Encircling Empire Reports is a selection of essays, blog posts, and news reports covering a given time period, providing links and representative extracts or key passages from each resource, usually focusing on certain countries/continents and/or processes in each report. The focus of the reports ranges from imperialism discussed in broad strokes, to specific facets of imperialism: militarization and militarism; militainment; “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect”; regime-change; nation-building; counterinsurgency; state terrorism; the economics of empire; soft power, psychological operations, and strategic information operations; and, the ideologies and moral constructions of contemporary imperialist thought. In keeping with the dualistic theme–the empire that encircles us, and the encircling of empire by resistance and collapse–we also attempt to provide coverage of anti-imperialism, anti-war struggles, and the direct resistance against imperialist intervention, as well as covering the decline of U.S. and European geopolitical hegemony.
(When links expire–and they certainly will in many cases–either use the full title of each item, inside quotation marks, and use that as a search term, or use the expired URL and use http://web.archive.org to do a search in its Wayback Machine.)
This report covers the period from April 1, 2013 to May 8, 2013.
This and previous issues have been archived on a dedicated site—please see: ENCIRCLING EMPIRE.
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This report’s focus is on what one can loosely call “search and distort missions”: imperial attempts to locate political, economic, intellectual and informational zones of difference and opposition, with the intent of neutralizing or erasing them. The primary cases covered in this report are: (a) the ongoing proxy war against Syria; (b) the continued unraveling of Libya; (c) the recent elections in Venezuela, and how the U.S. is backing the destabilization and delegitimizing of free and fair elections won by Nicolás Maduro; (d) how Bolivia fights back and expels the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and, an assorted range of landmark news and events concerning other features of processes of domination, as well as organized resistance against it.
Speaking on May 7, 2013, at the White House, Barack Obama made the following remarks on Syria, which spoke relatively clearly of the U.S. as a power that has been intervening in Syria and is determined to continue intervening, while also tactlessly waving bloodied hands to his audience by candidly taking responsibility for the egregious murder of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and for yet again gloating over the execution of Bin Laden. Emphases are added:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Stephen, I think that we have both a moral obligation and a national security interest in, A, ending the slaughter in Syria, but, B, also ensuring that we’ve got a stable Syria that is representative of all the Syrian people, and is not creating chaos for its neighbors. And that’s why for the last two years we have been active in trying to ensure that Bashar Assad exits the stage, and that we can begin a political transition process.
That’s the reason why we’ve invested so much in humanitarian aid. That’s the reason why we are so invested in helping the opposition; why we’ve mobilized the international community to isolate Syria. That’s why we are now providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and that’s why we’re going to continue to do the work that we need to do.
And in terms of the costs and the benefits, I think there would be severe costs in doing nothing. That’s why we’re not doing nothing. That’s why we are actively invested in the process. If what you’re asking is, are there continuing reevaluations about what we do, what actions we take in conjunction with other international partners to optimize the day when — or to hasten the day when we can see a better situation in Syria — we’ve been doing that all along and we’ll continue to do that….
So we want to make sure that we have the best analysis possible. We want to make sure that we are acting deliberately. But I would just point out that there have been several instances during the course of my presidency where I said I was going to do something and it ended up getting done. And there were times when there were folks on the sidelines wondering why hasn’t it happened yet and what’s going on and why didn’t it go on tomorrow? But in the end, whether it’s bin Laden or Qaddafi, if we say we’re taking a position, I would think at this point the international community has a pretty good sense that we typically follow through on our commitments.
Elite Academic Imperialists: “Solidarity with Syria”?
Unsubstantiated and uncorroborated stories once again started emanating from the White House about chemical weapons in Syria. Threats of higher levels of U.S. intervention were immediately issued. At the same time, the Syrian government announced important new strategic victories against armed rebels. A few days later, Israel conducted bombing runs against Syrian targets. It was in this context that dozens of academics in the U.S., including several notable anthropologists (plus ça change…), began signing an execrable petition that calls for regime change in Syria. Originally published in late April by something calling itself the “Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution,” that in speaking about itself names no key individuals who started the campaign and says nothing about the history of the organization, it is nonetheless endorsed by “leftist luminaries such as Norman Finkelstein, Gilbert Achcar and Tariq Ali [and] academics of the stature of Frederic Jameson.” Clearly the intention is to provide legitimacy for the petition’s version of the Syrian opposition by borrowing the symbolic capital of elite academia.
Among the anthropologists who signed this petition are several Latin Americanists including Arturo Escobar and Marisol de la Cadena who are not known as specialists focusing on Syria, as well as Ghassan Hage, Talal Asad, and Sami Hermez. Also included are noteworthy/supposed “post-colonialists” such as Gustavo Esteva, Ania Loomba, and Vijay Prashad; alleged anti-imperialists such as Richard Seymour; feminists such as Chandra Talpade Mohanty; and the one-time “radical” Bill Ayers, among other prominent names such as Etienne Balibar, Rashid Khalidi, and Manuel Castells. What is common to all of these signatories, is not just their prominent positioning in elite academic institutions and/or the media, it is also the fact that if one added the number of pages each one wrote, in which “Syria” is mentioned even in passing, one would not have enough material for a single op-ed, let alone a distinguished career of research and writing on Syria. Then what was the point of inviting these individuals to sign the document?
Quick to do what empire tells them is “politically correct,” and possibly necessary to bolster their political capital within elite institutions that breed the next generations of imperialist planners, scribes, future dependents and hirelings of the national security state and its associated industries, these signatories presumably paid little attention to what they were signing, and if they did, they apparently could sign it nonetheless with little question. Obviously I am speaking here primarily of the North American and European academic signatories, and not as much their derivatives and dependents in Middle Eastern universities.
While the petition calls for a “free” and “democratic” Syria, these heavily loaded terms go completely undefined, without even a minimal, cursory form of exegesis. If what goes without saying is what came without saying, it seems likely that the signatories are working on the assumption that these are to be understood as the liberal democratic ideals that form part of their own social training and political enculturation. Yet, is there any question about what these could mean to Syrians, and how they could possibly take root in a country overrun by thousands of violent fundamentalists backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar? No, no questions.
