Category Archives: War and Peace

The hijacking of Mandela’s legacy


Subject: The hijacking of Mandela’s legacy: he defeated apartheid but was defeated by neoliberalism. That’s the dirty secret of him being allowed sainthood.

RT December 08, 2013 Pepe Escobar

Mandela defeated apartheid but was defeated by neoliberalism. And that’s the dirty secret of him being allowed sainthood.

Beware of strangers bearing gifts. The “gift” is the ongoing, frantic canonization of Nelson Mandela. The “strangers” are the 0.0001 percent, that fraction of the global elite that’s really in control (media naturally included).

It’s a Tower of Babel of tributes piled up in layer upon layer of hypocrisy – from the US to Israel and from France to Britain.

What must absolutely be buried under the tower is that the apartheid regime in South Africa was sponsored and avidly defended by the West until, literally, it was about to crumble under the weight of its own contradictions. The only thing that had really mattered was South Africa’s capitalist economy and immense resources, and the role of Pretoria in fighting “communism.” Apartheid was, at best, a nuisance.

Mandela is being allowed sainthood by the 0.0001% because he extended a hand to the white oppressor who kept him in jail for 27 years. And because he accepted – in the name of “national reconciliation” – that no apartheid killers would be tried, unlike the Nazis.

Among the cataracts of emotional tributes and the crass marketization of the icon, there’s barely a peep in Western corporate media about Mandela’s firm refusal to ditch armed struggle against apartheid (if he had done so, he would not have been jailed for 27 years); his gratitude towards Fidel Castro’s Cuba – which always supported the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa fighting apartheid; and his perennial support for the liberation struggle in Palestine.

Young generations, especially, must be made aware that during the Cold War, any organization fighting for the freedom of the oppressed in the developing world was dubbed “terrorist”; that was the Cold War version of the “war on terror”. Only at the end of the 20th century was the fight against apartheid accepted as a supreme moral cause; and Mandela, of course, rightfully became the universal face of the cause.

It’s easy to forget that conservative messiah Ronald Reagan – who enthusiastically hailed the precursors of al-Qaeda as “freedom fighters” – fiercely opposed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act because, what else, the African National Congress (ANC) was considered a “terrorist organization” (on top of Washington branding the ANC as “communists”).

The same applied to a then-Republican Congressman from Wyoming who later would turn into a Darth Vader replicant, Dick Cheney. As for Israel, it even offered one of its nuclear weapons to the Afrikaners in Pretoria – presumably to wipe assorted African commies off the map.

In his notorious 1990 visit to the US, now as a free man, Mandela duly praised Fidel, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Col. Gaddafi as his “comrades in arms”: “There is no reason whatsoever why we should have any hesitation about hailing their commitment to human rights.” Washington/Wall Street was livid.

And this was Mandela’s take, in early 2003, on the by then inevitable invasion of Iraq and the wider war on terror; “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.” No wonder he was kept on the US government terrorist list until as late as 2008.

From terrorism to sainthood

In the early 1960s – when, by the way, the US itself was practicing apartheid in the South – it would be hard to predict to what extent “Madiba” (his clan name), the dandy lawyer and lover of boxing with an authoritarian character streak, would adopt Gandhi’s non-violence strategy to end up forging an exceptional destiny graphically embodying the political will to transform society. Yet the seeds of “Invictus” were already there.

The fascinating complexity of Mandela is that he was essentially a democratic socialist. Certainly not a capitalist. And not a pacifist either; on the contrary, he would accept violence as a means to an end. In his books and countless speeches, he always admitted his flaws. His soul must be smirking now at all the adulation.

Arguably, without Mandela, Barack Obama would never have reached the White House; he admitted on the record that his first political act was at an anti-apartheid demonstration. But let’s make it clear: Mr. Obama, you’re no Nelson Mandela.

To summarize an extremely complex process, in the “death throes” of apartheid, the regime was mired in massive corruption, hardcore military spending and with the townships about to explode. Mix Fidel’s Cuban fighters kicking the butt of South Africans (supported by the US) in Angola and Namibia with the inability to even repay Western loans, and you have a recipe for bankruptcy.

The best and the brightest in the revolutionary struggle – like Mandela – were either in jail, in exile, assassinated (like Steve Biko) or “disappeared”, Latin American death squad-style. The actual freedom struggle was mostly outside South Africa – in Angola, Namibia and the newly liberated Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Once again, make no mistake; without Cuba – as Mandela amply stressed writing from jail in March 1988 – there would be “no liberation of our continent, and my people, from the scourge of apartheid”. Now get one of those 0.0001% to admit it.

In spite of the debacle the regime – supported by the West – sensed an opening. Why not negotiate with a man who had been isolated from the outside world since 1962? No more waves and waves of Third World liberation struggles; Africa was now mired in war, and all sorts of socialist revolutions had been smashed, from Che Guevara killed in Bolivia in 1967 to Allende killed in the 1973 coup in Chile.

Mandela had to catch up with all this and also come to grips with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of what European intellectuals called “real socialism.” And then he would need to try to prevent a civil war and the total economic collapse of South Africa.

The apartheid regime was wily enough to secure control of the Central Bank – with crucial IMF help – and South Africa’s trade policy. Mandela secured only a (very significant) political victory. The ANC only found out it had been conned when it took power. Forget about its socialist idea of nationalizing the mining and banking industries – owned by Western capital, and distribute the benefits to the indigenous population. The West would never allow it. And to make matters worse, the ANC was literally hijacked by a sorry, greedy bunch.

Follow the roadmap
John Pilger is spot on pointing to economic apartheid in South Africa now with a new face.

Patrick Bond has written arguably the best expose anywhere of the Mandela years – and their legacy.

And Ronnie Kasrils does a courageous mea culpa dissecting how Mandela and the ANC accepted a devil’s pact with the usual suspects.

The bottom line: Mandela defeated apartheid but was defeated by neoliberalism. And that’s the dirty secret of him being allowed sainthood.

Now for the future. Cameroonian Achille Mbembe, historian and political science professor, is one of Africa’s foremost intellectuals. In his book Critique of Black Reason, recently published in France (not yet in English), Mbembe praises Mandela and stresses that Africans must imperatively invent new forms of leadership, the essential precondition to lift themselves in the world. All-too-human “Madiba” has provided the roadmap. May Africa unleash one, two, a thousand Mandelas.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.

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Honoring Mandela, Not Reagan

Honoring Mandela, Not Reagan

Honoring Mandela, Not Reagan

By Robert Parry, Consortium News

08 December 13

The U.S. government’s relationship with Nelson Mandela was often strained, from the CIA’s hand in his imprisonment to Ronald Reagan’s veto of a sanctions bill aimed at getting him freed, lost history that must now be reconciled, writes Robert Parry.

As Americans honor the memory of Nelson Mandela, they must grapple with the inconvenient truth that one of their most honored recent presidents, Ronald Reagan, fiercely opposed punishing white-ruled South Africa for keeping Mandela locked up and for continuing the racist apartheid system that he challenged.

