By the early 1980s the more perceptive sectors of the neoliberal ruling classes realized that their policies were polarizing the society and provoking large-scale social discontent.
Neoliberal politicians began to finance and promote a parallel strategy “from below,” the promotion of “grassroots” organization with an”anti-statist” ideology to intervene among potentially conflictory classes, to create a “social cushion.” These organizations were financially dependent on neoliberal sources and were directly involved in competing with socio-political movements for the allegiance of local leaders and activist communities. By the 1990s these organizations, described as “nongovernmental,” numbered in the thousands and were receiving close to four billion dollars world-wide.
Neoliberalism and the NGOs
The confusion concerning the political character of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stems from their earlier history in the 1970s during the days of the dictatorships. In this period they were active in providing humanitarian support to the victims of the military dictatorship and denouncing human rights violations. The NGOs supported “soup kitchens” which allowed victimized families to survive the first wave of shock treatments administered by the neoliberal dictatorships. This period created a favorable image of NGOs even among the left. They were considered part of the “progressive camp.”
Even then, however, the limits of the NGOs were evident. While they attacked the human rights violations of local dictatorships, they rarely denounced the U.S. and European patrons who financed and advised them. Nor was there a serious effort to link the neoliberal economic policies and human rights violations to the new turn in the imperialist system. Obviously the external sources of funding limited the sphere of criticism and human rights action.
As opposition to neoliberalism grew in the early 1980s, the U.S. and European governments and the World Bank increased their funding ofNGOs. There is a direct relation between the growth of social movements challenging the neoliberal model and the effort to subvert them by creating alternative forms of social action through the NGOs. The basic point of convergence between the NGOs and the World Bank was their common opposition to”statism.” On the surface the NGOs criticized the state from a “left” perspective defending civil society, while the right did so in the name of the market. In reality, however, the World Bank, the neoliberal regimes, and western foundations co-opted and encouraged the NGOs to undermine the national welfare state by providing social services to compensate the victims of the multinational corporations (MNCs). In other words, as the neoliberal regimes at the top devastated communities by inundating the country with cheap imports, extracting external debt payment, abolishing labor legislation, and creating a growing mass of low-paid and unemployed workers, the NGOs were funded to provide “self-help” projects, “popular education,” and job training, to temporarily absorb small groups of poor, to co-opt local leaders, and to undermine anti-system struggles.
The NGOs became the “community face” of neoliberalism, intimately related to those at the top and complementing their destructive work with local projects. In effect the neoliberals organized a “pincer” operation or dual strategy. Unfortunately many on the left focused only on “neoliberalism” from above and the outside (International Monetary Fund, World Bank) and not on neoliberalism from below (NGOs, micro-enterprises). A major reason for this oversight was the conversion of many ex-Marxists to the NGO formula and practice. Anti-Statism was the ideological transit ticket from class politics to “community development,” from Marxism to the NGOs.
Typically, NGO ideologues counterpose “state” power to “local” power. State power is, they argue, distant from its citizens, autonomous, and arbitrary, and it tends to develop interests different from and opposed to those of its citizens, while local power is necessarily closer and more responsive to the people. But apart from historical cases where the reverse has also been true, this leaves out the essential relation between state and local power—the simple truth that state power wielded by a dominant, exploiting class will undermine progressive local initiatives, while that same power in the hands of progressive forces can reinforce such initiatives.
The counter position of state and local power has been used to justify the role of NGOs as brokers between local organizations, neoliberal foreign donors (World Bank, Europe, or the United States) and the local free market regimes. But the effect is to strengthen neoliberal regimes by severing the link between local struggles and organizations and national/international political movements. The emphasis on “local activity” serves the neoliberal regimes since it allows its foreign and domestic backers to dominate macro-socio-economic policy and to channel most of the state’s resources toward subsidies for export capitalists and financial institutions.
So while the neoliberals were transferring lucrative state properties to the private rich, the NGOs were not part of the trade union resistance. On the contrary they were active in local private projects, promoting the private enterprise discourse (self-help) in the local communities by focusing on micro-enterprises. The NGOs built ideological bridges between the small scale capitalists and the monopolies benefiting from privatization—all in the name of “anti-statism”and the building of civil societies. While the rich accumulated vast financial empires from the privatization, the NGO middle class professionals got small sums to finance offices, transportation, and small-scale economic activity.
The important political point is that the NGOs depoliticized sectors of the population, undermined their commitment to public employees, and co-opted potential leaders in small projects. NGOs abstain from public schoolteacher struggles, as the neoliberal regimes attack public education and public educators. Rarely if ever do NGOs support the strikes and protests against low wages and budget cuts. Since their educational funding comes from the neoliberal governments, they avoid solidarity with public educators in struggle. In practice, “non-governmental” translates into anti-public-spending activities, freeing the bulk of funds for neoliberals to subsidize export capitalists while small sums trickle from the government to NGOs.
In reality non-governmental organizations are not non-governmental. They receive funds from overseas governments or work as private subcontractors of local governments. Frequently they openly collaborate with governmental agencies at home or overseas. This “subcontracting”undermines professionals with fixed contracts, replacing them with contingent professionals. The NGOs cannot provide the long-term comprehensive programs that the welfare state can furnish. Instead they provide limited services to narrow groups of communities. More importantly, their programs are not accountable to the local people but to overseas donors. In that sense NGOs undermine democracy by taking social programs out of the hands of the local people and their elected officials to create dependence on non-elected, overseas officials and their locally anointed officials.
NGOs shift people’s attention and struggles away from the national budget and toward self-exploitation to secure local social services. This allows the neoliberals to cut social budgets and transfer state funds to subsidize bad debts of private banks, and provide loans to exporters. Self exploitation (self-help) means that, in addition to paying taxes to the state and not getting anything in return, working people have to work extra hours with marginal resources, and expend scarce energies to obtain services that the bourgeoisie continues to receive from the state. More fundamentally, the NGO ideology of “private voluntaristic activity” undermines the sense of the “public”: the idea that the government has an obligation to look after its citizens and provide them with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that the political responsibility of the state is essential for the well-being of citizens. Against this notion of public responsibility, the NGOs foster the neoliberal idea of private responsibility for social problems and the importance of private resources to solve these problems. In effect they impose a double burden on the poor who continue to pay taxes to finance the neoliberal state to serve the rich, but are left with private self-exploitation to take care of their own needs.
NGOs and Socio-political Movements
NGOs emphasize projects, not movements; they “mobilize” people to produce at the margins but not to struggle to control the basic means of production and wealth; they focus on technical financial assistance of projects, not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people. The NGOs co-opt the language of the left: “popular power,” “empowerment,” “gender equality,” “sustainable development,” “bottom-up leadership.” The problem is that this language is linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and government agencies that subordinate practical activity to non-confrontational politics. The local nature of NGO activity means that “empowerment” never goes beyond influencing small areas of social life, with limited resources, and within the conditions permitted by the neoliberal state and macro-economy.
The NGOs and their post-Marxist professional staff directly compete with the socio-political movements for influence among the poor, women, and the racially excluded. Their ideology and practice diverts attention from the sources and solutions of poverty (looking downward and inward instead of upward and outward). To speak of micro-enterprises, instead of the elimination of exploitation by the overseas banks, as the solution, is based on the notion that the problem is one of individual initiative rather than the transference of income overseas. The NGO’s aid affects small sectors of the population, setting up competition between communities for scarce resources, generating insidious distinctions and inter- and intra-community rivalries, thus undermining class solidarity. The same is true among the professionals: each sets up its NGO to solicit overseas funds. They compete by presenting proposals more congenial to the overseas donors, while claiming to speak for their followers.
The net effect is a proliferation of NGOs that fragment poor communities into sectoral and sub-sectoral groupings unable to see the larger social picture that afflicts them and even less able to unite in struggle against the system. Recent experience also demonstrates that foreign donors finance projects during “crises”—political and social challenges to the status quo. Once the movements have ebbed they shift funding to NGO-style “collaboration,” fitting the NGO projects into the neoliberal agenda. Economic development compatible with the “free market” rather than social organization for social change becomes the dominant item on the funding agenda.
The structure and nature of NGOs, with their “apolitical” posture and their focus on self-help, depoliticizes and demobilizes the poor. They reinforce the electoral processes encouraged by the neoliberal parties and mass media. Political education about the nature of imperialism, and the class basis of neoliberalism, the class struggle between exporters and temporary workers, are avoided. Instead the NGOs discuss “the excluded,” the “powerless,” “extreme poverty,” “gender or racial discrimination,” without moving beyond the superficial symptom to the social system that produces these conditions. Incorporating the poor into the neoliberal economy through purely “private voluntary action,” the NGOs create a political world where the appearance of solidarity and social action cloaks a conservative conformity with the international and national structure of power.
It is no coincidence that as NGOs have become dominant in certain regions, independent class political action has declined, and neoliberalism goes uncontested. The bottom line is that the growth of NGOs coincides with increased funding under neoliberalism and the deepening of poverty everywhere. Despite the claims of many local successes, the overall power of neoliberalism stands unchallenged and the NGOs increasingly search for niches in the interstices of power.
The problem of formulating alternatives has been hindered in another way too. Many of the former leaders of guerrilla and social movements, trade union and popular women’s organizations have been co-opted by the NGOs. Some have undoubtedly been attracted by the hope—or the illusion—that this might give them access to levers of power which would allow them to do some good. But in any case, the offer is tempting: higher pay (occasionally in hard currency), prestige and recognition by overseas donors, overseas conferences and networks, office staff, and relative security from repression. In contrast, the socio-political movements offer few material benefits but greater respect and independence and, more importantly, the freedom to challenge the political and economic system. The NGOs and their overseas banking supporters (Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank) publish newsletters featuring success stories of micro-enterprises and other self-help projects—without mentioning the high rates of failure as popular consumption declines, low-priced imports flood the market, and interest rates spiral, as in Mexico today.
Even the “successes” affect only a small fraction of the total poor and succeed only to the degree that others cannot enter the same market. The propaganda value of individual micro-enterprise success, however, is important in fostering the illusion that neoliberalism is a popular phenomenon. The frequent violent mass outbursts that take place in regions of micro-enterprise promotion suggests that the ideology is not hegemonic and the NGOs have not yet displaced independent class movements.
Finally NGOs foster a new type of cultural and economic colonialism and dependency. Projects are designed, or at least approved, based on the “guidelines” and priorities of the imperial centers and their institutions. They are administered and “sold” to communities. Evaluations are done by and for the imperial institutions. Shifts of funding priorities or bad evaluations result in the dumping of groups, communities, farms, and co-operatives. Everything and everybody is increasingly disciplined to comply with the donors and project evaluators’ demands. The new viceroys supervise and ensure conformity with the goals, values, and ideologies of the donor as well as the proper use of funds. Where “successes” occur they are heavily dependent on continued outside support, without which they could collapse.
In many ways the hierarchical structures and the forms of transmission of “aid” and “training” resemble nineteenth-century charity, and the promoters are not very different from Christian missionaries. The NGOs emphasize “self-help” in attacking “paternalism and dependence” on the state. In this competition among NGOs to capture the victims of neoliberals, they receive important subsidies from their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The self-help ideology emphasizes the replacement of public employees by volunteers, and upwardly mobile professionals contracted on a temporary basis. The basic philosophy of the NGO intellectuals is to transform “solidarity” into collaboration and subordination to the macro-economy of neoliberalism, by focusing attention away from state resources of the wealthy classes toward self-exploitation of the poor.
But, while the mass of NGOs are increasingly instruments of neoliberalism, there is a small minority which attempt to develop an alternative strategy that is supportive of anti-imperialist and class politics. None of them receive funds from the World Bank, European, or U.S. governmental agencies. They support efforts to link local power to struggles for state power. They link local projects to national socio-political movements: occupying large landed estates, defending public property and national ownership against multinationals. They provide political solidarity to social movements involved in struggles to expropriate land. They support women’s struggles linked to class perspectives. They recognize the importance of politics in defining local and immediate struggles. They believe that local organizations should fight at the national level and that national leaders must be accountable to local activists.
Let us examine some examples of the role of NGOs and their relation to neoliberalism and imperialism in specific countries:
In 1985 the Bolivian government launched its New Economic Policy (NEP) by decree: freezing wages for four months while inflation raged at a 15,000 percent annual rate. The NEP annulled all price controls and reduced or ended food and fuel subsidies. It also laid the basis for the privatization of most state enterprises and the firing of public-sector employees. Massive cutbacks in health and education programs eliminated most public services. These structural adjustment policies (SAP) were designed and dictated by the World Bank and the IMF and approved by the U.S. and European governments and banks. The number of poverty stricken Bolivians grew geometrically. Prolonged general strikes and violent confrontations followed. In response the World Bank, European, and U.S. governments provided massive aid to fund a “poverty alleviation program.” Most of the money was directed to a Bolivian government agency, the Emergency Social Fund (ESF), which channeled funds to the NGOs to implement its program. The funds were not insignificant: in 1990 foreign aid totaled $738 million.
The number of NGOs in Bolivia grew rapidly in response to international funding: prior to 1980 there were 100 NGOs; by 1992 there were 530 and growing. Almost all the NGOs are directed toward addressing social problems created by the World Bank and the Bolivian government’s free market policies, which the dismantled state institutions no longer can deal with. Of the tens of millions allocated to the NGOs, only 15 to 20 percent reached the poor. The rest was siphoned off to pay administrative costs and professional salaries. The Bolivian NGOs functioned as appendages of the state and served to consolidate its power. The absolute levels of poverty stayed the same and the long-term structural causes—the neoliberal policies—were cushioned by the NGOs. While not solving the poverty problem, the NGO-administered poverty programs strengthened the regime and weakened opposition to the SAP. The NGOs, with their big budgets, exploited vulnerable groups and were able to convince some leaders of the opposition that they could benefit from working with the government. According to one observer, commenting on the NGO role in the “poverty program”: “If this (NGO programs) did not create direct support, it at least reduced potential opposition to the government and its program.”
When the public school teachers of La Paz went on strike to protest $50-a-month wages and crowded classrooms, the NGOs ignored it; when cholera and yellow fever epidemics raged in the countryside, the NGO self-help programs were helpless where a comprehensive public health program would have been successful in preventing them. The NGOs did absorb many of Bolivia’s former leftist intellectuals and turned them into apologists for the neoliberal system. Their seminars about “civil society” and “globalization” obscured the fact that the worst exploiters (the private mine owners, new rich agro-exporters, and high paid consultants) were members of “civil society” and that the SAP was an imperial design to open the country’s mineral resources to unregulated pillage.
In Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973-1989, the NGOs played an important role denouncing human rights violations, preparing studies critical of the neoliberal model and sustaining soup kitchens and other poverty programs. Their numbers multiplied with the advent of the massive popular struggles between 1982 and 1986 that threatened to overthrow the dictatorship. To the extent that they expressed an ideology, it was oriented toward “democracy” and “development with equity.” Of the close to two hundred NGOs, fewer than five provided a clear critical analysis and exposition of the links between U.S. imperialism and the dictatorship, the ties between World Bank funded free market policies and the 47 percent level of poverty.
In July of 1986 there was a successful general strike—a guerrilla group almost succeeded in killing Pinochet—and the United States sent a representative (Gelbard) to broker an electoral transition between the more conservative sectors of the opposition and Pinochet. An electoral calendar was established, a plebiscite was organized, and the electoral parties re-emerged. An alliance between Christian Democrats and Socialists was forged and eventually won the plebiscite, ending Pinochet’s rule (but not his command of the armed forces and secret police); this alliance subsequently won the presidency.
The social movements which played a vital role in ending the dictatorships were marginalized. The NGOs turned from supporting the movements to collaborating with the government. The Socialist and Christian Democratic NGO professionals became government ministers. From critics of Pinochet’s free market policies they became its celebrants. Former President of CIEPLAN (a major research institute) Alejandro Foxley publicly promised to continue managing the macro-economic indicators in the same fashion as Pinochet’s minister. The NGOs were instructed by their foreign donors to end their support for independent grassroots movements and to collaborate with the new civilian neoliberal regime. Sur Profesionales, one of the best known research NGOs, carried out research on the “propensity for violence” in the shantytowns—information that was useful to the police and the new regime in repressing independent social movements. Two of its chief researchers (specialty: social movements) became government ministers administering economic policies that created the most lopsided income inequalities in recent Chilean history.
The NGOs’ external links and the professional ambitions of its leaders played a major role in undermining the burgeoning popular movement. Most of its leaders became government functionaries who co-opted local leaders, while undermining rank-and-file style community assemblies. Interviews with women active in the shantytown Lo Hermida revealed the shift in the post-electoral period. “The NGOs told us that because democracy has arrived there is no need to continue the (soup-kitchen) programs. You don’t need us.” Increasingly the NGOs conditioned their activities on supporting the “democratic” free market regime. The NGO functionaries continued to use their participatory rhetoric to hustle votes for their parties in the government and to secure government contracts.
One striking impact of the NGOs in Chile was its relationship to the “women’s movement.” What started as a promising activist group in the mid-1980s was gradually taken over by NGOs who published expensive newsletters from well-furnished offices. The “leaders” who lived in fashionable neighborhoods represented a shrinking number of women. During the Latin American Feminist Conference in Chile in 1997, a militant group of rank-and-file Chilean feminist (”the autonomists”) provided a radical critique of the NGO feminists as sellouts to government subsidies.
The most dynamic social movement in Brazil is the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). With over five thousand organizers and several hundred thousand sympathizers and activists, it has been directly involved in hundreds of land occupations over the past few years. At a conference organized in May 1996, by the MST, at which I spoke, the role of NGOs was one of the subjects of debate. A representative from a Dutch NGO appeared on the scene and insisted on participating. When he was told the meeting was closed, he told them that he had a “proposal” for funding ($300 thousand) community development, and insisted on entering. In no uncertain terms the MST leaders told him that they were not for sale and that anyway, they, the MST, design their own “projects” according to their own needs and don’t need NGO tutors.
Later the women’s caucus of the MST discussed a recent meeting with rural-based feminist NGOs. The MST women pushed for a class struggle perspective, combining direct action (land occupations) and the struggle for agrarian reform with gender equality. The NGO professionals insisted that the MST women break with their organizations and support a minimalist program of strictly feminist reforms. The end result was a tactical agreement opposing domestic violence, registering women as heads of families, and encouraging gender equality. The MST women, mostly daughters of landless peasants, perceived the NGO professionals as divisive careerists, not willing to challenge the political and economic elite that oppressed all peasants. Despite their criticisms of their male comrades, they clearly felt greater affinity with the movement than with the class-collaborationist “feminist” NGOs.
In our discussion, the MST distinguished between NGOs that contribute to the movement (money, resources, etc.) to finance class struggle, and NGOs that are essentially missionary outfits that fragment and isolate peasants, as is the case with many pentecostal and USAID and World Bank sponsored NGO projects.
Throughout Latin America peasant militants have voiced serious criticisms of the role and politics of the vast majority of NGOs, particularly about the patronizing and domineering attitude that they display behind their ingratiating rhetoric of “popular empowerment” and participation. I encountered this directly during a recent visit to El Salvador, where I was giving a seminar for the Alianza Democratica Campesino (the ADC, or Democratic Peasant Alliance) which represents 26 peasant and landless workers’ organizations.
Part of our collaboration involved the joint development of a project to fund a peasant-directed research and training center. Together with the leaders of the ADC we visited a private Canadian agency, CRC SOGEMA, which was subcontracted by CIDA, the Canadian government’s foreign assistance agency. They administered a $25 million (Canadian) aid packet for El Salvador. Before our visit, one of the ADC leaders had held an informal discussion with one of the Salvadoran associates of CRC SOGEMA. He explained the proposal and its importance for stimulating peasant-based participatory research. The CRC SOGEMA representative proceeded to draw a figure of a person on a piece of paper. He pointed to the head. “That,” he said, “is the NGOs: they think, write, and prepare programs.” He then pointed to the hands and feet, “that’s the peasants: they provide data and implement the projects.”
This revealing episode was the background to our formal meeting with the head of CRC SOGEMA. The director told us that the money was already earmarked for a Salvadoran NGO: FUNDE (Fundacion Nacional para el Desarrollo, the National Foundation for Development), a consulting firm of upwardly mobile professionals. She encouraged the peasant leaders to co-operate and to become involved because, she said, it would be “empowering.” In the course of our conversation, it emerged that the Salvadoran associate of CRC SOGEMA who had expressed that outrageous view of the relation between NGOs (the head) and peasants (the hands and feet) was a “link” between FUNDE and SOGEMA. The ADC leaders responded that, while FUNDE was technically competent, their “courses” and research did not meet the needs of the peasants and that they had a very paternalistic attitude toward the peasants. When the Canadian director asked for an example, the ADC leaders related the incident of the “political drawing” and the role to which it relegated peasants.
This was, said the director of SOGEMA, a “very unfortunate incident,” but they were nonetheless committed to working with the FUNDE. If the ADC wished to have an impact they would best attend FUNDE meetings. The ADC leaders pointed out that the project’s design and goals were elaborated by middle class professionals, while peasants were invited to collaborate by providing data and attending their “seminars.” In a fit of annoyance, the director called the meeting to an end. The peasant leaders were furious. “Why were we led to believe that they (the Canadian agency) were interested in peasant participation, democracy, and all the other crap, when they are already plugged into the NGOs, who don’t represent a single peasant? That study will never be read by any peasant, nor will it be at all relevant to our struggle for land. It will be about “modernization” and how to swindle the peasants out of their land and turn them into commercial farms or tourist areas.”
The managers of NGOs have become skilled in designing projects. They transmit the new rhetoric of “identity” and “globalism” into the popular movements. Their activities and texts promote international cooperation, self-help, micro-enterprises, and forge ideological bonds with the neoliberals while forcing people into economic dependency on external donors. After a decade of NGO activity these professionals have “depoliticized” and de-radicalized whole areas of social life: women, neighborhoods, and youth organizations. In Peru and Chile, where the NGO’s have become firmly established, the radical social movements have declined.
Local struggles over immediate issues are the food and substance that nurture emerging movements. NGOs certainly emphasize the “local,” but the crucial question is what direction local actions will take: whether they will raise the larger issues of the social system and link up with other local forces to confront the state and its imperial backers, or whether they will turn inward, while looking to foreign donors and fragmenting into a series of competing supplicants for external subsidies. The ideology of NGOs encourages the latter.