In addition, these signatories do not even spot the basic contradictions in the document, where on the one hand the petition speaks of active foreign intervention (and presumes to be even handed between the legitimate support offered by states allied to the established government, versus the covert and proxy warfare fought by intervening powers in violation of international law…but those liberal ideals, like all others can be quickly sacrificed), and yet also states, quite remarkably: “regional and world powers have left the Syrian people alone.” Have they? Did you read this when you signed it? And if you did, you have no problem signing your name to such preposterous falsehoods? As an undergraduate student paper, I would not accept such work for a grade for having failed to do even elementary background research–and yet here these supposedly reputable academics are signing their names to this.
Did these signatories not pause at the opening paragraph that forms the very start of the petition? “We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the millions of Syrians who have been struggling for dignity and freedom since March 2011. We call on people of the world to pressure the Syrian regime to end its oppression of and war on the Syrian people. We demand that Bashar al-Asad leave immediately without excuses so that Syria can begin a speedy recovery towards a democratic future”–the statement is one that promotes regime change, that reduces a conflict to the fortunes of one named person, and that naively implies that his departure will mean Syria undergoes not just a “recovery” toward “democracy,” but that it will be a “speedy” one as well. Moreover, they are inserting their desires in place of all Syrians. This is basic neoliberal script, bordering on puerile trash talk, and it mimics thousands of related statements that should be familiar to anyone who has been paying any attention to the pronouncements of the U.S. State Department. In addition, given what has happened in Libya, why would these academics lend themselves to the belief that the story of the Syrian conflict will resolve itself in such a happy ending? No worries, because mention of Libya itself is smuggled into the same document, as if it were an experience to be praised and continued. Of course, anthropologists almost as a total whole have completely ignored any discussion of Libya, even when the subject matter touches their discipline directly, in terms of the basic understandings of the human condition implied by humanitarian intervention.
Perhaps what motivated these eminent scholars to sign on were such wonderfully romantic statements that postulate war in Syria as “an extension of the Zapatista revolt in Mexico.” Did the signatories take this seriously? We may leave aside the fact that this statement seems to wish the Syrian rebels very bad luck (the Zapatistas never achieved any of their key demands, not even 20 years later–perhaps this is the kind of combination of symbolic effects and political non-impact that resigned Western middle class liberals can tolerate). The question that it raises, however, is: since when did the Zapatistas engage in a violent grab for state power? Unlike the Syrian opposition, the Zapatistas never had, and still have no intention of ever taking hold of the state. So why lump apples and oranges together in the same basket? Not even the elites who sometimes teach about mystification are invulnerable to the work of dominant ideas/ideas of dominance. Signing this petition, at this time, is similar to if academics had in late 2002 signed a petition denouncing Saddam Hussein and calling for his removal from Iraq: in such a context, a chorus of shared opinion can serve to shore up legitimacy for U.S. intervention. In agreement with U.S. foreign policy, these academics have conceded major territory: they have conceded that Bashar Asad should be the focal point of discussion, which is exactly how the State Department prefers to spin matters.
And now that the symbolic capital of elite Western academics has been acquired, what use has it really been? It has had zero impact on events in Syria. So what then? Such a petition, with such signatories, can serve as yet another signpost to Western academics of which way they should be pointing their noses, to dutifully keep up the nodding momentum, and to reproduce what our dominant political class wants us to repeat. This reminds me of certain anthropologists who say they research imperialism, colonialism, and the CIA, only to discover that what they mean is that their focus is on China-Tibet, and on humanizing the “humanitarian” side of the CIA. In other words, for critique to be safe it must be projected in line with or parallel to the interests of the state’s foreign policy. This petition is nothing different than that: it is criticism without critique, condemnation without reflection, and hope without honesty.
Responses to the Petition:
Fortunately, there have been a few striking criticisms published against the above petition (but not nearly enough and not by equally famous academics in the elite centres of imperial academia). Amal Saad-Ghorayeb writes with all due sarcasm and disbelief in “I want to go to there, to that Syrian revolutionary utopia“:
See, this revolutionary utopia rejects that [foreign, specifically Western] intervention although it is calling on “global civil society” i.e. Western NGOs, to do precisely that. You see, this revolution has no support in mainstream corporate or Arab media or among the completely brainwashed western and Arab publics. Its a poor little revolution that has been “left alone” by the “regional and world powers.” I really want to go to there, to that Marxist revolutionary utopia where everyone wears a Kuffieh and a Che Guevara t-shirt and looks like Will Smith; a place where those who delight in posing for the cameras while barbecuing the heads of captured helicopter pilots are but anomaly of an otherwise progressive, popular revolution which will usher in freedom, love, peace and harmony if only it would get more western support.
“Syria: The Feckless Left” is a stirring condemnation of what passes itself off as “the left” in Western imperial societies, and it begins as follows:
The geo-political analysis of the screed would not pass the muster of a child, and the empty verbiage comes straight out of a George W. Bush or Barak Obama speech — without exaggeration. In any event, don’t mislead yourself into thinking the timing was accidental in the face of the collapse of the mercenary Takfiri front. Because it wasn’t. When the empire finds its back against wall, it will not hesitate in pulling out all stops — even if it means trotting out a brigade of tired old leftists in its dirty service.