Rhetorically, Reagan did object to apartheid and did call for Mandela’s release, but Reagan viewed the struggle for racial justice in South Africa through a Cold War lens, leading him to veto a 1986 bill imposing economic sanctions on the Pretoria regime aimed at forcing Mandela’s freedom and compelling the dismantling of apartheid.

In explaining his veto on July 22, 1986, Reagan reserved his harshest criticism for “the Soviet-armed guerrillas of the African National Congress,” a movement that Mandela led. Reagan accused the ANC of having “embarked on new acts of terrorism within South Africa.” He also claimed that “the Soviet Union would be the main beneficiary” of a revolutionary overthrow of the Pretoria regime.

Beyond opposing sanctions that might destabilize the white-supremacist regime, Reagan argued that “the key to the future lies with the South African government.” He called for “not a Western withdrawal but deeper involvement by the Western business community as agents of change and progress and growth.”

Yet, despite Reagan’s speech, Congress enacted the sanctions bill over his veto as “moderate” Republicans, including the likes of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, rejected Reagan’s go-slow “constructive engagement” with South Africa’s white supremacists. The Senate vote was 78-21, exceeding the necessary two-thirds by a dozen votes.

McConnell’s remarks about the bill reflected the concerns of many Republicans that they would find themselves with Reagan on the wrong side of history. “In the 1960s, when I was in college, civil rights issues were clear,” McConnell said. “After that, it became complicated with questions of quotas and other matters that split people of good will. When the apartheid issue came along, it made civil rights black and white again. It was not complicated.”

To Reagan, however, the issue was extremely complicated. White-ruled South Africa provided military support to right-wing revolutionary movements challenging leftist governments in Africa, such as in Angola where Jonas Savimbi of the CIA-backed UNITA led a brutal insurgency which involved him reportedly burning his opponents at the stake.

Indeed, Reagan supported a number of right-wing insurrectionary movements despite widespread reports of their human rights abuses, including the Contra rebels fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. The Contras not only engaged in rapes, murders and acts of terror but were implicated in cocaine smuggling into the United States.[See’s ” Contra-Cocaine Was a Real Conspiracy.”]

Reagan also backed brutal right-wing regimes in Latin America and elsewhere as they engaged in extermination campaigns against leftists, including in Guatemala where Reagan hailed Gen. Efrain Rios Montt as his regime waged genocide against Mayan Indians considered supportive of leftist guerrillas. [See’s ” Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide.”]

Given Reagan’s support for these anti-leftist pogroms – a policy sometimes dubbed the Reagan Doctrine – he naturally disdained Mandela and the African National Congress, which included communists and drew support from the Soviet Union.

The CIA and Mandela

Mandela had long been a target of Cold Warriors inside the U.S. government, since he was viewed as one of the young militants resisting European colonialism and sympathetic to radical change. The CIA often acted to neutralize these leaders who were considered sympathetic to socialism and potential allies of the Soviet Union.

In the case of Mandela, I’m told that his arrest in 1962, which led to his 27-year imprisonment, resulted from a CIA officer tipping off South African security officials about Mandela’s whereabouts. But there remains a difference of opinion inside the CIA whether its role in Mandela’s capture was intentional or accidental, possibly a careless remark by an intoxicated field agent to his South African counterparts.

At the time of Mandela’s capture, President John F. Kennedy was trying to break out of the Cold War framework of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, especially regarding CIA hostility toward African nationalists. Kennedy feared that U.S. support for white rule in Africa would play into Soviet hands by alienating the continent’s emerging leaders. [See’s ” JFK Embrace of Third World Nationalists.”]

U.S. policy toward South Africa’s white supremacist government grew more contentious as American attitudes toward race evolved during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and after the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, who both strongly sympathized with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

President Jimmy Carter further broke from the Cold War mold in the late 1970s when he elevated human rights as a factor in U.S. foreign policy. But those human rights concerns were rolled back after Ronald Reagan ousted Carter in the 1980 election.

Reagan initiated a policy of “constructive engagement” toward South Africa’s white supremacists, meaning that he opposed overt pressure such as economic sanctions in favor of quiet diplomacy that sought gradual reform of the apartheid system.

In reality, Reagan’s approach allowed white South African leader P.W. Botha to crack down on the ANC and other revolutionary movements which Reagan viewed as pro-communist. Instead of substantive moves toward full citizenship for blacks, the Pretoria regime instituted largely cosmetic reforms to its apartheid system.

It was not until the U.S. and global economic sanctions took hold – combined with the world’s ostracism of the white racist regime – that Botha gave way to F.W. de Klerk, who, in turn, cleared the path for Mandela’s release in 1990. De Klerk then negotiated with Mandela to transform South Africa into a multiracial democracy, with Mandela becoming its first president in 1994.

Now, as the world honors the life of Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, the American people must reconcile his inspirational story with how their much-honored Ronald Reagan opposed the sanctions that finally brought freedom to Mandela and to his nation.

Given Reagan’s support for the ghastly slaughters in Central America and elsewhere, some Americans might reasonably wonder why his name is attached to so many public facilities, including Washington’s National Airport.

While it may be unrealistic to expect this Congress to reconsider the many honors heaped on Ronald Reagan, individual Americans may want to – at least unofficially – delete his name from the airport that serves the nation’s capital by referring to it again as Washington National.

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“War’s never a winning thing, Charlie. You just lose all the time, and the one who loses last asks for terms. All I remember is a lot of losing and sadness and nothing good at the end of it. The end of it, Charles, that was a winning all to itself, having nothing to do with guns.”

–Ray Bradbury, from the short story “The Time Machine” 1957

Happy Columbus Day

Happy Columbus Day

Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola
Portside: October 11, 2013

The Myth of “America”

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two … May the spirit of adventure and discovery always be with you. Wishing you a great Columbus Day – Columbus Day greeting card To mark Columbus Day In 2004, the Medieval and Renaissance Center in UCLA published the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents.

Its general editor, Geoffrey Symcox, leaves little room for ambivalence when he says, “This is not your grandfather’s Columbus…. While giving the brilliant mariner his due, the collection portrays Columbus as an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing – not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting biblical scripture – to advance his ambitions…. Many of the unflattering documents have been known for the last century or more, but nobody paid much attention to them until recently.

The fact that Columbus brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas used to be seen as a minor detail – if it was recognized at all – in light of his role as the great bringer of white man’s civilization to the benighted idolatrous American continent. But to historians today this information is very important. It changes our whole view of the enterprise.” But does it? ***

“They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells,” Christopher Columbus wrote in his logbook in 1495. “They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas, in the multi-volume “History of the Indies” published in 1875, wrote, “… Slaves were the primary source of income for the Admiral (Columbus) with that income he intended to repay the money the Kings were spending in support of Spaniards on the Island. They provide profit and income to the Kings. (The Spaniards were driven by) insatiable greed … killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples … with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty.” This systematic violence was aimed at preventing “Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings. (The Spaniards) thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades…. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”

Father Fray Antonio de Montesino, a Dominican preacher, in December 1511 said this in a sermon that implicated Christopher Columbus and the colonists in the genocide of the native peoples: “Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before …”

In 1892, the National Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical body in the United States, is known to have exhorted Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, “What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others.” Yet America continues to celebrate “Columbus Day.”

