched such feverish levels. That in-your-face mantra “get used to it” repeated maniacally at the beginning of every paragraph, and all under a banner that read like a flaccid, if truculent, Lib Dem cry for electoral justice: “Labour would come third by popular vote yet still have the most seats – such a result would plunge British democracy into crisis”. As it transpired, of course, the Tories ultimately prevailed instead, limping into office on the arm of Nick Clegg’s hasty acquiescence, and in spite of the fact that the Lib Dems had actually polled rather disappointingly – as usual.

You may recall too that five years ago the party still had their unique selling point – that long-held and dependable commitment to overhaul our unfair FPTP system and replace it with PR (much more to their own liking). But this didn’t happen. Even as the Lib Dems hitched their own ride into office on the back of the Tory’s miserable failure (a decade in opposition, yet unable to defeat one of the least popular governments in modern history), the Lib Dem leadership still didn’t manage to negotiate a referendum on PR… let alone actually get PR!

Nothing monumental occurred in Election 2010. Labour didn’t come third whether by number of seats or in proportion of outright votes. Quite contrary to the Guardian’s excitable speculation, our democracy was no more “in crisis” post-election than before.

*

Election 2015 is different. This time around a hung parliament is anticipated and there has been almost non-stop speculation on the eventual makeup of our next coalition. In fact, since the campaign proper started, the media have been collectively hung up on hung parliament. So can we trace the roots of this monomania?

We have the polls, of course. And the polls have been quite consistently indicating two outcomes for this election, certainly since the turn of the year. Firstly, north of the border, the forecast has been that Labour will be mauled by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) – and the size of that mauling seemingly gets bigger every time they run the latest poll (a daily occurrence for some reason) – and secondly, south of the border, the polls suggest Labour are unable to take the lead over the Tories. But then why should we trust the opinion polls? History testifies to their unreliability – as when the Lib Dem share was blown up out of all proportion in 2010:

In the run-up to the UK general election few people would have predicted a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition goverment – and fewer still that the Lib Dems would actually lose seats despite their popularity in the polls. […]

A record total of nine polls based wholly or mostly on interviewing conducted in the final few days of the campaign were published during its final hours. Their success at anticipating the eventual outcome can only be regarded as ‘mixed’. […]

The exit poll caused such surprise because its projection for the Liberal Democrats was at variance with the predictions of the final polls, which had suggested that the much-vaunted surge in favour of Nick Clegg’s party had carried through to polling day. It was on this point that the polls were wrong, significantly overestimating Liberal Democrat support for the first time in recent polling history. 3

The reliability of polls obviously depends upon people telling complete strangers how they intend to behave at a moment in the future. But then, the only thing at stake when you are cornered by a pollster is your street cred. As a consequence, it turns out, that those polled are inclined to say they will vote for the more exotic alternatives, but then, when it comes to making any real commitment, people tend to revert to habit. Their final X put beside the devil they already knew:

Twenty-seven per cent. That’s the number of people who told ICM/Guardian this January that they intend to vote for what we used to call ‘another’ party. It’s probably not news to anyone that UKIP, the SNP and the Greens are all making the kind of in-roads into traditional voting patterns that many commentators think could result in a complete overhaul of the political map. […]

Will all these people who tell pollsters that their cross will go against an emerging party actually turn out and vote for them? Here are a few examples of when the answer was ‘no’. Most will remember Cleggmania in 2010. Some final polls had the Liberal Democrats on 29% and the average was more than 27%, but the Lib Dems ended up with roughly the same 23% they achieved five years earlier. […]

I’ll leave you with a couple of stats. ICM re-interviewed UKIP and Green intenders after the 2010 election to understand what they ended up doing: only 60% of UKIP intenders voted for them, only 42% of Green intenders voted for their own pre-election choice. 4

Trust in polls also depends upon having trust in the independence of the polling agencies themselves, so what are we to make of fact that this time around many of the polls are sponsored by former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman, Lord Ashcroft – a man with such a unenviable record for dodgy dealing that he is better known to many as “Lord Sleaze from Belize” (Belize being the tax haven he calls home):

[But] by and large, Lord Aschcroft’s increasing influence over British politics has passed unchallenged. And that’s strange, for a number of reasons.

Firstly it’s strange because there are legitimate questions to be asked about the accuracy and reliability of what have euphemistically become termed “The Ashcroft Polls”. As I say, there was a lot of comment over the weekend about the new Sheffield Hallam poll. But it wasn’t new. It was first published back in November, and at that time showed Nick Clegg 3 points ahead. That week, Antony Wells of Yougov identified errors in the published data, leading Lord Ashcroft to revise Clegg’s lead down to three points behind. Lord Ashcroft then reviewed two other polls, one for Thanet South and another for Doncaster North. A published lead of 5 points for the Conservatives in Thanet should in fact have been 1 point. A published 29 point lead for Labour in Doncaster should in fact have been 30 points.

Nor was this the first time mistakes like this had been indentified [sic]. The Doncaster poll was also first published back in November. It generated a lot of excitement at the time, because it showed Ed Miliband only a relatively slender 12 points ahead of UKIP in his seat. But again, Anthony Wells identified an error in the data. And once it had been corrected, it showed Ed Miliband 29 points ahead, not 12. [that’s quite a discrepancy!]

So writes Dan Hodges in an article published in The Telegraph (traditionally the most rightwing broadsheet of our Tory-centric press). Hodges wonders if Ashcroft, a Conservative peer, might have an agenda of any kind…

What does Lord Ashcroft want? Not a quiet life, certainly. Last week saw him again setting the political agenda, with a raft of constituency polling in Scotland showing Labour heading for electoral annihilation and the SNP poised to emerge as kingmakers after the poll.

And what possible interest could a former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman and a Tory peer have for providing evidence that “Labour is heading for electoral annihilation”? None at all that I can think of… although as Hodges points out:

Yet just because he has no clear agenda, it doesn’t mean he has no agenda. While donating to the Tory party, he tried to focus his efforts on specific candidates and constituencies. As he said back in 2005: “I much prefer to be involved, to make sure that my investment is wisely placed.”

Lord Ashcroft wants something. It may be an improvement in the nature of our national political discourse. It may be a more informed electorate. It may just be a ring-side seat for the greatest political show in town. 5

Or maybe this “something” Ashcroft wants is connected to his longstanding association with the Conservative Party… who knows, hey?

*

Let us cast our minds back again, to recall how a majority of voices in the media had been quite insistent that the country was heading for ‘another’ Tory victory – I put ‘another’ in inverted commas because although it was routinely presented as something of a repeat performance, little mention was made of the rather awkward fact that the Tories don’t in fact enjoy a majority, having failed to hold one since the heady days of John Major’s government.

Nevertheless, twelve months ago the mainstream was chock-full with opinion that the Tories were all-but home and dry in the forthcoming General Election, until that is, out of a less than clear blue sky, there were UKIP successes first in the council elections and then more spectacularly in the Euro-elections. This dent to Tory morale was swiftly followed up with the Tory to UKIP defections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, and consequently, an already precarious Tory minority was suddenly a lot more wobbly.

Like an oil tanker changing course, the media apparatus corrected its position, a little. Given that a Tory majority was no longer such a nailed-on certainty, they concluded in unison, we could, in all likelihood, expect a hung parliament. It is this prospect of another hung parliament that the media has latched on to ever since, as if majority governments per se have become an endangered species.

Indeed, “rainbow coalition” has since become the media’s main infatuation, endlessly touted, not merely as inevitable, but as vital to ensuring some renewed vigour in our clapped-out political system. Politics, the media commentators have been routinely informing us, is so completely transformed from five years ago, that (to steal from the Guardian editorial again) we’d better get used to it. To a political landscape that is more “diffuse”, more dynamic, and just more damned interesting (apparently)! We have seldom witnessed such certainty about uncertainty.

Since the election officially kicked off (what feels like a lifetime ago) all of our TV channels have thus been emblazoned with multicoloured logos. Of course, the media enjoys offering its audience the perception of a broader variety of choices. Variety generates interest, which in turn sells election coverage.

In our deeply consumerist society, in which political alternatives are sold to us as party brands, any perception of broader variety actually suits politicians too. As in other branches of sales, greater choice translates into increased customer demand, which means our faltering interest in party politics gets a shot in the arm. The rainbow graphics serve this end: portraying a more multifaceted election. It’s a win-win for both politicians and the media alike, helping each to flog more of the other…

But could the news media be subliminally urging us to vote for a coalition government? I’ve put a question mark there, but only because there is no recognised punctuation mark to more perfectly convey a raised eyebrow. Certainly there are agendas lurking extremely close to the surface. (In fact, long before I finished writing this, one in particular had erupted through that surface altogether!)

*

Tory strategy has been to hurt Labour on two interconnected fronts. Firstly, they aim to weaken them in England scaring voters with the spectre of a Nationalist threat having influence at Westminster. Secondly, they talk up the SNP in Scotland to further undermine Labour. Both increase the prospect of Cameron remaining in Downing Street after the election. This is smart short-term electoral tactics, but one far removed from the pro-union message in the indyref. 6

So writes Gerry Hassan, Research Fellow in cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland – but I’ll come back his article later.

Now, when I came across this many weeks ago, I thought it sounded far-fetched enough to need supporting. So I had intended to frame it in such a way as to gently convince the skeptical reader. For instance, I had decided to refer back to BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, when on April 2nd, journalist Peter Hitchens raised the issue of what he saw as “an unholy alliance” forming between Conservatives and SNP. Hitchens was the first political commentator to draw mainstream attention to the strategy.