Taming Critiques of Foreign Intervention in Syria: A Case Study from Arena
The Australian magazine, Arena, published exchanges debating the nature and degree of foreign intervention in Syria–one side, represented by Jeremy Salt, who dissects the conflict in Syria as being one that has largely become a contest between regional and foreign powers, and the other, led by Firas Massouh, Yoni Molad and Stephen Pascoe, who argue that this is genuine democratic revolution against oppression. See the following:
“Tearing Syria Apart” by Jeremy Salt, Arena, April 2013–extract:
A war is being waged in and on Syria. Protecting the people from the dictator is no more than the usual pretext for attacks on Middle Eastern countries. The real target is not Bashar but Syria itself. It is Israel’s visceral enemy; it has got in the way of the West virtually since its emergence as an independent state in the 1940s; and for more than two decades it has been the central pillar in the Iran–Syria–Hizbullah ‘axis of resistance’. Unrest following the arrival of the ‘Arab spring’ was an opportunity that outside governments and their regional allies moved quickly to exploit. The United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey pooled their resources in an attempt to bring down the government in Damascus. Inside Syria their tools have been armed groups increasingly dominated by local and foreign jihadists who want to turn Syria into an Islamic emirate. They are the very people the United States and its allies were supposed to be fighting in their ‘war on terror’ yet here they are in Syria supporting them….Enough is not yet enough. The United States, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are determined to destroy the central pillar in the Middle East axis of resistance even at the risk of destroying Syria. Not since the end of the First World War has a Middle Eastern country been targeted for destruction in such a remorseless fashion. The means are justified by the end: as a geo-strategic triumph, the destruction of the Syrian government would eclipse the sidelining of Egypt through the 1979 treaty with Israel and perhaps surpass even the destruction of Iraq as a unitary state. The stakes could not be higher: nothing is beyond contemplation, including the assassination of Bashar if his enemies think they can get away with it. The outcome of this latest phase of the long-running struggle for Syria will determine the future of the Middle East for many decades to come.
“Putting Syria Back Together Again: A response to Jeremy Salt” by Firas Massouh, Yoni Molad and Stephen Pascoe, Arena, April 2013–extract:
Jeremy Salt’s essay on Syria published in this edition of Arena is a misguided contribution to the debate on recent events in that country. Salt’s central contention is that the Syrian Revolution is not, as we are allegedly led to believe, a genuine popular uprising, but instead something more sinister. His essay constructs a rather elaborate conspiracy theory, whose essence can be expressed as follows: that the people of Syria who have chosen the path of armed resistance are no more than the ‘tools’ of foreign powers who are hell bent on destroying the country, its secular character and its status as part of an ‘axis of resistance’ to Western imperial interests in the Middle East (and by extension, the interests of Syria’s bête noire: the State of Israel). In this response, we reject Salt’s thesis and uncover the faulty evidential base upon which it is constructed. We argue that Salt’s interpretation of events is misguided because it is anachronistic and abstract, mired in cold-war realpolitik propaganda. Salt’s argument represents a classic conspiracy theory, in the sense that it contains shards of truth, extrapolated into a metanarrative that ascribes agency to some shadowy, globally-powerful force. Inherent in Salt’s argument is an outright dismissal of any revolutionary potential in Syria. This more than a mere theoretical misinterpretation; rather, it is an intentional attempt to avoid interrogating or making explicit the very ideas and beliefs on which the structure of the Assad regime is built. In place of criticism, Salt offers a spurious distinction ‘between a system most Syrians don’t like and a president many of them do like’. Elsewhere, he has argued that although Assad ‘sits on top of the system, it is misleading to call him a dictator. The system itself is the true dictator’. In what follows, we examine the historical, political and ideological foundations of Salt’s flawed reading of the Syrian situation.
“Salt Responds,” Arena, April 2013–extract:
My critics deny that the United States, Britain, France, Saudi, Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are involved in a coordinated effort to bring down the government in Damascus, partly by funding an exiled ‘national coalition’ and partly by funding armed groups. This will surprise many readers because the facts are so completely against them. They say that the West ‘has not had an appetite for intervening directly in Syria the way it did in Libya or Mali’. I have to assume they have forgotten that the United States made strenuous efforts to secure a UN Security Council resolution that would have allowed open military intervention on the Libyan model, with consequences that would have been far worse, but were repeatedly blocked by Russia and China. Scarcely hidden covert intervention was the second best choice of the collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’. As I have written, the armed groups are their tools, whether my critics admit it not. If Saudi Arabia and Qatar cut off funding and the supply of arms—at least 3500 tons of which have been provided over the past year—the insurgency will begin to wither at its roots.
The Neocolonial Arab Human Rights Activist: A Case Study
Writing in Electronic Intifada (May 7, 2013), a politically bifurcated Max Blumenthal (see here and here) produces a neither surprising nor novel, but nonetheless interesting expose of the work of one Nasser Weddady (see: “Weddady’s Free Arabs, American Islamic Congress and the pro-Israel funders who helped them rise“). Put briefly, Nasser Weddady is a Mauritanian expatriate, based in Boston, who presents himself as a “human rights activist” and works for the American Islamic Congress (AIC). Many of his pronouncements in social network sites tend to parrot those of the State Department, perhaps exceeding them in zeal but not reaching even their minimal level of nuance: hence, Hugo Chávez was a “dictator,” and the Libyan “revolution” was to be praised and supported at all costs, regardless of the ethnic cleansing conducted by the “revolutionaries” and the violent, racist persecution of black Libyans and African migrants that formed a consistent theme throughout the last 15 years of anti-Gaddafi organizing. Likewise, Weddady is of course well on board with the overthrow of President Asad in Syria. Weddady, a lay figure, was called upon by the governor of Massachusetts to replace a notable religious authority in representing Muslims at an interfaith service presided by Obama.
Here are is a sample of Blumenthal’s key findings:
An investigation of the American Islamic Congress by The Electronic Intifada revealed a disturbing history that stretches back to the invasion of Iraq, with political patronage from the Bush administration building the organization from the ground up. Despite its claim to promote tolerance, the AIC has depended on substantial support from the very same elements that fought tooth and nail to sabotage the Islamic Society of Boston, and which seem determined to undermine Muslim communal organizing efforts across the country.
The organization has managed to maintain US government funding during the Obama era, serving as a faithful arm of soft American power in the Middle East while nurturing the creation of Weddady’s new “Free Arabs” website, a self-proclaimed portal to “Democracy, Secularism, [and] Fun” that eschews criticism of Western policies towards the Middle East while promoting US military intervention in Syria….