NGO intellectuals frequently write about “co-operation” but without dwelling on the price and conditions for securing the co-operation of neoliberal regimes and overseas funding agencies. In their role as mediators and brokers, hustling funds overseas and matching the funds to projects acceptable to donors and local recipients, the “foundation entrepreneurs” are engaged in a new type of politics similar to the “labor contractors” (enganchadores) of the not too distant past: herding together women to be “trained”; setting up micro-firms subcontracted to larger producers or exporters employing cheap labor. The new politics of the NGOs is essentially the politics of compradores: they produce no national products; instead, they link foreign funders with local labor (self-help micro-enterprises) to facilitate the continuation of the neoliberal regime. The managers of NGOs are fundamentally political actors whose projects and training workshops do not make any significant economic impact in raising workers’ and peasants’ incomes. But their activities do make an impact in diverting people from the class struggle into forms of collaboration with their oppressors.
To justify this approach, NGO ideologies will often invoke “pragmatism” or “realism,” citing the decline of the revolutionary left, the triumph of capitalism in the East, the “crisis of Marxism,” the loss of alternatives, the strength of the United States, the coups and repression by the military. This “possibilism” is used to convince the left to work within the niches of the free market imposed by the World Bank and structural adjustment, and to confine politics to the electoral parameters imposed by the military.
The pessimistic “possibilism” of the NGO ideologues is necessarily one-sided. They focus on neoliberal electoral victories and not on the post-electoral mass protests and general strikes that mobilize large numbers of people in extra-parliamentary activity. They look at the demise of communism in the late eighties and not to the revival of radical social movements in the mid-nineties. They describe the constraints of the military on electoral politicians without looking at the challenges to the military by the Zapatista guerrillas, the urban rebellions in Caracas, the general strikes in Bolivia. In a word, the possibilists overlook the dynamics of struggles that begin at the sectoral or local level within the electoral parameters of the military, and then are propelled upward and beyond those limits by the failures of the possibilists to satisfy the elementary demands and needs of the people.
The pragmatism of the NGOs is matched by the extremism of the neoliberals. The 1990’s has witnessed a radicalization of neoliberal policies, designed to forestall crisis by handing over even more lucrative investment and speculative opportunities to overseas banks and multinationals: petroleum in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela; lower wages and less social security payments; greater tax exemption; and the elimination of all protective labor legislation. Contemporary Latin American class structure is more rigid and the state more directly tied to the ruling classes than ever. The irony is that the neoliberals are creating a polarized class structure much closer to the Marxist paradigm of society than to the NGO vision.
This is why Marxism offers a real alternative to NGOism. And in Latin America, there do exist Marxist intellectuals who write and speak for the social movements in struggle, committed to sharing the same political consequences. They are “organic” intellectuals who are basically part of the movement—the resource people providing analysis and education for class struggle, in contrast to the “post-Marxist” NGO intellectuals, who are embedded in the world of institutions, academic seminars, foreign foundations, international conferences and bureaucratic reports. These Marxist intellectuals recognize the centrality of local struggles, but they also acknowledge that the success of those struggles depends to a large extent on the outcome of the conflict between classes over state power at the national level.
What they offer is not the hierarchical “solidarity” of foreign aid and collaboration with neoliberalism, but class solidarity, and within the class, the solidarity of oppressed groups (women and people of color) against their foreign and domestic exploiters. The major focus is not on the donations that divide classes and pacify small groups for a limited time, but on the common action by members of the same class, sharing their common economic, predicament struggling for collective improvement.
The strength of the critical Marxist intellectuals resides in the fact that their ideas are in tune with changing social realities. The growing polarization of classes and the increasingly violent confrontations are apparent. So while the Marxists are numerically weak in the institutional sense, they are strategically strong as they begin to connect with a new generation of revolutionary militants, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the MST in Brazil.
By Bob Finch | 2006
Israel is mobilizing its supporters in America (and in Europe) to push the Bush administration into yet another proxy Zionist war – this time against Iran. In America, the political pressure for a war against Iran is coming overwhelmingly from one sector of American society: the Jewish sayanim network of Mossad collaborators, the Zionists in the Jewish dominated American media, the Israel lobby, the Zionist-owned congress, and the Ziocons who have infiltrated the Bush administration. The proposed war against Iran is the most blatant example of a war concocted, planned, and marketed, by Zionists around the world solely for the benefit of the Jews-only state in Palestine. It is not the American oil industry which is leading the charge for such a war, “Except for the Israeli lobby in the US and its grass root Jewish American supporters and allies among the Presidents of the Major Jewish organizations there are no other organized lobbies pressuring for or against this war. The ritualistic denunciations of “Big Oil” whenever there is a Middle East conflict involving the US is in this instance a totally bogus issue, lacking any substance. All the evidence is to the contrary – big oil is opposed to any conflicts, which will upset their first major entry into Middle Eastern oil fields since they were nationalized in the 1970’s.” (James Petras ‘Israel’s War with Iran’). It is not the American military which wants such a war. It is not American economists wishing to promote American economic interests around the world. It is the Zionists living in America – parasites who have colonized the American political system. Their sole concern is to promote policies which benefit the Jews-only state in Palestine no matter how damaging this might be to America’s economic and national interests.
The Commentators who believe the Jewish Lobby is Primarily Responsible for Stirring up a War against Iran
“The growing clamour over Iran’s nuclear intentions, with rumblings about air strikes against Iran’s reactors in the fall, may prove to be a part of just such a manufactured crisis. Remember, these latest fevered claims about Iran come from the same “reliable intelligence sources” and neo-conservative hawks who insisted Iraq had a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that threatened the U.S., with intimate links to al-Qaida.” (Eric Margolis ‘Those who deceived America into attacking Iraq may be at it again’).
“Israel’s political and military leadership have repeatedly and openly declared their preparation to militarily attack Iran in the immediate future. Their influential supporters in the US have made Israel’s war policy the number one priority in their efforts to secure Presidential and Congressional backing. The arguments put forth by the Israeli government and echoed by their followers in the US regarding Iran’s nuclear threat are without substance or fact and have aroused opposition and misgivings throughout the world, among European governments, international agencies, among most US military leaders and the public, the world oil industry and even among sectors of the Bush Administration. An Israeli air and commando attack on Iran will have catastrophic military consequences for US forces and severe loss of human life in Iraq, most likely ignite political and military violence against pro-US Arab-Muslim regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, perhaps leading to their overthrow. Without a doubt Israeli war preparations are the greatest immediate threat to world peace and political stability.” (James Petras ‘Israel’s War with Iran’).
William S. Lind:
“In Washington, the same brilliant crowd who said invading Iraq would be a cakewalk is still in power. While a few prominent neocons have left the limelight, others remain highly influential behind the scenes. For them, the question is not whether to attack Iran (and Syria), but when. Their answer will be the same as Israel’s.” (William S. Lind ‘The Next Act’).
Edward S. Herman:
“The (american jewish) lobby and its representatives in the Bush administration were eager supporters of the attack on Iraq, and they are now fighting energetically for war against Iran- in fact the lobby is the only sector of society calling for a confrontation with Iran and it is already engaged in a major campaign on Bush and Congress to get the United States to take action.” (Edward S. Herman ‘Western Approval for Long-Term Israeli Ethnic Cleansing’ Z Magazine March 2006).
“Sadly, Israel and many of its supporters are at the forefront of demonising Iran and advocating military action. Not unlike Iraq, Iran is a perceived threat to the Jewish state and must therefore be obliterated. Israeli generals and politicians know Iran is not a serious threat but they never underestimate the political need to create a regional bogeyman to rally an ever-fearful Israeli population.” (Antony Loewenstein ‘An Aussie Perspective: Spinning Us to War with Iran’).
American Zionists Stirring Up a War on Iran
Zionist attempts to whip America into a war against Iran have a long history. There have been a succession of anti-Iran propaganda campaigns launched by America’s Zionist dominated establishment. There is virtually no opposition to such a war amongst America’s Jewish community.
Israel the Jewish sayanim network of Mossad collaborators in America, the Jewish dominated media in America, the Israel lobby in America, the Zionist-owned politicians in congress, and the Ziocons in the Clinton administration, started their political attack on Iran in the early 1990s. In 1991, almost immediately after Saddam Hussein had been ejected from Kuwait, and much of his army decimated, Zionist Americans began highlighting the threats allegedly posed to the Jews-only state by its other major adversary.
The Israel lobby in America eventually forced the Clinton administration into passing punitive economic measures against Iran. “Pushing the US into a confrontation with Iran, via economic sanctions and military attack has been a top priority for Israel and its supporters in the US for more than a decade.” (Jewish Times/Jewish Telegraph Agency, Dec. 6, 2005); “In 1995, former President Bill Clinton, in a speech to the World Jewish Congress, announced that he would not permit Conoco to make a petroleum deal with Iran. Clinton betrayed the interests of the American people.” (Paul Sheldon Foote ‘James Petras’ “Israel’s War with Iran”’ firstname.lastname@example.org December 30, 2005).
1996: A Clean Break
In 1996, two so-called American politicians decided to write a foreign policy paper for a foreign power, the Jews-only state – a paper which suggested ways in which that foreign power might increase its independence from the country these politicians were living in and supposed to be serving. Let’s put aside the possibility that this might be treasonous. What is important here is that this paper advocated a Jews-only state attack on Iran. “In 1996, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, two neo-conservatives later to play an important role in formulation of Bush administration’s Pentagon policy in the Middle East, authored a paper for then newly elected Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That advisory paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, called on Netanyahu to make a “clean break from the peace process”. Perle and Feith also called on Netanyahu to strengthen Israel’s defenses against Syria and Iraq, and to go after Iran as the prop of Syria.” (F William Engdahl ‘Why Iran’s oil bourse can’t break the buck’).
1997: The Project for the New American Century
It was not possible to publish ‘A Clean Break’ in America and hope the American government would be persuaded to implement the foreign policies of the Jews-only state. So, instead, in 1997, an Israeli writer living in America, rewrote the paper from an American perspective in which all the policies that were beneficial to the Jews-only state were miraculously transformed, by sheer loquacity, into policies that were beneficial for the United States. Although Americans might be persuaded to think these policies were policies which boosted American interests they were really policies which served the interests only of the Jews-only state and were, in reality, contrary to American interests. The new pamphlet the ‘Project for the New American Century’ proposed the use of American military power to attack Iran – supposedly for the benefit of the United States but, in actuality, for the benefit only of the Jews-only state. “That strategy (the plans for the attack on Iran) was worked out long ago in documents like the Project for the New American Century ..” (Mike Whitney ‘Edging Towards Disaster with Iran’). This Zionist manifesto, signed by the leading Jewish neocons, was an updated version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “Fukuyama, after all, was the most prominent intellectual who signed the 1997 “Project for the New American Century,” the founding manifesto of neoconservatism drawn up by William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, the house journal of the neoconservative movement. The Project for the New American Century aimed to cement for all time America’s triumph in the Cold War, by increasing defense spending, challenging regimes that were hostile to U.S. interests and promoting freedom and democracy around the world. Its goal was “an international order friendly to our security, prosperity and values.” The war on Iraq, spuriously justified by the supposed threat posed by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, was the test run of this theory. It was touted as a panacea for every ill of the Middle East. The road to Jerusalem, the neocons argued, led through Baghdad. And after Iraq, why not Syria, Iran and anyone else who stood in Washington’s way?” (Rupert Cornwell ‘What the neocons failed to foresee about Iraq’).
2002, President Bush’s Axis of Evil
Despite the help Iran gave to America during the invasion of Afghanistan, president Bush turned his back on Iran, “Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush officials started meeting with Iranian officials. The two countries shared an interest in overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and they took cooperative steps toward that common goal; two decades of mutual hostility began to melt away. Then, in January 2002, President Bush delivered his State of the Union Address – linking Iran with Iraq and North Korea as an “axis of evil” – and the Iranians instantly ended all talks.” (Fred Kaplan ‘Condi’s Baffling New Iran Strategy’).
Ziocons Push Americans to Lay Down Their Lives for the Zionist Cause in Tehran
Even before Bush had made any public decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Jews-only state in Palestine, and its Zionist allies in America, had mounted a propaganda offensive against the next target on their hit list of enemies. In early 2003, Ariel Sharon said Iran should be targeted “the day after” the invasion of Iraq. “Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Iran, Libya and Syria should be stripped of weapons of mass destruction after Iraq. “These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve,” Sharon said to a visiting delegation of American congressmen.” (Aluf Benn ‘Sharon says U.S. should also disarm Iran, Libya and Syria’). This theme was quickly taken up by the Ziocons in the Bush administration, “Remember the braggadocio of Bush’s advisers in March 2003 when they joked that taking Baghdad wouldn’t be enough, nor would taking Damascus, because “real men go to Tehran.” (Robert Parry ‘Neocon Amorality’).
Reuel Gerecht, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle:
“Indeed, immediately after the invasion of Iraq, the neocons, led by ex-CIA spook Reuel Gerecht, Iran-Contra alumnus Michael Ledeen, and war profiteer Richard Perle, were arguing that Iran should be targeted next for a regime change. Inside the administration, Rumsfeld and Feith were advancing those ideas, suggesting that unlike Iraq, the transformation of Iran could take place peacefully through diplomatic pressure.” (Leon Hadar ‘Target: Tehran?’). The Israeli neocons believed the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk and that America would soon march into Iran.
John Bolton, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security:
Bolton co-operated with his Zionist masters to promote a war against iran. “Bolton, who is undersecretary for arms control and international security, is in Israel for meetings on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials that he had no doubt America would attack Iraq, and that it would be necessary thereafter to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea.” (Aluf Benn ‘Sharon says U.S. should also disarm Iran, Libya and Syria’).
“Speaking to reporters after talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Rumsfeld noted that Iran had been on a list of countries that the United States describes as terrorist states for many years. “One of the gravest concerns the world faces is the nexus between a terrorist state that has weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks,” he said. “So it’s understandable that nations, not just in this region but throughout the world, are so deeply concerned about what’s taking place in Iran.” (World worried about Iran nuclear aims: Rumsfeld’).
“Iran is moving rapidly to become a nuclear power. The Iranian mullahs have publicly promised to use nuclear weapons to exterminate Israel even if Israel were to achieve peace with the Palestinians. They also claim that Iran, with 70 million people, could absorb and survive any response from Israel while Israel, with only 5.5 million Jews, is vulnerable to devastating losses if only a few of Iran’s missiles got through.” (Rachel Neuwirth ‘Israel May Be Compelled to Pre-empt’).
“The comments from Bolton and Rice come within weeks of leading neo-conservative pundits and activists in Washington proclaiming that Iran’s nuclear program had to be destroyed, even if waging war was the only way to do it. Influential neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote July 23 column in The Washington Post: “The long awaited revolution (in Iran) is not happening. Which (makes) the question of pre-emptive attack all the more urgent. If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of ‘the Great Satan’ will have both nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or pre-emptive attack.” (Martin Sieff ‘Iran’s Very Real War Threat’).
“Intelligence reports about Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons aimed at Israel are becoming ominous. Unless diplomatic pressure causes the Iranian mullahs to stop the project, Iran may be ready to deliver nuclear bombs against Israeli civilian targets within a few short years. Some Iranian leaders, such as former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, have made it clear that this is precisely what they intend to do. Killing 5 million Jews would be worth losing 15 million Iranians in a retaliatory Israeli strike, according to Rafsanjani’s calculations. Israel, with the help of the United States, should try everything short of military action first: diplomacy, threats, bribery, sabotage, targeted killings of individuals essential to the Iranian nuclear program and other covert actions. But if all else fails, Israel, or the United States, must be allowed under international law to take out the Iranian nuclear threat before it is capable of the genocide for which it is being built.” (Alan Dershowitz ‘Amend International Law To Allow Preemptive Strike on Iran’). According to this paranoid Zionist, Iran should already be in possession of nuclear weapons and on the verge of bombing the Jews into oblivion.
“Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is the neocon Likudnik who was tasked with cooking up the false “intelligence” that President Bush used to deceive the U.S. public into supporting an illegal invasion of Iraq. With the U.S. military now trapped in the Iraqi quagmire, Feith wants the U.S. to attack Iran.” (Paul Craig Roberts ‘Dangerous Delusions About Iran’).
“If Iran is on the verge of a nuclear weapon, I think we will have no choice but to take decisive action,” said ex-Pentagon advisor Richard Perle as he drew loud cheers from the AIPAC loyalists. New York Senator Hillary Clinton, before she introduced Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the crowd, said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be “unacceptable”. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House also chimed in, saying, “The greatest threat to Israel’s right to exist, with the prospect of devastating violence, now comes from Iran.”” (Joshua Frank ‘Bombing Iran: The Facts Don’t Matter’); “Richard Perle, a key architect of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, said on Saturday the West should not make the mistake of waiting too long to use military force if Iran comes close to getting an atomic weapon. “If you want to try to wait until the very last minute, you’d better be very confident of your intelligence because if you’re not, you won’t know when the last minute is,” Perle told Reuters on the sidelines of an annual security conference in Munich. “And so, ironically, one of the lessons of the inadequate intelligence of Iraq is you’d better be careful how long you choose to wait.” (Richard Perle quoted in Reuters ‘Iraq errors show West must act fast on Iran-Perle’)
Jewish Institute for Security Affairs’ Dick Cheney:
Cheney is a Zionist-owned politician, an Israeli collaborator, whose power base in the United States congress, organized by Tom Delay, had been financed by bribes provided by super-Zionist Jack Abramoff. “Other reports are that the vice president, we might say the “spiritual leader” of the US hawks, Cheney, has been covertly aiding the Benjamin Netanyahu candidacy as new head of the right-wing Likud. Netanyahu is also directly tied to the indicted US Republican money-launderer, Jack Abramoff, during the time Netanyahu was Sharon’s finance minister.” (F William Engdahl ‘A high-risk game of nuclear chicken’).
In january 2005 Cheney gave the Jews-only state the go-ahead to attack Iran, “One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked… Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards,” (Dick Cheney quoted from an MSNBC Interview Jan 2005. Michel Chossudovsky ‘Planned US-Israeli Attack on Iran’); “In a January 2005 interview with MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that Iran has a “fairly robust nuclear program,” charging that the Islamic republic’s prime “objective is the destruction of Israel.”
Even more ominously, although an attack on Iran has been publicly discussed for many years, Cheney was the first to float the idea, in july 2005, that the United States might have to resort to the use of nuclear weapons, “Philip Giraldi’s report in the American Conservative that Vice President Cheney has asked the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to draw up concrete, short term contingency plans for an attack on Iran, to involve “a large-scale air assault employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.” This would occur in the aftermath of a terror attack on the U.S. which, whatever its origins, would be politically used to justify an attack on Iran, just as the al-Qaeda attack was used to justify the attack on Iraq. Cheney has also declared matter-of-factly that if the U.S. doesn’t attack Iran, Israel might do so.” (Gary Leupp ‘Goss Builds the Case for Turkey-Based Attacks: Targeting Iran and Syria’)
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations:
“Predictably the biggest Jewish organization in the US, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations immediately echoed the Israeli state line. Malcolm Hoenlan, President of the Conference, lambasted Washington for a “failure of leadership on Iran” and “contracting the issue to Europe” (Forward, December 9, 2005). He went on to attack the Bush Administration for not following Israel’s demands by delaying referral of Iran to the UN Security Council for sanction.” (James Petras ‘Israel’s War Deadline: Iran in the Crosshairs’).
“The Jewish weekly newspaper, Forward, has reported a number of Israeli attacks on the Bush Administration for not acting more aggressively on behalf of Israel’s policy. According to the Forward, “Jerusalem is increasingly concerned that the Bush Administration is not doing enough to block Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons” (December 9, 2005).” (James Petras ‘Israel’s War Deadline: Iran in the Crosshairs’).
“AIPAC is credited for pushing Congress and the administration towards a number of legislative initiatives hostile to Iran and for placing Tehran’s nuclear programme at the top of the international agenda.” (Emad Mekay ‘Groundhog day in Washington’). “The role of AIPAC, the Conference and other pro-Israeli organizations as transmission belts for Israel’s war plans was evident in their November 28, 2005 condemnation of the Bush Administration agreement to give Russia a chance to negotiate a plan under which Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium for non-military purposes under international supervision. AIPAC’s rejection of negotiations and demands for an immediate confrontation were based on the specious argument that it would “facilitate Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons” – an argument which flies in the face of all known intelligence data which says Iran is at least 3 to 10 years away from even approaching nuclear weaponry. AIPAC’s unconditional and uncritical transmission of Israeli demands and criticism is usually clothed in the rhetoric of US interests or security in order to manipulate US policy. AIPAC chastised the Bush regime for endangering US security. By relying on negotiations, AIPAC accused the Bush Administration of “giving Iran yet another chance to manipulate (sic) the international community” and “pose a severe danger to the United States” (Forward, Dec. 9, 2005).”
Hadar is supposedly anti-war and yet here he provides a justification for a military attack on Iran – albeit not a full scale invasion, “Doing nothing about Iran would not only demolish what remains of the U.S.-led nuclear arms-control regime, it would also turn the balance of power in Iraq and the Persian Gulf against the United States and create incentives for the Saudis and others to make deals with Tehran. Short of trying to open direct diplomatic channels with Iran (very unlikely), the United States will probably try to increase the diplomatic and military pressure on Iran in the coming months, demonstrating that the Pax Americana project in the Middle East is becoming more expensive. That the central banks of China and other Asian economies are paying for it is probably the most intriguing element in this evolving story.” (Leon Hadar ‘US Headed for Confrontation With Iran – But probably not all-out war’).
Pipes is director of the Middle East forum. He helped to set up campus watch to encourage Jews living in America to spy on American academics. In the 1970s, his father was the author of ‘Plan B’ which fabricated evidence that the soviet union posed an overwhelming military threat to the United States when no such threat existed, “The most dangerous leaders in modern history are those (like Hitler) equipped with a totalitarian ideology and a mystical belief in their own mission. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fulfills both these criteria, as revealed by his U.N. comments. That combined with his expected nuclear arsenal make him an adversary who must be stopped, and urgently.” (Daniel Pipes ‘Iran’s Messianic Menace’). This loony paranoid Ziocon believes that Osama bin Laden was Hitler, Yasser Arafat was Hitler, and now mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Hitler. It would be safer to say that Pipes sees Hitler everywhere under every bed wherever there is resistance to Zionist expansion.