That Americans do so in the face of all evidence that there is little in the Columbian legacy that merits applause makes it easier for them to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their government. Perhaps there is good reason. ***

In “Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History,” journalist and media critic Norman Solomon discusses how historians who deal with recorded evidence are frequently depicted as “politically correct” revisionists while the general populace is manipulated into holding onto myths that brazenly applaud inconceivable acts of violence of men against fellow humans. For those of us who are willing to ask how it becomes possible to manipulate the population of a country into accepting atrocity, the answer is not hard to find. It requires normalizing the inconceivable and drumming it in via the socio-cultural environment until it is internalized and embedded in the individual and collective consciousness. The combined or singular deployment of the media, the entertainment industry, mainstream education or any other agency, can achieve the desired result of convincing people that wars can be just, and strikes can be surgical, as long as it is the US that is doing it. Never has this process been as blatant and overt as in recent years when the time has come for America to legitimize the idea of global domination.

A Department of Defense report titled Joint Vision 2020 calls for the US military to be capable of “full spectrum dominance” of the entire planet. That means total domination and control of all land, sea, air, space and information. That’s a lot of control. How might this become accepted as “Policy” and remain unquestioned by almost an entire population? The one word key to that is: Myths. The explanation is that the myths the United States is built upon have paved the way for the perpetuation of all manner of violations. Among the first of these is that of Christopher Columbus. In school we were taught of his bravery, courage and perseverance. In a speech in 1989, George H.W. Bush proclaimed: “Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished through perseverance and faith.” Never mind that the monumental feats mainly comprised part butchery, part exploitation and the largest part betrayal of host populations of the “New World.”

*** On their second arrival in Hispaniola, Haiti, Columbus’s crew took captive roughly two thousand local villagers who had arrived to greet them. Miguel Cuneo, a literate crew member, wrote, “When our caravels … were to leave for Spain, we gathered … one thousand six hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495…. For those who remained, we let it be known (to the Spaniards who manned the island’s fort) in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so, to the amount desired, which was done.”

In 1500, Columbus wrote to a friend, “A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in demand.” Such original “monumental feats” as were accomplished by our nation’s heroes and role models were somewhat primitive. Local inhabitants who resisted Columbus and his crew had their ears or nose cut off, were attacked by dogs, skewered with pikes and shot. Reprisals were so severe that many of the natives committed mass suicide and women began practicing abortions in order not to leave children enslaved.

The population of Haiti at the time of Columbus’s arrival was between 1.5 million and 3 million. Sixty years later, every single native had been murdered. Today, “perseverance and faith” allow us to accomplish much more and with far greater impunity. The US continues to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan with 2,000-pound bombs in civilian areas and purge Pakistan via drone attacks on weddings. Neither case is of isolated whimsy. It was and remains policy. In “A People’s History of the United States,” celebrated historian Howard Zinn describes how Arawak men and women emerged from their villages to greet their guests with food, water and gifts when Columbus landed at the Bahamas. But Columbus wanted something else. “Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise,” he wrote to the king and queen of Spain in 1503. Rather than gold, however, Columbus only found slaves when he arrived on his second visit with seventeen ships and over 1,200 men.

Ravaging various Caribbean islands, Columbus took natives as captives as he sailed. Of these he picked 500 of the best specimens and shipped them back to Spain. Two hundred of these died en route, while the survivors were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town where they landed. Columbus needed more than mere slaves to sell, and Zinn’s account informs us, “… desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, (he) had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. “The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.”

As a younger priest, the aforementioned De las Casas had participated in the conquest of Cuba and owned a plantation where natives worked as slaves before he found his conscience and gave it up. His first-person accounts reveal that the Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders into a river, shouting: ‘Wriggle, you litle perisher.’ They slaughtered anyone on their path …”

*** Full Spectrum Dominance In a letter to the Spanish court dated February 15, 1492, Columbus presented his version of full spectrum dominance: “to conquer the world, spread the Christian faith and regain the Holy Land and the Temple Mount.” With this radical ideology, Las Casas records, “They spared no one, erecting especially wide gibbets on which they could string their victims up with their feet just off the ground and then burned them alive thirteen at a time, in honour of our Saviour and the twelve Apostles.” About incorporating these accounts in his book, Zinn explained to Truthout, “My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present … but I do remember a statement I once read: The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

**** Author journalist Chris Hedges believes that glorification of (the atrocities of) Columbus is one of several myths that sustain the illusions that justify the imperial visions of the United States. In conversation with Truthout, he said, “It’s really easy to build a holocaust museum that condemns Germans. It’s another issue to build a museum that confronts our own genocide, the genocide that was perpetrated by our own ancestors towards Native Americans or towards African-Americans. I am all for documenting and remembering the [World War II] Holocaust, but the disparity between the reality of the [World War II] Holocaust or the reality of the genocide as illustrated in the [World War II] Holocaust museum and the utter historical amnesia in the Native American museum in Washington is really frightening and shows a complete inability in a public arena for us to examine who we are and what we’ve done.”

Noam Chomsky holds a similar view. “We have [World War II] Holocaust museums all over the place about what the Germans did,” Chomsky told Truthout. “Do we have one about what we did? I mean about slavery, about the Native American population? It’s not that the people involved didn’t know about it. John Quincy Adams, a great grand strategist, who had a major role in these atrocities, in his later years when he reflected on them, referred to that hapless race of North Americans, which we are exterminating with such insidious cruelty. They knew exactly what they were doing. But it doesn’t matter. It’s us.” Explaining how the mythology of a country becomes its historic reality, Chomsky stated, “If you are well-educated, you can internalize that and it. That’s part of what a good education is about, enabling people to live with those contradictions. And you see it very consistently. In the case of, say, the Iraq war, try to find somebody who had a principled objection. Actually you can, occasionally, but it’s suppressed.”

Historical revisionism and amnesia are critical for nation-building, opines Paul Woodward, the writer and author of the blog “War In Context”. He elaborates, “Every nation is subject to its own particular form of historical amnesia. Likewise, imperial powers have their own grandiose revisionist tendencies. Yet there is another form of historical denial particular to recently invented nations whose myth-making efforts are inextricably bound together with the process of the nation’s birth … “Whereas older nations are by and large populated by people whose ancestral roots penetrated that land well before it took on the clear definition of a nation state, the majority of the people in an invented nation – such as the United States or Israel – have ancestry that inevitably leads elsewhere. This exposes the ephemeral link between the peoples’ history and the nation’s history. Add to that the fact that such nations came into being through grotesque acts of dispossession and it is clear that a psychological drive to hold aloft an atemporal exceptionalism becomes an existential necessity. National security requires that the past be erased.”