And why, I then wondered, was Chief Tory Whip, Michael Gove (on the same outing of QT) also gushing with enthusiasm and praise for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s performance during that same night’s “seven leaders debate” (on ITV immediately prior to QT). What had brought the Tory bigwig Gove to be waxing altogether lyrical about the remarkable talents of (presuming we accept the hype) such a progressive radical as Sturgeon?

Furthermore, it wasn’t just Gove who had been wooed over by SNP leader Sturgeon. A fortnight later, on the QT broadcast immediately following the five leaders debate on BBC1 (a debate which both Cameron and Clegg declined invitations to join, preferring to keep their heads down), it was Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, who was overeager in his praise Sturgeon’s follow-up performance, saying he thought “frankly she ran rings around Ed Miliband”.

So in short, I had noted this canoodling long ago (about the time I first began drafting the post), but then, all of a sudden, what was merely alternative speculation had breached its allotted confinement and the mainstream were pumping for all it was worth, while every man and his dog jumped in to offer their two pennies (Tory old guard being particular keen to chip in). Soon we had John Major, Michael Forsyth, Malcolm Rifkind and even Norman Tebbit all at it. For instance, Tebbit, who is highly critical of this no longer covert Tory strategy said on April 21st:

“What I find puzzling now is the prime minister’s position that the SNP is far worse than Labour because, if so, as there are not many seats in Scotland where the Conservative Party has a chance to win, the logic would seem to be that Conservatives should vote tactically for Labour as the lesser of two evils.

“I think it’s a huge scare tactic against Labour and whether the particular seat in the House of Commons is occupied by a Labour member or an SNP member perhaps it’s not a great difference.

“Having bungled the Scottish referendum it seems pointless to just irritate Scots by shouting at them from Westminster – the English are irritated into voting for UKIP, by being shouted at from Westminster – and the Scots are irritated similarly.’ He said, “the risk to the union comes from the SNP, not from anyone else.” 7

*

Although we can actually trace a love-in between influential figures from the centre-right (Tory right, if you prefer) and leading lights of the SNP much further back again. The love that dare not speak its name is not the novelty it might first appear:

Murdoch and [former SNP leader] Salmond, the Scottish first minister have always had a friendly relationship. In February 2012 Murdoch tweeted: “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in UK. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots.”

In notable contrast to the aloofness which characterises how Westminster MP’s now deal with Murdoch and News UK, Salmond is still (even in this post-Leveson and phone-hacking environment) ready to admit to affection for the media magnate – who had a Scottish grandfather.

Asked by Alistair Campbell in April’s GQ if he liked Murdoch, he stated: “I do. He is a remarkable man. What is wrong with this relationship? Why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media?”

And, let’s remember too, that it was Murdoch’s Sunday Times which on September 7th published the famous YouGov opinion poll which put the “Yes” vote two points ahead in the independence referendum – the only poll during the referendum to put “Yes” ahead, and coming at such a critical moment in the immediate run-up to the vote itself. Not that polls can ever be rigged, of course, how dare anyone suggest such a thing…

Whilst on the evening before that rather remarkable poll, Rupert Murdoch had tweeted: “London Times will shock Britain and more with reliable new poll on Scottish independence. If right on 18th vote everything up for grabs.”

And then the next day followed up with: “Salmond’s private polls predict 54-46 Yes. Desperate last ten days ahead for both sides. Most powerful media, BBC, totally biased for No.”

But on this occasion, it was the polls that were wrong (yet again), rather than the BBC. So, aside from the fact that he’s a politician, why exactly has Alex Salmond been kissing up to Murdoch? (Or is it the other way around?) John Jewell, who is Director of Media Studies at Cardiff University, makes the following observations in a fascinating article (from which the quotes above are also drawn) entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum”:

We know from the Leveson Inquiry and subsequent admissions that Salmond planned to lobby the UK government on Murdoch’s behalf in News Corporation’s bid to take over BskyB completely in 2010.

We know, too, that Murdoch and Salmond met in Edinburgh 2012, in a meeting described by the first minister’s office as “very constructive”. Under discussion was: “News Corporation’s substantial economic footprint in Scotland … and the potential for further investment within the country.”

Rumour had it at the time, in speculation fuelled by former Murdoch acolytes Andrew Neil and Kelvin Mackenzie, that Murdoch was prepared to move BskyB to Scotland in the event of independence.

Jewell adds:

Tittle tattle maybe, but there is no denying that the proposal to cut corporation tax in an independent Scotland to 3p below the UK rate would prove attractive to any multinational company. 8

Click here to read the full article at The Conversation.

I do agree with Murdoch on one point here – perhaps the only point we could ever possibly agree on – which is how the BBC is “totally biased”. But then, no matter how hard ‘Aunty’ tries to pretend otherwise, she is, and always has been, a willing arm of the British establishment. Come the independence referendum, and given the first B in BBC, it would be astonishing if they had been otherwise; any break-up of the Union immediately prompting the likely break-up of the corporation itself. Turkeys and Christmas, anyone?

So doubtless the BBC were one-sided during the referendum, although I would say that their coverage since has been more than favourable to the SNP. By contrast, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s own considerable media empire operates as the very epitome of impartiality, as everyone knows…

No, sorry, I meant this one:

Strange hey. How The Scottish Sun is backing “the Nats” as the gallant underdogs, whilst simultaneously The Sun (its sister tabloid in England) talks up our wonderful Tory government and frets about how it might be “brought down by the few dozen MPs of the left-wing [a swearword in The Sun] Scottish Nationalists” who will usher into power their “puppet” Ed Miliband. Now this really is balance – isn’t it?

This pincer attack is the same Tory strategy again, of course. The singular intention to reduce the Labour share of the vote with both editorials effectively saying (in differing ways) that SNP stand on the verge of a landslide victory. North of the border this message continues: “Get used to it” (where have we heard that before?); whereas the southern edition scaremongers that “If the Tories cannot get the votes to stop them [meaning SNP] ruling the roost down here, we are in for five years of mayhem and misery”.

Yet the oddest part of this now wide open agenda is what Peter Hitchens, speaking on BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, on April 2nd, described as “an unholy alliance” between Conservatives and SNP. According to Hitchens, himself a dyed-in-the-wool, old-style Tory (a firebrand reactionary and someone I try not to agree with), there is an unmistakable and curiously overt New Tory attempt to bolster SNP support with the deliberate intention of breaking the Union – the very thing the old party (formally known as the Conservative and Unionist Party) served to protect. A week earlier, writing in his Daily Mail blog, Hitchens even had this to say:

Which UK party do the Scottish Nationalists most want to do well in the coming election? Might they prefer the Tories? And might the Tories, deep down, also prefer a Scottish exit from the UK to the continuing Union they claim to support? Is this the love that dare not speak its name?

The reason, Hitchens claims, is that otherwise there will never be a future Conservative government in Britain ever again (and here’s hoping):

The Tory party’s best hope of a getting a Westminster majority again is to get rid of Scotland.  A UK shorn of Scotland would produce a Tory majority Parliament and so at least temporarily halt the slow but accelerating death of the Tory Party.  But time is short. The core Tory vote is (literally) dying in droves as it is composed almost entirely of older voters. It is not being replaced. And as the new mass migrants become UK citizens, they are unlikely to become Tory voters.  The break must happen soon if the Tory party is to regain its lost ability to govern with an absolute majority, and all the fundraising and other advantages that come with that status.

He concludes:

What if the Tories and the SNP both ended up helping each other to get what they wanted – a Tory majority government at Westminster, and Scotland gone from the UK? A phrase from my childhood – ‘accidentally on purpose’ – springs to mind. 9

*

It is curious that, for different but clearly interconnected reasons, there has been a surge in the support of not one, but two nationalist parties. Nationalists with diametrically opposing outlooks. Yes, UKIP and the SNP are exceedingly strange adversaries. So let us briefly turn from the SNP to consider their grotesque ugly sister nemesis, UKIP.

UKIP and their leader Nigel Farage are hard to separate – impossible, in fact. He dominates his motley UKIP crew more than any British political leader since the days of Margaret Thatcher – and comparison with Thatcherism does not end there. Like Mrs T, Mr F somehow manages to blame the EU for most of our society’s many ills, but then placing blame on an outside menace is a tried and tested demagogic strategy. And as it goes, the EU presents him with a perfect target. Its unelected commissioners are indeed in the pockets of multinationals, while the ECB operates as an unprincipled organ of the financial oligarchs. The people of Greece or Spain or Portugal are in the best position to judge the works of the EU Commission or the ECB – two-thirds of “The Troika” – and a majority would agree that the agencies are not only incompetent and heavy-handed, but callous, corrupt and parasitical. And in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, it is better if you don’t mention the role of the Germans…

One protester recently took her complaint directly to former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs and current President of the ECB, Mario Draghi. Interestingly, Forbes magazine last year nominated Draghi as 8th most powerful person in the world, but they had yet to see him cowering beneath his table when confronted by a smallish woman throwing confetti and demanding that he “end ECB dictatorship”:

A very reasonable demand.

Even Farage’s poisonous alarmism about an insidious invasion by Bulgarian migrants is rooted in a more justifiable concern. For why have consecutive British governments dropped our nation’s border controls with countries significantly more economically deprived than we are? This policy was bound to lead to increased downward pressure on pay and conditions for workers at home, whilst boosting the profits of the exploitative bosses and gangmasters. But none of this is anywhere near to the top of UKIP’s true concerns. Immigrants are the scapegoats, and this anti-Europe line is UKIP’s preferred wrapper, just as the Union Jack is its other wrapper. No amount of make-up can disguise UKIP’s frothing at the mouth.