Haim Saban and Martin Indyk:
“Kenneth M Pollack, director of research at the Saban Centre on Middle East Policy told a Congressional hearing in September that the US should study the possibility of waging a targeted air campaign aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities as a last resort. The Saban Centre is funded by a grant from Haim Saban, an Egyptian-born Israeli American billionaire who made his money in the entertainment business. Martin Indyk, a staunchly pro-Israel former US diplomat who once served as US ambassador to Israel, directs it.” (Emad Mekay ‘Groundhog day in Washington’).
“More indicative of all is how William Kristol, editor of the neo-conservative publication The Weekly Standard, entitled in his column: “And now Iran.” (Emad Mekay ‘Groundhog day in Washington’).
Kenneth R. Timmerman and Carl Limbacher:
“World renowned investigative reporter and terror expert Kenneth R. Timmerman, author of the bestselling book “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran,” and Carl Limbacher, reporter for NewsMax.com, reveal that the US and Israel will destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities in less than 10 weeks from now.” (‘Military Attack against Iran Now Imminent’ On A7radio January 20th 2006).
American Jewish Committee:
… “the most powerful Israeli lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In an unprecedented action in November, the group publicly criticized the Bush administration for failing to act more aggressively against Iran. The influential American Jewish Committee also announced its own international campaign to impose a global and diplomatic and economic embargo against Iran until it halts its nuclear program.” (Jim Lobe ‘The Iranian neo-cons love to hate’).
Reuel Marc Gerecht:
Gerecht works for the American Enterprise Institute, one of the most important Zionist think tanks, “Eventually, assuming the State Department’s European strategy falls apart because the Europeans will not play, we will have to make up our minds whether nukes in the hands of Khamenei, Rafsanjani, and Ahmadinejad are “intolerable” or not. If so, then we will have to prepare to bomb.” (Reuel Marc Gerecht ‘How to Head Off the Imam Bomb’ The Weekly Standard).
“It is not yet unreasonable to hope that Tehran can be forced to back down by a combination of economic sanctions, political isolation, and diplomatic heat. But if a nonmilitary strategy is to have any chance of success, it must be very clear that military action is Plan B – and that United States is quite prepared to wield that ”big stick” if Iran will not abandon its atomic ambitions. Under no circumstances can such enemies be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons – or to doubt that we will do what we must to make sure that they don’t.” (Jeff Jacoby ‘Don’t go wobbly on Iran’). Yet another zionist manipulating the american people into supporting a war against iran which the Jews-only state cannot fight. But then why should the Jews-only state attack Iran when the Ziocons living in America seem confident they can get america to do their dirty business for them even if it involves a colossal financial cost and large numbers of American lives?
Mortimer B. Zuckerman:
Zuckerman owns the NY Post and the Atlantic Monthly and was formerly the chair of the conference of presidents of the major jewish american organizations. “Military action, such as bombing the Iranian plants with cruise missiles and strike aircraft, would be justified in the circumstances. But that is hugely difficult politically, and covert action is very difficult operationally. Still, the risks may have to be taken because the alternative is so awful. There may now be a window of opportunity for effective preventive action, but this window is more likely to be measured in months than years.” (Mortimer B. Zuckerman ‘Moscow’s Mad Gamble’). This paranoid zionist who’s trying to stir up world war three believes, “Within a very few years, in all likelihood, Iran will be able to launch nuclear missiles.” This view is a total fabrication. But, this is the propaganda being pumped out by the Zionist dominated ruling classes in America, Britain, and occupied Palestine.
Kenneth R. Timmerman:
Who is Ken Timmerman? “Notably, prominent Washington neo-conservative, Kenneth Timmerman, told Israeli radio…that he expected an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran “within the next 60 days”. Timmerman is close to Richard Perle, the indicted Cheney chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Douglas Feith and Michael Ledeen.” (F William Engdahl ‘A high-risk game of nuclear chicken’).
“Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control, said Tehran had to be dissuaded by “whatever means are necessary” from acquiring nuclear arms, but added the West was “giving every chance for diplomacy to work.” Speaking two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to report Tehran to the UN Security Council for its nuclear work, Joseph gave a worrying assessment of Iran’s nuclear progress. “I would say that Iran does have the capability to develop nuclear weapons and the delivery means for those weapons,” Joseph told a news conference at the Foreign Press Center here. He went a step further than President George W. Bush, who said in a statement hailing the IAEA action Saturday that Iran was “continuing to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons.” He sidestepped questions on the use of force yet said, “No options are off the table. We cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, but we are giving every chance for diplomacy to work. What is necessary to stop Iran is a firm indication that the international community … will take whatever measures are necessary to convince Iran that it is in its interest to forego a nuclear weapons capability.” (‘Iran has the Ability to develop a Nuclear Weapon: US Official’). Joseph was one of the Ziocon liars, a traitor to America, who thought nothing about deceiving the American public into believing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Not a high-profile hardliner like Bolton or Feith, Joseph successfully avoided the public limelight-that is until the scandal of the 16 words in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address about Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons development program. According to president, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The State of the Union Address, which laid out the administration’s case for a preemptive invasion of Iraq, used unconfirmed intelligence reports about Iraq’s WMD programs. Press reports and congressional testimony by CIA officials later revealed that the CIA had vigorously protested the inclusion of any assertion that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons since their intelligence would not support such a conclusion. Alan Foley, the CIA’s top expert on weapons of mass destruction, told Congress that Robert Joseph repeatedly pressed the CIA to back the inclusion in Bush’s speech of a statement about Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger. Following these revelations about the inclusion of erroneous and disputed intelligence estimates in this major speech that readied the U.S. public for war against Iraq, Joseph said he did not recall Foley’s raising concerns about the credibility of the information to be included in the speech.” (Tom Barry ‘Meet John Bolton’s Replacement’). Joseph’s reward for lying and pushing America into a war against Iraq which has incurred vast economic costs and the loss of over four thousand American lives, was promotion, “The top U.S. government official in charge of arms control advocates the offensive use of nuclear weapons and has deep roots in the neoconservative political camp . Moving into John Bolton’s old job, Robert G. Joseph is the right-wing’s advance man for counterproliferation as the conceptual core of a new U.S. military policy. Within the administration, he leads a band of counter-proliferationists who – working closely with such militarist policy institutes as the National Institute for Public Policy and the Center for Security Policy – have placed preemptive attacks and weapons of mass destruction at the center of U.S. national security strategy. Joseph replaced John Bolton at the State Department as the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. Like the controversial Bolton, Joseph has established a reputation for breaking or undermining arms control treaties, rather than supporting or strengthening international arms control. Joseph, too, has long believed that U.S. military strategy should be more offensive than defensive.” (Tom Barry ‘Meet John Bolton’s Replacement’). Joseph is one of the many Israelis who have been drafted into the Bush administration to promote the interests of the Jews-only state in Palestine. “Although not self-identified as a neoconservative, Joseph moves in the same circles as other military strategists such as the CSP’s Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz. In a Washington Post article (May 2, 2002), “Who’s Pulling the Foreign Policy Strings,” Dana Milbank wrote: “The vice president sometimes stays neutral but his sympathies undoubtedly are with the Perle crowd. Cheney deputies Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Eric Edelman relay neoconservative views to Rice at the National Security Council. At the NSC, they have a sympathetic audience in Elliott Abrams, Robert Joseph, Wayne Downing, and Zalmay Khalilzad.”
Wall Street Journal:
“Today, the editorial page is a fount of neoconservative war propaganda. All intelligence has vanished. Consider the “Review & Outlook” of Feb. 3, which declares Iran to be “an intolerable threat.” Iran is portrayed as a threat because the country’s new president has used threatening rhetoric against Israel. But, of course, Bush and Israel are constantly using threatening rhetoric against Iran. To avoid being regarded as a wimp by his countrymen and by the Muslim world, the new Iranian president has to answer back. It doesn’t occur to the editorialists that Iranians might see the nuclear weapons of Israel and the U.S. as intolerable threats.” (Paul Craig Roberts ‘How Conservatives Went Crazy’).
Max Boot and Nicholas Goldberg:
“Max Boot just wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In sum, a terrorist-sponsoring state led by an apocalyptic lunatic will soon have the ability to incinerate Tel Aviv or New York,” which “leaves only one serious option – air strikes by Israel or the U.S.” Nicholas Goldberg, who edits the Times’ opinion page, studiously avoids publishing any alternative viewpoints. A similar approach is taken by the rest of the mainstream media in the U.S. and Western Europe. Is it surprising that a few days after these two opinion pieces were published the Los Angeles Times found that 57 percent of the U.S. public backs a military strike on Iran?” (Jorge Hirsch ‘America and Iran: At the Brink of the Abyss’).
“Nevertheless, Dick Cheney himself last year ordered a study of a plan for an attack on Iran -and leading politicians are beating the war drums, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).” (Lee Sustar ‘Target: Iran’).
Zionist owned American media in general:
“The media has assumed its traditional role of fanning the flames for war by providing ample space for the spurious allegations of administration officials, right-wing pundits, and disgruntled Iranian exiles, while carefully omitting the relevant facts in Iran’s defense. As always, the New York Times has spearheaded the propaganda war with an article by Richard Bernstein and Steven Weisman which lays out the sketchy case against Iran. In the first paragraph the Bernstein-Weisman combo suggest that Iran has restarted “research that could give it technology to create nuclear weapons.”” (Mike Whitney ‘The Bombs of March. Countdown to War with Iran?’).
The same commentators who manipulated America into a war against Iraq are now manipulating America into a war against Iran, “Besides convincing the public that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, a critical task of the neo-cons was to convince the American public that there was a link between Al Queda and Saddam Hussein. Their colleagues among the nation’s major syndicated columnists such as Safire, Will, Tom Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Jeff Jacoby, and Paul Greenberg were all too willing accomplices. By the time, the U.S. launched its invasion, more than half of the public was convinced that Saddam had been behind the attacks.” (Jeffrey Blankfort ‘A War for Israel’).
John Bolton, as US ambassador to the UN:
“Significantly, the most hawkish of hawks had to be the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. In a speech, not by accident, at the annual convention of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel US lobby, he said Iran’s nuclear program could be “taken out”.” (Pepe Escobar ‘The old lovers’ nuclear tango’).
Bush professes to fight proxy Zionist war:
Bush is making it clear that he is pushing America into a war against Iran for the sake of the Jews-only state – this incidentally will not be America’s first proxy Zionist war. “What President George W. Bush, Fox News, and the Washington Times were saying about Iraq three years ago they are now saying about Iran. After Saturday’s vote by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report Iran’s suspicious nuclear activities to the UN Security Council, the president wasted no time in warning, “The world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.” More recently, in the case of Iran, President Bush has been unabashed in naming Israel as the most probable target of any Iranian nuclear weapons. He has also created a rhetorical lash-up of the U.S. and Israel, referring three times in the past two weeks to Israel as an “ally” of the U.S., as if to condition Americans to the notion that the U.S. is required to join Israel in any confrontation with Iran. For example, on Feb. 1 the president told the press, “Israel is a solid ally of the United States; we will rise to Israel’s defense if need be.” Asked if he meant the U.S. would rise to Israel’s defense militarily, Bush replied with a startlingly open-ended commitment, “You bet, we’ll defend Israel.”” (Ray McGovern `Juggernaut Gathering Momentum: Next Stop, Iran’). F william engdahl raises the pertinent issue as regards America’s national interests as opposed to the interests of the Jews-only state in Palestine, “It is useful to keep in mind that even were Iran to possess nuclear missiles, the strike range would not reach the territory of the US. Israel would be the closest potential target. A U.S. preemptive nuclear strike to defend Israel would raise the issue of what the military agreements between Tel Aviv and Washington actually encompass, a subject neither the Bush administration nor its predecessors have seen fit to inform the American public about.” (F William Engdahl ‘A high-risk game of nuclear chicken’).
Revelations about the long-term global, intrusive spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other allied intelligence apparatuses have provoked widespread protests and indignation and threatened ties between erstwhile imperial allies.
Allied regimes have uniformly condemned NSA espionage as a violation of trust and sovereignty, a threat to their national and economic security and to their citizens’ privacy.
In contrast, Washington has responded in a contradictory manner: on the one hand, US officials and intelligence chiefs have acknowledged ‘some excesses and mistakes’, on the other hand, they defend the entire surveillance program as necessary for US national security.
Interpretations vary about the US global spying apparatus – how it was built and why it was launched against hundreds of millions of people. ‘Subjective’ and ‘objective’ explanations abound, evoking psychological, social, economic, strategic and political considerations.
A multi-factorial explanation is required.
The Integrated Hypothesis of the Global Police State
One of the essential components of a police state is an all-pervasive spy apparatus operating independently of any legal or constitutional constraints. Spy operations include: 1) massive surveillance over text, video and audio communications and 2) the capacity to secretly record, store and use information secretly collected. This information strengthens political and economic leaders who, in turn, appoint and direct the spy chiefs. The political and economic rulers control the spy-lords by setting the goals, means and targets of the surveillance state. The US global spy apparatus is neither ‘self-starting nor self-perpetuating’. It did not arise in a vacuum and it has virtually no strategic autonomy. While there may be intra-bureaucratic conflicts and rivalries, the institutions and groups function within the overall ‘paradigm’ established and directed by the political and economic elite.
The Global Spy Structure
The growth and expansion of the US spy apparatus has deep roots in its history and is related to the colonial need to control subjugated native and enslaved peoples. However, the global operations emerged after the Second World War when the US replaced Europe as the center of world imperialism. The US assumed the principal role in preventing the spread of revolutionary and anti-colonial movements from the Soviet Union, China, Korea, Vietnam and Cuba to war and crisis-burdened countries of Europe, North and Southeast Asia and Latin America. When the collectivist states fell apart in the 1990’s the US became the sole superpower and a unipolar world emerged.
For the United States, ‘unipolarity’ meant (1) an impetus toward total global domination; (2) a world-wide network of military bases; (3) the subordination of capitalist competitors in other industrial countries, (4) the destruction of nationalist adversaries and (5) the unfettered pillage of resources from the former collectivist regimes as they became vassal states. The last condition meant the complete dismantling of the collectivist state and its public institutions – education, health care and worker rights.
The opportunities for immense profits and supreme control over this vast new empire were boundless while the risks seemed puny, at least during the ‘golden period’, defined by the years immediately after (1) the capitalist takeover of the ex-Soviet bloc, (2) the Chinese transition to capitalism and (3) the conversion of many former African and Asian nationalist regimes, parties and movements to ‘free-market’ capitalism.
Dazzled by the vision of a ‘new world to conquer’ the United States set up an international state apparatus in order to exploit this world-historical opportunity. Most top political leaders, intelligence strategists, military officials and business elites quickly realized that these easy initial conquests and the complicity of pliable and kleptocratic post-Communist vassal rulers would not last. The societies would eventually react and the lucrative plunder of resources was not sustainable. Nationalist adversaries were bound to arise and demand their own spheres of influence. The White House feared their own capitalist allies would take on the role of imperialist competitors seeking to grab ‘their share’ of the booty, taking over and exploiting resources, public enterprises and cheap labor.
The new ‘unipolar world’ meant the shredding of the fabric of social and political life. In the ‘transition’ to free market capitalism, stable employment, access to health care, security, education and civilized living standards disappeared. In the place of once complex, advanced social systems, local tribal and ethnic wars erupted. It would be ‘divide and conquer’ in an orgy of pillage for the empire. But the vast majority of the people of the world suffered from chaos and regression when the multi-polar world of collectivist, nationalist, and imperialist regimes gave way to the unipolar empire.
For US imperialist strategists and their academic apologists the transition to a unipolar imperial world was exhilarating and they dubbed their unchallenged domination the ‘New World Order’ (NWO). The US imperial state then had the right and duty to maintain and police its ‘New World Order’ – by any means. Francis Fukiyama, among other academic apologists celebrated the ‘end of history’ in a paroxysm of imperial fever. Liberal-imperial academics, like Immanuel Wallerstein, sensed the emerging challenges to the US Empire and advanced the view of a Manichean world of ‘unipolarity’ (meaning ‘order’) versus ‘multipolar chaos’– as if the hundreds of millions of lives in scores of countries devastated by the rise of the post-collectivist US empire did not have a stake in liberating themselves from the yoke of a unipolar world.
By the end of its first decade, the unipolar empire exhibited cracks and fissures. It had to confront adversarial nationalist regimes in resource-rich countries, including Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Bashar Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Khamenei in Iran. They challenged US supremacy in North Africa and the Middle East. The Taliban in Afghanistan and nationalist Islamist movements questioned US influence over the vassal rulers of Muslim countries – especially the puppet monarchs in the Persian Gulf.
On the other side of the imperial coin, the domestic economic foundations of the ‘New World Order’ were weakened by a series of speculative crises undermining the support of the US public as well as sectors of the elite. Meanwhile European and Japanese allies, as well as emerging Chinese capitalists, were beginning to compete for markets.
Within the US an ultra-militarist group of political ideologues, public officials and policy advisers, embracing a doctrine combining a domestic police state with foreign military intervention, took power in Washington. ‘Conservatives’ in the Bush, Sr. regime, ‘liberals’ in the Clinton administration and ‘neo-conservatives’ in the Bush, Jr. administration all sought and secured the power to launch wars in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans, to expand and consolidate the unipolar empire.
Maintaining and expanding the unipolar empire became the trigger for the White House’s global police state apparatus. As new regimes were added to Washington’s orbit, more and more surveillance was needed to make sure they did not drift into a competitor’s sphere of influence.
The year 2000 was critical for the global police state. First there was the dot-com crash in the financial sector. The speculative collapse caused massive but unorganized disaffection among the domestic population. Arab resistance re-emerged in the Middle East. The cosmically corrupt Boris Yeltsin vassal state fell and a nationalist, Russian President Vladimir Putin took power. The willing accomplices to the disintegration of the former USSR had taken their billions and fled to New York, London and Israel. Russia was on the road to recovery as a unified nuclear-armed nation state with regional ambitions. The period of unchallenged unipolar imperial expansion had ended.
The election of President Bush Jr., opened the executive branch to police state ideologues and civilian warlords, many linked to the state of Israel, who were determined to destroy secular Arab nationalist and Muslim adversaries in the Middle East. The steady growth of the global police state had been ‘too slow’ for them. The newly ascendant warlords and the proponents of the global police state wanted to take advantage of their golden opportunity to make US/Israeli supremacy in the Middle East irreversible and unquestioned via the application of overwhelming force (‘shock and awe’).
Their primary political problem in expanding global military power was the lack of a fully dominant domestic police state capable of demobilizing American public opinion largely opposed to any new wars. ‘Disaster ideologues’ like Phillip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice understood the need for a new ‘Pearl Harbor’ to occur and threaten domestic security and thereby terrify the public into war. They lamented the fact that no credible regimes were left in the Middle East to cast as the ‘armed aggressor’ and as a threat to US national security. Such an enemy was vital to the launching of new wars. And new wars were necessary to justify the scale and scope of the new global spy apparatus and emergency police state edicts the warlords and neoconservatives had in mind. Absent a credible ‘state-based adversary’, the militarists settled for an act of terror (or the appearance of one) to ‘shock and awe’ the US public into accepting its project for imperial wars, the imposition of a domestic police state and the establishment of a vast global spy apparatus.
The September 11, 2001 explosions at the World Trade Center in New York City and the plane crash into a wing (mostly vacant for repairs) of the Pentagon in Washington, DC were the triggers for a vast political and bureaucratic transformation of the US imperial state. The entire state apparatus became a police state operation. All constitutional guarantees were suspended. The neo-conservatives seized power, the civilian warlords ruled. A huge body of police state legislation suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, the ‘Patriot Act’. The Zionists in office set the objectives and influenced military policies to focus on Israel’s regional interests and the destruction of Israel’s Arab adversaries who had opposed its annexation of Palestine. War was declared against Afghanistan without any evidence that the ruling Taliban was involved or aware of the September 11 attack of the US. Despite massive civilian and even some military dissent, the civilian warlords and Zionist officials blatantly fabricated a series of pretexts to justify an unprovoked war against the secular nationalist regime in Iraq, the most advanced of all Arab countries. Europe was divided over the war. Countries in Asia and Latin America joined Germany and France in refusing to support the invasion. The United Kingdom, under a ‘Labor’ government, eagerly joined forces with the US hoping to regain some of its former colonial holdings in the Gulf.
At home, hundreds of billions of tax dollars were diverted from social programs to fund a vast army of police state operatives. The ideologues of war and the legal eagles for torture and the police state shifted into high gear. Those who opposed the wars were identified, monitored and the details of their lives were ‘filed away’ in a vast database. Soon millions came to be labeled as ‘persons of interest’ if they were connected in any way to anyone who was ‘suspect’, i.e. opposed to the ‘Global War on Terror’. Eventually even more tenuous links were made to everyone… family members, classmates and employers.
Over 1.5 million ‘security cleared’ monitors were contracted by the government to spy on hundreds of millions of citizens. The spy state spread domestically and internationally. For a global empire, based on a unipolar state, the best defense was judged to be a massive global surveillance apparatus operating independently of any other government – including the closest allies.
The slogan, ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) became an open-ended formula for the civilian warlords, militarists and Zionists to expand the scope and duration of overt and covert warfare and espionage. ‘Homeland Security’ departments, operating at both the Federal and State levels, were consolidated and expanded with massive budgets for incarceration and repression. Constitutional protections and the Writ of Habeas Corpus were ‘rendered quaint vestiges of history’. The National Security Agency doubled its personnel and budget with a mandate to distrust and monitor allies and vassal states. The targets piled upon targets, far beyond traditional adversaries, sweeping up the public and private communications of all political, military and economic leaders, institutions, and citizenry.
The ‘Global War on Terror’ provided the ideological framework for a police state based on the totalitarian conception that ‘everybody and everything is connected to each other’ in a ‘global system’ threatening the state. This ‘totalistic view’ informs the logic of the expanded NSA, linking enemies, adversaries, competitors and allies. ‘Enemies’ were defined as anti-imperialist states or regimes with consistently critical independent foreign and domestic policies. ‘Adversaries’ occasionally sided with ‘enemies’, or tolerated policymakers who would not always conform to imperial policies. ‘Competitors’ supported the empire but had the capacity and opportunity to make lucrative trade deals with adversaries or enemies – Allies were states and leaders who generally supported imperial wars but might provide a forum condemning imperial war crimes (torture and drone attacks). In addition, allies could undermine US imperial market shares and accumulate favorable trade balances.