According to Internal Revenue Service 990 information filings, the AIC is funded largely by a pool of right-wing donors responsible for bankrolling key players in America’s Islamophobia industry, from Charles Jacobs to Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. These same donors have pumped millions into major pro-Israel organizations, including groups involved in settlement activity and the Friends of the IDF, which provides assistance to the Israeli army.
Among the AIC’s most reliable supporters is the Donors Capital Fund, which has provided at least $85,000 in funding since 2008. Donors Capital was among the seven foundations identified in the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc. as “the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America.” Another foundation singled out in the report, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has donated $325,000 to the AIC between 2005 and 2011….
Despite having participated in a dubious mission that was widely criticized as right-wing political patronage, the AIC has maintained a steady stream of government funding since Barack Obama entered the White House. In 2009, the AIC received more than $433,000 from the State Department to conduct conflict resolution programs in Iraq, claiming to have “diffused 60 conflicts” in the country. Two years later, it reaped $1.28 million in government funding for Iraqi conflict resolution and to train “social entrepreneurs” in Tunisia; over $170,000 of the government money was earmarked for democracy promotion. Today, the AIC maintains offices in Tunis and Cairo, both apparently supported by State Department grants.
Democracy, Secularism, Fun? Imperialist script is becoming increasingly droll.
To these documented receipts of funds, the “Free Arabs” website produced a response, of sorts, that mistakenly claims this is a conspiratorial form of “guilt by association.” They were also very hurt by insults in Twitter. What thin skins serve as armour for these wannabe warriors.
Not Our War
Finally for now, to say that not everyone in the U.S. is sold on the need for another foreign military intervention is an understatement. This is true even after two solid years of having continual attempts to bash their eardrums with constant pleas for “humanitarian intervention” on behalf of freedom-loving Syrians who only want democracy, against the cruel repression of an evil dictator. Instead, as Reuters reported (not intended as an endorsement of Reuters):
Most Americans do not want the United States to intervene in Syria’s civil war even if the government there uses chemical weapons, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Wednesday, in a clear message to the White House as it considers how to respond to the worsening crisis.
Only 10 percent of those surveyed in the online poll said the United States should become involved in the fighting. Sixty-one percent opposed getting involved.
The figure favoring intervention rose to 27 percent when respondents were asked what the United States should do if President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons. Forty-four percent would be opposed….
Many Americans are still oblivious to events in Syria. The poll found that about one-third, or 36 percent, had neither heard nor read anything about the civil war there.
Only 8 percent said they had heard or read a great deal and 19 percent said they had heard or read a “fair amount.”
Ironically out of touch with the anti-war sentiments of what is either a majority, or more consistently a large minority of Americans, the so-called “liberal left” in the U.S. is largely pro-war and pro-intervention. The Nation‘s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, once remonstrated with me that the U.S. cannot afford to become “isolationist,” in her words. Lost on her is the fact that only imperialists ever speak in such terms. The only conceivable way in which non-intervention and non-aggression could constitute “isolation” is if one believes that the U.S. has a right to rule globally, that is, an idea enchanted with manifest destiny, possessed by an implicit belief in the “natural” posture of the U.S. as a world power, such that any relinquishing to others of their right to self-determination is perceived as a form of “withdrawal.” Therefore, it is not surprising that, as in the case of Libya, it is once again the libertarian right-wing that produces public statements denouncing interventionism–“America, a republic, not an empire.” This is the case, once more, of Pat Buchanan–writing on April 30, 2013, in “Their War, Not Ours:”
“The worst mistake of my presidency,” said Ronald Reagan of his decision to put Marines into the middle of Lebanon’s civil war, where 241 died in a suicide bombing of their barracks.
And if Barack Obama plunges into Syria’s civil war, it could consume his presidency, even as Iraq consumed the presidency of George W. Bush.
Why would Obama even consider this?
Because he blundered badly. Foolishly, he put his credibility on the line by warning that any Syrian use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and be a “game changer” with “enormous consequences.”
Not only was this ultimatum unwise, Obama had no authority to issue it. If Syria does not threaten or attack us, Obama would need congressional authorization before he could constitutionally engage in acts of war against Syria. When did he ever receive such authorization?
Moreover, there is no proof Syrian President Bashar Assad ever ordered the use of chemical weapons…
Why stay out? Because it is not our war. There is no vital U.S. interest in who rules Syria. Hafez Assad and Bashar have ruled Syria for 40 years. How has that ever threatened us?
Moreover, U.S. intervention would signal to Assad that the end is near, making his use of every weapon in his arsenal, including chemical weapons, more — not less — likely.
U.S. intervention would also make us de facto allies of Assad’s principal enemies, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaida. As The New York Times reported Sunday, “Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.”
Do we really wish to expend American blood and treasure to bring about a victory of Islamists and jihadists in Syria?
Not our war is a statement that should be echoed throughout NATO member states, as Canada’s government, once again a willing party to folly and eager to serve as “Al Qaeda’s air force,” announced it would consider providing air support for Syria’s rebels. Also repeating the pattern that occurred before the intervention in Libya, top U.S. military brass are among the very few advising caution for a change, at least in public–see “Why America’s top general is wary of US military intervention in Syria” :
[General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on military intervention in Syria]: “Whether the military effect would produce … an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties, and a stable Syria – that’s the reason I’ve been cautious … because it is not clear to me that it would produce that outcome.”