On the one hand, Ukippers claim to be libertarians, which in Britain translates more than loosely as Thatcherite – free market and pro-austerity – whilst, on the other, they feign to be radicals when are very evidently reactionaries, and thus more Thatcherite still – a mix of Alf Garnetts and Colonel Blimps (more often Major Blimps and Captain Blimps). Little Englanders who simply can’t abide Johnny Foreigner. Which is why UKIP appeals mainly to those who would love to be able to vote for Thatcher, if only she wasn’t quite so dead… and why they offer very little in the way of true opposition to Labour. Instead, the serious threat to Labour’s vote is decidedly north of the border. UKIP, meantime, pose a genuine threat to the Tory’s share of the vote – and in splitting the traditional Tory vote, I personally wish them every success!

The big thing that connects the rise of UKIP with the rise of the SNP is that many who have traditionally voted either Labour or Conservative are likewise desperate for real change. In offering themselves up as alternatives, UKIP and SNP are trying to pool support from disaffected voters with drastically alternative outlooks. But beware: all nationalism feeds upon division.

There was a time, not so long ago, when SNP were shunned by those on the left (as nationalists customarily are) and disparaged for being “Tories in tartan”. But the great wonder of nationalism is that by tying oneself to a flag rather than being anchored to a secure political creed, one is able to flutter freely and change direction at a whim. A quick overhaul of political livery and the flag is still billowing beautifully. Thus the SNP, on seeing how the wind had turned, adroitly put on the guise of an anti-austerity party. Tartan Tories no longer, but relaunched as McSyriza.

Likewise, UKIP, once just a sad and lonely hangout for embittered True Blue Tories, have recently been trying quite hard to reposition themselves within the main current of our times. After all, given how the European Commission and the ECB are two of the worst pro-austerity bullies – this is irrefutable – then anyone who opposes them must be anti-austerity almost by exclusion, or something. But as a tactic, this has its limits, especially when the leader of your party, the son of a stockbroker, is himself an unrepentant City of London commodity trader. Never mind though, the austerity card can still be played, occasionally and with extreme caution. Meanwhile, to get around the background checks, Farage prefers to highlight how he actually held down a “real job” unlike all those Oxbridge pretenders from the other parties – which they are, every other one (approximately) holding a degree in PPE from Oxford University (a degree that puts strong emphasis on that E and with neo-liberal silently prefixed). So no wonder our choice of political alternatives has become dreary, and so narrowly defined. Such a shame our nation is no longer led by real men who drink pints and smoke fags and do “real jobs” like former City of London trader Farage…

As an illustration of this tightening political convergence, just think about TTIP for a moment. Here’s a quick reminder of what we know about TTIP:

Now, if we ask Nicola Sturgeon whether she and her party are in favour of the so-called “free trade agreement” she will reply that she is, although with reservations. She will point out the need for ‘robust’ negotiations ensuring exclusions for the NHS. Ed Miliband will say almost precisely the same thing, if similarly pressed. Alternatively, if you ask Nigel Farage this question, keeping in mind that we are talking about a clandestine EU treaty that will effectively mark the beginning of the end to the very existence of the nation state, rather than challenging it, he instead recommends the UK negotiate our own (secret) free trade deals with America, but in half the time it takes to cut through all of the red tape from Brussels.

In short, there are no mainstream parties large or small that are not captured and beholden to the corporatocracy. All five are sold out to differing degrees (to be fair, the Greens are officially opposed to TTIP but their limited record in power in Brighton is extremely poor and the “Green surge” is, in any case, a will-o-the-wisp). So voting in this election can only be a damage limitation exercise at best. Which brings me to ask simply this: which of the parties is the lesser of these evils? In England the answer is rather obvious, but in Scotland… back to Gerry Hassan:

Beneath this the differences between Labour and SNP are less than first appear, but magnified by language, tribalism and intense electoral competition.

A British Election Survey at the end of last year showed that SNP voters thought they were the most left-wing of Scotland’s mainstream parties and their party the most left-wing with Labour as significantly to their right; while Labour voters thought the same of themselves and their party, and placed the SNP to their right. 10

So, when it comes to which of the two is the more radical (a tallest dwarf contest if ever there was one) it is all in the eye of the beholder, whilst what actually encourages some Scottish voters to discriminate for and against goes back to the positions each assumed during the independence referendum: Labour penalised for its partnership with the Tories (as if it really had a choice given the circumstances) in the “Better Together” campaign.

*

A friend said to me recently, that if we don’t trust the polls, then what do we have to go on? Not much. Mostly, we have those election results in the European, council and bi-elections, all of which came as bad news for anyone hoping to see the return of a Tory government (coalition or otherwise). So the post-referendum rise of the SNP has been a tremendous boon to flagging Tory morale. But what are we to make of the media’s role in other ways?

The media has been hypercritical of Ed Miliband from the very beginning. But given that so much of the media (especially the press) is Tory supporting (much of it overtly so), this ought to come as little surprise. Nor should it have come as any surprise that the same media once gave Tony Blair the thumbs up. Murdoch’s press, in particular, praising him to the rafters. But then, Blair was not merely an establishment favourite, he also managed to ingratiate himself into the Murdoch household to such a degree that he was honoured as godfather to Rupert’s daughter, Grace:

Is any of this reminiscent of another of today’s leading political figures?

In contrast to Blair, Ed Miliband has been dismissed as a nerd who looks like Wallace and worse, he struggles to eat a bacon sandwich with the least bit of conviction (incidentally, he should have sacked his own advisors for that preposterous stunt). He’s just too weak, they tell us, to lead the country. But worse, apparently he quite literally “stabbed his own brother in the back.”

Understood properly, what the media are reminding us here is how the New Labour baton was supposed to have been passed to elder brother David, the designated and rightful heir to the kingdom of Tony Blair. However, Ed somehow got in the way… whatever happened to primogeniture? Neither the establishment, nor the media that speaks for it, have forgiven such impropriety.

Leading the charge against the usurper has been a familiar face. The boss of News Corp who recently tweeted: “Cameron’s Tories bash vulnerable Miliband for months with no effect on polls. Need new aspirational policies to have any hope of winning.”

And according to an article in The Independent, Murdoch may be out to get Ed for reasons other than mere party politics:

It is understood that Mr Murdoch reminded executives that Labour would try to break up News UK, which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The party has suggested that no owner should be allowed to control more than 34 per cent of the UK media, a cap which would force News UK to sell one of the titles.

It has also pledged to implement recommendations in the Leveson report for an independent press regulator backed by statute, bitterly opposed by Murdoch. Mr Miliband has made “standing up” to Mr Murdoch over the phone-hacking affair a central plank in his attempts to persuade voters that he is a strong leader. A source said: “Rupert made it very clear he was unhappy with The Sun’s coverage of the election. He basically said the future of the company was at stake and they need to get their act together.” 11

Miliband is weak? Well, not if he really does stand up to Murdoch and News Corp. In any case, as Murdoch unhappily concedes, the Tory strategy of playing the man instead of the ball has largely failed.

Two and a half years ago I personally heckled Ed Miliband during a speech he made at a rally in London. I make no apologies. After all, how dare anyone climb onto the stage of an anti-austerity protest and call for cuts. So it pains me to say that we must hope Miliband is our next PM.

But Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair, and he has already shown backbone when it matters. When he held his ground and – along with the support of a number of Tory defectors (I like to give credit wherever it is due…), though no support from Lib Dems (…but not to forgive easily) – was able to defeat the government on a vote for war, something unheard of. The Nato attack against Syria was thwarted largely thanks to Miliband; winning a Commons’ vote that spared countless lives. Of course, having opposed not only Obama, but the entire Anglo-American war party, he immediately took more flak. The “special relationship” was supposedly damaged beyond repair, the media bleated in unison in the weeks that followed. Warmongering gibberish peddled by a news media drunk on decades of senseless bloodletting.

*

Our public services are close to breaking point (some will say already past it), so what if anything will survive another five years of Tory cuts? And harsher, deeper cuts, as they have kept on promising us. Meanwhile, how divided will the nation be once more wealth has been transferred from the destitute to the superrich, even as the national debt continues rising because of “austerity”. New Labour are very much responsible for this trend too, but in fairness to Ed Miliband, he was hardly central to their neo-liberal programme. I believe we should at least give him a chance (I never said the same for Tony Blair).

My expectations of Labour remain low, but a change of political direction is as desperately as it is urgently required – and what begins as a small change might be accelerated as other nations such as Greece push the same demands. In the longer term, we can obviously do much better than New Labour, but just how “New” Labour is Ed Miliband? When asked why he voted against brother David, he replied that his own political outlook is radically different. I hope there is truth to this – although if Ed Miliband is elected into office, then we must be ready to hold his feet to the fire.

I try to steer clear of making predictions on this blog (for obvious reasons) but I am about to make a slight exception… I believe that Labour can win this election, and that even an outright majority should not be ruled out of hand. After all, prior to the last election our FPTP system delivered majority governments time and again. Has politics really changed so much in just five years? Of course, it could be that the Tories get a majority instead, however, there are other reasons to believe that Labour are more likely to win. Threefold reasons and ones that have next to nothing to do with Ed Miliband himself.