The logic of the NSA required spying on the allies to root out any links, trade, cultural or scientific relations with adversaries and enemies, which might have spillover consequences. The NSA feared that associations in one sphere might ‘overlap’ with adversaries operating in strategic policy areas and undermine ally loyalty to the empire.
The spy logic had a multiplier effect – who gets to ‘spy on the spies?’ The NSA might collaborate with overseas allied intelligence agencies and officials – but American spymasters would always question their reliability, their inclination to withhold vital information, the potential for shifting loyalties. ‘Do our allies spy on us? How do we know our own spies are not colluding with allied spies who might then be colluding with adversarial spies?’ This justified the establishment of a huge national vacuum cleaner to suck up all transactions and communications – justified by the notion that a wide net scooping up everything might catch that big fish!
The NSA regards all ‘threats to the unipolar empire’ as national security threats. No country or agency within or without the reach of the empire was excluded as a ‘potential threat’.
The ‘lead imperial state’ requires the most efficient and overarching spy technology with the furthest and deepest reach. Overseas allies appear relatively inefficient, vulnerable to infiltration, infected with the residue of a long-standing suspect ‘leftist culture’ and unable to confront the threat of new dangerous adversaries. The imperial logic regards surveillance of ‘allies’ as ‘protecting allied interests’ because the allies lack the will and capacity to deal with enemy infiltration.
There is a circular logic to the surveillance state. When an allied leader starts to question how imperial espionage protects allied interest, it is time to intensify spying on the ally. Any foreign ally who questions NSA surveillance over its citizens raises deep suspicions. Washington believes that questioning imperial surveillance undermines political loyalties.
Secret Police Spying as a “Process of Accumulation”
Like capitalism, which needs to constantly expand and accumulate capital, secret police bureaucracies require more spies to discover new areas, institutions and people to monitor. Leaders, followers, citizens, immigrants, members of ethnic, religious, civic and political groups and individuals – all are subject to surveillance. This requires vast armies of data managers and analysts, operatives, programmers, software developers and supervisors – an empire of ‘IT’. The ever-advancing technology needs an ever-expanding base of operation.
The spy- masters move from local to regional to global operations. Facing exposure and condemnation of its global chain of spying, the NSA calls for a new ‘defensive ideology’. To formulate the ideology, a small army of academic hacks is trotted out to announce the phony alternatives of a ‘unipolar police state or terror and chaos’. The public is presented with a fabricated choice of its perpetual, ‘well-managed and hi-tech’, imperial wars versus the fragmentation and collapse of the entire world into a global war of ‘all against all’. Academic ideologues studiously avoid mentioning that small wars by small powers end more quickly and have fewer casualties.
The ever-expanding technology of spying strengthens the police state. The list of targets is endless and bizarre. Nothing and no one will be missed!
As under capitalism, the growth of the spy state triggers crisis. With the inevitable rise of opposition, whistleblowers come forward to denounce the surveillance state. At its peak, spy-state over-reach leads to exposure, public scandals and threats from allies, competitors and adversaries. The rise of cyber-imperialism raises the specter of cyber-anti-imperialism. New conceptions of inter-state relations and global configurations are debated and considered. World public opinion increasingly rejects the ‘necessity’ of police states. Popular disgust and reason exposes the evil logic of the spy-state based on empire and promotes a plural world of peaceful rival countries, functioning under co-operative policies – systems without empire, without spymasters and spies.
US relations with Venezuela illustrate the specific mechanisms with which an imperial power seeks to sustain client states and overthrow independent nationalist governments. By examining US strategic goals and its tactical measures, we can set forth several propositions about (1) the nature and instruments of imperial politics, (2) the shifting context and contingencies which influence the successes and failures of specific policies and (3) the importance of regional and global political alignments and priorities.
Method of Analysis
A comparative historical approach highlights the different policies, contexts and outcomes of imperial policies during two distinct Presidential periods: the ascendancy of neo-liberal client regimes (Perez and Caldera) of the late 1980’s to 1998; and the rise and consolidation of a nationalist populist government under President Chavez (1999-2012).
During the 1980’s and 1990’s US successes in securing policies favorable to US economic and foreign policy interests under client rulership fixed, in the mind of Washington, the optimal and only acceptable model and criteria for responding (negatively) to the subsequent Chavez nationalist government.
US policy to Venezuela in the 1990’s and its successes, were part and parcel of a general embrace of neo-liberal electoral regimes in Latin America. Washington and its allies in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) promoted and supported regimes throughout Latin America which privatized and de-nationalized over five thousand public enterprises in the most lucrative economic sectors. These quasi-public monopolies included natural resources, energy, finance, trade, transport and telecommunications. Neo-liberal client regimes reversed 50 years of economic and social policy, concentrated wealth, deregulated the economy, and laid the basis for profound crises, which discredited neo-liberalism. Continent-wide popular uprisings and regime changes, led to nationalist populist governments.
The historical-comparative approach allows us to analyze Washington’s response to the rise and demise of neo-liberal clients and the subsequent ascendency of populist-nationalism and how regional patterns and changes influence the capacity of an imperial power to intervene and attempt to re-establish its dominance.
The key to understanding the mode and means of imposing and sustaining imperial dominance is to recognize that Washington combines multiple forms of struggle, depending on resources, available collaborators, opportunities and contingencies.
In approaching client regimes, Washington combines military and economic aid to repress opposition and buttress economic allies by cushioning crises. Imperial propaganda via the mass media provide political legitimacy and diplomatic backing, especially when client regimes engage in gross human rights violations and high level corruption.
Conversely when attempting to weaken or overthrow a nationalist-populist regime, the empire will resort to multiple forms of attack including (1) corruption (buying off government backers) (2) funding and organizing opposition media, parties, business and trade union organizations, (3) organizing and backing disloyal military officials to violently overthrow the elected government (4) support employers’ lockouts to paralyze strategic sectors of the economy (oil)(5) financing referendums and other ‘legal mechanisms’ to revoke democratic mandates, (6) promoting paramilitary groups to destabilize civil society and sow public insecurity and undermine agrarian reforms; (7) finance electoral parties and non-governmental organizations to compete in and delegitimize elections; (8) engage in diplomatic warfare and efforts to prejudice regional relations; (9) establish military bases in neighboring countries, as a platform for joint military invasions.
The multi-prong, multi-track policies occur in sequence or are combined, depending on the opportunities and results of earlier tactical outcomes. For example, while financing the electoral campaign of Capriles Radonski in April 2013, Washington also backed violent post-election assaults by rightist thugs attempting to destabilize the government.
Secretary of State Kerry while pursuing an apparent effort to re-open diplomatic relations via negotiations simultaneously backed a highly inflammatory declaration by Samantha Power, US United Nations representative, vowing aggressive intrusion in Venezuela’s domestic politics.
US-Venezuelan relations provide us with a case study that illustrates how efforts to restore hegemonic politics can become an obstacle to the development of normal relations with an independent country. In particular, the ascendancy of Washington during the “Golden Age” of neoliberalism in the 1990’s, established a fixed ‘mind set’, which was incapable of adapting to the changed circumstances, of the 2000’s, a period witnessing the demise and discredit of ‘free market’ client politics. The rigidity derived from past success led Washington to pursue a ‘restoration politics’ under very unfavorable circumstances, involving military, clandestine and other illicit policies with very improbable possibilities of success.
The unfavorable outcome of US efforts to destabilize a democratically elected nationalist popular regime in Venezuela occurred when Washington was heavily engaged in multiple, prolonged wars and conflicts in several countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya). This validates the hypothesis that even a global power is incapable of waging warfare in multiple locations at the same time.
Given the shift in world market conditions, including the increase in commodity prices, (especially energy), the relative economic decline of the US and rise of Asia, Washington lost a strategic economic lever – market power – in the 2000’s, a resource which it possessed during the previous decade.
Given the shift in political power in the region, the rise of popular-nationalist governments in most of Latin America, Washington lost regional leverage to ‘encircle’, ‘boycott’ and intervene in Venezuela. Even among its few clients, like Colombia, Washington could do no more than create ‘border tensions’ rather than a joint military attack.
Comparative historical analysis of the strategic changes in international and regional politics, economies, markets and alignments provides a useful framework for interpreting US-Venezuelan relations, especially the successes of the 1990’s and the failures of the 2000’s.
US-Venezuela Patron-Client Relations 1960’s -1998
During the 40 year period following the overthrow of the Dictator Perez Jimenez (1958) and prior to the election of President Hugo Chavez (1998) Venezuela’s politics were marked with conformity to US political and economic interests on all strategic issues. Venezuelan regimes followed Washington’s lead in ousting Cuba from the Organization of American States, breaking relations with Havana and promoting a hemispheric blockade. Caracas followed Washington’s lead during the cold War, backed its counter-insurgency policies in Latin America. It opposed the democratic leftist regime in Chile under President Allende, the nationalist governments of Brazil (1961-64) and Peru (1967-73), Bolivia (1968-71) and Ecuador (in the 1970’s). It supported the US invasions of the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada. Venezuela’s nationalization of oil (1976) provided lucrative compensation and generous service contracts with US oil companies, a settlement far more generous than any comparable arrangement in the Middle East or Latin America.
During the decade from the late 1980’s to 1998, Venezuela signed off on draconian International Monetary Fund programs, including privatizations of natural resources, devaluations and austerity programs which enriched the Multinational Corporation (MNC), emptied the Treasury and impoverished the majority of wage and salary earners. In foreign policy Venezuela aligned with the US, ignored new trade openings in Latin America and Asia and moved to re-privatize its oil, bauxite and other primary resources. President Perez was indicted in a massive corruption scandal. Implementation of a US-IMF austerity program led to a massive popular uprising and the massacre of over a thousand protestors. The subsequent Caldera regime presided over the triple scourge of triple digit inflation, 50% poverty rates and double digit unemployment.
Venezuela touched bottom at the peak of US hegemony in the region. The inverse relation was not casual, as Venezuela under Caldera followed austerity, open markets and US centered policies which undermined any public policies to revive the economy. Moreover, world market conditions were unfavorable, as oil prices were low and China was not yet a world market power.
US and the Rise of Chavez: 1998-2001
The US viewed the Venezuelan elections of 1998 as a continuation of the previous decade despite significant political signs of changes. The two parties, which dominated and alternated in power, the Christian Democratic COPEI, and the social democratic Democratic Action Party, were soundly defeated by a new political formation headed by a former military officer, Hugo Chavez, who led an armed uprising six years earlier and who had engaged in a massive grass roots campaign, attracting radicals, revolutionaries, opportunists and defectors from the two major parties.
Washington’s successes over the previous decade, the entrenched ascendancy of neo-liberalism and the advance of a regional US free trade agreement blinded the Clinton regime from seeing (1) the economic crisis and discredit of the neo-liberal model; (2) the deepening social and economic polarization and hostility to the IMF-USA among broad sectors of the class structure; (3) the decay and discredit of its client political parties and regimes. Washington tended to write-off Chavez’s promises of a new constitutional order and new “Bolivarian” foreign and domestic policies which included promises of nationalist-populist reforms, as typical Latin campaign rhetoric. The general thinking in the State Department was that Chavez was engaging in electoral demagogy and that he would “come to his senses” after taking office. Moreover Washington’s Latin Americanists believed that the mix of traditional politicians and technocrats in his motley coalition would undermine any consequential push for leftist radical changes.
Hence Washington under Clinton did not adapt a hostile position during the first months of the Chavez government. The watchword among the Clintonites was “wait and see” and count on long-standing ties to the major business associations, friendly military officials, and corrupt trade union bosses and oil executives, to check or block any new radical initiatives emanating from Congress or the Executive. In other words Washington counted on using the permanent state apparatus to counter the electoral regime.
Chavez recognized the institutional obstacles to nationalist socio-economic reforms and immediately called for constitutional changes, convoked elections for a constituent assembly, which he won handily. Washington’s growing concerns over the possible consequences of new elections were tempered by two factors: (1) the mixed composition of the elected assembly (old line politicians, moderate leftists, radicals and ‘unknowns’); (2) the ‘moderate’ appointments to the Central Bank and the orthodox economic policies pursued by the finance and economic ministry. Prudent budgets, fiscal deficits and balance of payments were at the top of the agenda.
The new constitution, included clauses favoring a radical social and nationalist agenda, and led to the defection of some of the more conservative early supporters aligned with Washington which in turn signaled the first overt signs of US opposition. Veteran State Department officials debated whether the new radical constitution would form the bases of a leftist government or whether it was standard symbolic fare, rhetorical flourishes to be heavily discounted, merely symbolic changes by a populist president to satisfy the Latin temperament in hard times but not likely to be followed by substantive reforms. The hard liners linked to the exile Cuba lobby argued that Chavez was a “closet” radical, who was preparing the way for more radical ‘communist’ measures. In fact Chavez policies were both moderate and radical. His political zig-zags, reflected his efforts to navigate a moderate reform agenda without alienating the US and the business community on the one hand, and on the other hand he sought to retain and respond to his mass base among the impoverished slum dwellers (rancheros’) who voted for him.
Strategically Chavez succeeded in creating a strong political institutional base in the legislature, civil administration and military which could (or would) approve and implement his national-populist agenda. Unlike Chilean Socialist President Allende, Chavez first consolidated his political and military base and then proceeded to socio-economic changes.
By the end of 2000, Washington moved to regroup its internal client political forces into a formidable political opposition. Chavez was too independent, not easily controlled, and most important moving in the “wrong direction”, away from a blind embrace of neo-liberalism and US centered regional integration. In other words while Chavez was still well within the parameters of US hegemony, the direction he was taking portended a possible break.
The Turning Point: Chavez Defies the ‘War on Terror’ 2000-2001
The decade beginning the new millennium was a tumultuous period which played a major role in defining US-Venezuelan relations. Several inter-related events polarized the hemisphere, weakened Washington’s influence, undermined collaborator client regimes and led to a major confrontation with Venezuela.
First, the neo-liberal model fell into deep crises throughout the region; discrediting the US backed clients in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and elsewhere. Secondly, repeated major popular uprisings occurred during the crises and populist-nationalist politicians came to power, rejecting US-IMF tutelage and US centered regional trade agreements. Thirdly, Washington launched a global “war on terror”, essentially an offensive military strategy, designed to overthrow adversaries to US domination and Israeli supremacy in the Middle East. In Latin America, Washington’s launch of the “war on terror” occurred precisely at the high point of crises and popular rebellion, undermining any regional support. Fourthly, beginning in 2003, commodity prices skyrocketed, as China’s economy took off, creating lucrative markets stimulating high growth for the new left of center regimes.
In this vortex of change, President Chavez rejected Washington’s “War on Terror”, arguing against “fighting terror with terror”. By the end of 2001, Washington dispatched a top State Department official, Marc Grossman, to Caracas where he bluntly threatened dire reprisals – thinly veiled destabilization measures – if Caracas failed to fall-in with Washington’s attempt to reimpose global hegemony. Chavez dismissed Grossman and realigned with the emerging Latin American nationalist populist consensus. In other words Washington’s aggressive militarist posture polarized relations, increased tensions and, to a degree, radicalized Venezuela’s foreign policy.
Washington’s interventionary machinery went into high gear: Ambassador Shapiro held several meetings with FEDECAMARAS (the business association) and the trade union bosses of the CTV. The Pentagon and the Southern Command met with client military officials. The State Department increased contacts and funding for opposition NGO’s and right-wing street gangs. The date of the coup was set for April 11, 2002. Meanwhile, the Chavez government began to assess its resources. Loyalist military groups especially in the armored battalions and paratroops were contacted.
Local neighborhood committees emerged and set out to mobilize the poor around a more radical social agenda and to defend the government, as the US backed opposition escalated street fighting. The coup was welcomed and openly supported by Washington and its semi-official mouthpiece the New York Times, and the rightwing Spanish Prime Minister Aznar. The illicit regime moved quickly to arrest President Chavez, dismiss Congress, dissolve political parties and declare a state of emergency. The masses and leading sectors of the military quickly and massively responded: millions of poor Venezuelans descended from the ranchos and amassed before Miraflores, the Presidential Palace, demanding the return of their elected President and repudiating the coup. The constitutionalist military led by an elite paratroop battalion threatened a full scale military assault. The coup makers, politically isolated and militarily outgunned, surrendered. Chavez returned to power. The US policy of regime change to restore hegemony was defeated; important assets were forced into exile and purged from the military. Washington played a risky card and lost on several fronts. First of all US support for the coup, strengthened the Bolivarian anti-imperialist sectors of Chavez’s movement. Chavez discarded illusions of “reaching an accommodation” with Washington. Secondly, the loss of key military assets weakened the possibility of Washington launching a future coup. Thirdly, the complicity of the business groups weakened their role in influencing Chavez’s economic policies, forcing him toward a more statist economic strategy. Fourthly, the mass mobilization of the poor to restore democracy pressured the government to increase social spending on welfare programs. Anti-imperialism, social welfare and national security concerns led Chavez toward strategic ties with Cuba, as a natural ally.
Washington’s escalation of aggression and overt commitment to regime change altered the entire relationship to one of permanent hostility. Spurred on by its backing of a failed coup, Washington resorted once again to ‘direct action’, backing a “boss’s lockout” of the strategic oil industry led by “client assets” among the executives and sectors of the petroleum workers union.
Washington put into practice in Venezuela the global militarization of US foreign policy. Under the subterfuge “War on Terror” formula for global intervention, (which included the invasion of Afghanistan, 2001) and later the war against Iraq (2003) imperial policymakers plunged ahead with new aggressive policies.
The pretext for aggression against Venezuela was not directly linked to oil or Chavez’s appeal for Latin American integration. The trigger was Chavez’s rejection of Bush’s world view of global empire conquered by force of arms and sustained by collaborator vassal states. The oil conflicts – Chavez nationalization of US oil concessions and his appeal for regional integration excluding the US and Canada, were a result of and in response to US overt aggression. Prior to the US backed April 2002 coup and the oil-executives lockout of December 2002 – February 2003, there were no major conflicts between Chavez and US petroleum companies; Chavez’s conception of Bolivarian unity of all Latin American states was a “vision” not a concrete program for action. Chavez’s takeover of US oil concessions was a defensive political move to eliminate a political adversary controlling the strategic export and revenue sectors. He did not intervene against European oil companies. Likewise, Chavez’s move to promote regional organizations flowed from his perception that Venezuela required closer ties and supportive relations in Latin America to counter US imperial aggression.
In other words US empire builders used (and sacrificed) economic assets to restore hegemony via military means. The military and strategic dimensions of the US Empire took precedence over Big Oil. A pattern evident in all of its subsequent imperial endeavors in Iraq, Libya and Syria and its severe economic sanctions against Iran. The same hegemonic priorities were evident in Washington’s intervention in Venezuela.
Contrary to some theorists of imperialism, who argue that imperialism expands via economic “dispossession”, recent history of US Venezuela relations demonstrates that 21st century US imperialism grows via political intervention, military coups and by converting economic collaborators into political agents willing to sacrifice corporate wealth to secure imperial military-political domination.
The decision by imperial policymakers to overthrow Chavez was based on his opposition to Washington’s global military strategy. The White House thought it had strong assets in Venezuela: the mass media, two major opposition parties, the principle business federation (FEDECAMARAS), the official trade union bureaucracy, sectors of the military and the church hierarchy … Washington did not count on the unorganized masses and popular movements with powerful loyalty and affection for President Chavez. Nor did imperial strategists recognize that strategic military units like the paratroops retained national, personal and political ties with the democratically elected President.
The rapid restoration of Chavez to power (48 hours) was the first blow to Washington’s restorationist pretentions. The second was the defeat of the US backed oil executives lockout. Washington counted on its close ties with the senior executives of the state oil company (PDVS) and the heads of the oil workers union. Washington failed to take account of the minority of executives and close to half of the oil workers who opposed the lockout and the fact that Latin American oil producers would supply Chavez and break the lockout.
The twin defeats, the military-business coup and the bosses’ lockout had a profound impact on US-Venezuelan relations. The US lost strategic internal assets – business and trade union elites fled to exile or resigned. Pro-US oil executives were replaced by nationalists. Moreover, Washington’s direct imperial intervention radicalized the Chavez government, which moved decisively from conciliation to confrontation and opposition. Venezuela adapted to the new active radical mood of the country by launching a nationalist, populist agenda and actively promoting Latin American integration. Venezuela launched UNASUR, ALBA, PetroCaribe and scuttled a US centered free trade treaty.
The loss of key assets undermined Washington’s direct action military strategy. The White House turned to is remaining political and social assets channeling funds to the electoral parties and especially to so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Washington via the National Endowment for Democracy and other “front groups” bankrolled a recall referendum which was decisively defeated, demoralizing the right-wing electorate and weakening remaining US assets.
Having lost on the military, economic and electoral front, Washington sought to delegitimize the government by boycotting Congressional elections, leading to the final debacle. Pro-Chavez parties swept the election, gained an overwhelming majority, and proceeded to approve all of the government’s nationalist-social reform agenda. The US backed opposition lost all institutional leverage.
The US imperial failures between 2002-2005 did not merely reflect mistaken policies but had a deeper cause: the incapacity to make a proper estimate of the correlation of forces. This strategic failure led it to continue to throw its shrinking domestic assets into conflict with less resources and backing. Despite repeated defeats, Washington failed to realize that popular power and nationalist allegiances within the military could successfully counter US business-military intervention. Political hubris informed by military-driven imperialist ideology blinded Washington to the on-the ground realities that Chavez possessed popular support and was backed by nationalist military officers. Acting under increasingly unfavorable conditions, but desperate for some political ‘victory’, Washington plunged from one adventure to another, without reflecting on lost assets or declining opportunities. It failed to take account of decisive political shifts in Latin America and favorable conditions in the world economy for petrol exporters. To support a recall referendum in the face of double-digit growth, a radicalized mass public and booming commodity prices, was the height of imperial imbecility.
Imperial Policy During the Commodity Boom 2004-2008
With virtual no active assets of consequence, Washington turned toward an ‘external strategy’ linked to its only loyal collaborator, the death squad narco-President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. Washington secured seven military bases, airfields, Special Forces missions and a platform for cross border intrusions. The strategy was to launch a joint intervention based on the pretext of Venezuelan links to the FARC guerillas.
