John Laughland’s prescience on the Arab Spring ‘revolutions’ and the ongoing co-option of the anti-war left
Back in 2005, British journalist John Laughland wrote two excellent op-ed pieces for the Guardian. In “The mythology of people power,” Laughland commented on the recently deposed President of Kyrgyzstan’s reference to the role of a criminal “third force” in the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew him:
Originally used as a label for covert operatives shoring up apartheid in South Africa, before being adopted by the US-backed “pro-democracy” movement in Iran in November 2001, the third force is also the title of a book published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which details how western-backed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can promote regime and policy change all over the world. The formulaic repetition of a third “people power” revolution in the former Soviet Union in just over one year – after the similar events in Georgia in November 2003 and in Ukraine last Christmas – means that the post-Soviet space now resembles Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, when a series of US-backed coups consolidated that country’s control over the western hemisphere.
Many of the same US government operatives in Latin America have plied their trade in eastern Europe under George Bush, most notably Michael Kozak, former US ambassador to Belarus, who boasted in these pages in 2001 that he was doing in Belarus exactly what he had been doing in Nicaragua: “supporting democracy”.
But for some reason, many on the left seem not to have noticed this continuity. Perhaps this is because these events are being energetically presented as radical and leftwing even by commentators and political activists on the right, for whom revolutionary violence is now cool.
As protesters ransacked the presidential palace in Bishkek last week (unimpeded by the police who were under strict instructions not to use violence), a Times correspondent enthused about how the scenes reminded him of Bolshevik propaganda films about the 1917 revolution. The Daily Telegraph extolled “power to the people”, while the Financial Times welcomed Kyrgyzstan’s “long march” to freedom.
This myth of the masses spontaneously rising up against an authoritarian regime now exerts such a grip over the collective imagination that it persists despite being obviously false: try to imagine the American police allowing demonstrators to ransack the White House, and you will immediately understand that these “dictatorships” in the former USSR are in reality among the most fragile, indulgent and weak regimes in the world.
In “Enemies bought, friends sold,” Laughland noted the similar failure to understand the subsequent upheaval in neighbouring Uzbekistan:
The twist this time is that President Karimov of Uzbekistan is presented as a pro-US tyrant rather than a Soviet-era throwback – so anti-war left and liberal commentators have been co-opted into baying for his blood. Yet their support for the latest “people power” movement to shake a former Soviet republic is naive. They seem not to have noticed that Uzbekistan is home to precisely the same network of US-funded non-governmental organisations, human rights activists and media outlets that helped to engineer pro-US “revolutions” in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Take the source of Friday’s atrocity reports from Andijan: one “opposition journalist” from the website ferghana.ru, which seems to be a shop window for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. IWPR, which has since provided the bulk of reports in the western press, is overwhelmingly funded by western governments and private foundations close to them: the US state department, USAid, the National Endowment for Democracy, the US Institute for Peace, George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the British Foreign Office, the European commission, the OSCE, Unesco, and other European governments, among others.
People who reason that the US supports President Karimov, and will therefore turn a blind eye to his alleged excesses, do not understand the thrust of current American policy, which is to try to support and control all sides in any political equation. As in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan under former President Akayev, Uzbekistan is home to scores of western-backed NGOs that agitate politically for the opposition. For instance, Freedom House – a notorious CIA front and the main architect of the orange revolution in Ukraine – has an office in Tashkent.
If Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak had read the conclusion to Laughland’s April 1 piece, they could have been forgiven for thinking it was intended as an April Fool’s joke:
But perhaps the clearest message sent by Akayev’s overthrow is this: in the new world order the sudden replacement of party cadres hangs as a permanent threat – or incentive – over even the most compliant apparatchik.
Now, they know better. But most anti-war left and liberal commentators remain as clueless as ever.