Robert Jensen is an author and teaches media law, ethics and politics at the University of Texas. In an essay where he justifies his decision to not celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday, he says, “Imagine that Germany won World War II and that a Nazi regime endured for some decades, eventually giving way to a more liberal state with a softer version of German-supremacist ideology. Imagine that a century later Germans celebrated a holiday offering a whitewashed version of German/Jewish history that ignored that holocaust and the deep anti-Semitism of the culture. Imagine that the holiday provided a welcomed time for families and friends to gather and enjoy food and conversation. Imagine that businesses, schools and government offices closed on this day. What would we say about such a holiday? Would we not question the distortions woven into such a celebration? Would we not demand a more accurate historical account? Would we not, in fact, denounce such a holiday as grotesque?” Of course we would. But our story is different, and once again this year, on October 12, we will once again “Hail Columbus.” ———

Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this report. ” Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of “The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan,” (Haymarket Books, 2009), and “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq,” (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years. Jason Coppola is the director and producer of the documentary film “Justify My War,” which explores the rationalization of war in American culture, comparing the siege of Fallujah with the massacre at Wounded Knee. Coppola has worked in Iraq as well as on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. _____________________________________________

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Let’s discuss the [insert shooting tragedy here]

[R-G] [BillTottenWeblog] Let’s discuss the [insert shooting tragedyhere]

by Chris Andoe AMERICAblog (September 16 2013)

It’s time to have a somber national discussion about the [insert shooting tragedy here] tragedy. Before we get started, let’s go over a few basic ground rules.

1. In the wake of the __________ tragedy it’s time for us all to come together as a nation and not assign blame. This is not the time, for example, to talk about how it’s easier to purchase a gun in America than it is to vote (or buy French cheese)

{1}. And I quote White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking about the murder in Connecticut of at least eighteen children

{2}: I’m sure [there] will be rather a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think today is that day. Fortunately, the President’s subsequent statement was better

{3}. Child with gun via Shutterstock:

2. And we won’t tolerate any second guessing of the Second Amendment right to carry assault weapons, or questions about how the Framers could have possibly envisaged an assault rifle over 200 years ago, or why a “hunter” needs six thousand rounds of ammunition, or kevlar, or smoke grenades to kill a pheasant.

3. While the shooter may have been inspired by political fliers showing the victim in cross hairs, or may have come unhinged by inflammatory rhetoric about how said victim was coming for the shooter’s guns, discussing such motivation at this sensitive moment would be completely inappropriate. Not to mention, disrespectful to the __________ victims.

4. If the tragedy involved someone flying an aircraft into a government building, or for that matter blowing up a government building, now is not the time to discuss people like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity (no names, please), or Republicans generally (no political parties, please), incessantly trying to convince their audience that the occupant of the White House, or any government official, agency, or entire branch of government is evil and/or “un-American” and/or out to get them or our country or our freedom.

5. And definitely don’t mention the Republican party’s frequent claim and/or insinuation, including suggestions from the GOP candidate himself, Mitt Romney, that the sitting Democratic President is a socialist, which in American parlance actually means “communist”, which actually means “Soviet”, which was America’s deadliest enemy out for our utter destruction.

Sure, it would be entirely understandable why someone would take up arms against a Soviet takeover of the United States, but a Democrat said something mean once about a Republican’s dog, or something, so aren’t both parties really to blame, thus making the charge moot?

6. Never, ever mention the NRA. Sure, they’ve proven themselves, time and again, incapable of passing laws that effectively keep guns out of the hands of crazy mass murderers, but that’s no reason to blame them for the _______ tragedy because it’s just too early to cast blame on anyone other than the shooter, who was obviously crazy, and thus this month’s anomaly. Now, let’s discuss for a moment the race of the shooter and the victims.

7. If the ______________ tragedy involved angry white men opening fire on brown people of faith, this is definitely not the time to replay clips of bombastic commentators and politicians getting white men in places like Kansas whipped into a frenzy over Manhattan’s zoning criteria for non-Christian houses of worship.

8. But feel free to discuss if all brown people, and thus the shooter, or his victims, were Muslims – sorry, I meant to say “radical Islamists”. And even if neither was a Muslim, make sure you discuss that point incessantly – Muslims, Muslims, Muslims, Muslims – so as to eventually sow suspicion in the public’s mind as to whether there really is a Muslim angle to this story.

9. Speaking of which, this is not the time to discuss the more general fear mongering around words like “Muslim”, including the ongoing, successful, attempt by Republicans to convince their base that our dark-skinned President is one. Okay, I think we’re ready now to discuss the ______________ tragedy.

First off, it is entirely acceptable for a Republican to opine that the tragedy could have been averted had the victims all been armed (please disregard previous tragedies where armed police officers themselves were injured by the shooter).

Second, poignant, but ultimately meaningless, gestures such as lighting tragedy candles at nighttime vigils, and posting anti-gun petitions on, are to be encouraged.

Finally, clutch your pearls, and all together now, ask the purely rhetorical question: “How could this happen?” Forty-eight hours later return to talking about the Olympics and the latest Kardashian wedding until the next shooting occurs, then refer to Point 1 above. Postscript: If the victims of the ___________ tragedy were black, ignore the above restrictions and take up a collection for the shooter’s defense fund. Links: {1} {2} {3}

____ Chris Andoe is an Oakland based writer and seasoned activist. After meeting John Aravosis at a Chicago “” protest in 2000, Chris was inspired to organize his own major demonstrations in Saint Louis, which drew national attention. Since then, his activism has revolved around LGBT, affordable housing, and mass transit issues. Always in the fray, Andoe’s been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted from CNN to The Saint Louis Post Dispatch. He’s a regular contributor to AMERICAblog and covers the West Coast for the Vital Voice. TO POST A COMMENT, OR TO READ COMMENTS POSTED BY OTHERS, please click the appropriate link at the top or bottom of

Bill Maher – The US: world’s policeman or schoolyard bully?

Ash Grove List
Bill Maher – The US: world’s policeman or schoolyard bully?

From: Abie Dawjee []
Sent: Sunday, September 15, 2013 12:08 PM
The RAIN Newsletter (15-9-13)

Bill Maher : The US: world’s policeman or schoolyard bully?

Ever since 9/11, it seems America’s just been itching for a fight – and any Muslim country will do. Really, who acts like this?

Guardian/UK Saturday 14 September 2013

New rule: 12 years after 9/11, and amidst yet another debate on whether to bomb yet another Muslim country, America must stop asking the question, “Why do they hate us?” Forget the debate on Syria, we need a debate on why we’re always debating whether to bomb someone. Because we’re starting to look not so much like the world’s policeman, but more like George Zimmerman: itching to use force and then pretending it’s because we had no choice.

Now, I’m against chemical weapons, and I don’t care who knows it. And there’s no doubt a guy like Bashar al-Assad deserves to get blown up: using toxic chemicals on unsuspecting civilians is purely and profoundly evil.

But enough about Monsanto. When it comes to Syria, I do understand the appeal of putting the world on notice that if you use poison gas, the United States of America will personally fu*k you up: we will seek out the counsel and support of the entire family of nations, and then, no matter what they say, we will go ahead and fu*k you up.