Firstly, the collapse in the Lib Dem share will most likely return to Labour. Secondly, UKIP have wounded the Conservatives – a right-wing split that is reminiscent of the SDP splitting the left in the 1980s. Although I seriously doubt UKIP will gain many, if any, seats (I certainly hope they don’t, but neither did the SDP), even without taking seats they may undermine the Tories who hold marginal seats. Thirdly, one victory which the Lib Dems did achieve during their miserable stint in government was to block Conservative attempts to redraw constituency boundaries. This was in tit-for-tat retaliation after the Tories reneged on their Coalition commitment to House of Lords reform. 12 However, the consequence of this is very much to Labour’s advantage:

Labour can reach a Commons majority with a smaller lead in the vote than the Conservatives can, all else being equal. The past two elections illustrate this: in 2005, Tony Blair turned less than three percentage points into a Commons majority of more than 50, while five years later David Cameron fell nearly 20 seats short of a majority despite a seven-point vote lead. This advantage to Labour has several sources – Labour constituencies tend to have fewer people, turnout is lower in Labour-held seats, and Labour has traditionally lost fewer seats to third parties. The Labour vote is also more “efficient”. The ideal in our system is “win small, lose big” – the fewer votes spent on crushing victories or narrow defeats, the better the return of seats to votes. Labour’s vote is closer to this ideal – fewer mega-majorities, and a better record of wins in tight races. 13

Thus the stage is set. UKIP poised to steal votes away from the Conservatives and hopefully to finally break the party in two. But, and this is the real sticking point, the SNP will undoubtedly grab votes from Labour. So the outcome is actually dependent upon the results of these two lesser battles: Conservative v. UKIP and Labour v. SNP.

I appreciate that many in Scotland will be encouraged to vote SNP either to punish Labour or else in the hope of landing a better deal for Scotland – and why not be self-interested. But let’s face facts, SNP are not Syriza, nothing like them – and perhaps, as I suspect, more closely akin to the Lib Dems of five years ago. As one who fell for the Lib Dem scam, I feel obliged to (rather belatedly) caution you.

Should the vote in Scotland go solidly the way of the SNP then it may pave the way for an unthinkable outcome – Conservatives failing to win a majority (as they likely will) yet winning most seats overall and somehow thereafter cobbling together a second Tory coalition. Can we even begin to imagine how ruined our nation (Scotland very much included) will be if there are five more years of rule by the Tories? I sincerely hope we are not about find out.

*

Addendum:

The national debt figures are out – £1.2 trillion and rising – and although I hate to say it, the Labour Party has a valid point to make. If you don’t adjust for inflation, Osborne has borrowed more in under four years than the Labour Party borrowed over 13 years.

So wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of Conservative mouthpiece The Spectator magazine in an article published in November 2013. To back his claim, the same article featured this graph captioned “Osborne borrows more in 5 years than Labour did in 13”:

Nelson concludes:

Is this recovery real, or another debt-fuelled illusion? The annoying truth is that we just don’t know. 14

For a multitude of reasons we really do know… Indeed, many of the reasons are outlined in an article published almost a year later, as the general election campaigns were just beginning to limber up, by Telegraph (another Conservative mouthpiece obviously) finance correspondent Liam Halligan. He begins with some basic bean-counting:

When the Tories took office, total government debt was £811bn. On last week’s figures, it’s now £1,451bn – an 80pc rise in just five years, with a lot more to come. This national debt matters. It must be serviced with regular interest payments, diverting money from front-line public services. Even at rock-bottom interest rates, the Government spends as much on debt interest annually as on defence. As the national debt escalates, courtesy of £100bn-plus annual deficits, and as interest rates inevitably rise, we’ll soon be spending more on government debt service than on state education.

Halligan then gets stuck into the meat of his own worries (of which I am only providing a taster):

I remain deeply concerned about our national debt, not only because of the absurdity of vast debt service payments, the damage to coming generations and the incentive politicians have to “inflate the debt away”. I also worry that our vast liabilities could ultimately spark another systemic meltdown, not least because such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors. And that makes our public finances extremely vulnerable if there’s a considerable weakening of the pound.

This issue has been on my mind for a while, but recently crystallised while talking to friends at the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank, where I’ve long served on the advisory board. As a result of quantitative easing, around a third of the UK’s gilt stock is owned by the Bank of England. That’s right, 32pc of our government bonds have been bought by our central bank, using virtually printed money. That’s helped to rig the market, keeping interest rates artificially low.

All of which sounds like a “debt-fuelled illusion” to me, and Halligan is justifiably concerned that “such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors”. He continues:

The UK recently chalked up the largest external trade shortfall in our history, with our so-called current account deficit registering well over 5pc of GDP. While our imports have long outweighed our exports, our net income on overseas government investment and assets has recently swung from a surplus of 3pc of GDP to a deficit of over 2pc.

A lot of the explanation for that is the vast interest payments the Government now makes to the raft of foreign creditors propping up our public finances. 15

The systemic failures which led to the banking crisis of 2008 have never been remedied and instead the can was kicked down the road. What Gordon Brown started, the Con-Dem coalition have simply continued, and as a consequence of complete lack of reregulation of the financial markets, we can expect that the next crisis, whenever it comes (and the can might yet be kicked a lot further) will be far bigger than the first. Meanwhile, as the debt burden mounts, there can be no significant economic recovery so long as further money is simply wasted on banker bailouts and debt repayments instead of being invested in infrastructure and services. “Austerity”, meaning cuts to all government spending aside from its debt repayments, is a form of wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

This is why the Con-Dem government have failed by every single count including their own narrowly determined neo-liberal measures. So that not only do we have a million people who have been so impoverished over the last five years that they are now dependent upon food banks; and a workforce so blighted and demoralized by the insecurity and unreliability of zero hour contracts; and even our mediocre GDP figures bolstered on account of drug use and prostitution (two commodities set to grow as the depression deepens); but worst of all, the imposed “austerity” hasn’t diminished the deficit, let alone the debt. In fact, the only real growth this country has seen has been in the wealth gap:

The UK is the only G7 country to record rising wealth inequality in 2000-14. Wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years after the crash compared with the seven years before. The rich in the UK are becoming richer faster than ever. Wealth inequality rose under Labour; it rose faster under the coalition. 16

Under the circumstances, I find it hard to comprehend how either the Tories or their lickspittle accomplices, the Lib Dems, could possibly be re-elected, even with the might of Murdoch’s media empire behind them. Certainly bribery may help and Cameron has been offering temptations like there’s no tomorrow: “right to buy” houses, free childcare and even a quick bonanza from the sale of shares in Lloyds. Fiscal responsibility? For the price of re-election, “austerity” be damned! Hopefully there really will be no tomorrow for this atrocious Tory government, but if they do somehow manage to limp across the line and survive for another term in office then here’s the genius who will be back in charge of rescuing broke(n) Britain:

*

Update:

The punch in stomach surprise of a Tory majority shocked and sickened many of us, and not only those on the left. Right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, was also called to account over his prediction (referred to and reprinted in the piece above) that the Tories would probably never be able to achieve such a result. In an extended reply to his critics entitled “Groundhog Day Comes Round Again” [published Friday 8th – the day after the election] he wrote:

I never for a moment imagined that Big Money and Big Lies could so successfully scare, cajole and diddle the electorate of this country. I grew up in a Britain both better-educated and more honest than the one we have today. Perhaps that is why I could not see this possibility. I have not seen, in my lifetime, a campaign so dishonest, so crude, so based in fear and so redolent of third-world and banana republic political tactics.

On which, I entirely concur. Indeed, I find that Hitchens, whose political perspective differs from mine by very nearly 180 degrees, frequently offers a more perceptive and interesting take than other mainstream commentators when surveying the bigger picture. Looking beyond his old school, reactionary opinions, which leave an altogether bitter taste in the mouth, his broader analysis of the wretched state of contemporary politics too often strikes a major chord – as here:

The truth is that both major parties are now just commercial organisations, who raise money wherever they can get it to buy their way into office through unscrupulous election campaigns. They then presumably reward their donors once they are in office. The electorate are a constitutional necessity for this process, but otherwise their fears, hopes and desires are largely irrelevant. They are to be fooled and distracted with scares (‘The other lot will privatise the NHS!’ ‘The other lot will nationalise your children’s toys and then wreck the economy!’ ) or with loss-leader cut-rate offers, like supermarkets (‘Vote for us and get a cheap mortgage!!’ ‘Vote for us and have your rent frozen!’) . Even if these wild pledges are implemented, the customer will pay for them through higher taxes elsewhere, just as with supermarket loss-leaders.

By playing our part in this ludicrous pantomime, we license it to continue forever. I have thought for years that the key to ending it was simple and obvious. We could revenge ourselves on these fakes by refusing to vote for them. The arrival of new parties, UKIP on one side, the Greens on the other, made such a revolt and redemption even easier.

But I must now admit that the people of this country actually seem to prefer to live the same experience over and over again, and seem astonishingly ready to believe the crudest propaganda. I seethe with frustrated amazement at the Tory claim to have fixed the economy, so blazingly untrue that in commercial advertising it would get them into serious trouble with the authorities.

Ailing GDP figures just before the election were barely mentioned in the media, but easily-obtained statistics on productivity, trade, manufacturing and construction, are all bad and the Tories have missed their own target (whether wise or not) on deficit reduction. In any case, the Tory record on the economy is dreadful.

Likewise, Hitchens is quite correct in his assessment of the Tory’s (not so) secret romancing of the SNP:

A Tory Party really concerned about the loss of Scotland would have done as Norman Tebbit suggested, and urged its supporters to vote Labour to stop the SNP. Instead, to the dismay of elder statesmen and experts such as Michael Forsyth, it talked up the SNP, paying elaborate compliments to Nicola Sturgeon after the leaders’ debate (George Osborne and Michael Gove were observed doing this). To claim, while behaving in this fashion, that the Tory Party is a bulwark against the SNP and Labour is in their clutches is absurd. The SNP are delighted by the Tory victory, which makes it all but certain that they will get a repeat landslide in next year’s Scottish general election, with a manifesto commitment to a second referendum, which I think they will then win. Let us see how Mr Cameron now copes with the SNP’s sweeping victory, for which he must take so much of the blame.