However, full scale imperial warfare in Iraq, a prolonged war in Afghanistan, threatened conflicts with Iran, low intensity warfare in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, weakened Washington’s capacity to engage in a new prolonged war in Venezuela. US intervention would be opposed by every country in the region. Colombia was not willing to go it alone especially with a full-scale guerrilla war internally.
Because of Venezuela’s trade surplus and high export revenues traditional Washington financial levers like the IMF and World Bank were inoperative. Likewise Venezuela signed multi-billion dollar military trade agreements with Russia, undermining a US arms sales boycott. Trade agreements with Brazil and Argentina lessened Venezuela’s dependence on US food imports.
All non-US MNC in the petroleum sector continued operations, ignoring the conflicts with US companies. The government’s selective nationalization program and moderate increases in taxes and royalty payments weakened EU support for the US, given the high price of oil (exceeding $100 dollars a barrel). Chavez’s left-turn was well funded. The massive allocation of oil revenues for a wide-range of social programs, ranging from subsidized food, housing and welfare, and free health and educational programs, led to the massive reduction of poverty and unemployment and secured an electoral majority. Washington’s “pivot to the Middle East” led to the US becoming bogged down in a series of prolonged wars, eroding Washington’s quest for regional power.
More significantly, the State Department and Pentagon’s Latin Americanists remained tied to the 1990’s paradigm of free markets and vassal states at a time when the most important countries in the region were moving toward greater independence in trade, greater intra-regional integration and social inclusion. Unable to adapt to the new regional realities, Washington witnessed the region’s rejection of US centered free trade accords. China displaced, the US as the regions’ main trading partner. The loss of collaborator military elites as coup-makers for empire, further eroded imperial reach. Coup efforts in Bolivia and Ecuador failed and radicalized political relations toward the US.
However, Washington was not without partners: bilateral trade agreements were signed with Chile, Panama, Colombia and Mexico. The Pentagon engineered a coup in Honduras. The National Security Agency engaged in major cyber spying operations in Brazil, Mexico and the rest of the continent. The White House poured over six billions into Colombia’s armed forces as a proxy for the US military. These “gains” had little impact. US support for the Honduran military coup displaced a Venezuelan ally in ALBA but led to Washington’s diplomatic isolation and discredit throughout Latin America. Even Colombia, its closest client, opposed the coup. US military support for Colombia temporarily contributed to border tensions with Venezuela but with the election of a new President (Santos), Colombia moved toward reconciliation and peaceful coexistence with Venezuela. Under President Uribe trade fell to less than $2 billion; with Santos’ conciliatory policy it rose to nearly $10 billion.
Washington’s external strategy was in shambles. Cyber spying by the NSA was exposed by Edward Snowden and resulted in greater animosity toward Washington, especially from Brazil, which cancelled a White House visit and allocated $10 billion to fund a nationally controlled IT system. Imperial policy makers relied exclusively on interventionist strategies which depended on military-intelligence operations, an approach which was out of touch with the new configuration of power in Latin America. In contrast, Venezuela deepened its economic ties with the new regional and global economic power centers, as the foundations for its independent policies.
Chavez and President Maduro’s regional strategy was seen in Washington as a security threat rather than an economic challenge to US hegemony. Venezuela’s success in promoting bilateral ties, even with US clients like Colombia and Mexico, and several English-speaking Caribbean islands, undermined efforts to ‘encircle and isolate’ Venezuela. Caracas success in financing and backing multi-lateral regional economic and political organizations – that exclude the US– in South America and the Caribbean reflects the power of oil diplomacy over saber rattling. Venezuela’s promotion of PetroCaribe, aligned a number of neo-liberal and center-left regimes in the Carribbean, previously under US hegemony, with Venezuela. In exchange for subsidized oil prices, medical aid and interest free loans, they rejected US intrusions. ALBA brought together several center-left governments, including Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua into a common political bloc opposing US interventionism.
ALBA firmly rejected coups in Latin America and Washington’s overseas wars in Libya, Syria and elsewhere. Venezuela successfully joined the powerful economic bloc, MERCOSUR, enhancing its trade with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Venezuela’s strategic alliance with Cuba (oil for medical aid) enormously improved Caracas capacity to implement its free health program, an important welfare reform which solidified Chavez and Maduros’ electoral base among the poor and undermined Washington’s funding of NGO “grassroots” subversion in poor neighborhoods. Venezuela successfully undercut Bush and Obama’s efforts to use Colombia as a “military proxy” through a historic peace and reconciliation agreement with President Santos. Colombia agreed to end its cross-border paramilitary and military incursions and support for US destabilization operations in exchange for Venezuela closing guerrilla sanctuaries, reopening trade relations and encouraging the FARC to enter into peace negotiations with the Santos regime. Santos’ embrace of Venezuela’s trade and diplomatic ties, eroded Washington’s ‘outside military strategy’ and forced imperial policy-makers to emphasize relying on internal clients engaged in electoral politics and ‘direct action’ (sabotage of electoral power grids, hoarding of essential foodstuff).
While Washington’s imperial rhetoric emphasizes Venezuela as a “security threat” to the Hemisphere, no other country subscribes to that doctrine. Latin America sees Caracas as a partner in integration and a lucrative market. Moreover, US diplomacy does not follow trade: only Mexico is more dependent on the US oil market than Venezuela. Venezuela’s dependence on the US market for oil is in the process of changing. In 2013 Venezuela signed off on a $20 billion dollar investment and trade deal with China to exploit “heavy oil” in the Orinoco Basin. Venezuela’s trade ties to the US contrast with the hostile diplomatic relations which have led to the mutual withdrawal of ambassadors and continuing US gross interference in Venezuela’s electoral process. For example in March 2013, two US military attaches were expelled for attempting to recruit Venezuelan military officials. Later the same year in September, three Embassy officials were expelled for plotting destabilization activity with members of the far right opposition.
Imperialism’s Multi-Track Opposition
US hostility toward Venezuela is based on three levels of conflict. At the country-level, Venezuela marks out a new development paradigm which features public ownership over the free market, social welfare over multi-national oil profits, and popular power over elite rule. At the regional level, Venezuela promotes Latin American integration over US centered Latin American Free Trade Agreements; anti-imperialism over “pan-Americanism”; foreign aid based on reciprocal economic interests; and non-intervention as opposed to US military pacts, narco-military intrusions and military bases.
At the global-level Venezuela has rejected the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, ignored US trade sanctions toward Iran, opposed Washington and NATO’s bombing of Libya and proxy invasion of Syria. Venezuela condemns Israeli colonization and annexation of Palestine. In other words Venezuela upholds national self-determination against US military driven imperialism.
Chavez and Maduro pose a successful alternative to neo-liberalism. Venezuela demonstrates that a highly globalized, trade dependent economy is compatible with an advanced welfare program. The US, on the other hand, as it “globalizes”, is eliminating welfare programs to finance imperial wars. Venezuela is telling the US public that a market economy and large social welfare budget are not incompatible. This paradigm conflicts with the message from the White House. Moreover, US Empire builders have no economic initiatives to counter Venezuela’s regional and global alliances. Unlike the 1960’s when President Kennedy proposed the “Alliance for Progress” involving trade, aid and reforms to counter the revolutionary appeal of the Cuban revolution. In contrast Bush and Obama “offer” costly military and police co-operation and warmed over neo-liberal clichés accompanied by market constraints.
Despite severe diplomatic setbacks, regional isolation, the loss of a military platform, and a commodity driven economic boom in Venezuela, Washington persisted in its efforts to destabilize Venezuela. Beginning in 2007, imperial strategy re-focused on electoral processes and destabilization. The first success was the defeat by less than 1% of Chavez constitutional amendments in December 2007 right after a substantial Presidential victory. Apparently the overtly socialist constitution was too radical for a sector of the Venezuelan electorate.
From 2008 onward Washington pumped large sums into a variety of political assets including NGOs and middle class university students’ organizations engaged in agitation and street demonstrations. The goal was to exploit local grievances. US funding of proxies promoted extra-parliamentary, destabilization activity, disrupting the economy while blaming the government for public insecurity and covering up opposition violence.
Business owners were encouraged to engage in hoarding in order to provoke shortages and popular discontent; the media blamed state “inefficiency”. Opposition political parties received financial backing, on condition that they unified and ran on a single slate in contesting elections and questioned the legitimacy of elections (claiming ‘fraud’) after their defeat.
In summary US efforts to restore hegemony relied on surrogates, which ran the gamut from violent paramilitary groups, NGO’s, political parties, elected officials and manufacturing and commercial executives, linked to the production and distribution of essential consumer goods.
Washington’s shifts in policies, from internal violence (coup of 2002, oil lockout of 2002-03), and external military threats (2004-2006), to a return to internal electoral politics and business destabilization campaigns reflects attempts to overcome failed policies without surrendering the strategic objective of restoring hegemony via overthrowing the elected government (“regime change” in the imperial lexicon).
Seven Keys to Imperial Politics: An Overview
Washington’s decade and a half efforts to restore hegemony and reimpose a client regime revolve around imperial capacities to secure seven strategic goals.
1) Imperial capacity to successfully overthrow a nationalist government revolves around possessing a unified client military command. Chavez ensured that he retained loyal strategic military sectors able to counter the imperial proxies.
2) Imperial capacity to militarily intervene depends on not being tied down in ongoing serial wars and on securing regional partners willing to jointly engage. Neither condition was present. US imperial policy concentrated its military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, in prolonged wars which created public antipathy to launching another war in Venezuela. The attempt to convert Colombia into an active ally in war failed because of the economic trade losses incurred by the Colombian business elite in the run-up to border skirmishes. Washington offered little or nothing in economic compensation or alternative markets for Colombian exporters since most of US “aid” (Plan Colombia) involved military transfers and sales.
3) The imperial destabilization campaign ran through strategic assets because of premature, ill-calculated and high risk operations in which one failure led to even higher risk interventions in an effort to cover-up a bankrupt strategy. The US backed coup of 2002 was clearly based on poor intelligence and underestimation of President Chavez’s support. Washington failed to appreciate Chavez’s astute institutional changes, in particular the promotion of loyalist sectors of the armed forces. Blinded by ideological blinders, Washington counted on its business allies and trade union bureaucrats to “turn-out the crowds” to back the junta and provide a legal cover. In the face of serious losses resulting from the subsequent purging of client elites in the military and business associations, Washington unleashed its client oil executives and trade union officials to mount an oil lockout, which lacked backing among the loyalist military. Over time the shutdown of oil production and delivery, alienated wide swathes of the business community and consumers, suffering from the absence of transport and distribution of commodities. The defeat of the oil lockout resulted in the purge of over ten thousand US clients among senior and middle management and the reorientation of the PDVSA (the state oil company) into a formidable political instrument funding Venezuela’s comprehensive social welfare programs.
Increases in social spending in turn provided a powerful boost in Chavez’s electoral support and consolidated his mass base among the vast majority of the poor. Imperial strategists then converted their extra-parliamentary defeats into an electoral rout by launching a referendum in the face of the Chavez offensive and suffered a decisive and demoralizing defeat. To make a virtue of multiple disasters, Washington backed a boycott of Congressional elections which resulted in near unanimous Chavista control of Congress and a mandate to legally approved Chavez executive prerogatives. Chavez used executive decrees to promote an anti-imperialist foreign policy without even minimum opposition.
4) Imperial ‘neo-liberal’ and ‘war on terror’ ideological warfare was launched in Latin America against Venezuela (2001 onward) at the precise moment of widespread revolts, uprisings and client regime changes throughout the region. The continental rebellion against US centered free-market regimes, resonated with Chavez’s nationalist-populism. As a result Washington’s ideological appeals fell on arid soil. The dogmatic embrace of a failed development strategy and the continued embrace of hated clients ensured that Washington’s ideological war against Venezuela would boomerang: instead of isolating and encircling Venezuela, it led to greater Latin American regional solidarity and the isolation of the US. Instead of dumping discredited clients and attempting to adapt to the changing anti-neo-liberal climate, Washington, for internal reasons (the ascent of Wall Street), persisted in pursuing a self-defeating propaganda war.
5) Imperial efforts at the restoration of hegemony required an economic crises, including low world market prices and weak demand for commodities, declining incomes and employment, severe balance of payment problems and fiscal deficits to provide leverage to destabilize targeted regimes. None of these conditions were present in Venezuela. On the contrary commodity demand and prices boomed. Venezuela grew by double-digits. Unemployment and poverty sharply declined. Easy and available consumer credit and increased public spending greatly expanded the domestic market. Free health and education and public housing programs grew exponentially. In other words global macro-economic and local social conditions favored the anti-hegemonic perspectives of the government. US and clients’ efforts to demonize Chavez failed. Instead of embracing popular programs and focusing on problems of implementation and mismanagement, Washington embraced local political clients associated with the deep socio-economic crises of the ‘lost decade’ (1989-1999) prior to Chavez assent to power. Imperial critics in Latin America easily refuted Washington’s attacks on the Chavez development model by citing favorable employment, income, purchasing power and living standards compared to the previous neoliberal period
6) Imperial policy makers emphasized global ideological-military confrontation at a moment when leaders and public opinion in Latin America were thinking and pursuing market opportunities. The “War on Terror”, Washington’s hobby horse for global supremacy, had minimum support; China’s demand for Latin America commodities led to the Asian country displacing the US as the major market for Latin exports. Global militarism was not conducive to restoring hegemony when the Latin consensus pivoted around markets, poverty reduction, democracy and citizen participation. During past decades US global militarism resonated in Latin America when it was ruled by military regimes. Washington’s attempt to resort to the earlier period of military rule by backing a military coup in Honduras was soundly denounced throughout the continent, not only by center-left governments but even by conservative civilian regimes, fearful of a return to military rule at their expense.
7) The change from a Republican to a Democratic regime in Washington, did not result in any substantive change in imperial policy toward Venezuela or Latin America. It only led to the entrée of the “double discourse”. Obama spoke of a “new beginning”, ‘new overtures’ and ‘shared values’. In practice Washington proceeded to military provocations from its bases in Colombia, backed the Honduras military coup, supported a violent destabilization campaign in April 2013 following the defeat of its Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski by the Chavista, Nicholas Maduro. The Obama regime was the only one in the hemisphere (and the OECD) which failed to recognize the legitimacy of the Presidential election results. Political changes in imperial countries, from a liberal to a conservative president (or vice versa), does not in any way affect the deep imperial state, its military interests or strategies. President Obama’s resort to the double discourse, to talk diplomatically and act militarily, as a mode of hegemonic rule, quickly lost its attraction and effectiveness even among centrist-post-neo-liberal leaders.
Imperialism is not simply a ‘policy’ it is a structure, with a powerful military aid financial component which depends on strategically placed collaborators and supporters in targeted countries, operating in favorable (crises ridden) environments. Imperialism flourishes when its military and diplomatic approach serves economic interests which benefit the ‘home market’ and rewards local collaborators. In the second decade of the 21st century, the predominance of ‘military driven imperialism’ bleeds the home economy, impoverishes the targeted society and depresses living standards. Destructive wars even weaken client elites.
Latin American and Venezuelan development oriented leaders look elsewhere, to newly emerging economic powers with growing markets. They pursue economic ties which are not accompanied by military and security threats of intervention. Chinese investments are not accompanied by military missions and massive spy networks like the CIA, DEA and NSA posing armed threats to national sovereignty.
The Imperial Dynamic and the Radicalization of Venezuelan Politics
Imperial intervention can have multiple and contrasting effects. It can intimidate a nationalist government and force it to renege on its electoral promises and revert to a liberal agenda. It can lead to an accommodation to imperial foreign policies and force a progressive government to moderate domestic reforms. It can lead to concessions to imperial interests, including military bases, concessions to extractive capital including the dispossession of local producers to facilitate capital accumulation. Covert or overt intervention can also radicalize a moderate reformist government and force it to adopt anti-imperialist and socialist measures as defensive strategy. Over time incremental changes can become the bases for a pro-active radical leftist agenda.
The range of systemic responses illustrates the analytical weakness of the so-called “center-periphery” framework, which lumps together (a) disparate political, social and economic internal configurations, (b) opposing strategies and responses to imperialism and (c) complex international relations between imperial and nationalist regimes. The polar opposite responses and political-economic configurations of the US and China (so-called “centers”) to Venezuela further illustrates the lack of analytical utility of the so called “world system” approach in comparison with a class anchored framework.
The imperial dynamic, the drive by Washington to reassert hegemony in Venezuela by overthrowing the nationalist regime, had the unintended consequence of radicalizing its policies, consolidating its power and furthering the spread of anti—imperialist programs throughout the region. In the first years of the Chavez government, roughly between 1999-2001, Venezuela pursued largely orthodox policies, friendly relations with Washington, while espousing a Bolivarian vision. In practice Chavez did not put into practice his vision, nor provide any resources to fund a regional organization that excluded the US.
Washington, at this time, retained ties to its clients in the opposition. It sought to influence a motley collection of opportunist politicos who jumped on the Chavez bandwagon, to counter the left political sectors of the coalition government.
The first break in peaceful co-existence was precipitated by Washington’s big push for global power via the so-called “War on Terror” doctrine. Its ultimatum that Chavez support its military offensives targeting Afghanistan and Iraq or face retaliation provoked the break. Chavez resisted and adopted the position that the “War on Terror” violates international law. In other words, Venezuela upheld traditional international norms at a moment of Washington’s embrace of global military extremism. Washington perceived Chavez’s policy as setting an example or precedent for other “recalcitrant” states within Latin America and across the globe. As a result beginning with an overt State Department warning that “he (Chavez) would pay a price” for not submitting to the US global military offensive, Washington rapidly proceeded to put into operation plans to overthrow the ‘government via the coup of April 2002. If the trigger to US imperial intervention was Chavez lawful opposition to the global military strategy, the defeat of the coup and his restoration to power, led a redefinition of Venezuelan-US relations. Bilateral relations went from co-existence to confrontation. Venezuela began the search for regional allies, actively supporting left and nationalist movements and governments in Latin America. Simultaneously it pursued relations with imperial rivals and adversaries including Russia, China, Belarus and Iran.
Washington launched a second effort to unseat Chavez by backing the oil executives lockout – severely damaging the lifeblood of the economy. The defeat and purge of the US backed PDVS oil executives, led to the radicalization of social policy – vast reallocation of oil revenues to working class based social programs. Chavez appointed nationalists to key economic ministries selectively nationalized some enterprises and decreed a radical agrarian reform involving the expropriation of fallow landholdings. In part the radical policies were ‘pragmatic’, defensive measures in pursuit of national security. They also were a positive response (payback for support) to the newly mobilized urban and rural poor. Radicalization was also a response to pressure from the nationalist and socialist sectors of the newly formed Socialist Party and trade union confederations. US imperial efforts to isolate Venezuela in the Hemisphere, in the same fashion that it accomplished this policy with regard to Cuba in the 1960’s failed. The region was moving in line with Venezuela: nationalist populist and leftist movements and electoral alliances were replacing US client regimes. Washington’s policy backfired by regionalizing the conflict under unfavorable conditions, Venezuela gained popularity and support while Washington exposed its isolation and witnessed the demise of its effort to secure a regional free trade agreement.
The threat from the US pushed Chavez to redefine the nature of the political process from ‘reform’ to ‘revolution’; from moderate nationalism to 21st century socialism; from a bilateral conflict to a regional confrontation. Venezuela sponsored and promoted several key alliances including ALBA and PetroCaribe; Chavez later broadened Venezuela’s regional ties to include UNASUR and MERCOSUR.
Venezuela’s radical rejection of US hegemony was, however, tempered by structural limitations which provided US empire builders and internal clients with access points to power. The ‘socialization’ program did not affect 80% of the economy. Banking, foreign trade, manufacturing and agriculture remained under private ownership. Over 80% of the mass media remained in the hands of US backed private owners. Transport, food distributors and supermarkets remained privately owned. Electoral processes remained vulnerable to foreign funding by the National Endowment for Democracy and other US conduits. While the mixed economy and open electoral system, secured approval from Latin America’s center-left regimes and neutralized hostile US propaganda, they also allowed the empire through its clients to engage in sabotage and hoarding of vital consumer goods, violent electoral confrontations and permitted the mass media to issue open calls for insurrectionist activity.
The dialectic confrontation between US imperial aggression and Venezuelan nationalism deepened the revolution and spread its appeal overseas. Venezuela’s successful defiance of US imperialism became the defining reality in Latin America.
Imperialism based on militarism and regime destabilization led Venezuela to begin a process of transition to a post neo-liberal, post capitalist economy rooted in regional organizations. Yet this process continued to reflect economic realities from the capitalist past. The US remained Venezuela’s most important petroleum market. The US, caught up in Middle-East wars and sanctions against oil producers (Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria) was not willing to jeopardize its Venezuelan petrol suppliers via a boycott. Necessity imposed constraints on imperial aggression and Venezuela’s anti-imperialism.
US-Venezuela relations is a casebook study of the complex, structural and contingent dimensions of imperialism and anti-imperialism. Contemporary US empire building, with its global engagement in prolonged serial wars and deteriorating domestic economy, has witnessed a sharp decline in its capacity to intervene and restore hegemonic influence in Latin America. Latin America, in particular Venezuela’s success in resisting imperial threats, demonstrates how much imperial power is contingent on local client regimes and collaborator military elites to sustain imperial hegemony. The entire process of imperial capital accumulation through direct exploitation and ‘dispossession’ is based on securing control over the state which in turn is contingent on defeating anti-imperialist and nationalist governments and movements. Imperialist hegemony can be based on either electoral processes (“democracy”) or result from coups, lockouts and other anti-democratic, authoritarian mechanisms. While historically, economic interests are an important consideration of imperial policymakers, contemporary US imperialism has confronted emerging nationalist governments because of their rejection of “global war” ideology. In other words Venezuela’s rejection of the ideology and practice of offensive wars and violations of international law is the trigger that set in motion imperial intervention. Subsequent conflicts between Washington and Caracas over petrol expropriations and compensation were derived from the larger conflict resulting from the practice of imperial militarism. US oil companies became economic pawns not the subjects of imperialist policymakers.