But however valid that argument may be, it is, I believe, outweighed by the fact that we have to stop bombing Muslim countries if we ever want to feel safe from terrorism in our own. The Chemical Weapons Convention is important, but to the jihadi in the street, it just looks like we’re always looking for a new reason to bomb them. We keep calling this part of the world a tinderbox – and we keep lighting fires there.

Even worse, bombing seems to be our answer for everything.

Since 1945, when Jesus granted America air superiority, we’ve bombed Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Serbia, Somalia, Bosnia, the Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen. And Yemen only because the tenth one was free.

How did we inherit this moral obligation to bring justice to the world via death from above? Are we Zeus? It doesn’t make any sense. Our schools are crumbling, and we want to teach everyone else a lesson?

And look, like I said, I’m no fan of Assad. And I say that openly: I don’t care if it costs me jobs in Hollywood. I think he’s the worst kind of sociopath – the kind who commits unspeakable acts, but who looks like a menswear salesman.

I’m just pointing out that in recent years, our foreign policy debates look like the Facebook page of a loner who shot up a McDonald’s. We’re the only country in the world that muses out loud about who we might bomb next:

“Iran, yeah we might bomb you … thinking about it … maybe, depends on my mood.”

We did this with Iraq after 9/11, even though they had nothing to do with 9/11. We do it with Iran every day. And now, it’s Syria’s turn. We’re like a schoolyard bully who’s got every kid in the class nervous they’re going to be next – and I don’t know if anyone should have that power. Can you imagine going to work and sitting at the lunch table in front of ten people and saying:

“Hey, you think we should … kill Bob? It would send a message to Steve.”

Who acts like this?

People in other countries don’t talk like this. Probably because, if they did, we’d bomb them. Is there no self-awareness about how arrogant it looks to sit around politely pondering who needs a good bombing?

And,we’re the only nation – as we have seen in this Syrian fiasco – who threatens to drop bombs on you while telling you we don’t want to get involved!

“We’re just bombing, please, don’t get up – no boots on the ground, just a little light bombing, we’ll be out of your hair in a week.”

I remember being on the Howard Stern show 12 years ago this week, right after 9/11, and Howard said that, in retaliation for 9/11, America should bomb a Muslim country, any Muslim country, it didn’t matter which one. And yet somehow, I was the one on trial for talking crazy.

And I thought to myself, really? Bomb any Muslim country – that’s the policy? Get a map of the Middle East and just throw a dart at it?

Well, apparently George W Bush was listening that day because that’s exactly what we did.

Avnery: Why Israel is Furious

Ed’s Daily Digest
Avnery: Why Israel is Furious

The Only Good War is a War Avoided
Why Israel is Furious

Counterpunch September 13-15, 2013

Here is another Jewish joke: A hungry young Jew sees an announcement outside a local circus: anyone who climbs to the top of a 50 meter pole and jumps onto a tarpaulin below will win a prize of a thousand rubles.

Out of desperation he goes in, climbs the pole and shudders looking down.

“Jump! Jump!” the ringmaster shouts.

“Jumping is out of the question!” the Jew shouts back. “But how do I get down again?”

That’s how Barack Obama was feeling, a moment before the Russians provided the means.

The trouble with war is that it has two sides.

You prepare a war meticulously. You have a perfect plan. Future generals will study it in their academies. But once you make the first move, everything goes awry. Because the other side has a mind of its own and does not behave the way you expect.

A good example was provided exactly 40 years ago today (by the Hebrew calendar) with the Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel. According to our planning, they shouldn’t and they couldn’t have done so. No way. They knew that our forces were superior and their defeat inevitable.

The chief of army intelligence, the man responsible for the overall evaluation of all intelligence gathered, coined the famous phrase: “low probability”. So, while hundreds of items indicated that an attack was imminent, the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan still managed to be surprised when the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal and the Syrians advanced down to the Sea of Galilee.

Some time before, I had warned the Knesset that the Egyptians were going to start a war. No one took any notice. I was no prophet. I had just returned from a peace conference with Arab delegates, and a very highly-placed Egyptian former colonel told me that Anwar al-Sadat would attack, if Israel did not accept his secret peace proposals and withdraw from Sinai. “But you can’t win!” I protested, “He won’t attack in order to win, but in order to get the frozen situation moving again,” he responded.

Since then, the phrase “low probability” has had an ominous ring in Israeli ears. No one ever used it. But during the last two weeks, it has made a sudden comeback.
Incredible as it sounds, it was given new life by our army command. Eager to have the Americans attack Syria, and faced with a run on gas masks in Israel, they announced that there was a very low probability that Bashar al-Assad would retaliate by attacking Israel.

He wouldn’t dare, of course. How could he? His army is bogged down in fighting with the rebels. It is inferior to our army anyhow, and after two years of civil war it is even weaker than usual. So it would be madness on his part to provoke us. Absolutely. Very, very low probability.

Or is it?

It certainly would be, if Assad’s mind worked like that of an Israeli general. But Assad is not an Israeli general. He is the Syrian dictator, and his mind might work quite differently.

What about the following scenario:

The Americans attack Syria with missiles and bombs, with the intention of underlining the Red Line. Just a short, limited, action.

Assad declares Israel responsible and launches his missiles against Tel Aviv and Dimona.

Israel retaliates with a heavy attack on Syrian installations.

Assad declares that the civil war is over and calls upon all Syrians, and the entire Arab and Muslim world, to unite behind him to defend holy Arab land against the common Zionist enemy, the oppressor of the Palestinian brothers.

The Americans will rush to the defense of Israel and – – –

Low probability? My foot–

Therefore, I was as relieved as Obama himself when the Russians helped him to climb down the pole. Wow!

What will happen now to the chemical weapons? I don’t really care very much. I thought from the beginning that the hysteria about them was vastly overblown. Assad is quite capable of committing all the atrocities he wants without poison gas.

It should be remembered why his father produced this gas in the first place. He believed that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. Not being able to aspire to such expensive and technically advanced devices himself, he settled for much cheaper chemical and biological weapons as a deterrent. According to a secret 1982 CIA report, Israel was producing such weapons itself.

So now we are in for a long process of negotiations, mutual recriminations, inspections, transfers of materials, and so on. Good for many months, if not years.

In the meantime, no American intervention. No regional war. Just the usual mutual bloodletting in Syria.

Israel is furious. Obama is a wimp. A coward. How dare he listen to American public opinion? Who will ever believe him again?

After this red line was crossed, who will believe in the much broader line Obama has drawn in the sands of Iran?

Frankly, nobody. But not because of Syria.

There is absolutely no similarity between the situation in Syria and in Iran. Even if the “limited” action had led to a bigger operation, as was quite possible, it would still have been a small war with little effect on American national interests. A war with Iran is a very different matter.

As I have written many times before, a war with Iran would immediately lead to the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a world-wide oil crisis, a global economic catastrophe with unimaginable consequences.

I repeat: there will be no American – and no Israeli – attack on Iran. Period.

Actually, Obama comes out of this crisis rather well.

His hesitation, which evoked so much contempt in Israel, does him credit. It is right to hesitate instead of rushing into war. In war, people get killed. Even a surgical strike can kill very many people. In laundered military language, it’s called “collateral damage”.