Almost exactly replicating one of the key arguments in my publications on Libya, Slouching Towards Sirte chief among them, Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch recently observed: “All civilians deserve protection, but some civilians deserve more protection than others. Or so it seems in Libya today” (see “Why have we forgotten about Libya?“). So it seems in Libya today, but so it seemed in Libya starting in February 2011, when Human Rights Watch itself discounted the number of civilians killed by opposition forces in pushing for Western intervention against the Libyan government under Gaddafi. Some of us have not forgotten about Libya, nor have we forgotten the duplicitous actors who cash in on both ends of the conflict. Yet now even Abrahams cannot escape the continuing duplicity of foreign actors, including the UN itself:
But while the U.N. Security Council and its powerful members jumped to protect Libyan civilians when Gadhafi was the enemy, they have not taken serious action against the revenge attacks that Tawerghans and other displaced communities in Libya are suffering from today – about 60,000 people in all, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
In its resolution on Libya this month, the Security Council rightly expressed concern about reprisals, torture and executions, but failed to mention the plight of Tawerghans. Even the U.N. mission in Libya, watching developments up close, has not made the abuses against Tawerghans and other allegedly “pro-Gadhafi” communities a central theme.
International legal obligations suggest that they should. The violations against Tawerghans are widespread, systematic and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity. The U.N.’s commission of inquiry on Libya made this point a year ago.
The question for Abrahams then is this: when some of us were saying these things at the outset of the conflict, noting that the UN Human Rights Commission denied Libya the right to represent itself while throwing the doors open to all sorts of shadowy “human rights organizations,” and while Libya was actually denied representation at the UN as a whole in violation of its charter, why were we “wrong” then, and automatically ignored, and we are suddenly right now? Maybe Abrahams would be wise to learn lessons from critics, rather than just echoing them when it is too late.
Meanwhile, as Libya continues to fall to pieces and is ruled by thousands of armed dictators each issuing orders to “government” at gunpoint, as with the recent siege of the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a successful effort to coerce parliament to pass a wide-ranging “political isolation” law, also known as “de-Gaddafication,” the UN has had little to say about its own role in helping to create the conditions for this situation and instead seems to continue in arrogating to itself the right to speak for all Libyans. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) stated the following: “UNSMIL urges all Libyans to adhere to constructive dialogue to resolve their differences in accordance with the principles of democracy as the way forward to achieving the goals of the revolution.” The question apparently lost on UNSMIL here is this: if is up to the UN to “remind” Libyans what their “revolution” ought to be about, is it possible that maybe the UN never understood the conflict to begin with?
The theme of Libya falling apart post-Gaddafi is also emphasized in two recent reviews of Slouching Towards Sirte–and both draw connections with the continuing proxy war against Syria as well:
Perhaps no war in recent memory has so thoroughly flummoxed the Euro-Atlantic left as the recent NATO war on Libya. Presaging what would occur as U.S. proxies carried out an assault on Syria, both a pro-war left and an anti-anti-war left started filling up socialist e-zines and broadsheets with endless explanations and tortuous justifications for why a small invasion, perhaps just a “no-fly-zone,” would be okay—so long as it didn’t grow into a larger intervention. They cracked open the door to imperialism, with the understanding that it would be watched very carefully so as to make sure that no more of it would be allowed in than was necessary to carry out its mission. The absurdity of this posture became clear when NATO immediately expanded its mandate and bombed much of Libya to smithereens, with the help of on-the-ground militia, embraced as revolutionaries by those who should have known better—and according to Maximilian Forte, could have known better, had they only looked.
Forte is an anthropologist, and what he offers us in Slouching Towards Sirte is an ethnography of U.S. culture and the way it enabled and contributed to the destruction of Libya. It is also a meticulously documented study in hypocrisy: that of the U.S. elite, of the Gulf ruling classes who have lately welded their agenda directly onto that of the United States, and of the liberal bombardiers who emerged in the crucible of the “humanitarian” wars of the 1990s only to reemerge as cheerleaders for the destruction of another Arab country in 2011. Finally, it is a study of the breakdown of the anti-war principles of leftists in the United States and Europe, so many of whom, for so long, sustained an infatuation with confused rebels whose leadership early on had their hand out to the U.S. empire, prepared to pay any cost—including Libya itself—to take out a leader under whom they no longer were prepared to live.
The media has gone very quiet on Libya of late; clearly, liberal imperialists don’t like to dwell on their crimes. This is not surprising. The modus operandi of the humanitarian imperialist is not one of informed reflection, but only permanent outrage against leaders of the global South; besides, in the topsy-turvy world of liberal interventionism, the “failure to act” is the only crime of which the West is capable.
As Forte puts it, their moral code holds that “If we do not act, we should be held responsible for the actions of others. When we do act, we should never be held responsible for our own actions.” With Muammar Gaddafi dead, the hunt is on for a new hate figure on whom to spew venom (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun); far more satisfying than actually evaluating our own role in the creation of human misery. This is the colonial mentality of the liberal lynch mob.
AFRICOM and the New Scramble for Africa
Also relevant are at least two recent articles dealing with AFRICOM and the new scramble for Africa:
….The new ‘scramble’ is also a consequence of the fact that Africa stands poised to break free from the economic dependency that has been one of the most enduring and damaging legacies of colonial rule and its aftermath. In the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies were in Africa. In eight of the last ten years Africa’s economic growth has been faster than that of East Asia. Africa’s population is growing too and expected to provide half of the world’s increase in population in the next forty years. It is also expected that Africa will soon have over 100m people with an income of over $3000 per annum (almost the same as India). As a consequence the World Bank has reported that the continent could be on the brink of the same kind of economic take-off as experienced by China and India in the past, even though it is still heavily reliant on external investment. Africa is becoming increasingly important not only as a supplier of raw materials but also as a location for capital investment (this has increased by 500% over the last ten years), and as a market for goods. The continent is particularly important for its oil and gas supplies in established areas such as Libya, Nigeria, Guinea, Angola, and Algeria but also in new areas such as, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Somalia. The US gets 15% of its oil from Africa, more than from the Middle East, and this is set to rise to around 25%. However, the US and its allies often find themselves in competition with the other big powers. China, for example, now obtains a third of its imported oil from Africa. The major buyers of Sudan’s oil are China, Japan, India and Malaysia and China has also become a major purchaser of Nigeria’s oil….