US imperialist relations to Latin America have changed dramatically in line with the internal changes in class relations. US financial and militarist elites, not industrial-manufacturers dictate policy. The relocation of US manufacturers to Asia and elsewhere is accompanied by the ascendancy of a power configuration whose political pivot is in the Middle East and in particular, in their own words, “securing Israeli superiority in the region”. This has had two opposing effects: on the one hand it has led imperial policymakers to pursue non-economic military agendas in Latin ‘America and on the other to “neglect” or allocate few resources, investments and attention to cultivating ties in Latin America. Inadvertently, the “mid-East pivot” and the militarist definition of reality has allowed Latin America to secure a far greater degree of independence and greater scope for cultivating diverse economic partners in the 21st century than was the case for the greater part of the 20th century.
Have US-Latin American relations permanently changed? Has Venezuela consolidated its independence and achieved the definitive defeat of imperial intervention? It would be premature to draw firm conclusions despite the substantial victories which have been achieved during the first decade and a half of the 21st century.
Pro-US regimes and elites still wield influence throughout Latin America. As was evident in the Presidential elections in Venezuela in April 2013, the US funded opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came within 2% of winning the election. And Washington, true to its destabilizing vocation, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the outcome. Since those elections, several members of the Embassy have been implicated in plots to overthrow the elected government. The ongoing intrusive imperial cyber spying system run by the US National Security Agency is a new element in colonial intervention reaching into the highest spheres of the political and economic systems of the entire region including Venezuela and Brazil the largest country in Latin America. On exposure, Washington affirmed its right to colonize and dominate Brazilian and Venezuelan cyber-space and control all communications between strategic elites.
Obama’s affirmation of the “right to spy” prompted new anti-imperialist measures, including proposals to end ties to US based and controlled information networks. In other words new imperial methods of colonization based on new technologies trigger new anti-imperial responses, at least for independent states.
The anti-neoliberal governments in Latin America heading up the struggle against US hegemony, face serious challenges resulting from the continuing presence of private banking and finance groups, US based multi-nationals and their local collaborators in electoral parties. Except for Venezuela and Bolivia, on-going US-Latin American joint military programs provide opportunities for imperial penetration and recruitment.
The high dependence of Venezuela and the other center-left countries (Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, etc.) on commodity exports (agriculture, minerals and energy) subjects their finances, and development and social welfare programs to fluctuations and sharp downturns in revenues.
So far world demand for Latin commodities has fueled growth and independence and weakened domestic support for military coups. But can the mega-cycles continue for another decade? This is especially important for Venezuela which has not succeeded in diversifying its economy, oil accounting for over 80% of its export earnings. The China trade, which is growing geometrically, has been based on exports of raw materials and imports of finished goods. This reinforces neocolonial economic tendencies within Latin America.
Intra- Latin American trade (greater integration) is growing and internal markets are expanding. But without changes in class relations, domestic and regional consumer demand cannot become the motor force for a definitive break with imperialist dominated markets. In the face of a second world economic crisis, the US may be forced to lessen its global military incursions but will it return to hemispheric dominance? If commodity demand lessens and the Chinese economy slows, do the post-neoliberal regimes have alternative economic strategies to sustain their independence?
Imperial power in Latin America, and in Venezuela in particular, has suffered serious setbacks but the private property power structures are intact and imperial strategies remain. If the past half-century offers any lessons, it is that imperialism can adapt different political strategies but never surrenders its drive for political, military and economic domination.
Political Chronology of Venezuela
December 1998: Chavez elected
1999: Three referendums all successful: to establish constituent assembly to draft new constitution; to elect membership of constituent assembly; to approve new constitution.
July 2000: ‘Mega-election’: to elect President, national legislators and state and municipal officials. Chavez wins 6 year term with approx. 60% of the popular vote, his Patriotic Pole coalition wins 14 of 23 governorships and majority of seats in National Assembly
April 2002: Failed US backed military-civilian coup
December2, 2002 – Feb. 4, 2003: Failed oil executive and businessmen lockout to topple Chavez government.
August 2004: Recall referendum which Chavez wins by substantial margin
December 2005: Legislative elections: opposition boycotts, results in Chavez supporters dominating the National Assembly.
December 2006: Chavez re-elected with approx. 63% of the popular vote
December 2007: Chavez constitutional amendment package (‘socialism in the 21st century’) narrowly defeated in national referendum
2008: Chavez moves to unite supporters into a single party – the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)
November 2008: State and municipal elections: pro-Chavez candidates won 17 of 22 governors’ races and 80% of more than 300 mayoral races
January 2009: National Assembly votes to hold referendum on constitutional amendment to abolish terms limits for all elected government officials.
February 2009: Referendum approved 55% to 45%.
September 2010: National Assembly elections, Chavez supporters won 98 seats (94 for PSUV candidates) versus 87 seats for opposition parties (65 won by 10 opposition parties known as Democratic United Platform/MUD). But the Government failed to win enough seats to enact various part of government agenda such as approving constitutional reforms.
October 2012 Presidential elections: Chavez wins with approx. 55% of popular vote.
December 2012: State and municipal elections, PSUV sweeps to victory.
April 2013: Chavez successor Nicholas Maduro wins election by 51% to 49%.
Steve Sailer has an article on the tie-in between Israeli high tech firms and the NSA spying on American citizens (“Does Israel Have a Backdoor to US Intelligence?“). It’s always seemed very suspicious that Amdocs, an Israeli firm, was responsible for billing for US phone companies, and that two Israeli firms, Narus and Verint, are involved in wiretapping AT&T and Verizon for the NSA. It’s also not surprising that, as noted by James Bamford in his April 2012 article for Wired, someone with close connections to Israel secretly gave software designed by NSA to Israel: “the advanced analytical and data mining software the NSA had developed for both its worldwide and international eavesdropping operations was secretly passed to Israel by a mid-level employee, apparently with close connections to the country.” Bamford’s source describes him as “a very strong supporter of Israel.”
This is likely yet another example of a long list of American Jews who are credibly believed to have spied for Israel, including pretty much the entire roster of prominent neocons (Perle, Wolfowitz, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith, and Michael Ledeen; see here, p. 47ff)—none of whom, with the exception of Jonathan Pollard, have been convicted, and many of whom, like the person mentioned here, have never been indicted. And given this long list, it is certainly reasonable to think that Israel is using its connections with the NSA to mine US data for its own purposes. In fact, it would be silly to think otherwise.
The NYTimes, The Washington Post, and the LATimes have completely ignored the Israeli connection, and you certainly won’t hear about it on FOX news. So, as often happens, one must read Israeli papers. Haaretz (but not neocon The Jerusalem Post) has several articles on the Israeli connection. On the PRISM program that collects data from companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL:
The data, gathered by the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program, came from email accounts, Internet chats, browsing and search histories. The aim was to amass a database through which the NSA could learn whether terror suspects had been in contact with people in the United States.
In contrast to similar cases revealed in the past, the program involved thorough and continuous collection of data, even when no particular person or communications had aroused the authorities’ suspicions. …
Behind the scenes are a host of Israeli companies that have almost certainly taken part in the program as suppliers of technology. They may yet find themselves in the maelstrom, warns Nimrod Kozlovski, head of Tel Aviv University’s program for cyber studies.
“The exposure of PRISM underscores the feeling that communications networks and Internet companies have become the main tool for governments to gather information,” he says. “It is critical for the United States at all times to put a wall of separation between the government and commercial enterprises in order to quiet concerns that it has secret relationships with these companies.”
The concern is not just that the local government is spying on its citizens but that the manufacturers themselves have the ability to spy from afar.
Telecommunications systems almost always feature components that can be operated remotely so that software can be updated and routine maintenance chores can be conducted. … But these same systems can be used to penetrate the user country’s communications network as well. With the United States at the center of the world’s Internet traffic that problem is magnified. (“In U.S. snooping affair, Israeli firms at risk “)
Right. It’s quite possible that Gen. Keith Alexander is telling the truth when he says that the NSA is not mining these data on American citizens, but there’s nothing to stop the Israelis from doing so. The assumption must be that Israel has access to American’s emails and internet usage—very useful for all kinds of reasons, including providing ammunition for those who would destroy anti-Zionists, providing insider information in financial transactions, stealing technology, etc. When someone like Gen. David Petraeus, who had been targeted by the ADL for his statements on Israel, is suddenly compromised by leaked emails to his mistress, it’s not surprising that people are wondering at the involvement of the Lobby.
The Haaretz article continues:
Israeli companies are particularly vulnerable to such suspicions [of spying] because they have such close ties to the country’s security establishment.
“Graduates of the IDF’s technology units and those who have worked in other security bodies have created business opportunities for themselves based in no small part on their previous employment,” said Udi Shani, a former Defense Ministry director general, at the Herzliya Conference last March.
That’s one way to say it. But it’s also quite reasonable that the MOSSAD decided to allow its programmers to use the technology created for MOSSAD’s Unit 8200 and then set up companies that would be able to secure foreign contracts which would be impossible for MOSSAD itself to secure for obvious reasons. Indeed, “Hanan Gefen, a former commander of the unit, told Forbes magazine in 2007 that Comverse’s technology was directly influenced by the technology of 8200.”
MOSSAD doesn’t seem too worried about its technology falling into the hands of its ex-employees. In other words, these companies are likely to be MOSSAD operations in all but name.
And in the U.S., because of the power of the Israel Lobby, there would be no outcry in the media, from politicians, or even from the defense establishment when an Israeli company is awarded a contract to do the spying for the NSA. James Petras says as much:
The domestic spy apparatus operates with impunity because of its network of powerful domestic and overseas allies. The entire bi-partisan Congressional leadership is privy to and complicit with its operations. Related branches of government, like the Internal Revenue Service, cooperate in providing information and pursuing targeted political groups and individuals. Israel is a key overseas ally of the National Security Agency, as has been documented in the Israeli press (Haaretz, June 8, 2013). Two Israeli high tech firms (Verint and Narus) with ties to the Israeli secret police (MOSSAD), have provided the spy software for the NSA and this, of course, has opened a window for Israeli spying in the US against Americans opposed to the Zionist state. The writer and critic, Steve Lendman points out that Israeli spymasters via their software “front companies” have long had the ability to ‘steal proprietary commercial and industrial data” with impunity . And because of the power and influence of the Presidents of the 52 Major American Jewish organizations, Justice Department officials have ordered dozens of Israeli espionage cases to be dropped. The tight Israeli ties to the US spy apparatus serves to prevent deeper scrutiny into its operation and political goals – at a very high price in terms of the security of US citizens. In recent years two incidents stand out: Israeli security ‘experts’ were contracted to advise the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security in their investigation and ‘Stasi-like’ repression of government critics and environmental activists (compared to ‘al Queda terrorists’ by the Israelis) – the discovery of which forced the resignation of OHS Director James Powers in 2010. In 2003, New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevy appointed his lover, an Israeli government operative and former IDF officer, to head that state’s ‘Homeland Security Department and later resigned, denouncing the Israeli, Golan Cipel, for blackmail in late 2004. These examples are a small sample illustrating the depth and scope of Israeli police state tactics intersecting in US domestic repression.
From hearing media accounts of NSA spying, the only data on Americans that are collected are the times of phone calls and the identities of the parties in the phone call. But, as noted above, the data collected go well beyond that to include “email accounts, Internet chats, browsing and search histories.” Another Israeli company mentioned in the Haaretz article with very broad-based spying capabilities is NICE, yet another Israeli company with close ties to the Israeli government. NICE “has technology that is used to monitor some 1.5 billion people. In a brochure published by the company itself, it describes how its system can analyze conversations (including technology to make transcripts of phone calls), and gather and analyze data from public sites. With these tools it can build an intelligence file from millions of communications.” NICE’s website describes itself:
NICE solutions capture interactions, transactions and video surveillance from multiple sources, including telephones, CCTV video feed, emergency services radio communications, emails, chat, social media, and more.
In other words, pretty much all communications can be monitored and, if you represent a threat to the people with access to these operations, you must assume that you are being monitored. (I know of no evidence that the NSA employs NICE.) Although the company claims that its operations are aimed at “customers, criminals and terrorists, or fraudsters,” it’s not at all far-fetched to be suspicious that the information obtained could be used in a very wide range of operations, including insider information on financial affairs. Sailer suggests that fear of having conversations recorded may account for the concentration of elites in urban centers like Washington, DC and New York, and he pointedly links to his previous article on Jewish wealth, implying that insider information is a key to Jewish wealth. However, even voice conversations are susceptible to NICE’s technology. And the other side of the coin is that it would not be at all surprising to learn that Jewish trading networks are privy to information obtained by companies like NICE.
The situation with the NSA is yet another example of what it means to have a Jewish elite in the U.S.: Jewish spies who deliver vital computer programs to Israel are not indicted. And despite a long history of aggressive spying against the U.S., the NSA hires Israeli firms to do its data collection, with nary a word heard in Congress or the media about the obvious problems that presents.
It’s good to be king.
- Snowden: Don’t mention the I-Word! (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The exposure of the Obama regime’s use of the National Security Agency to secretly spy on the communications of hundreds of millions of US and overseas citizens has provoked world-wide denunciations. In the United States, despite widespread mass media coverage and the opposition of civil liberties organizations, there has not been any mass protest. Congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as top judges, approved of the unprecedented domestic spy program. Even worse, when the pervasive spy operations were revealed, top Senate and Congressional leaders repeated their endorsement of each and every intrusion into all electronic and written communication involving American citizens. President Obama and his Attorney General Holder openly and forcefully defended the NSA’s the universal spy operations.
The issues raised by this vast secret police apparatus and its penetration into and control over civil society, infringing on the citizens freedom of expression, go far beyond mere ‘violations of privacy’, as raised by many legal experts.
Most civil libertarians focus on the violations of individual rights, constitutional guarantees and the citizen’s privacy rights. These are important legal issues and the critics are right in raising them. However, these constitutional–legal critiques do not go far enough; they fail to raise even more fundamental issues; they avoid basic political questions.
Why has such a massive police-state apparatus and universal spying become so central to the ruling regime? Why has the entire executive, legislative and judicial leadership come out in public for such a blatant repudiation of all constitutional guarantees? Why do elected leaders defend universal political espionage against the citizenry? What kind of politics requires a police state? What kind of long-term, large scale domestic and foreign policies are illegal and unconstitutional as to require the building of a vast network of domestic spies and a hundred billion dollar corporate-state techno-espionage infrastructure in a time of budget ‘austerity’ with the slashing of social programs?
The second set of questions arises from the use of the espionage data. So far most critics have questioned the existence of massive state espionage but have avoided the vital issue of what measures are taken by the spymasters once they target individuals, groups, movements? The essential question is: What reprisals and sanctions follow from the ‘information’ that is collected, classified and made operational by these massive domestic spy networks? Now that the ‘secret’ of all-encompassing, state political spying has entered public discussion, the next step should be to reveal the secret operations that follow against those targeted by the spymasters as a ‘risk to national security’.
The Politics behind the Police State
The fundamental reason for the conversion of the state into a gigantic spy apparatus is the nature of deeply destructive domestic and foreign policies which the government has so forcefully pursued. The vast expansion of the police state apparatus is not a response to the terror attack of 9/11. The geometrical growth of spies, secret police budgets, and the vast intrusion into all citizen communications coincides with the wars across the globe. The decisions to militarize US global policy requires vast budgetary re-allocation , slashing social spending to fund empire-building; shredding public health and social security to bailout Wall Street. These are policies which greatly enhance profits for bankers and corporations while imposing regressive taxes on wage and salaried workers
Prolonged and extended wars abroad have been funded at the expense of citizens’ welfare at home. This policy had led to declining living standards for many tens of millions of citizens and rising dissatisfaction. The potential of social resistance as evidenced by the brief “Occupy Wall Street” movement which was endorsed by over 80% of the population. The positive response alarmed the state and led to an escalation of police state measures. Mass spying is designed to identify the citizens who oppose both imperial wars and the destruction of domestic welfare; labeling them as ‘security threats’ is a means of controlling them through the use of arbitrary police powers. The expansion of the President’s war powers has been accompanied by the growth and scope of the state spy apparatus: the more the President orders overseas drone attacks, the greater the number of his military interventions, the greater the need for the political elite surrounding the President to increase its policing of citizens in anticipation of a popular backlash. In this context, the policy of mass spying is taken as ‘pre-emptive action’. The greater the police state operations, the greater the fear and insecurity among dissident citizens and activists.
The assault on the living standards of working and middle class Americans in order to fund the endless series of wars, and not the so-called ‘war on terror’, is the reason the state has developed massive cyber warfare against the US citizenry. The issue is not only a question of a violation of individual privacy: it is fundamentally an issue of state infringement of the collective rights of organized citizens to freely engage in public opposition to regressive socio-economic policies and question the empire. The proliferation of permanent bureaucratic institutions, with over a million security ‘data collectors’, is accompanied by tens of thousands of ‘field operators’, analysts and inquisitors acting arbitrarily to designate dissident citizens as ‘security risks’ and imposing reprisals according to the political needs of their ruling political bosses. The police state apparatus has its own rules of self-protection and self-perpetuation; it has its own linkages and may occasionally compete with the Pentagon. The police state links up with and protects the masters of Wall Street and the propagandists of the mass media – even as it (must) spy on them!
The police state is an instrument of the Executive Branch acting as a vehicle for its arbitrary prerogative powers. However on administrative matters, it possesses a degree of ‘autonomy’ to target dissident behavior. What is clear is the high degree of cohesion, vertical discipline and mutual defense, up and down the hierarchy. The fact that one whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, emerged from the hundreds of thousands of citizen spies is the exception, the lone whistle blower, which proves the rule: There are fewer defectors to be found among the million-member US spy network than in all the Mafia families in Europe and North America.
The domestic spy apparatus operates with impunity because of its network of powerful domestic and overseas allies. The entire bi-partisan Congressional leadership is privy to and complicit with its operations. Related branches of government, like the Internal Revenue Service, cooperate in providing information and pursuing targeted political groups and individuals. Israel is a key overseas ally of the National Security Agency, as has been documented in the Israeli press (Haaretz, June 8, 2013). Two Israeli high tech firms (Verint and Narus) with ties to the Israeli secret police (MOSSAD), have provided the spy software for the NSA and this, of course, has opened a window for Israeli spying in the US against Americans opposed to the Zionist state. The writer and critic, Steve Lendman points out that Israeli spymasters via their software “front companies” have long had the ability to ‘steal proprietary commercial and industrial data” with impunity. Because of the power and influence of the Presidents of the 52 Major American Jewish organizations, Justice Department officials have ordered dozens of Israeli espionage cases to be dropped. The tight Israeli ties to the US spy apparatus serves to prevent deeper scrutiny into its operation and political goals — at a very high price in terms of the security of US citizens. In recent years two incidents stand out: Israeli security ‘experts’ were contracted to advise the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security in their investigation and ‘Stasi-like’ repression of government critics and environmental activists (compared to ‘al Queda terrorists’ by the Israelis) – the discovery of which forced the resignation of OHS Director James Powers in 2010. In 2003, New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevy appointed his lover, an Israeli government operative and former IDF officer, to head that state’s ‘Homeland Security Department and later resigned, denouncing the Israeli, Golan Cipel, for blackmail in late 2004. These examples are a small sample illustrating the depth and scope of Israeli police state tactics intersecting in US domestic repression.
The Political and Economic Consequences of the Spy State
The denunciations of the mass spy operations are a positive step, as far as they go. But equally important is the question of what follows from the act of spying? We now know that hundreds of millions of Americans are being spied on by the state. We know that mass spying is official policy of the Executive and is approved by Congressional leaders. But we have only fragmented information on the repressive measures resulting from the investigations of “suspect individuals”. We can assume that there is a division of labor among data collectors, data analysts and field operatives following up “risky individuals and groups”, based on the internal criteria known only to the secret police. The key spy operatives are those who devise and apply the criteria for designating someone as a “security risk”. Individuals and groups who express critical views of domestic and foreign policy are “a risk”; those who act to protest are a “higher risk”; those who travel to conflict regions are presumed to be in the “highest risk” category, even if they have violated no law. The question of the lawfulness of a citizen’s views and actions does not enter into the spymasters’ equation; nor do any questions regarding the lawfulness of the acts committed by the spies against citizens. The criteria defining a security risk supersede any constitutional considerations and safeguards.
We know from a large number of published cases that lawful critics, illegally spied upon, have subsequently been arrested, tried and jailed – their lives and those of their friends and family members shattered. We know that hundreds of homes, workplaces and offices of suspects have been raided in ‘fishing expeditions’. We know that family members, associates, neighbors, clients, and employers of “suspects” have been interrogated, pressured and intimidated. Above all, we know that tens of millions of law abiding citizens, critical of domestic economic and overseas war policies, have been censored by the very real fear of the massive operations carried out by the police state. In this atmosphere of intimidation, any critical conversation or word spoken in any context or relayed via the media can be interpreted by nameless, faceless spies as a “security threat” – and one’s name can enter into the ever growing secret lists of “potential terrorists”. The very presence and dimensions of the police state is intimidating. There are citizens who would claim that the police state is necessary to protect them from terrorists – but how many others feel compelled to embrace their state terrorists just to fend off any suspicion, hoping to stay off the growing lists? How many critical-minded Americans now fear the state and will never voice in public what they whisper at home?
The bigger the secret police, the greater its operations. The more regressive domestic economic policy, the greater the fear and loathing of the political elite.
Even as President Obama and his Democratic and Republican partners boast and bluster about their police state and its effective “security function”, the vast majority of Americans are becoming aware that fear instilled at home serves the interest of waging imperial wars abroad; that cowardice in the face of police state threats only encourages further cuts in their living standards. When will they learn that exposing spying is only the beginning of a solution? When will they recognize that ending the police state is essential to dismantling the costly empire and creating a safe, secure and prosperous America?
President Hugo Chavez was unique in multiple areas of political, social and economic life. He made significant contributions to the advancement of humanity. The depth, scope and popularity of his accomplishments mark President Chavez as the ‘Renaissance President of the 21st Century’.
Many writers have noted one or another of his historic contributions highlighting his anti-poverty legislation, his success in winning popular elections with resounding majorities and his promotion of universal free public education and health coverage for all Venezuelans.
In this essay we will highlight the unique world-historic contributions that President Chavez made in the spheres of political economy, ethics and international law and in redefining relations between political leaders and citizens. We shall start with his enduring contribution to the development of civic culture in Venezuela and beyond.