At least the Sun newspaper was brazenly open about its ludicrous inconsistency, campaigning for a Tory (and supposedly Unionist) victory south of the border, and for the unquestionably separatist SNP north of it.

Click here to read Peter Hitchens’ full post-election article.

*

1 From an article entitled “Episode 18: Panic Stations”, written by John Lanchester, published by the London Review of Books on May 5, 2015. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/05/05/john-lanchester/episode-18-panic-stations/ 

2 From an editorial entitled “General election 2010: All change for new politics”, published by the Guardian on April 20, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/20/general-election-2010-poll-editorial

3 From an article entitled “General Elecion 2010: Did the opinion polls flatter to deceive?” written by Martin Boon & John Curtice, published by Research magazine on July 6, 2010. http://www.research-live.com/opinion/general-election-2010-did-the-opinion-polls-flatter-to-deceive?/4003088.article

4 From an article entitled “Bursting the polling bubble” written by Martin Boon, published in Research magazine on February 12, 2015. http://www.research-live.com/blogs/election-blog-bursting-the-polling-bubble/4012895.article

5 From an article entitled “Lord Ashcroft’s polls are not what they seem” written by Dan Hodges, published by The Telegraph on February 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11401622/Lord-Ashcrofts-polls-are-not-what-they-seem.html

6 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

7 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/election-2015-32394920

8 From an article entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum” written by John Jewell, published in The Conversation on September 10, 2014. http://theconversation.com/how-rupert-murdoch-is-sticking-his-oar-into-scotlands-independence-referendum-31531

9 From an article entitled “The SNP and the Tories – is This the Love that Dare not Speak its Name?” written by Peter Hitchens, published in The Mail on March 23, 2015. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/03/the-snp-and-the-tories-is-this-the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.html

10 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

11 From an article entitled “Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election” written by Adam Sherwin and Oliver Wright, published in The Independent on April 21, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/rupert-murdoch-berated-sun-journalists-for-not-doing-enough-to-attack-ed-miliband-10191005.html

12

Plans to redraw constituency boundaries before 2015, backed by the Tories, have been defeated in the House of Commons.

MPs voted by 334 to 292 to accept changes made by peers, meaning the planned constituency shake-up will be postponed until 2018 at the earliest.

It was the first time Lib Dem ministers have voted against their Conservative coalition colleagues in the Commons.

The two parties have been in dispute since proposed elections to the House of Lords were dropped last year.

From an article entitled “Conservatives lose boundary review vote” published by BBC news on January 29, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21235169

13 From an article entitled “Election 2015: how Labour gains from UK electoral system in a tight race” written by Robert Ford, published in the Guardian on March 15, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/15/election-2015-hung-parliament-majority-coalition-labour

14 From an article entitled “Osborne increases debt more than Labour did over 13 years” written by Fraser Nelson, published in The Spectator on November 21, 2013. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/11/the-tories-have-piled-on-more-debt-than-labour/

15 From an article entitled “It’s time to come clean about our national debt”, written by Liam Halligan, published in The Telegraph on October 25, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11187727/Its-time-to-come-clean-about-our-national-debt.html

16 From an article entitled “Growing wealth inequality in the UK is a ticking timebomb” written by Danny Dorling, published in the Guardian on October 15, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/wealth-inequality-uk-ticking-timebomb-credit-suisse-crash

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another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

*

When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

*

Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

*

Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

*

I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

*

Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

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1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Australia, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, police state, September 11th, Seymour Hersh, USA

the horror, the horror… can be found in the subtext too

The only person to have been put on trial and convicted for any reason relating to America’s use of torture against prisoners is the former CIA analyst John Kiriakou. Kiriakou was the first insider to disclose the use of waterboarding and like many whistleblowers, he paid a heavy price.

Three years ago, in January 2012, just weeks after Obama had signed his name under the now notorious NDAA 2012 with its “indefinite detention” clauses, Kiriakou had been formally charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act as well as the Espionage Act of 1917 – and please note that under Obama’s administration, this act has been used to bring more indictments against whistleblowers than under all other presidents combined. A year later, after a plea deal had been reached with federal prosecutors, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The judge at the trial described Kiriakou’s sentence as “way too light.”1

Kiriakou was recently released from prison, although he remains under house arrest while finishing his two-and-a-half-year sentence. And following his release, he was interviewed from his home on yesterday’s Democracy Now! These are selected excerpts from what he had to say, beginning with the extraordinary case of Abu Zubaydah.

During his capture in Pakistan, Zubaydah was shot three times and gravely wounded. He was then sent to a secret location, where the CIA brought in a trauma surgeon from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center to treat him:

When we first captured him, we took him to a hospital, a military hospital in Pakistan. He had lost so much blood, we needed to transfuse him. And he was initially in a coma. He came out of the coma a couple of times, and we were able, at first, to just exchange an initial comment, later on, in the next couple of days, to have short conversations. For example, when he first came out of his coma, he asked me for a glass of red wine. He was delirious. Later in the evening, he asked me if I would take the pillow and smother him. And then, the next day, we talked about poetry. We talked about Islam. We talked about the fact that he had never supported the attacks on the United States. He wanted to attack Israel.

Well, he was sent from Pakistan to this secret location. And once he was healthy enough to withstand interrogation, a group of CIA interrogators—I’m sorry, a group of FBI interrogators interviewed him, appeared to have been successful in gathering some information, but then were replaced by CIA interrogators, that we’ve now learned were untrained, unprepared, and was subjected to waterboarding in addition to other torture techniques, placed into a cage. He had a fear of bugs, so they put him in a small box and put bugs in the box with him. He was subject to a cold cell, to lights on 24 hours a day, booming music so that he couldn’t sleep. There were several different things that the CIA did to him.

Torture is wrong under any circumstances. You know, we know from the Second World War, when the Justice Department was interrogating Nazi war criminals, we know that the establishment of a rapport, the establishment of a relationship with someone, results in actionable information, if that prisoner has actionable information which he’s willing to give. That wasn’t the case with Abu Zubaydah. He was beaten. He was waterboarded. He was subject to sleep deprivation. He had ice water poured on him in a 50-degree cell every several hours. The man just simply didn’t have any information to give.

I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives. It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific.

It was in 2007, Amy [Goodman], that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, “We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.” And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true. Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people.

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded no less than 83 times and yet we now know that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge.

I will return to Kiriakou’s interview later. But first would like to address the bigger issues here. For instance, why does Guantánamo remain open at all, especially since more than half of its inmates have long since been acquitted of terrorist charges? Leaving aside the logistical and legalistic excuses, one of the unspoken reasons concerns us all. It is the same reason Obama was determined to surreptitiously sign into law the NDAA 2012. And part of the reason why we are seeing no serious repercussions following last December’s release of the long-delayed Senate report which detailed the horrendous catalogue of crimes committed by the CIA (and only those committed by the CIA – which actually lets the Pentagon off the hook): crimes of torture nowadays chillingly redefined as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Reading through those horrendous descriptions of what the spy agency has routinely been doing to prisoners in the name of “freedom and democracy” is painful. Not that these “revelations” come as much of a surprise. Other than the most lurid details, we already knew all of this, didn’t we? But then think about it this way, and imagine for a moment the public outcry if an ordinary citizen (a civilian, to use the preferred label attached by today’s news media) confessed to having chained their victims to a wall, repeatedly half-drowned them and also forcibly inserted a variety of objects into their anus (so-called “rectal feeding” is an abuse more straightforwardly described as rape). Such an individual would rightly be publicly judged to be a depraved monster and hurriedly locked away in a very secure facility (somewhere not so very different from Guantánamo, but without the torture regime). Yet instead, these open admissions of crimes committed by an extremely depraved “intelligence” arm of our terribly depraved system are met with little more than a grimace and a whimper. After the obligatory week of media coverage, the news of this systemic cruelty has largely been forgotten, and in spite of the weight of harrowing evidence, it appears that no-one at all will be prosecuted.

With Kiriakou locked away in jail for speaking out of turn, here is what CIA Director John Brennan had to say by way of apology for those most heinous of crimes:

CIA Director John Brennan has defended the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation methods but admitted some techniques were “harsh” and “abhorrent”.

Speaking at CIA headquarters, he said some officers acted beyond their authority but most did their duty.

So begins a report from BBC news entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy”. The implication being that torture is a “strategy”. Well, yes, if we listen to neo-con voices such as John Brennan, echoed without contradiction thanks to the drones at the BBC.  But before returning to the BBC and their article, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of John Brennan’s prior approval of the CIA’s use of torture. Indeed, it helps to go back two years to his Senate confirmation hearing when he was appointed CIA Director. The following is taken from a Guardian article published in February 2013:

Brennan faced lengthy questioning over the CIA’s abduction and abuse of alleged terrorists at secret “black sites”, following a confidential 6,000-page Senate report that Brennan described as “very concerning and disturbing” in its evidence that the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. […]

Brennan defended an interview with CBS in 2007 in which he said that IETs [sic] “saved lives” by gathering valuable intelligence.

“The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out,” he said.2

Click here to read the full article.

Likewise, The Atlantic then reported:

In nominating John Brennan to head the CIA, President Obama has made it more urgent that the report be declassified. It is one of several sources that could help us to answer an important question: Are the American people being asked to entrust our clandestine spy agency and its killing and interrogation apparatuses to a man who was complicit in illegal torture?