We should know. Years ago, Israel started a tiny little operation in Lebanon and unintentionally killed a lot of people in a UN refugee camp.

Also, Obama did use military force the way it should be used: not for fighting, if fighting can be avoided, but for giving weight to diplomatic pressure. The Russians would not have moved, and Assad would not have bent to their pressure, if there had not been the credible threat of an American military strike. Even Obama’s decision to ask for congressional approval was right in this context. It provided the breathing space which made the Russian initiative possible.

Yes, the Russians are back in the Great Game. They will also play a role in the coming confrontation with Iran. They are just too big to ignore. And Vladimir Putin is too shrewd a player to allow himself be shoved aside.

For viewers with a literary bent, the interplay between Obama and Putin is fascinating – such different characters, such different motivations. Like the sword-wielding and the trident-wielding gladiators in the ancient Roman arena.

And the UN is back again, too. The good old UN, so inefficient, so weak, but so necessary in situations like these. God bless them.

BUT WHAT about Syria? What about the ongoing massacre, a.k.a. civil war? Will it go on forever? Can this crisis be turned around into a solution?
I think that it is possible.

Now that the US and Russia are not at loggerheads, and Iran is speaking with a much more reasonable voice (Thank you for your Rosh Hashana greetings) we might perhaps cautiously, very cautiously, think about a solution.

I can, for example, imagine a joint American-Russian initiative along the following lines:

Syria will be reorganized as a federal state, similar to Bosnia or Switzerland.

It will be composed of confessional cantons along existing lines: Sunni, Alawi, Kurdish, Druze etc.

Instead of the all-powerful president, there will be a collective or rotating presidency. That will solve the personal problem of Assad.

This is a solution everybody can live with. I don’t see any other that can be adopted without much bloodshed. I don’t think that one can go back to the status quo ante. The alternative to this solution is endless bloodshed and the breaking up of the state.

If anything like this solution is adopted, this crisis may yet bear valuable fruit.

Showing once again that the only good war is a war avoided.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
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Nice to see a somewhat balanced Israeli viewpoint.

There are others; not all agree with the official line, or lobbyists in America.


Many, if you include many who have left and increasingly, many, if not most, who already live here.

The Ash Grove: Gideon Levy: Spasibo, Moscow

The Ash Grove List

Gideon Levy: Spasibo, Moscow From: David McReynolds []

Spasibo [thanks], Moscow, for saving the U.S. from itself and averting war The era of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower is over. Henceforth, Washington’s global ambitions will have to take Russia and other countries into account.

By Gideon Levy VIA Dorothy Naor Haaretz (Jerusalem), Sept 12, 2013

Mother Russia (without Father Stalin this time) has saved the world from an unnecessary war. If not for Russia’s intervention, the Tomahawks would already be on the way. More blood would have been spilled in vain and the Middle East would have endured another pointless bombardment, only to sustain the image of Barack Obama and the “status” of the United States.

After the bombardment — with American arms, of course — would have come the quagmire and after the destruction, the reconstruction, contracted to American companies, of course. Syria, for whose welfare everyone is honestly and touchingly concerned, would have bled even more and the horrific chemical weapons would have remained in their arsenals.

In the words of the Internationale, “We’ll change henceforth the old tradition.” The old world, in which the U.S. did whatever it wished, waging a futile war in Iraq and a worthless one in Afghanistan, is approaching its end. Get ready for the new one. Welcome (back) to the world of multiple superpowers. It will not be a world that is all good, but maybe it will be better. It has already proven itself in Syria, and perhaps it will do so next in Iran.

This is not a return to the days of the Cold War in a bipolar world — Russia is too weak and rotten from within — but the Russians have raised their heads, the Chinese are on their way, with the Indians perhaps behind them — and the American monopoly on power is about to crack. There is a world in southern Asia and in South America too, and that world is awakening. That’s good news. We were always told that the “Russian bear,” as we liked to call it, was the ultimate source of offense in the Middle East. We were told that the Soviet Union instigated war while the U.S. sought peace.

Lo and behold — after 20 years of American hegemony and the crumbling of Russian influence in the region, we have not even a scrap of peace. We have only more and more wars of the kind that the U.S. fought, and the kind that Israel fought with its support and equipment.

The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was born in the days of the Cold War, while the only attempt to make peace with the Palestinians took place behind America’s back. Then we should say so: America did nothing to promote peace in the region. If it had wished, peace would be here already. If it had wished, the Israeli occupation would have ended already. Even now, with Russia’s proposal of a peaceful solution to the problem of Syria’s chemical weapons and America’s determination to bomb Syria, America is seen as the one that wants peace and Russia as the warmonger — a faint echo of the days of Cold War propaganda featuring the bad Russians and the good Americans.

Russia’s return is not entirely good news. With its highly dubious regime, corrupt economy and abysmal human rights record, it certainly will be no light unto the nations. A country that fights gay people, locks up journalists, assassinates opponents of the regime and imprisons women singers is a sick country. But its return tells us that once again there will be one who balances, even a little, the power of the U.S.; a country that stands in its way, which is far from always being the way of peace and justice.

Take Syria, for example. Let’s say Russia was not its ally. Let’s say Russia hadn’t stopped America. Let’s say America was the sole superpower in the region. Would the result have been better or worse? The solution Russia proposed has not been carried out yet. It is full of pitfalls. But if it works, it could serve as a lesson for the future. Not everything can be solved with a bomb, no matter how “smart” it may be. Occasionally, it is a good idea to try diplomacy, too.

Russia could play the constructive role it is playing in Syria in Iran as well. We need to encourage its involvement and not mark it as an enemy from the start. Obama should send a bouquet of flowers to Vladimir Putin, the man who helped him out of the corner he had painted himself into regarding the bombing of Syria. The world should thank Moscow for having saved him from trouble. Israel also needs to stop grimacing every time a war or bombardment against Arabs in the region is averted and tell Russia: Spasiba. Thank you for showing us, even for a moment, that there is another way, without bombardments. Visit my website

The Ash Grove: David McReynolds: Quick take on Obama’s speech

Ed’s Daily Digest
David McReynolds: Quick take on Obama’s speech

From: David McReynolds []
Sent: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 7:02 PM

Quick take on Obama’s speech. To, among others, the Edgeleft list.

A weak speech. The theory that we have reached this point (of the Syrian willingness to give up their chemical weapons) because of Obama’s threat of a military attack is questionable – the fact is Obama simply didn’t have the support he needed in Congress. We emerge with a badly weakened Presidency. Ironically it is the Russians who score points, since they broke the deadlock (for whatever reason).

None of us (I hope) support the use of poison gas, but I am weary of Obama and Kerry hammering this point and ignoring the US silence (and perhaps complicity) in the case of Saddam Hussein’s use of poison gas against the Kurds and then against the Iranians. Once again, we see is the traditional “double standard” of every major state – we pick and choose what we will be upset about. One is reminded of Orwell and 1984. (Leaving aside the significant issue of chemical war in Vietnam with Agent Orange, and depleted uranium in Iraq).