Hugo Chavez: The Great Teacher of Civic Values
From his first days in office, Chavez was engaged in transforming the constitutional order so that political leaders and institutions would be more responsive to the popular electorate. Through his speeches Chavez clearly and carefully informed the electorate of the measures and legislation to improve their livelihood. He invited comments and criticism – his style was to engage in constant dialogue, especially with the poor, the unemployed and the workers. Chavez was so successful in teaching civic responsibilities to the Venezuelan electorate that millions of citizens from the slums of Caracas rose up spontaneously to oust the US backed business-military junta which had kidnapped their president and closed the legislature. Within seventy-two hours – record time – the civic-minded citizens restored the democratic order and the rule of law in Venezuela, thoroughly rejecting the mass media’s defense of the coup-plotters and their brief authoritarian regime.
Chavez, as all great educators, learned from this democratic intervention of the mass of citizens, that democracy’s most effective defenders were to be found among the working people – and that its worst enemies were found in the business elites and military officials linked to Miami and Washington.
Chavez civic pedagogy emphasized the importance of the historical teachings and examples of founding fathers, like Simon Bolivar, in establishing a national and Latin American identity. His speeches raised the cultural level of millions of Venezuelans who had been raised in the alienating and servile culture of imperial Washington and the consumerist obsessions of Miami shopping malls.
Chavez succeeded in instilling a culture of solidarity and mutual support among the exploited, emphasizing ‘horizontal’ ties over vertical clientelistic dependency on the rich and powerful. His success in creating collective consciousness decisively shifted the balance of political power away from the wealthy rulers and corrupt political party and trade union leaders toward new socialist movements and class oriented trade unions. More than anything else Chavez’ political education of the popular majority regarding their social rights to free health care and higher education, living wages and full employment drew the hysterical ire of the wealthy Venezuelans and their undying hatred of a president who had created a sense of autonomy, dignity and ‘class empowerment’ through public education ending centuries of elite privilege and omnipotence.
Above all Chavez speeches, drawing as much from Bolivar as from Karl Marx, created a deep, generous sense of patriotism and nationalism and a profound rejection of a prostrate elite groveling before their Washington overlord, Wall Street bankers and oil company executives. Chavez’ anti-imperial speeches resonated because he spoke in the language of the people and expanded their national consciousness to identification with Latin America, especially Cuba’s fight against imperial interventions and wars.
International Relations: The Chavez Doctrine
At the beginning of the previous decade, after 9/11/01, Washington declared a ‘War on Terror.’ This was a public declaration of unilateral military intervention and wars against sovereign nations, movements and individuals deemed as adversaries, in violation of international law.
Almost all countries submitted to this flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords, except President Chavez, who made the most profound and simple refutation against Washington: ‘You don’t fight terrorism with state terrorism’. In his defense of the sovereignty of nations and international jurisprudence, Chavez underlined the importance of political and economic solutions to social problems and conflicts – repudiating the use of bombs, torture and mayhem. The Chavez Doctrine emphasized south-south trade and investments and diplomatic over military resolution of disputes. He upheld the Geneva Accords against colonial and imperial aggression while rejecting the imperial doctrine of ‘the war on terror’, defining western state terrorism as a pernicious equivalent to Al Qaeda terrorism.
Political Theory and Practice: The Grand Synthesizer
One of the most profound and influential aspects of Chavez’ legacy is his original synthesis of three grand strands of political thought: popular Christianity, Bolivarian nationalist and regional integration and Marxist political, social and economic thought. Chavez’ Christianity informed his deep belief in justice and the equality of people, as well as his generosity and forgiveness of adversaries even as they engaged in a violent coup, a crippling lockout, or openly collaborated and received financing from enemy intelligence agencies. Whereas anywhere else in the world, armed assaults against the state and coup d’états would result in long prison sentences or even executions, under Chavez most of his violent adversaries escaped prosecution and even rejoined their subversive organizations. Chavez demonstrated a deep belief in redemption and forgiveness. Chavez’s Christianity informed his ‘option for the poor’, the depth and breadth of his commitment to eradicating poverty and his solidarity with the poor against the rich.
Chavez deep-seated aversion and effective opposition to US and European imperialism and brutal Israeli colonialism were profoundly rooted in his reading of the writings and history of Simon Bolivar, the founding father of the Venezuelan nation. Bolivarian ideas on national liberation long preceded any exposure to Marx, Lenin or more contemporary leftist writings on imperialism. His powerful and unwavering support for regional integration and internationalism was deeply influenced by Simon Bolivar’s proposed ‘United States of Latin America’ and his internationalist activity in support of anti-colonial movements.
Chavez’ incorporation of Marxist ideas into his world view was adapted to his longstanding popular Christian and Bolivarian internationalist philosophy. Chavez’ option for the poor was deepened by his recognition of the centrality of the class struggle and the reconstruction of the Bolivarian nation through the socialization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. The socialist concept of self-managed factories and popular empowerment via community councils was given moral legitimacy by Chavez’ Christian faith in an egalitarian moral order.
While Chavez was respectful and carefully listened to the views of visiting leftist academics and frequently praised their writings, many failed to recognize or, worse, deliberately ignored the President’s own more original synthesis of history, religion and Marxism. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case, some leftist academics have, in their self-indulgent posturing, presumed to be Chavez’ ‘teacher’ and advisor on all matters of ‘Marxist theory’: This represents a style of leftist cultural colonialism, which snidely criticized Chavez for not following their ready-made prescriptions, published in their political literary journals in London, New York and Paris.
Fortunately, Chavez took what was useful from the overseas academics and NGO-funded political strategists while discarding ideas that failed to take account of the cultural-historical, class and rentier specificities of Venezuela.
Chavez has bequeathed to the intellectuals and activists of the world a method of thinking which is global and specific, historical and theoretical, material and ethical and which encompasses class analysis, democracy and a spiritual transcendence resonating with the great mass of humanity in a language every person can understand. Chavez’ philosophy and practice (more than any ‘discourse’ narrated by the social forum-hopping experts) demonstrated that the art of formulating complex ideas in simple language can move millions of people to ‘make history, and not only to study it’..
Toward Practical Alternatives to Neoliberalism and Imperialism
Perhaps Chavez greatest contribution in the contemporary period was to demonstrate, through practical measures and political initiatives, that many of the most challenging contemporary political and economic problems can be successfully resolved.
Radical Reform of a Rentier State
Nothing is more difficult than changing the social structure, institutions and attitudes of a rentier petro-state, with deeply entrenched clientelistic politics, endemic party-state corruption and a deeply-rooted mass psychology based on consumerism. Yet Chavez largely succeeded where other petro-regimes failed. The Chavez Administration first began with constitutional and institutional changes to create a new political framework; then he implemented social impact programs, which deepened political commitments among an active majority, which, in turn, bravely defended the regime from a violent US backed business-military coup d’état. Mass mobilization and popular support, in turn, radicalized the Chavez government and made way for a deeper socialization of the economy and the implementation of radical agrarian reform. The petrol industry was socialized; royalty and tax payments were raised to provide funds for massively expanded social expenditures benefiting the majority of Venezuelans.
Almost every day Chavez prepared clearly understandable educational speeches on social, ethical and political topics related to his regime’s redistributive policies by emphasizing social solidarity over individualistic acquisitive consumerism. Mass organizations and community and trade union movements flourished – a new social consciousness emerged ready and willing to advance social change and confront the wealthy and powerful. Chavez’ defeat of the US-backed coup and bosses’ lockout and his affirmation of the Bolivarian tradition and sovereign identity of Venezuela created a powerful nationalist consciousness which eroded the rentier mentality and strengthened the pursuit of a diversified ‘balanced economy’. This new political will and national productive consciousness was a great leap forward, even as the main features of a rentier-oil dependent economy persist. This extremely difficult transition has begun and is an ongoing process. Overseas leftist theorists, who criticize Venezuela (‘corruption’, ‘bureaucracy’) have profoundly ignored the enormous difficulties of transitioning from a rentier state to a socialized economy and the enormous progress achieved by Chavez.
Economic Crisis Without Capitalist Austerity
Throughout the crisis-wracked capitalist world, ruling labor, social democratic, liberal and conservative regimes have imposed regressive ‘austerity programs’ involving brutal reductions of social welfare, health and education expenditures and mass layoffs of workers and employees while handing our generous state subsidies and bailouts to failing banks and capitalist enterprises. Chanting their Thacherite slogan, ‘there is no alternative’, capitalist economists justify imposing the burden of ‘capitalist recovery’ onto the working class while allowing capital to recover its profits in order to invest.
Chavez’ policy was the direct opposite: In the midst of crisis, he retained all the social programs, rejected mass firings and increased social spending. The Venezuelan economy rode out of the worldwide crisis and recovered with a healthy 5.8% growth rate in 2012. In other words, Chavez demonstrated that mass impoverishment was a product of the specific capitalist ‘formula’ for recovery. He showed another, positive alternative approach to economic crisis, which taxed the rich, promoted public investments and maintained social expenditures.
Social Transformation in a ‘Globalized Economy’
Many commentators, left, right and center, have argued that the advent of a ‘globalized economy’ ruled out a radical social transformation. Yet Venezuela, which is profoundly globalized and integrated into the world market via trade and investments, has made major advances in social reform. What really matters in relation to a globalized economy is the nature of the political economic regime and its policies, which dictate how the gains and costs of international trade and investment are distributed. In a word, what is decisive is the ‘class character of the regime’ managing its place in the world economy. Chavez certainly did not ‘de-link’ from the world economy; rather he has re-linked Venezuela in a new way. He shifted Venezuelan trade and investment toward Latin America, Asia and the Middle East — especially to countries which do not intervene or impose reactionary conditions on economic transactions.
Anti-Imperialism in a Time of an Imperialist Offensive
In a time of a virulent US—EU imperialist offensive involving ‘pre-emptive’ military invasions, mercenary interventions, torture, assassinations and drone warfare in Iraq, Mali, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan and brutal economic sanctions and sabotage against Iran; Israeli colonial expulsions of thousands of Palestinians financed by the US; US-backed coups in Honduras and Paraguay and aborted revolutions via puppets in Egypt and Tunisia, President Chavez, alone, stood as the principled defender of anti-imperialist politics. Chavez’ deep commitment to anti-imperialism stands in marked contrast to the capitulation of Western self-styled ‘Marxist’ intellectuals who mouthed crude justifications for their support of NATO bombing Yugoslavia and Libya, the French invasion of Mali and the Saudi-French (‘Monarcho-Socialist’) funding and arming of Islamist mercenaries against Syria. These same London, New York and Paris-based ‘intellectuals’ who patronized Chavez as a mere ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ and claimed he should have listened to their lectures and read their books, had crassly capitulated under the pressure of the capitalist state and mass media into supporting ‘humanitarian interventions’ (aka NATO bombing)… and justified their opportunism in the language of obscure leftists sects. Chavez confronted NATO pressures and threats, as well as the destabilizing subversion of his domestic opponents and courageously articulated the most profound and significant principles of 20th and 21st Marxism: the inviolate right to self-determination of oppressed nations and unconditional opposition to imperial wars. While Chavez spoke and acted in defense of anti-imperialist principles, many in the European and US left acquiesced in imperial wars: There were virtually no mass protests, the ‘anti-war’ movements were co-opted or moribund, the British ‘Socialist’ Workers Party defended the massive NATO bombing of Libya, the French ‘Socialists’ invaded Mali- with the support of the ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Party. Meanwhile, the ‘populist’ Chavez had articulated a far more profound and principled understanding of Marxist practice, certainly than his self-appointed overseas Marxist ‘tutors’.
No other political leader or for that matter, leftist academic, developed, deepened and extended the central tenets of anti-imperialist politics in the era of global imperialist warfare with greater acuity than Hugo Chavez.
Transition from a Failed Neo-Liberal to a Dynamic Welfare State
Chavez’ programmatic and comprehensive reconfiguration of Venezuela from a disastrous and failed neo-liberal regime to a dynamic welfare state stands as a landmark in 20th and 21st century political economy. Chavez’ successful reversal of neo-liberal institutions and policies, as well as his re-nationalization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ demolished the reigning neo-liberal dogma derived from the Thatcher-Reagan era enshrined in the slogan: ‘There is no alternative’ to brutal neo-liberal policies, or TINA.
Chavez rejected privatization – he re-nationalized key oil related industries, socialized hundreds of capitalist firms and carried out a vast agrarian reform program, including land distribution to 300,000 families. He encouraged trade union organizations and worker control of factories – even bucking public managers and even his own cabinet ministers. In Latin America, Chavez led the way in defining with greater depth and with more comprehensive social changes, the post neo-liberal era. Chavez envisioned the transition from neo-liberalism to a new socialized welfare state as an international process and provided financing and political support for new regional organizations like ALBA, PetroCaribe, and UNASUR. He rejected the idea of building a welfare state in one country and formulated a theory of post-neo-liberal transitions based on international solidarity. Chavez’ original ideas and policies regarding the post-neo-liberal transition escaped the armchair Marxists and the globetrotting Social Forum NGO pundits whose inconsequential ‘global alternatives’ succeeded primarily in securing imperial foundation funding.
Chavez demonstrated through theory and practice that neo-liberalism was indeed reversible – a major political breakthrough of the 21st century.
Beyond Social Liberalism: The Radical Definition of Post-Neo-Liberalism
The US-EU promoted neo-liberal regimes have collapsed under the weight of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Massive unemployment led to popular uprisings, new elections and the advent of center-left regimes in most of Latin America, which rejected or at least claimed to repudiate ‘neo-liberalism’. Most of these regimes promulgated legislation and executive directives to fund poverty programs, implement financial controls and make productive investments, while raising minimum wages and stimulating employment. However few lucrative enterprises were actually re-nationalized. Addressing inequalities and the concentration of wealth were not part of their agenda. They formulated their strategy of working with Wall Street investors, local agro-mineral exporters and co-opted trade unions.
Chavez posed a profoundly different alternative to this form of ‘post-neoliberalism’. He nationalized resource industries, excluded Wall Street speculators and limited the role of the agro-mineral elites. He posed a socialized welfare state as an alternative to the reigning social-liberal orthodoxy of the center-left regimes, even as he worked with these regimes in promoting Latin American integration and opposing US backed coups.
Chavez was both a leader defining a more socialized alternative to social liberation and the conscience pressuring his allies to advance further.
Socialism and Democracy
Chavez opened a new and extraordinarily original and complex path to socialism based on free elections, re-educating the military to uphold democratic and constitutional principals, and the development of mass and community media. He ended the capitalist mass media monopolies and strengthened civil society as a counter-weight to US-sponsored para-military and fifth column elites intent on destabilizing the democratic state.
No other democratic-socialist president had successfully resisted imperial destabilization campaigns – neither Jagan in Guyana, Manley in Jamaica, nor Allende in Chile. From the very outset Chavez saw the importance of creating a solid legal-political framework to facilitate executive leadership, promote popular civil society organizations and end US penetration of the state apparatus (military and police). Chavez implemented radical social impact programs that ensured the loyalty and active allegiance of popular majorities and weakened the economic levers of political power long held by the capitalist class. As a result Venezuela’s political leaders, soldiers and officers loyal to its constitution and the popular masses crushed a bloody right-wing coup, a crippling bosses’ lockout and a US-financed referendum and proceeded to implement further radical socio-economic reforms in a prolonged process of cumulative socialization.
Chavez’s originality, in part the result of trial and error, was his ‘experimental method’: His profound understanding and response to popular attitudes and behavior was deeply rooted in Venezuela’s history of racial and class injustice and popular rebelliousness. More than any previous socialist leader, Chavez traveled, spoke and listened to Venezuela’s popular classes on questions of everyday life. His ‘method’ was to translate micro based knowledge into macro programed changes. In practice he was the antithesis of the overseas and local intellectual know-it-alls who literally spoke down to the people and who saw themselves as the ‘masters of the world’ … at least, in the micro-world of left academia, ingrown socialist conferences and self-centered monologues. The death of Hugo Chavez was profoundly mourned by millions in Venezuela and hundreds of million around the world because his transition to socialism was their path; he listened to their demands and he acted upon them effectively.
Social Democracy and National Security
Chavez was a socialist president for over 13 years in the face of large-scale, long-term violent opposition and financial sabotage from Washington, the local economic elite and mass media moguls. Chavez created the political consciousness that motivated millions of workers and secured the constitutional loyalty of the military to defeat a bloody US-backed business-military coup in 2002. Chavez tempered social changes in accordance with a realistic assessment of what the political and legal order could support. First and foremost, Chavez secured the loyalty of the military by ending US ‘advisory’ missions and overseas imperial indoctrination while substituting intensive courses on Venezuelan history, civic responsibility and the critical link between the popular classes and the military in a common national mission.
Chavez’ national security policies were based on democratic principles as well as a clear recognition of the serious threats to Venezuelan sovereignty. He successfully safeguarded both national security and the democratic rights and political freedoms of its citizens, a feat which has earned Venezuela the admiration and envy of constitutional lawyers and citizens of the US and the EU.
In stark contrast, US President Obama has assumed the power to assassinate US citizens based on secret information and without trial both in and out of the US. His Administration has murdered ‘targeted’ US citizens and their children, jailed others without trial and maintains secret ‘files’ on over 40 million Americans. Chavez never assumed those powers and never assassinated or tortured a single Venezuelan. In Venezuela, the dozen or so prisoners convicted of violent acts of subversion after open trials in Venezuelan courts, stand in sharp contrast to the tens of thousands of jailed and secretly framed Muslims and Latin American immigrants in the US. Chavez rejected state terror; while Obama has special assassination teams on the ground in over 70 countries. Obama supports arbitrary police invasions of ‘suspect’ homes and workplaces based on ‘secret evidence’ while. Chavez even tolerated the activities of known foreign (CIA)-funded opposition parties. In a word, Obama uses ‘national security’ to destroy democratic freedoms while Chavez upheld democratic freedoms and imposed constitutional limits on the national security apparatus.
Chavez sought peaceful diplomatic resolution of conflicts with hostile neighbors, such as Colombia which hosts seven US military bases – potential springboards for US intervention. On the other hand, Obama has engaged in open war with at least seven countries and has been pursuing covert hostile action against dozens of others.
Chavez’s legacy is multi-faceted. His contributions are original, theoretical and practical and universally relevant. He demonstrated in ‘theory and practice’ how a small country can defend itself against imperialism, maintain democratic principles and implement advanced social programs. His pursuit of regional integration and promotion of ethical standards in the governance of a nation – provide examples profoundly relevant in a capitalist world awash in corrupt politicians slashing living standards while enriching the plutocrats.
Chavez’ rejection of the Bush-Obama doctrine of using ‘state terror to fight terror’, his affirmation that the roots of violence are social injustice, economic pillage and political oppression and his belief that resolving these underlying issues is the road to peace, stands as the ethical-political guide for humanity’s survival.
Faced with a violent world of imperial counter-revolution, and resolved to stand with the oppressed of the world, Hugo Chavez enters world history as a complete political leader, with the stature of the most humane and multi-faceted leader of our epoch: the Renaissance figure for the 21st century.
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). Petras’ most recent book is The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
- Chavez is dead, but his revolution goes on (alethonews.wordpress.com)
“Legal Imperialism” and International Law: Legal Foundations for War Crimes, Debt Collection and Colonization
By now we are familiar with imperial states using their military power to attack, destroy and occupy independent countries. Boatloads of important studies have documented how imperial countries have seized and pillaged the resources of mineral-rich and agriculturally productive countries, in consort with multi-national corporations.
Financial critics have provided abundant data on the ways in which imperial creditors have extracted onerous rents, royalties and debt payments from indebted countries and their taxpayers, workers, employees and productive sectors.
What has not been examined fully is the over-arching legal architecture which informs, justifies and facilitates imperial wars, pillage and debt collection.
The Centrality of Imperial Law
While force and violence, especially through overt and covert military intervention, have always been an essential part of empire-building, it does not operate in a legal vacuum: Judicial institutions, rulings and legal precedents precede, accompany and follow the process of empire building. The legality of imperial activity is based largely on the imperial state’s judicial system and its own legal experts. Their legal theories and opinions are always presented as over-ruling international law as well as the laws of the countries targeted for imperial intervention. Imperial law supersedes international law simply because imperial law is backed by brute force; it possesses imperial/colonial air, ground and naval armed forces to ensure the supremacy of imperial law. In contrast, international law lacks an effective enforcement mechanism. Moreover, international law, to the extent that it is effective, is applied only to the weaker powers and to regimes designated by the imperial powers as ‘violators’. The very judicial processes, including the appointment of judges and prosecutors who interpret international law, investigate international crime and arrest, sentence and punish ‘guilty’ parties are under to the influence of the reigning imperial powers. In other words, the application and jurisdiction of international law is selective and subject to constraints imposed by the configurations of imperial and national power. International law, at best, can provide a ‘moral’ judgment, a not insignificant basis for strengthening the political claims of countries, regimes and people seeking redress from imperial war crimes and economic pillage. To counter the claims and judgments pertaining to international law, especially in the area of the Geneva protocols such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, imperial legal experts, scholars and judges have elaborated a legal framework to justify or exempt imperial-state activity.
The Uses of Imperial Law
Empire-building throughout history is the result of conquest – the use or threat of superior military force. The US global empire is no exception. Where compliant rulers ‘invite’ or ‘submit’ to imperial domination, such acts of treason on the part of ‘puppet’ or ‘client’ rulers usually precipitate popular rebellions, which are then suppressed by joint imperial and collaborator armies. They cite imperial legal doctrine to justify their intervention to repress a subject people in revolt. While empires arose through the direct or indirect use of unbridled force, the maintenance and consolidation of empires requires a legal framework. Legal doctrines precede, accompany and follow the expansion and consolidation of empire for several reasons.
Legality is really an extension of imperial conquest by other means. A state of constant warfare raises the cost of imperial maintenance. Force, especially in imperial democracies undermines the sense of civic virtue, which the rulers and citizens claim to uphold. Maintaining ‘law and order’ in the conquered nations requires a legal system and doctrine to uphold imperial rule, giving the facade of legitimacy to the outside world, attracting collaborator classes and individuals and providing the basis for the recruitment of local military, judicial and police officials.
Imperial legal pronouncements, whether issued directly by executive, judicial, military or administrative bodies, are deemed the ‘supreme law of the universe’, superior to international law and protocols fashioned by non-imperial authorities and legal experts. This does not imply that imperial rulers totally discard international law: they just apply it selectively to their adversaries, especially against independent nations and rulers, in order to justify imperial intervention and aggression – Hence the ‘legal bases’ for dismantling Yugoslavia or invading Iraq and assassinating its rulers.