There is strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes. At minimum, Brennan favored rendition and what he called “enhanced interrogation tactics” other than waterboarding. As Andrew Sullivan put it in 2008, when Obama first considered Brennan as CIA chief, “if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals.”3

Incidentally, this latest release is merely a 525-page summary of the aforementioned 6,000-page report. Two years after it was approved by Senate, the full report remains highly classified. In any case, the White House needed time for the torture-happy Hollywood fantasy Zero Dark Thirty to seep deeply into the American collective unconscious before any part of this lesser report could be publicly released. Think I exaggerate…? Well then read how the Huffington Post reported on the story two years ago:

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve a report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program that could shed light on the debate over torture. But for now, even as the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” stirs up public debate about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public could take months, if not longer. […]

While “Zero Dark Thirty” suggests that a critical piece of information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was extracted from a prisoner by using “enhanced interrogation,” top senators speaking to The Huffington Post dismissed the proposition.

Nevertheless the idea that torture can provide valuable information was very helpfully implanted by the film – and it is still being repeated by Brennan and his ilk. Just as a different meme was being embedded at the very same time, and in this case by neo-con apologist Dianne Feinstein:

“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the vote. “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”4 [my bold highlight]

So we are supposed to swallow this ludicrous defence that torturing was a terrible mistake. Just an accidental error of judgement. Which it obviously isn’t and never could be. And so let’s come back to the BBC news report already quoted above, because it then continues:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose committee produced the report, said torture should now be banned by law. 5

But torture IS banned by law! It is already against the law because it was ‘banned’ (i.e., criminalised) a long time ago. For instance, “cruel and unusual punishments” are in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. On top of which, torture contravenes the UN Convention against Torture that was signed by President Reagan in 1988 and then ratified by the Senate in October 1990. But more importantly, torture is internationally outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and legally defined as a war crime. So why does the BBC insist on perpetuating this kind of claptrap?

Deliberate or not (I leave the reader to judge), uncritical repetition of this sort of nonsense as if it were impartially reporting facts serves to acclimate readers to accept the unacceptable and to tolerate the intolerable. Torture may or may not be a necessary evil, they imply in this way, but regardless of the ethical concerns it was lawfully sanctionable. As I say, this is absolute rubbish – and patently so.

Incidentally, John Kiriakou describes Senator Feinstein as “one of the CIA’s leading supporters on Capitol Hill”. He adds: “So for Dianne Feinstein to come out with a report as critical as this report was just shows you how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was.”

But now we must come to an even more shocking illustration of how public perceptions are being shifted and reframed. And the author on this occasion happens to be Anthony Romero, who is none other than the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Romero writes:

BEFORE President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal. 6

I will not bother to outline the kinds of doublethink which encourage Mr Romero to reach such a startling and illogical conclusion. If you can stomach any more then I direct you read his New York Times op-ed.

So what we have in summary is one extremely shocking although highly redacted text that has been released in such a fashion as to make believe the rule of law is extant. As with child abuse, the offending authorities have taken care to draw an historical line so as to make it appear a problem of past failures. Torture was “a mistake”. And thus, like a fashion that disappeared for no more discernible reason than footballers stopped wearing moustaches and perms, all the torturing has since stopped, or so we are encouraged to believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary that the ‘black sites’ never went away), because the perpetrators, who were previously misguided in the actions, have since spontaneously and miraculously come to their senses.

After John Kiriakou had heard about the release of the Senate report whilst in jail, he says that “like most other Americans, [he] was absolutely shocked and appalled at some of the details”:

We need to prosecute some of these cases. I understand that reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether or not case officers who really believed they were carrying out a legal activity should be prosecuted. I understand that. But what about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with everything Kiriakou says in this interview.) 7

The BBC may feel obliged to keep up this pretence that torture is not in itself illegal, and one of the largest civil rights organisations may actually believe that even though torture was and is illegal, for legal reasons it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, but as it happens John Kiriakou begs to differ. Likewise, I believe that the proper response must be to demand criminal prosecutions for those who were most responsible: beginning from the top with Cheney and Bush and working down. Kiriakou also believes that Cheney should now be tried and he makes this perhaps more important point:

We’ve seen Vice President Cheney, we’ve seen former CIA directors, several of them, former senior CIA officers go on the network news programs and defend, defend, defend their actions during the torture regime. The reason that they’re doing that is because torture is their legacy. When their obituaries are written, those obituaries are going to say that they were instrumental in the torture program. And the only thing they can do at this point to save their reputations is to keep repeating this lie that torture worked and hope that the American people eventually believe it.

Yes, torture is still being normalised. Doubtless, for the reason Kiriakou states above, but also because there remains a sinister determination by some at the top to undo the well-established justice process and take us back into the dark ages. So the horror of December’s report is not entirely contained within the text per se, but very much exists within the surrounding subtext too. That under a given pretext (which our never-ending “war on terror” usefully sustains) torture can be inflicted with absolute impunity on whosoever America and her close allies deems an enemy, because might is right and the rule of law be damned.

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

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Additional:

If you are wondering in what ways our own authorities in Britain have also been complicit in these torture programmes, then I recommend reading an article by former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, published in the Daily Mail last December, immediately following the release of the summary of the Senate report. It begins:

In the summer of 2004, I warned Tony Blair’s Foreign Office that Britain was using intelligence material which had been obtained by the CIA under torture. Two months later I was sacked as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan on the orders of Downing Street, bringing to an end my 20-year diplomatic career.

When I then went public with the news that Uzbek territory was part of a global CIA torture programme, I was dismissed as a fantasist by Mr Blair’s henchmen. Now finally, a decade later, I have been vindicated by last week’s shocking Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Over 500 pages it details the CIA’s brutal abuse of Al Qaeda suspects, who were flown around the world to be tortured in a network of secret prisons. One of these was in Uzbekistan, where the US had an air base.

Murray continues later:

The British Government continues to cover up the truth even today. We should not forget that the climate of public and media opinion which made it possible for this US Senate report to be published at all was generated entirely by the work of whistleblowers. I was the first of these, but at least I remain at liberty: two subsequent whistleblowers – soldier Chelsea Manning and CIA agent John Kiriakou – are serving long stretches in prison. Although it is in no way comparable to the horrifying abuses suffered by the torture victims, we truth-tellers have also been through hell.

It is very strange to now hear Westminster politicians calling for a judicial inquiry into our involvement in rendition. There has already been one, headed by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. He started to gather evidence, and ordered the Foreign Office to give me full access to all the classified documentation on the subject from my time as Ambassador. Indeed, Gibson gave every appearance of being a man of integrity, appointed to lead an investigation into governmental wrongdoing.

It was therefore no surprise when the Gibson inquiry was cancelled and his duties handed to politicians on the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. Incredibly, its members include Hazel Blears, one of Tony Blair’s Ministers at a time when the Government had a policy of using intelligence from torture. She is therefore investigating herself.

No wonder a source on the Intelligence and Security Committee told journalists last week that they would only scrutinise members of the security services, not the politicians who instructed them.

He concludes with a call for both Tony Blair and Jack Straw to be put on trial:

Recent scandals, such as the alleged cover-up of an Establishment paedophile ring, highlight the apparent impunity of our political class in the face of the honest forces of law and order.
We don’t need an inquiry into British complicity in torture. We need a trial. And it should be Tony Blair and Jack Straw in the dock.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full statement.

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1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/former-cia-officer-john-kiriakou-sentenced-to-30-months-in-prison-for-leaks/2013/01/25/49ea0cc0-6704-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html

2 From an article entitled “Brennan rejects CIA torture claims in confident display at Senate hearing” written by Chris McGreal, published by the Guardian on February 7, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/07/john-brennan-cia-torture-claims-senate-hearing

3 From an article entitled “Does It Matter if John Brennan Was Complicit in Illegal Torture?” written by Conor Friedersdorf, published in The Atlantic on January 8, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/01/does-it-matter-if-john-brennan-was-complicit-in-illegal-torture/266918/

4 From an article entitled “CIA Torture Report Approved By Senate Intelligence Committee” published by the Huffington Post on December 13, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/13/cia-torture-report_n_2295083.html

5 From an article entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy” published by BBC news on December 12, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-30437804

6 From an article entitled “Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured” written by Anthony D. Romero, published by the New York Times on December 8, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=2

7 Kiriakou adds that: “I understand that President Obama is not going to seek the prosecution of the CIA leaders who carried out the torture, the case officers involved in the day-to-day torture program. I understand that. The lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, I understand. No problem. But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death? What about the torturers of Hassan Ghul? Hassan Ghul was killed during an interrogation session.”

I strongly disagree with him on these points. All those in charge must be prosecuted and the lawyers who sanctioned these crimes doubly so.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Craig Murray, police state, USA, Uzbekistan

keep calm and carry on… following orders

A few months ago, as I was out buying some milk from the local convenience store, I was quite stunned to read the headline story in the local paper:

ARMED police forced a busy Sheffield road to close after marksmen swooped on a car while hunting for a suspect.

City Road, between Wulfric Road and Cradock Road, was blocked by police cars holding up trams, buses and motorists.

Eyewitnesses told The Star the officers searched local businesses and police appeared to be focusing on a vehicle on City Road.

Tram passenger Stewart Dalton said his journey was interrupted when an unmarked police car stopped ‘abruptly’ outside a barber’s shop, blocking the tramlines.

He said several other police cars with armed officers arrived ‘within seconds’, and ordered customers out of the shop at gunpoint.1

Another eyewitness, Steve Smith, was also interviewed:

Mr Smith said the police officers arranged themselves in a circle as they surrounded the vehicle.

There were officers with hard hats, big rifles and stun guns. There were a lot of people looking at what was going on.”

Mr Smith added he saw ‘at least three’ marksmen and felt concerned after seeing the incident develop.