I am sick to hear Obama talk about American exceptionalism, of being the anchor of world stability. This, from a President who surely knows his history, and who knows that it was the United States which laid waste to Vietnam, laid the basis for the rise of Pol Pot, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, in the process simply destroying Iraq and leaving it in ruins. (One could list other items, from the invasion of Panama and Grenada, but it is Vietnam and Iraq which loom like ghastly corpses from the recent history of American actions).

Disturbing to hear a President who understands world law talk about the need for the US to act unilaterally. This is in direct violation of international law which, under the Charter of the United Nations, which we signed, states there are only two occasions when a nation can resort to violence. One is when its national security is directly threatened, and the other is when the Security Council authorizes such action. Obama’s proposed actions would be criminal under international law.

There are technical problems with the US approach – on the one hand the outrage about the use of poison gas, and on the other hand the promise by John Kerry that any US military attack would be “unbelievably tiny”. This is the worst of all possible worlds – to stir a hornets nest and hope for the best.

How can the US think of a military strike at an already bloodied Syria without realizing that such violence only adds to the violence, and cannot diminish it. What the Pope recently said on the Syrian issue makes much more moral sense than anything Obama said tonight.

What Obama did not say – and what he could have said (and might yet say if there was enough political pressure) – is that a political solution will require a serious agreement among the Americans, the Saudis, Turkey, and Russia, to have a genuine blockade on any further arms shipments.

Press for an international conference. Press for aid to the refugees. Press for a total blockade on the flow of arms (and the most difficult nation to deal with here might well be Saudi Arabia, not Russia).

I felt sorry for Obama – he had dug himself the hole into which he stumbled tonight by talking of red lines and suggesting that Assad must go. One can deplore the Assad regime (and most of the rebel opposition as well) without feeling it is helpful, as a pre-condition to negotiations, to argue that the leader of one side must leave the room.

Whoever used the poison gas – and I don’t find this as solidly proven as Obama does – what horrifies me more than the thousand dead from its use, are the 100,000 dead thus far in the Civil War (it is estimated that half of those killed have been Syrian government forces, and about a fourth had been civilians).

A weak speech from a President who faces a hostile Congress and will now find it much harder to achieve progress on more urgent domestic issues. (Though you would not guess almost any of this from listening to the commentariat on MSNBC and CNN).

David McReynolds

Vijay Prashad: Letter to a Syrian friend

Letter to a Syrian friend who said: “Your opposition to the US attack on Syria means you support the Assad regime.”

By Vijay Prashad September 4, 2013 Jadaliyya Empire enjoys watching the two sides battle like caged mice, weakening each other to its advantage.

Dear Friend: You are in Syria, somewhere in Damascus. You have been involved in various protests to fight for more democratic space in Syria, and then, after the early months of 2011, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Asad. I have learned a great deal from people like you, about your country and about the nature of the struggles that confront you. You have seen the tide go out in your disfavor on two fronts: first, an international environment that seemed to be in harmony with your goals, but then turned out to be as conflicted about “regime change” as you are certain about it; second, an internal opposition that seemed to mimic the early wellsprings of the Arab uprisings in North Africa in its multivalent diversity, but then turned out to be hijacked by imperialist interests and by radical jihadis that you find intolerant and dangerous. As the politics goes against your more secular nationalism and democratic liberalism, and as you feel isolated in every which way, the advent of a US bombing raid seemed to be a deus ex machine—a thundercloud from Zeus himself.

Such a clap of lightening on the hardened bases of military power would perhaps knock the wind out of the Asad regime, making it possible for people like you to clamber to the top of a revolutionary dynamic. History offers you no hope of success along this path. On the wings of empire can come only grief. Recent interventions, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya, have not ended well for its people. In the month of August 2013, 804 people died in Iraq—numbers that rival the death rates of the worst period of sectarian violence. Libya’s security situation is torturous for its people, with assassinations and random violence the order of the day. The people of Afghanistan, and their twin in Yemen, face untold misery through night raids and drone strikes, and with few of the main human obstacles undone by the occupation. The United States and its North Atlantic partners make extraordinary rhetorical pledges on behalf of human rights and for humanitarian relief, but these rarely translate into reality. Set aside the human rights record of the North Atlantic itself, whether in its colonial phase but equally in the present moment when it has been known to block routinely international regulations on arms sales and on the use of dangerous weapons. Set aside as well the internal human rights problems in the North Atlantic, whether against immigrants or against workers. Such things shall not detain us here. We should look only at the way the North Atlantic has used “human rights” in its military adventures.

First, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) states use “human rights” as pretext for war-making, but care little for the regime of human rights which would include reconciliation of the parties and investigation of the manner in which wars are conducted. NATO went to war in Libya based on a UN Security Council resolution. When asked if it would allow an investigation of its bombing campaign by a UN commission, NATO’s legal counsel Peter Olsen wrote in a letter dated 15 February 2012, “We would accordingly request that, in the event that the commission elects to include a discussion of NATO actions in Libya, its report clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.”

NATO states used an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant to go to war in Libya, but they have since been stubborn in their refusal to allow the ICC to execute these warrants against Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi (held in Zintan, Libya). The regime of human rights has been trampled by NATO states, whose interests are to use the language of human rights for its sectional interests rather than fight to create a robust human rights system to benefit the wellbeing of the people of the planet. If the North Atlantic states are cynical with their use of the language of human rights, they are equally limited in their appropriation of the idea of humanitarian relief.

The most recent Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) from June 2013 shows that there are now 6.8 million Syrians under UN care, including 4.25 million internally displaced people. Of these, three million are children, a million of whom have been edged out of Syria. The UN has criticized governments for being “slow to commit funds” and even slower to deliver the money. Pledges of financial support to the crucial UN agencies are made at the frequent conferences. Little more than a third of the SHARP request has been committed. Only one percent of the eleven million dollars requested for food and nutrition for the Syrian refugees has been delivered, and only 3.7 percent of the 343 million dollars of the emergency non-food aid has been transferred.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that almost sixty-five percent of the needs of Syrian refugees are unmet. If the North Atlantic states were truly humanitarian, they would open their vast coffers to take care of the immediate needs of the Syrian refugees, and if the Gulf Arab states were equally humanitarian, they would finance the removal of these refugees from dangerous zones to safe havens. If the North Atlantic states were truly interested in humanitarianism, they would increase the actual financial resources given to the refugees. Bombing Syria will simply displace more people into penury.

The United States says that it wants to bomb Syria to punish the Asad regime for its use of chemical weapons. But keep in mind that it will likely use Tomahawk missiles, whose warheads might or might not be tipped with depleted uranium (DU). In other words, the United States will punish the Asad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons by bombing Syria with a weapon that the UN General Assembly has four times asked to be sanctioned (but cannot because of the votes against these resolutions from France, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States). One hundred and fifty-five countries worry that depleted uranium will contaminate groundwater and produce environmental and health hazards for generations. The United States used such weapons in Iraq, where a 2010 study (Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009) found that the rate of heart defects was thirteen times that in Europe, the nervous system abnormalities at birth were thirty-three times that in Europe, and the childhood cancer rate was twelve times greater than those before the use of DU in Fallujah in 2004.