On April 25th, AFRICOM, the US central command in Africa, joined USAID in celebrating World Malaria Day by spreading awareness of the US’s counter-malaria efforts in Africa. But don’t let the humanitarian façade fool you; this was a PR campaign for AFRICOM’s military presence in West Africa.
Using their Facebook page and the hashtag #malariabuzz, AFRICOM attempted to reach the world’s audience to promote their programs in West Africa which partner with countries to share “best practices.” These programs, according to AFRICOM, serve to “enhance civilian-to-military cooperation,” a turn of phrase that hauntingly echoes of the US’ misguided promise to win the hearts of mind of Iraqis during the 2003 invasion.
Unfortunately, humanitarian-military partnerships are not unique to AFRICOM, nor is this the first time the US military has used health workers in tactical operations: health practitioners in Pakistan were unknowingly lured into aiding in the capture of Osama Bin Laden, which has resulted in job-losses, death-threats, and the mistrust and assassinations of health workers around the country.
At this stage most readers will already know that the recent presidential elections in Venezuela were won by Nicolás Maduro, by a majority, thus renewing popular faith in continuing the Bolivarian socialist revolution. As most readers should also know, once Washington has declared itself your enemy, no number of popular plebiscites, referenda, congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections won by landslides, in the fairest electoral system in the world, will release you from the epithet of “dictator.” When the U.S. talks about “promoting democracy,” what it always means is promoting parties useful to its interests–and this is a fact that, if it needed to be established yet again, is being established yet again as a fact. The U.S. is better at paying, producing, aiding and abetting fraudulent elections, whose results it promptly recognizes–repeatedly, as in the case of Afghanistan, and previously in the case of El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic–than it is at recognizing the legitimacy of opponents’ elections.
Here are some of the more important essays to read on the current attempts by Washington to delegitimize Venezuela’s democratic elections and to promote destabilization:
I’ve covered Venezuelan elections as a journalist for the past 14 years. I have published dozens of articles emphasizing why the results of Venezuela’s elections truly reflect the will of the majority. During the last eight years Venezuelan electoral authorities developed a truly reliable voting system. Technically speaking, our elections are impeccable….
….Here’s how it works: every Venezuelan voter gets TWO ballots. One is electronic, the second is a paper print-out of the touch-screen ballot, which the voter reviews, authorises, then places in a locked ballot-box. An astounding 54 percent of the boxes are chosen at random to open and check against the computer tally. It’s as close to a bulletproof count as you can get.
Still, the loser bitched and – his bluff called – was allowed to pick all the precincts he wanted – 12,000 – to add to the audit.
And that’s why the US State Department then has to turn to the threat of bullets and “Third Ring” mayhem in the streets – to undermine the legitimacy of the new Maduro government and signal the US willingness to support a new coup.
Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s political heir, won Sunday’s snap election by an unexpectedly narrow margin. With more than 99% of the votes counted, Maduro secured 50.7% of the vote, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Union coalition won 49.1% of the vote, according to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council. Roughly 230,000 votes separate the candidates. Capriles did not accept the results and is demanding that electoral authorities carryout a 100% audit….
Nicolás Maduro has been elected to succeed Hugo Chávez as President of Venezuela. While the defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles contested the result and demanded a recount, one of Chávez’s most important legacies is an electoral system that is unassailable, described by Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world.” Nor was the margin of victory as narrow as some are suggesting: at latest count, Maduro has won by nearly 300,000 votes, which when proportionally understood is the equivalent of millions of votes in the United States….
….Any effort at drawing out the election, or worse, disrupting the democratic process with demonstrations in the street, will only arouse suspicions that the anti-Chavistas have not left their anti-democratic “golpismo,” or coup-mongering, in the past.
Similar advice applies to the Obama administration, which has before it the opportunity for a thaw in relations. All Obama needs to do is to promptly and unreservedly recognize the electoral result, thereby making it clear that the Venezuelans have every right to choose their own leaders. If the administration hesitates, however, and if it continues the Bush-era policy of taking sides and interfering in Venezuelan politics, any hope for reconciliation will be in vain.
The United States is refusing to recognize the results of the Venezuelan elections, insisting that Venezuela conduct a re-count of 100 percent of the votes in light of the narrow margin of victory for Nicolas Maduro. The facts surrounding the voting process and election outcome in Venezuela, the U.S.’s own experiences with close presidential elections, and the U.S.’s recent recognition of coup governments in Latin America demonstrate that the U.S.’s position in regard to Venezuela has nothing to do with the U.S.’s alleged concerns for democracy, but rather, its complete disdain for it….
I just returned from Venezuela where I was one of 170 international election observers from around the world, including India, Guyana, Surinam, Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Scotland, England, the United States, Guatemala, Argentina, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Brazil, Chile, Greece, France, Panama and Mexico. These observers included two former Presidents (of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic), judges, lawyers and numerous high ranking officials of national electoral councils. What we found was an election system which was transparent, inherently reliable, well-run and thoroughly audited….
The U.S.’s position is all the more ridiculous given its quick recognition of the coup government in Paraguay after the former Bishop turned President, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in 2012, and its recognition of the 2009 elections in Honduras despite the fact that the U.S.’s previously-stated precondition for recognizing this election – the return of President Manual Zelaya to power after his forcible ouster by the military – never occurred. Of course, this even pales in comparison to the U.S.’s active involvement in violent coups against democratically-elected leaders in Latin America (e.g., against President Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, against President Allende in Chile in 1973, and against President Aristide in Haiti in 2004).
And, the U.S.’s failure to recognize the Venezuelan elections is having devastating consequences in Venezuela, for it is emboldening the Venezuelan opposition to carry out violence in Venezuela in order to destabilize that country….
The US has held back any recognition of the outcome with Kerry demanding a recount of all 15 million votes. This mirrors precisely the demand of Venezuela’s losing Presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles.