I’m quite shocked to see something like this happening,” he said.

Having been shaken a little just reading about such an incident so close to my home, those who actually witnessed the events first-hand must have been shocked in the extreme. Armed police “order[ing] customers out of the shop at gunpoint” to be “frisked and held until the incident was over”. Obviously there was a good reason for this excess show of police force…

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman confirmed officers stopped a vehicle on the road yesterday morning ‘in relation to an ongoing policing operation’.

Armed officers assisted as a matter of precaution, the road was temporarily closed for about 30 minutes but was fully re-opened at around 10.40am. No arrests have been made and inquiries continue. Police would like to reassure the public they can safely go about their daily business.”

What? No arrests. And no national news reports. Click here to read the full article in The Star.

I recall this story because I was reminded of it on hearing about the M6 Megabus fiasco on Thursday morning [July 5th]. Here’s the story from BBC news, which begins “Armed police swooped on a coach on the M6 Toll motorway in the West Midlands”2:

[Earlier,] Armed police officers could be seen next to the single-decker coach on the southbound carriageway, as passengers were led off one by one.

Passengers were made to sit on the northbound carriageway, apart from one another, while surrounded by officers.

Sniffer dogs and forensic officers were also brought in to aid the search, as officers in forensic suits and others in military fatigues checked the area.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed military personnel were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure.

One of the passengers on the bus told the BBC that she had no idea what was going on, that she didn’t see anything supsicious [sic], and wasn’t told why they were pulled over.

She was made to sit cross-legged on the tarmac and still was not told what was happening. She said the whole experience had been very “scary and frightening”.

And the reason this time…?

A police source told BBC Radio WM a passenger was seen pouring a liquid into a box, which then started smoking.

That was enough apparently for calling out police from the West Midlands and Staffordshire forces, not to mention the fire service and ambulance crews. It was enough to close carriageways in both directions on one of our busiest motorways for four hours, to bring in sniffer dogs and forensic teams, and most disturbingly “military personnel [who] were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure”. Yes, under routine procedure! On this occasion, one of the eyewitnesses, Nick Jones, who was four vehicles behind the coach when police stopped traffic told the BBC:

“I’ve never seen so many ambulances turning up, also armed police, helicopter and dozens of police cars.”

Another eye-witness Barry Jarvis said:

“It was very puzzling as to what was going on at first as there weren’t that many police there.

“It was only after 20 minutes or so when all these unmarked cars [were] coming through that we thought something major was happening.”

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

I think it is fair to conclude that “something major was happening”, but what was the actual reason for such a staggering show of police and military strength. Well, here’s a BBC news article posted just a few hours later:

Staffordshire Police have said they are not linking an incident on the M6 Toll motorway with terrorism.

Superintendent Dave Holdway from Staffordshire police confirmed that no-one was being treated as a suspect and the case was “not being treated as counterterrorism at this time”.3

So no arrests again. But plenty of sound and fury signifying nothing. Then some empty (or should I say ‘robust’) apologies and reassurances that this “multi-agency response” was “swift”, which it was, and “proportionate”, which it blatantly wasn’t.

Click here to read the complete BBC news article and watch video of the police statement.

This latest incident has since caused me to recall a different occasion when the police took exception to a coach load of passengers, although not because “they had received a report from a genuinely concerned member of the public”, but because the passengers in question were heading off for an anti-Iraq War protest outside the RAF Base in Fairford, Gloucestershire. Although the passengers on this occasion [March 2003] represented no threat whatsoever, the coaches were nevertheless held up for two hours by a hundred riot police, whilst the passengers and their possessions were searched under the Terrorism Act. Denied their right to protest they were all then “escorted” back to London.

This incident neatly book-ends Chris Atkins’ excellent film Taking Liberties (released in June 2007 and freely available online). It’s a documentary that should be watched by everyone who is concerned by the on-going erosion of our civil liberties (and that really should be everybody living in Britain right now), and it’s also a film that’s well worth watching a second time, as I discovered a few nights ago:

You can watch the complete documentary here on Ustream (albeit annoyingly interrupted by advert breaks).

Back then, the Terrorism bills were already being used against peaceful dissenters, and this is something I had personally experienced in the days immediately prior to the London bombings.

A mini-G8 summit had come to Sheffield. It was an event that passed off almost unreported but, and in spite of the lack of media exposure, a hundred or so peaceful protesters ventured out into the city centre. Once there, we were confronted by a large number of regular police officers. Police marksmen had also been stationed on many of the rooftops. The regular police formed a line of blue across Fargate, the main shopping street, and for whatever reason (since the site of the actual meeting was unknown to most of us) the protesters assembled in front of them. A little later, three vans filled with riot police pulled up. These promptly disembarked and assembled into another line that looked on menacingly. In the meantime, the main police line allowed protesters and others to cross through but only from one direction. When a friend of mine tried to go back to where he had originally come from, he was told that if he continued he would be arrested. “Under what law?” he’d asked. The Terrorism Act was the answer, of course.

A week or so later, I’d also encountered another high-visibility police presence around the Edinburgh march against the actual G8 summit, with even more marksmen and more officers pointing their cameras towards us. This protest again represented no threat whatsoever to the G8 meeting, which was in any case being held some miles away at Gleneagles. Indeed, it was an almost embarrassingly non-confrontational assembly. What little bite it might have had – and it didn’t have much once the organisers had decided, in their infinite wisdom, to banish politics for the day and focus only on the vacuous demand to “Make Poverty History” – was entirely stolen by Bob Geldof’s simultaneous and self-aggrandising “Live 8” gig. “What the hell was all that about?” I wondered after we’d returned to our hostel – why did any of us even bother to turn out at all? But I am digressing.

Guardian journalist Rachel Shabi wrote a brilliant article previewing the protests at the G8, although one that I came across only later, which perfectly conveyed my feelings at the time. In the same piece, she also detailed the new measures being brought in to stifle “illegitimate” protests (as opposed to the all-too-legitimate protest I’d been a part of), as well as the extraordinary level and cost of security that had been put into place around the Gleneagles summit itself:

We are about to witness how “illegitimate” protest is dealt with at the G8 summit. Already, anti-G8 protesters-to-be say they have been intimidated by police and now fear attending demonstrations. Hundreds of individuals have been filmed going into public meetings held by peaceful protest groups. More have been searched, visited at home, had notes and computers seized, and been offered cash rewards for information on other protesters.

Meanwhile at Gleneagles, rings of steel fencing surround the hotel grounds. More than 10,000 police will be in force, along with a reported 2,000 US marines, an SAS team and specially trained snipers. The area will be riddled with roadblocks and exclusion zones – protesters aren’t allowed to march near the hotel. All this security is estimated to cost around £100m. We can’t tell for sure because there’s a blanket information ban on preparations for the summit.4

As if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, and slap bang in the middle of the G8 summit, we were hit by the London bombings. Blair immediately rushed back to the capital and, before you could say Jack Straw (or on this occasion Charles Clarke), we were being made ready for yet another draft of anti-terrorist legislation: The Terrorism Act 2006. With a few strokes of the pen, still more of our civil liberties had been stolen from us, and all in the name of security.

Comparing these recent incidents to the situation back in 2007, when the horrors of the July 7th bombings of 2005 (which also feature in Atkins’ documentary) were still fresh in our minds, and it’s not difficult to see how the world has changed again. The most staggering example being the security measures at this year’s Olympics. Anti-aircraft missiles on top of London flats and battleships in the Thames. Welcome to Airstrip One!

The Overton Window, that narrow range of ideas that the general public responds to as acceptable, is being stretched again and again, just a little wider each time. A racheting up that started in Britain even before the September 11th attack thanks to Blair’s first Terrorism Act that was passed in 2000. And ever since then, no crisis is wasted, no opportunity missed.

At this point, I’d like to make a comparison. Anyone over the age of about twenty will be uncomfortably familiar with the threat of IRA atrocities. The IRA were a very real and ever-present danger. A group who in October 1984 had bombed the party in government at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and on a second occasion, in February 1991, mortar bombed John Major’s official residence in Downing Street. The ordinary person also had good reason to be concerned, public spaces having been frequently targeted throughout the seventies, eighties and well into the nineties.

Back then our governments had properly advised everyone to keep alert. Keep a look out for unattended luggage; this was the main thing. A few sensible precautions and nothing more. No paranoia descended over our nation. No calls for heavyweight legislation (at least not on the UK mainland). But then, of course, for much of that period we had enough on our minds already with the other very real threat of Cold War annihilation.

So the old bogeyman was the Soviet Union, but that apparently went away – in fact it didn’t, but that’s another story. Meanwhile today’s official bogeyman is al-Qaeda, which is actually quite an improvement when you think about it. After all, al-Qaeda don’t have the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. They just have a few fanatics with home-made bombs – so just why are we being told to be more afraid than ever?

Since September 11th, right throughout the whole period of this ludicrous “War on Terror”, successive British governments have all been behaving hysterically. Amplifying public fears in order to make wrongful arrest and imprisonment appear justified as necessary evils. This endless war against an altogether nebulous and shape-shifting enemy has also been used to justify and permit such truly Orwellian measures as indefinite detention in places like Guantanamo Bay, where facilities are soon to be upgraded at a cost of $40 million, along with “extraordinary rendition”, which also continues under Obama.

Click here to watch the same interview and read a transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

When torture becomes permissible on the grounds that it is necessary to defend our freedom then it doesn’t take a genius to understand that we are rapidly approaching the rocky shores of La-La Land. Which brings me back to the events of Thursday morning on the M6. Troops of armed police and military closing a motorway because someone on a coach was looking a bit suspicious, or, as the official story now has it, “smoking a fake cigarette” .