These are the consequences of an imperialist bombardment. It will violate law in order to pretend to uphold law. It will use dangerous chemicals to protest the use of dangerous chemicals. It will get self-righteous about chemical weapons, such as nerve gas, that it sold to the Assad government within the past three years. You are part of the Syrian rebellion, sandwiched between the expatriate leadership of the Free Syrian Army and the heinous fractions of jihadis. Your claim is that the US bombardment is to overthrow Assad, but this is precisely not the war aim of the United States. It threatened to act in late August only because the US President Barack Obama had the previous year fallen into the trap of the “red-lines.” Unable to act in any way in 2012, he threatened that he would act if the Asad regime used chemical weapons. His words came back to bite him (although we do not know yet with any certainty about those chemical weapons). To respond, Obama had chosen, before he was blocked by the UK parliament, to fire a barrage of Tomahawk missiles. The US military says that the Tomahawks have “limited tactical effect”–which means they would create random destruction in Syria, but would be unlikely to degrade the military capacity of the regime. Why has the United States been unwilling to conduct a Libyan-style air war on behalf of the rebels in Syria? For one, the Libyan engagement did not work out as well as the NATO states assumed: chaos reigns supreme in the country, and the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi has made the US political class skittish of full action on behalf of rebels whose political views spank of anti-Americanism. Second, chaos in Libya is a price that the NATO states are willing to pay as long as the oil continues to flow and the migrants do not. With Syria, chaos that threatens Israel and that allows Hezbollah to continue to get logistical support from Iran is unacceptable. It is far better to allow Syria to bleed and to let a maelstrom of internecine warfare blind Hezbollah and the jihadis than to allow any kind of Islamist regime in power in Damascus. Asad is preferable to Israel than a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader (the Syrian Brotherhood is far more radical than the Egyptian Ikhwan, and even that was too much for Tel Aviv).

The commitment of the NATO states to the fall of Asad is shallow. They are committed to a weakened Iran and Hezbollah, which is what motivates their cynical policy. Asad is neither here nor there. All this is well and good, you say to me. What alternatives do you have? Do you expect us to have to tuck our dreams to sleep and return to the status quo ante? But the status quo ante is no longer possible. Asad is weakened, as are his class allies. His braggadocio is that of a man who knows that he has nothing to lose. What comes next is not going to be the return of the old regime. It will be whatever the pressure from below can produce as an alternative. But nothing of a political nature is going to come if the violence continues, which will have thrown at least ten million people into displacement by the end of the year, and close to one hundred and fifty thousand people to their deaths.

Such bloodshed is unacceptable, particularly when there is no light at the end of this long tunnel that runs from Homs to Aleppo, from Damascus to Hama. What will stop the violence? Not the regime, which is ready to fight to the end. Not the rebels, who taste victory even when it smacks of blood in your mouth. In the northern belt, the violence has mutated so that the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Levant and Iraq are at war with the Kurdish protection committees (YPG). That violence, where the Asad regime is not involved, led to almost fifty thousand people rushing over a pontoon bridge into Iraq over a weekend. Matters are far from pre-2011. That is one reality that all sides need to recognize. The refugee and humanitarian relief crisis is acute. Neither the regime nor the rebels want to put their focus on this problem. They are too centered on the frontline. Syria’s neighbors are weighted down with the refugee crisis, which threatens to morph and has morphed to some degree into a political crisis. Car bombs in Beirut and in Tripoli are an indicator of the latter. Lebanon is on edge.

Jordan’s monarchy is on the line. Iraq returns to sectarian fissures that it has tried to paper over. There are now 704,877 registered refugees in Lebanon, 517,168 in Jordan, 440,773 in Turkey, and 155,258 in Iraq. These four neighbors have the bulk of the 1.9 million refugees. If the region is serious about a political process it might want to begin where it has needs, and where it can have an impact: call for a Regional Syrian Refugee Crisis Conference. The UN would underwrite such a conference, which would allow the neighboring states to have a formal platform to begin consultation for their common crisis. The practical matters of relief can be dealt with at such a forum, including how these countries will tackle the extra problem of another winter for the refugees in temporary shelter. The fifty-seven percent funding gap that the UN’s SHARP faces leaves the Syrians vulnerable to the harsh weather that will approach. The Inter-Sector Coordination group of the UN agencies would be helped by a regional platform of member states. A Syrian Refugee Crisis Conference would necessitate that the regional states move from practical matters to political ones–they, along with Syrians themselves, will be the ones who will suffer most if the situation destabilizes further. The roots of the crisis are not the stream of refugees, who are only the symptom, but the violence inside Syria. Any Syrian Refugee Crisis Conference would have to eventually turn to the political question, which would mean coordinated regional pressure on the actors in Syria, all of whom rely on the region for logistical support of one kind or the other, to come to the table and hatch out a plan for de-escalation of the war and renewal of a political process. None of the sides see this as possible at this point, but if the regional partners are serious about it they may leave the various factions no choice but to come to the table. If the regional states do nothing, they will be drawn further into the vortex of Syria, bringing Bilad al-Sham into the madness that has overtaken its heartland. Mine is not the politics of two sides, of the battlefield.

I recognize that you are in the midst of a civil war and that what I propose sounds to you like surrender. You wish to fight on, with the messianic view that eventually you will prevail over the regime of Asad. This might be the case, but the odds are stacked against you as much as they are stacked against the Asad regime that it will have a complete victory. Neither of you are willing to see that the human suffering is not worth the chances of triumph. Empire enjoys watching the two sides battle like caged mice, weakening each other to its advantage. Syria deserves better. But now the cord of Syrian nationalism is wrapped around the neck of the Syrian people, asphyxiating your dreams of sovereignty and freedom. A mediated peace alongside a process for genuine democratization guaranteed by your neighboring states would strengthen the chances for the renewal of your national ambitions. Anything else will simply lead to the destruction of your country, its history, and its future.

I am not in favor of the gallows of Ba‘th, nor the execution chambers of Jabhat al-Nusra, neither the guns of NATO nor the neoliberal spirits of the Gulf Arab regimes. Humans have complex minds, and even more complex ambitions. It is for us on the Left to foster those desires, and not to fall prey to the choices of the present. Neither this nor that, but only the future. For you, my friend, a taste of the great Pakistani leftwing poet Habib Jalib, this is the opening of Dastoor, from 1962: Deep jis ka sirf mehellaat hi mein jalay,?Chand logon ki khushyon ko lay ker chalay,?Wo jo saye main har maslihat kay palay;?Aisay dastoor ko,?Subh-e-bay noor ko,?Main naheen maanta,?Main naheen jaanta. The light that shines alone in palaces, Steals away the people’s happiness. Feigns its strength from other’s weakness. That kind of system, Dawn without light, I refuse. I deny. Portside aims to provide material of interest to people on the left that will help them to interpret the world and to change it. Submit via web Submit via email Frequently asked questions Manage subscription Search Portside archives ============================================================