Kerry’s post-election remarks questioning “the viability of that government” if there were “irregularities” give rise to fears that the US is not going to recognise Maduro as President. Especially as the US administration, even before the vote took place, seemed to have made up its mind up about the probity of the Venezuelan election. US Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jackson, claimed that it would be “difficult” to have “open, fair and transparent elections” in Venezuela.
There is of course no basis for any of these claims. The US government has no better information than the Latin American or European governments who have accepted the results. Whilst, Venezuela’s elections have regularly been declared free and fair. Jimmy Carter called its elections process “the best in the world”.
….Washington’s efforts to de-legitimize the election mark a significant escalation of U.S. efforts at “regime change” in Venezuela. Not since its involvement in the 2002 military coup has the U.S. government done this much to promote open conflict in Venezuela. When the White House first announced on Monday that a 100 percent audit of the votes was “an important, prudent and necessary step,” this was not an effort to promote a “recount.” They had to know that this was a form of hate speech – telling the government of Venezuela what was necessary to make their elections legitimate. They also had to know that it would not make such a recount more likely. And this was also their quick reply to Maduro’s efforts, according to the New York Times of April 15, to reach out to the Obama administration for better relations through former Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
But the Obama team’s effort failed miserably. On Wednesday the government of Spain, Washington’s only significant ally supporting a “100 percent audit” reversed its position and recognized Maduro’s election. Then the Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, backed off his prior alignment with the Obama administration and recognized the election result….
….Since Sunday, despite opposition protests in Caracas, messages of congratulations have been pouring in for Maduro from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba and Unasur. Brazil’s foreign minister Antonio Patriota congratulated Maduro, reaffirming Brazil’s “decision to continue working closely with Caracas”….
Some other South American leaders like Bolivia’s Evo Morales have condemned the US “interference” in Venezuelan elections. Condemning Washington’s questioning of the election result, the Bolivian president said the US is preparing for a coup in Venezuela. He also rejected the White House’s “moral authority to question electoral results worldwide”, after Washington asked Caracas to hold a full vote recount. “I am certain that behind those remarks, the US is preparing a coup in Venezuela,” said Morales at a press conference.
….What AP, USA Today, BBC and others fail to mention in their most recent articles is that Capriles accepted the CNE’s April 18th decision to proceed with the audit of the remaining voting receipt boxes, and said that the opposition would participate in the process….
Yet, soon after Capriles publicly accepted the CNE’s decision, he and others from the opposition began to shift their demands. After originally claiming that a full audit of the voting receipts would shed light on the alleged fraud that had occurred – initially claiming that their own quick count showed Capriles winning by 300,000 votes – the opposition decided to focus primarily on the election’s voting record books (cuadernos de votación). These books, present at each voting station, are where voters place their fingerprints and signatures after having voted electronically and deposited the paper receipts reflecting their voting choice in sealed boxes….
How these books could provide evidence of fraud isn’t clear. Among the many safeguards found in Venezuela’s voting system are electronic fingerprint detectors which verify a voter’s identity and prevent him or her from voting twice. Furthermore, witnesses from both the opposition and pro-government parties are present at every voting station. In these conditions, whether or not the record books are systematically filled in correctly by voters, it is extremely unlikely that anyone could get away with voting twice.
One thing is certain though. The audit of some 15 million signatures and fingerprints found in the voting record books would be a very long process indeed, probably significantly longer than the thirty-day audit of the remaining boxes of voting machine receipts that has yet to begin. Given the infinitesimally small odds that the audit of remaining voting receipt boxes will produce significant discrepancies (as we showed in this statistical calculation last week), it appears that the opposition is mainly intent on trying to maintain a climate of uncertainty and political tension for as long as possible. By failing to provide its readers with critical background information on the opposition’s actions to date, much of the major English language media may also be helping promote this climate of tension.
“I would say that Venezuela is the number one target of the United States media and the State Department that exists today. The covert actions that are going on in Venezuela are very scary. I don’t want to be in Nicolas Maduro’s shoes. I’d hate to be him because he’s in a new spotlight,” the director continued.
“I think that the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition,” Obama said in the interview with Univision News during a trip to Mexico. “I think our general view has been that it’s up to the people of Venezuela to choose their leaders in legitimate elections.”…
“Our approach to the entire hemisphere is not ideological. It’s not rooted back in the Cold War. It’s based on the notion of our basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly. Are those being observed?” Obama said.
“There are reports that they have not been fully observed post-election,” he added. “I think our only interest at this point is making sure that the people of Venezuela are able to determine their own destiny free from the kinds of practices that the entire hemisphere generally has moved away from.”
A Venezuelan court charged retired General Antonio Rivero on Monday with inciting post-election violence in the latest political flash point in the bitterly divided nation.
One of the placards read like this: “Remember Falklands, Iraq, Libya… We Deserve Attention From Britain Because VENEZUELA has OIL too!!! And More.”
Recent events indicate that the Obama administration has stepped up its strategy of “regime change” against the left-of-center governments in Latin America, promoting conflict in ways not seen since the military coup that Washington supported in Venezuela in 2002. The most high-profile example is in Venezuela itself, during the past week. As this goes to press, Washington has grown increasingly isolated in its efforts to destabilize the newly elected government of Nicolas Maduro.
But Venezuela is not the only country to fall prey to Washington’s efforts to reverse the electoral results of the past 15 years in Latin America. It is now clear that last year’s ouster of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was also aided and abetted by the United States government….
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) called on the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other agencies to release information detailing whom they are funding in Bolivia — where violent right-wing opposition groups have wreaked havoc this week in a series of shootings, beatings, ransacking of offices, and sabotage of a natural gas pipeline — as well as in other Latin American countries including Venezuela. Recent events suggest there may be evidence for Bolivian president Evo Morales’ assertions that the U.S. Embassy is supporting groups promoting violence and seeking “autonomy” from Bolivia, and the Center called on USAID and other U.S. agencies to “come clean” in order to demonstrate the U.S. government’s good faith.