If an emergency response of this kind had happened twenty years ago I feel sure that it would have caused a storm of public outrage. Twenty years ago it would also have been considered absolutely unacceptable for police, let alone military officers, to hold perfectly innocent citizens at gunpoint. These days, however, a lame apology is deemed more than sufficient for the matter to rest. The media are quick to move on, the passengers feel happy just to be alive (or so we are informed), and meanwhile the message has been reinforced that we all just need to “keep calm and carry on… following orders”; the Overton Window having been pushed an inch or two wider again.

Fear, Joseph Goebbals once said, was the approach the Nazis had used to keep control of the German people. A cast-iron way of controlling the masses, it was fear that helped to instill compliance and stifle the voice of all who opposed the tightening bonds of tyranny. Fostering fear was simply the easiest and most effective way to keep the people in their boxes. It still is.

1 From an article entitled “Police marksmen swoop on car”, written by Richard Blackledge, published in The Star on March 8, 2012. http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/local/police-marksmen-in-swoop-on-car-1-4322525

2 From an article entitled “M6 Toll Megabus coach stopped by armed police”, published by BBC News on July 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-18719962

3 From an article entitled “M6 Toll Megabus alert: ‘Not terrorist attack’”, published on BBC News on July 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18725577

4 From an article entitled “The war on dissent”, written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian on July 2, 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/jul/02/development.g8

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Britain, police state, September 11th, USA

the decline and fall of the Labour Party

I was recently recommended the excellent four-part BBC documentary series “Labour – The Wilderness Years”, which offers an analysis of the causes underlying the decline of the British Labour Party, beginning with the catastrophic 1979 general election, and following events up until the sudden and tragic loss of party leader John Smith in 1994, and a little beyond.

The series, first broadcast in December 1995, is a example of just how good television really can be . Without the need for repeating video loops, and endless recaps on what’s just gone. Without eye-candy graphics, emotive music and an overbearing narrative commentary. Just relevant archive footage, alongside in-depth interviews with those most closely involved in the events.

Although suspicious of much that purports to be politically neutral, on this occasion there is also a sense of genuine impartiality. The film-makers allowing arguments from all sides to be voiced, and thus leaving the viewer free to draw their own conclusions.

All four episodes have been uploaded (sliced into six 10 minute segments for each) on youtube and so I provide links for the complete lists of the parts that make up each of the episodes. Alongside those links, you can also read my own rather less neutral précis.

The four parts were named and aired as below:

1. Cast Into The Wilderness (3rd December 1995)

The fierce war between the left and the right wings of the party begins at the 1980 party conference. Tony Benn, who is already expressing concerns that Britain may be sliding into a police state, sets out to democratise the party. He is roundly condemned by those on the right, but thanks to union retaliation against the hopeless and recently defeated Jim Callaghan, leads the left to a bitter victory at the party conference.

To heal the developing schism between left and right, the party then elects the erudite and compassionate Michael Foot over the more bruising but worldly “old flamethrower” Denis Healey. But Foot’s efforts to pour oil on troubled waters is quickly undone as the treacherous “Gang of Four”, led by former Home Secretary and then-President of the European Commission, Roy Jenkins, with Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and the ever-so-dashing David Owen in tow, all running off to form their own shambolic party, the quickly defunct SDP. The longer-term consequence being that the Labour vote is split for many years to come.

Click here to watch on youtube.

2. Comrades At War (10th December 1995)

Tony Benn vs. Denis Healey in the race for deputy leader and a fight for the soul of the party, as support for Thatcher’s new Tory government wanes and as riots break out across the country. With Michael Foot still trying to steady the ship, Benn’s battle for democracy and socialism comes to blows against the ‘establishment left’ and their popular heavyweight Denis Healey. Meanwhile, the ambitious Neil Kinnock also begins to push his weight around, and very publicly withdraws his own support from Tony Benn’s campaign by abstaining from the vote. Healey narrowly wins by virtue of Kinnock’s abstention.

Michael Foot is then hauled over the coals by the right-wing press for turning up in an inappropriate coat on Remembrance Day. Whilst Foot, in turn, fails to support prospective Labour candidate Peter Tatchell, as he is grilled by the same right-wing media, and ridiculed principally on the grounds that he is candid about his own homosexuality. Finally, and on the basis that they are facing almost certain defeat in the forthcoming general election, the right-wing of the party decide to put together an extreme Bennite-style manifesto purely in order to discredit the policies of the left once and for all.

With the nation still rallying around the flag after victory in the Falklands, Michael Foot misjudges the mood again, placing his main emphasis on promoting the manifesto promise of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Rupert Murdoch’s press, Kenny Everett and Satan’s little helpers, Saatchi & Saatchi, also work tirelessly to secure Thatcher’s second term in office. Aside from ensuring an election disaster, the manifesto, which becomes popularly known as “the longest suicide note in history”, also effectively sets the seal on the Labour Party’s steady march towards the right.

Click here to watch on youtube.

3. Enter The Rose (17th December 1995)

The ambitious Neil Kinnock becomes leader and immediately shows his true colours by choosing to sit on the fence as the Thatcher government crushes the miners’ strike. He then begins “modernising” the party, by, most significantly, expunging the Trotskyist parasite ‘Militant tendency’.

During the years of 1985 and 1986, Labour’s National Executive Committee sit through hours of McCarthyite hearings: Kinnock’s inquisition leading to the expulsion of more than 200 members, including, most justifiably, the egotistical popinjay Derek Hatton. But corrupt as ‘Militant tendency’ were, many good and previously loyal party members are also forced out during this protracted witch hunt.

In late 1985, Kinnock appoints Peter Mandelson, a former television producer, to work as Director of Communications. At first, Mandelson’s “Red Rose Revolution” means mainly that message plays second fiddle to the party image. New logo, new sets, new emphasis on style over substance… the conception, if not yet the birth, of New Labour. Yet in spite of all the razzamatazz, which includes some surprisingly nifty swing dancing with wife Glenys, “the Welsh windbag” still fails to impress the electorate.

Click here to watch on youtube.

4. The Pursuit Of Power (18th December 1995)

Kinnock decides to sell-out absolutely, surrendering many more of his and the party’s remaining leftist principles in deliberate efforts to fall into line with the prevailing Thatcherite neoliberal hegemony. As his ‘revolution’ progresses, Kinnock ruthlessly puts down any dissent coming from within the shadow cabinet, whilst meanwhile instituting a nationwide “Labour Listens” polling campaign, the results of which will provide convenient populist cover for justifying the party’s ideological U-turn.

Peter Mandelson, now Labour’s spin doctor, helps Kinnock to promote the ‘policy review’ and to limit the damage caused by those who still oppose the changes. This includes briefing the media against other high-ranking Labour politicians. Michael Meacher, who was one of the victims of Mandelson’s many smear campaigns, is replaced by Tony Blair as Employment Spokesman, and, as they say… the rest is history!

Kinnock’s suits are sharpened up, and we have the debacle of the “Jennifer’s Ear” party political broadcast; a mere prelude to the jaw-dropping Hollywood-style Sheffield Rally that marks the eve of the general election. Watch it and weep:

Click here to see the remaining episodes on youtube.

Following John Smith’s untimely death, the party comes more directly under the centralised control of ‘modernisers’ like Mandelson, Blair and Brown, although the first prominent party member to publicly endorse Tony Blair as the next leader is actually Denis Healey. Whilst Blair’s closest rival, Gordon Brown, conveniently steps aside. With “the Prince of Darkness” Mandelson finally ruling the roost, Labour now drop all remaining pretence to socialism, and also betray their commitments to human rights and the rule of international law.

Margaret Thatcher once asked: “If they would abandon their most cherished policies in opposition, what will they do with their promises in government”.

A decade of New Labour rule provided us with a very sorry answer. In its wake, we live in a country riven by greater disparities in wealth than ever, and indebted thanks chiefly to market deregulation which Blair and Brown had very much permitted and encouraged. We also have a national health service made ready for privatisation, along with the prisons and our schools. And capping everything, we are mired in an unwinnable war (having already abandoned a second war, fought at the cost of countless lives, and entirely without legal or other justification). So the short answer to Thatcher’s albeit rhetorical question: that in the pursuit of power, Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest of the New Labour crew would happily sell their own grandmothers.

*

This is an appropriate juncture to also mention two very intelligent and well produced dramas that tackle similar issues from around the same period.

A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988) offers a glimpse of how a left-wing Labour government might have tackled the problems facing Britain back in the 1980s. Ray McAnally is wonderful as the down-to-earth leader and MP for Sheffield Central, Harry Perkins, who takes on the ruling establishment, attempts to break the newspaper monopolies, and more generally to bring to heel the military-industrial complex. Hardly surprisingly, Perkins is met with stiff resistance and dirty tricks of every kind. The three-part television series, first screened on Channel 4, won Bafta and Emmy awards. It was based on a 1982 novel by British politician Chris Mullin, who also gives interviews throughout in “Labour – the wilderness years”. The novel was adapted for television, with a screenplay by Alan Plater, and directed by Mick Jackson.

Click here to watch on 4OD.

GBH (Channel 4, 1991) is a gritty seven-part drama written by Alan Bleasdale, starring Robert Lindsay as Michael Murray, the Militant tendency Labour leader of an unspecified British northern city. The parallels with Derek Hatton are obvious enough. Michael Palin co-stars as the principled school teacher, Jim Nelson, who inadvertently finds himself fighting against corruption and intimidation. As the plots steadily build, we discover that all is not quite as it first appears. The series was produced by David W. Jones.

Click here to watch on 4OD.

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