“Washington has decided to keep its ties to Bolivia’s opposition shrouded in secrecy, and that’s not conducive to trust between the U.S. and Bolivian governments,” said Mark Weisbrot, CEPR Co-Director. “If Washington has nothing to hide in terms of whom it is funding and working with in Bolivia, then it should reveal which groups those are.”…
This last item of course takes us straight to Bolivia:
In the past month Bolivia has elevated its opposition to U.S. political subversion and destabilization in South America–having already expelled the U.S. ambassador years ago, Bolivia had also cut ties with the DEA which it also threw out. To this Bolivia now adds the ejection of USAID. The following are some of the key reports concerning the latest act of resistance:
Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, on Thursday rejected the recent declarations made by the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, in which he referred to Latin America as his country’s “backyard.”
“This is how governments of the U.S. think about us, as their backyard….We condemn, repudiate and will never again allow that Bolivia or any other Latin American country will be the backyard of the U.S. government, we have a lot of dignity,” he emphasized….
Morales affirmed that while it was “humiliating and offensive” to have the U.S. name Latin America as its backyard, various positive efforts have pushed forward the unity and equality of nations of Latin America.
The Andean head of state recalled when Bolivia stopped being Washington’s backyard, owing to its economic independence, the nationalization of hydrocarbon resources, and the efforts made by social movements.
“Before, the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia would decide who would be the Chief of the Armed Forces, the Police, and who could become a government minister. In those times, our former leaders had to be endorsed by the Embassy. That is now over, and yet they still think we are their backyard,” Morales concluded.
….“Surely to think that you can still manipulate us economically, politically — those times are past,” Morales said at May Day celebrations in La Paz, according to the Bolivian national news agency.
The Bolivian leader asserted that USAID had sown divisions and destabilized the country and his government. Ejecting USAID was also a message to U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, “who says that Latin America is the backyard of the United States,” Morales said….
Expelling the aid agency is the latest in a series of steps by Morales to push out those tied to the U.S. government. The president, a former union leader for coca farmers, had sparred with the U.S. over its drug eradication strategies. Five years ago, he expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, alleging they had colluded with his political opponents in Bolivia….
The aid agency has worked in Bolivia since 1964, running programs to improve health, protect biodiversity and provide sustainable sources of income for local residents, it said. USAID had a budget of more than $26 million in Bolivia in fiscal year 2011.
Morales told reporters Wednesday that Bolivia was capable of supporting the projects that USAID had funded.
The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.
USAID’s purpose in Bolivia since 1964 has been to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians. All USAID programs have been supportive of the Bolivian government’s National Development Plan, and have been fully coordinated with appropriate government agencies. The United States government has worked in a dedicated fashion over the past five years to establish a relationship based on mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation with the Bolivian government. This action is further demonstration that the Bolivian government is not interested in that vision.
What is most regrettable is that those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government’s decision are the Bolivian citizens who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, agriculture, health, alternative development, and the environment.
Susan Rice and the Real Terror Behind Boston
On April 23, 2013, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, decided to launch into another contemptibly shrill outburst. She has become quite notorious for these. In addition, she has a long track record of using the forum of the UN Security Council, and her position within it, to spread demonological fantasies about those targeted for liquidation by the U.S., everything from the racist fear mongering of “African mercenaries” being flown into Libya to massacre protesters, to her obscene remarks about Viagra being distributed to Libyan troops told to rape opponents–which U.S. intelligence publicly and flatly contradicted. Having so antagonized all others, to the extent that few diplomats can stomach working with her at the UN, Susan Rice felt that she nonetheless had the authority–even the credibility–to try to publicly flog a distinguished scholar of international law and a UN rapporteur, Richard Falk. Here is what she said:
Outraged by Richard Falk’s highly offensive Boston comments. Someone who spews such vitriol has no place at the UN. Past time for him to go.
— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) April 24, 2013
This calculated “outrage” was thrown up apparently in response to an essay by Richard Falk, so please see:
….Aside from the dangers and unacceptability of promiscuous wars, there are other serious deficiencies in how the United States sees itself in the world. We should be worried by the taboo at this moment of 24/7 self-congratulatory commentary imposed on any type of self-scrutiny by either the political leadership or the mainstream media….
The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. In some respects the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks…
….America’s military prowess and the abiding confidence of its leaders in hard power diplomacy makes the United States a menace to the world and to itself….
….Such bipartisan support for maintaining the globe-girdling geopolitics runs deep in the body politic, and is accompanied by the refusal to admit the evidence of national decline. The signature irony is that the more American decline is met by a politics of denial, the more rapid and steep will be the decline, and the more abrupt and risky will be the necessary shrinking of the global leadership role so long played by the United States. We should be asking ourselves at this moment, “how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?”
This is one of the very few, and very sane and candid analyses that came out by a U.S. writer in the period after what was a relatively minor attack in Boston–just a tiny little taste of what the U.S. and its allies help to deliver to the streets of Damascus on any given day of the year. As usual, the hysterical response from many was that somehow Falk was saying those who died in Boston somehow “deserved” to be killed. We have heard this rubbish enough times before, it is the familiar rote denunciation that mindlessly comes forth from the permanent infants of empire. Being American, their culture trains them to think that everything should be reduced to the individual, and to the personal qualities of the individual, assessed in terms of merit–hence, someone killed in an attack should be discussed in terms of “not having deserved” or having deserved to die, depending on the nationality and location of the victim. This same excuse for a vulgar abdication of critical and independent thought–what might better help U.S. commentators to actualize their ideals of individuality, rather than participating in the choir of state as just another soprano–is the same that was visited upon Ward Churchill several years ago, and numerous other academics, including this writer. At some point, some of these shrill screamers of imperial-sentimentalist nonsense will wake up and remember that it was the CIA itself that coined the term “blowback,” and that more sober minds are aware that there must always be at least some consequences for being the world’s leading oppressor and serial abuser. “Get used to it,” and get over yourselves already–people are watching.