Legal rulings are issued by the imperial judiciary to force states to comply with the economic demands of multi-national corporations, banks, creditors and speculators, even after the local or national courts have ruled such claims unlawful. Imperial law protects and provides sanctuary and financial protection to convicted former collaborator-rulers charged with human rights crimes, pillage of public treasury and destruction of democratic institutions. Imperial judicial and administrative agencies selectively investigate, prosecute and levy severe fines and even jail sentences on banks, individuals and financial institutions of their competitor imperial countries, thereby strengthening the economic position of their own ‘national’ imperial firms.
Judicial officials are not only ‘instruments’ of closely related imperial political and economic powers; they also instrumentalize and, in some cases, override officials from other branches of their own imperial government and economic sectors. Judges, with ties to particular financial sectors, may rule in favor of one group of creditors thereby prejudicing others. In a recent ruling, a New York judge ruled in favor of the demands by minority creditors that the Argentine government make ‘full payment’ on long-standing national debt in, prejudicing already agreed upon payments to the majority of creditors who had negotiated an earlier debt-restructuring arrangement.
Imperial legal doctrine has played a central role in justifying and providing a basis for the exercise of international terrorism. Executives, such as US Presidents Bush and Obama, have been provided with the legal power to undertake cross-national ‘targeted’ assassinations of opponents using predator drones and ordering military intervention, in clear violation of international law and national sovereignty. Imperial law, above all else, ‘legalizes’ aggression and economic pillage and undermines the laws of targeted countries, creating lawlessness and chaos among its victims.
Imperial law and judicial rulings form the basis for imperial subjugation on the assumption that the world legal systems are multi-tiered: Imperial-centered legal systems supersede those of less powerful states. Within each ‘tier’ there are further refinements: Competing imperial legal systems adjudicate in favor of their partisan political and economic elites. Imperial clients who obey their imperial overlords are favored by imperial laws while imperial laws are applied against their adversaries.
Clearly in a world imperial system there can be no independent judicial bodies who abide by universally accepted legal codes. Each set of judicial authorities reflect and actively promote policies favoring and extending their imperial prerogatives. There are rare exceptions where a judge will rule against a particular imperial policy but over the long run imperial law guides judicial opinions
Imperial legal doctrines and judicial decisions set the groundwork for imperial wars and economic pillage. The empire’s legal experts redefine assassinations, coercion, torture and arbitrary arrests as compatible with the ‘constitutional order’ by claiming imminent and constant threats to the security of the imperial state.
Law is not simply part of the superstructure “reflecting” the power of economic or political institutions: it also guides and directs political and economic institutions committing material resources to implement imperial doctrines.
In this sense, imperial rulers are not ‘lawless’ as some liberal critics would argue; they function in accordance with ‘imperial jurisprudence’ and are faithful to the legal doctrines of empire building. It is pointless to argue that most imperial leaders trample on constitutional guarantees and international laws. If an imperial ruler pursued a “constitutional agenda” eroding imperial prerogatives or, even worse, applied international law to prosecute those carrying out brutal imperial policy, he would be quickly condemned for dereliction of duty and/or immoral behavior and impeached or overthrown.
“You can’t exclude any hypothesis … It’s practically impossible that here in an [oil] installation like this which is fully automated everywhere and that has thousands of responsible workers night and day, civilian and military, and that there is a gas leak for 3 or 4 days and nobody responds. This is impossible.”
President Chavez responding to US media and opposition charges that the explosion and fire at the oil refinery was due to government negligence.
Only 43 days before the Venezuelan presidential election and with President Chavez leading by a persistent margin of 20 percentage points, an explosion and fire at the Amuay refinery killed at least 48 people – half of those were members of the National Guard – and destroyed oil facilities producing 645,000 barrels of oil per day.
Immediately following the explosion and fire, on script, all the mass media in the US and Great Britain, and the right wing Venezuelan opposition launched a blanket condemnation of the government as the perpetrator of the disaster accusing it of “gross negligence” and “under-investment” in safety standards.
Yet there are strong reasons to reject these self-serving accusations and to formulate a more plausible hypothesis, namely that the explosion was an act of sabotage, planned and executed by a clandestine group of terrorist specialists acting on behalf of the US government. There are powerful arguments to sustain and pursue this line of inquiry.
The Argument for Sabotage:
(1) The first question in any serious investigation is who benefits and who loses from the destruction of lives and oil production?
The US is a clear winner on several crucial fronts. Firstly, via the economic losses to the Venezuelan economy – 2.5 million barrels in the first 5 days and counting – the loss will put a dent on social spending and delay productive investments which in turn are key electoral appeals of the Chavez presidency. Secondly, on cue the US joined by its client candidate,Henrique Capriles Radonski, immediately launched a propaganda blitz aimed at discrediting the government and calling into question its capacity to ensure the security and safety of its citizens and the principle source of the country’s wealth. Thirdly, the explosion creates insecurity and fear among sectors of the electorate and could influence their voting in the October presidential election. Fourthly, the US can test the effectiveness of a wider destabilization campaign and the government’s capacity to respond to any further security threats.
(2) According to official government documents the US has Special Forces operations in over seventy-five countries, including Venezuela, which is targeted because of an adversarial relation. This means that the US has operative clandestine highly trained operatives on the ground in Venezuela. The capture of a US Marine for illegal entry in Venezuela with prior experience in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan is indicative.
(3) The US has a history of involvement in violent destabilization activity in Venezuela – backing the military coup of 2002 and the bosses’ lockout in the petroleum industry in 2003. The US targeting of the oil industry involved sabotage of the computerized system and efforts to degrade the refineries.
(4) The US has a history of sabotage and violence against incumbent adversarial regimes. In Cuba during 1960, the CIA torched a department store and sugar plantations, and planted bombs in the downtown tourist centers – aiming to undermine strategic sectors of the economy. In Chile following the election of Socialist Salvador Allende, a CIA backed right-wing group kidnapped and assassinated the military attache of Socialist President, in an effort to provoke a military coup. Similarly in Jamaica in the late 1970’s under democratic socialist President Manley, the CIA facilitated a violent destabilization campaign in the run-up to the elections. Sabotage and destabilization is a common weapon in the face of impending electoral defeats (as is the case in Venezuela) or where a popular government is firmly entrenched.
(5) Force, violence and destabilization campaigns against incumbent regimes have become common operation procedure in current US policy. The US has financed and armed terrorist groups in Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Chechnya; it is bombing Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. In other words US foreign policy is highly militarized and opposed to any negotiated diplomatic resolution of conflicts with adversarial regimes. Sabotaging Venezuela’s oil refineries is within the logic and practice of current global US foreign policy.
(6) Domestic politics in the US has taken a further turn to the far right in both domestic and foreign policy. The Republican Party has accused the Democrats of pandering to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and Syria – of not going to war.
The Obama regime has responded by escalating its military policies – battleships, missiles are aimed at Iran. He has supported Miami’s demand for “regime change” in Cuba as a prelude to negotiations. Washington is channeling millions of dollars via NGO’s to the Venezuelan opposition – for electoral and destabilization purposes. No doubt the opposition includes employees, engineers and others with security clearance and access to the petroleum industry. Obama has consistently taken violent actions to demonstrate that he is as militarist as the Republicans. In the midst of a close election campaign, especially with a tight race in Florida, the sabotage of the Venezuelan refineries plays well for Obama.
(7) With a little more than a month left before the elections, and President Chavez is showing a 20 percentage point advantage; the economy is on track for a steady recovery; social housing and welfare programs are consolidating massive low income support or over 80%; Venezuela has been admitted into MERCOSUR the powerful Latin American integration program; Colombia signed off on a mutual defense agreement with Venezuela; Venezuela is diversifying its overseas markets and suppliers. What these facts indicate is that Washington has no chance of defeating Chavez electorally;it has no possibility of using its Latin neighbors as a springboard for territorial incursions or precipitating a war for regime change; and it has no chance of imposing an economic boycott.
Given Washington’s declared enmity and designation of Chavez as “a threat to hemispheric security” and faced with the utter failure of its other policy tools, the resort to violence and, in this specific case, sabotage of the strategic petrol sector emerges as the policy of choice. Washington, by revealing its resort to clandestine terror, represents a clear and present danger to Venezuela’s constitutional order, an immediate threat to the life blood of its economy and of the democratic electoral process. Hopefully, the Chavez government, backed by the vast majority of its citizens and constitutionalist armed forces will take the necessary comprehensive security measures to ensure that there is no repeat of the petrol sabotage in other sectors, like the electrical grid. Public weakness in the face of imperial belligerence only encourages further aggression. No doubt heightened public security in defense of the constitutional order will be denounced by the US government, media and their local clients as “authoritarian” and claim that protection of the national patrimony infringes on ‘democratic freedoms’. No doubt they prefer a weak security system to ply their violent provocations. Subsequent to their decisive electoral defeat they will claim fraud or interference. All this is predictable, but the vast majority of voters who assemble, debate and cast their ballots will feel secure and look forward to another four years of peace and prosperity, free from terror and sabotage.
One of the most significant political developments in recent US history has been the virtually unchallenged rise of the police state. Despite the vast expansion of the police powers of the Executive Branch of government, the extraordinary growth of an entire panoply of repressive agencies, with hundreds of thousands of personnel, and enormous public and secret budgets and the vast scope of police state surveillance, including the acknowledged monitoring of over 40 million US citizens and residents, no mass pro-democracy movement has emerged to confront the powers and prerogatives or even protest the investigations of the police state.
In the early fifties, when the McCarthyite purges were accompanied by restrictions on free speech, compulsory loyalty oaths and congressional ‘witch hunt’ investigations of public officials, cultural figures, intellectuals, academics and trade unionists, such police state measures provoked widespread public debate and protests and even institutional resistance. By the end of the 1950’s, mass demonstrations were held at the sites of the public hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco (1960) and elsewhere and major civil rights movements arose to challenge the racially segregated South, the compliant Federal government and the terrorist racist death squads of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley (1964) ignited nationwide mass demonstrations against the authoritarian-style of university governance.
The police state incubated during the first years of the Cold War was challenged by mass movements pledged to retain or regain democratic freedoms and civil rights.
Key to understanding the rise of mass movements for democratic freedoms was their fusion with broader social and cultural movements: democratic freedoms were linked to the struggle for racial equality; free speech was necessary in order to organize a mass movement against the imperial US Indo-Chinese wars and widespread racial segregation; the shutting down of Congressional ‘witch hunts’ and purges opened up the cultural sphere to new and critical voices and revitalized the trade unions and professional associations. All were seen as critical to protecting hard-won workers’ rights and social advances.
In the face of mass opposition, many of the overt police state tactics of the 1950’s went ‘underground’ and were replaced by covert operations; selective state violence against individuals replaced mass purges. The popular pro-democracy movements strengthened civil society and public hearings exposed and weakened the police state apparatus, but it did not go away. However, from the early 1980’s to the present, especially over the past 20 years, the police state has expanded dramatically, penetrating all aspects of civil society while arousing no sustained or even sporadic mass opposition.
The question is why has the police state grown and even exceeded the boundaries of previous periods of repression and yet not provoked any sustained mass opposition? This is in contrast to the broad-based pro-democracy movements of the mid to late 20th century. That a massive and growing police state apparatus exists is beyond doubt: one simply has to look up the published records of personnel (both public agents and private contractors), the huge budgets and scores of agencies involved in internal spying on tens of millions of American citizens and residents. The scope and depth of arbitrary police state measures taken include arbitrary detention and interrogations, entrapment and the blacklisting of hundreds of thousands of US citizens. Presidential fiats have established the framework for the assassination of US citizens and residents, military tribunals, detention camps and the seizure of private property.
Yet as these gross violations of the constitutional order have taken place and as each police state agency has further eroded our democratic freedoms, there have been no massive “anti-Homeland Security” movements, no campus ‘Free Speech movements’. There are only the isolated and courageous voices of specialized ‘civil liberties’ and constitutional freedoms activists and organizations, which speak out and raise legal challenges to the abuse, but have virtually no mass base and no objective coverage in the mass media.
To address this issue of mass inactivity before the rise of the police state, we will approach the topic from two angles.
We will describe how the organizers and operatives have structured the police state and how that has neutralized mass responses.
We will then discuss the ‘meaning’ of non-activity, setting out several hypotheses about the underlying motives and behavior of the ‘passive mass’ of citizens.
The Concentric Circles of the Police State
While the potential reach of the police state agencies covers the entire US population, in fact, it operates on the basis of ‘concentric circles’. The police state is perceived and experienced by the US population according to the degree of their involvement in critical opposition to state policies. While the police state theoretically affects ‘everyone’, in practice it operates through a series of concentric circles. The ‘inner core’, of approximately several million citizens, is the sector of the population experiencing the brunt of the police state persecution. They include the most critical, active citizens, especially those identified by the police state as sharing religious and ethnic identities with declared foreign enemies, critics or alleged ‘terrorists’. These include immigrants and citizens of Arab, Persian, Pakistani, Afghan and Somali descent, as well as American converts to Islam.
Ethnic and religious “profiling” is rife in all transport centers (airports, bus and train stations and on the highways). Mosques, Islamic charities and foundations are under constant surveillance and subject to raids, entrapment, arrests, and even Israeli-style ‘targeted’ assassinations.
The second core group, targeted by the police state, includes African Americans, Hispanics and immigration rights activists (numbering in the millions). They are subject to massive arbitrary sweeps, round-ups and unlimited detention without trial as well as mass indiscriminate deportations.
After the ‘core groups’ is the ‘inner circle’ which includes millions of US citizens and residents, who have written or spoken critically of US and Israeli policy in the Middle East, expressed solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinian people, opposed US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or have visited countries or regions opposed to US empire building (Venezuela, Iran, South Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, etc.). Hundreds of thousands of these citizens have their telephone, e-mail and internet communications under surveillance; they have been targeted in airports, denied passports, subject to ‘visits’ and to covert and overt blacklisting at their schools and workplaces.
Activists engaged in civil liberties groups, lawyers, and professionals, leftists engaged in anti-Imperialist, pro-democracy and anti-police state activities and their publications are on ‘file’ in the massive police state labyrinth of data collecting on ‘political terrorists’. Environmental movements and their activists have been treated as potential terrorists – with their own family members subjected to police harassment and ominous ‘visits’.
The ‘outer circle’ includes, community, civic, religious and trade union leaders and activists who, in the course of their activity interact with or even express support for core and inner circle critics and victims of police state violations of due process . The ‘outer circle’ numbering a few million citizens are ‘on file’ as ‘persons of interest’, which may involve monitoring their e-mail and periodic ‘checks’ on their petition signing and defense appeals. These ‘three circles’ are the central targets of the police state, numbering upward of 40 million US citizens and immigrants – who have not committed any crime. For having exercised their constitutional rights, they have been subjected to various degrees of police state repression and harassment.
The police state, however, has ‘fluid boundaries’ about whom to spy on, whom to arrest and when – depending on whatever arouses the apparatchiks ‘suspicion’ or desire to exercise power or please their superiors at any given moment. The key to the police state operations of the US in the 21st century is to repress pro-democracy citizens and pre-empt any mass movement without undermining the electoral system, which provides political theater and legitimacy. A police state ‘boundary’ is constructed to ensure that citizens will have little option but to vote for the two pro-police state parties, legislatures and executives without reference to the conduct, conditions and demands of the core, inner and outer circle of victims, critics and activists. Frequent raids, harsh public ‘exemplary’ punishment and mass media stigmatization transmit a message to the passive mass of voters and non-voters that the victims of repression ‘must have been doing something wrong’ or else they would not be under police state repression.
The key to the police state strategy is to not allow its critics to gain a mass base, popular legitimacy or public acceptance. The state and the media constantly drum the message that the activists’ ‘causes’ are not our (American, patriotic) ‘causes’; that ‘their’ pro-democracy activities impede ‘our’ electoral activities; their lives, wisdom and experiences do not touch our workplaces, neighborhoods, sports, religious and civic associations. To the degree that the police-state has ‘fenced in’ the inner circles of the pro-democracy activists, they have attained a free hand and uncontested reach in deepening and extending the boundaries of the authoritarian state. To the degree that the police state rationale or presence has penetrated the consciousness of the mass of the US population, it has created a mighty barrier to the linking of private discontent with public action.
Hypothesis on Mass Complicity and Acquiescence with the Police State
If the police-state is now the dominant reality of US political life, why isn’t it at the center of citizen concern? Why are there no pro-democracy popular movements? How has the police state been so successful in ‘fencing off’ the activists from the vast majority of US citizens? After all, other countries at other times have faced even more repressive regimes and yet the citizens rebelled. In the past, despite the so-called ‘Soviet threat’, pro-democracy movements emerged in the US and even rolled back a burgeoning police state. Why does the evocation of an outside ‘Islamic terrorist threat’ seem to incapacitate our citizens today? Or does it?
There is no simple, single explanation for the passivity of the US citizens faced with a rising omnipotent police state. Their motives are complex and changing and it is best to examine them in some detail.
One explanation for passivity is that precisely the power and pervasiveness of the police state has created deep fear, especially among people with family obligations, vulnerable employment and with moderate commitments to democratic freedoms. This group of citizens is aware of cases where police powers have affected other citizens who were involved in critical activities, causing job loss and broad suffering and are not willing to sacrifice their security and the welfare of their families for what they believe is a ‘losing cause’ – a movement lacking a strong popular base and with little institutional support. Only when the protest against the Wall Street bailout and the ‘ Occupy Wall Street ’ movements against the ‘1%’ gained momentum, did this sector express transitory support. But as the Office of the President consummated the bailout and the police-state crushed the ‘Occupy’ encampments, fear and caution led many sympathizers to withdraw timidly back into passivity.
The second motive for ‘acquiescence’ among a substantial part of the public is because that they tend to support the police state, based on their acceptance of the anti-terror ideology and its virulent anti-Muslim-anti-Arab racism, driven in large part by influential sectors of pro-Israel opinion makers. The fear and loathing of Muslims, cultivated by the police state and mass media, was central to the post-9/11 build-up of Homeland Security and the serial wars against Israel ’s adversaries, including Iraq , Lebanon , Libya and now Syria with plans for Iran. Active support for the police state peaked during the first 5 years post- 9/11 and subsequently ebbed as the Wall Street-induced economic crisis, loss of employment and the failures of government policy propelled concerns about the economy far ahead of support for the police state. Nevertheless, at least one-third of the electorate still supports the police state, ‘right or wrong’. They firmly believe that the police state protects their ‘security’; that suspects, arrestees, and others under watch ‘must have been doing something illegal’. The most ardent backers of the police state are found among the rabid anti-immigrant groups who support arbitrary round-ups, mass deportations and the expansion of police powers at the expense of constitutional guarantees.
The third possible motive for acquiescence in the police state is ignorance: those millions of US citizens who are not aware of the size, scope and activities of the police state. Their practical behavior speaks to the notion that ‘since I am not directly affected it must not exist’. Embedded in everyday life, making a living, enjoying leisure time, entertainment, sports, family, neighborhoods and concerned only about household budgets … This mass is so embedded in their personal ‘micro-world’ that it considers the macro-economic and political issues raised by the police state as ‘distant’, outside of their experience or interest: ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I don’t know enough’, ‘It’s all ‘politics’ … The widespread apoliticism of the US public plays into its ignoring the monster that has grown in its midst.
Paradoxically as some peoples’ concerns and passive discontent over the economy has grown, it has lessened support for the police state as well as having lessened opposition to it. In other words the police state flourishes while public discontent is focused more on the economic institutions of the state and society. Few, if any, contemporary political leaders educate their constituency by connecting the rise of the police state, imperial wars and Wall Street to the everyday economic issues concerning most US citizens. The fragmentation of issues, the separation of the economic from the political and the divorce of political concerns from individual ones, allow the police state to stand ‘above and outside’ of the popular consciousness , concerns and activities.
State-sponsored fear mongering on behalf of the police state is amplified and popularized by the mass media on a daily basis via propagandistic-‘news’, ‘anti-terrorist’ detective programs, Hollywood’s decades of crass anti-Arab, Islamophobic films. The mass media portrayal of the police state’s naked violations of democratic rights as normal and necessary in a milieu infiltrated by ‘Muslim terrorists’, where feckless ‘liberals’ (defenders of due process and the Bill of Rights) threaten national security, has been effective.
Ideologically, the police state depends on identifying the expansion of police powers with ‘national security’ of the passive ‘silent’ majority, even as it creates profound insecurity for an active, critical minority. The self-serving identification of the ‘nation’ and the ‘flag’ with the police state apparatus is especially prominent during ‘mass spectacles’ where ‘rock’, schlock and ‘sports’ infuse mass entertainment with solemn Pledges of Allegiance to uphold and respect the police state and busty be-wigged young women wail nasally versions of the national anthem to thunderous applause. Wounded ‘warriors’ are trotted out and soldiers rigid in their dress uniforms salute enormous flags, while the message transmitted is that police state at home works hand in hand with our ‘men and women in uniform’ abroad. The police state is presented as a patriotic extension of the wars abroad and as such both impose ‘necessary’ constraints on citizen opposition, public criticism and any real forthright defense of freedom.
Conclusion: What is to be done?
The ascendancy of the police state has benefited enormously from the phony bi-partisan de-politicization of repressive legislation, and the fragmentation of socio-economic struggles from democratic dissent. The mass anti-war movements of the early 1990’s and 2001-2003 were undermined (sold-out) by the defection of its leaders to the Democratic Party machine and its electoral agenda. The massive popular immigration movement was taken over by Mexican-American political opportunists from the Democratic Party and decimated while the same Democratic Party, under President Barack Obama, has escalated police state repression against immigrants, expelling millions of Latino immigrant workers and their families.
Historical experience teaches us that a successful struggle against an emerging police state depends on the linking of the socio-economic struggles that engage the attention of the masses of citizens with the pro-democracy, pro-civil liberty, ‘free speech’ movements of the middle classes. The deepening economic crisis, the savage cuts in living standards and working conditions and the fight to save ‘sacred’ social programs (like Social Security and Medicare) have to be tied in with the expansion of the police state. A mass social justice movement, which brings together thousands of anti-Wall Streeters, millions of pro-Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid recipients with hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers will inevitably clash with the bloated police-state apparatus. Freedom is essential to the struggle for social justice and the mass struggle for social justice is the only basis for rolling back the police state. The hope is that mass economic pain will ignite mass activity, which, in turn, will make people aware of the dangerous growth of the police state. A mass understanding of this link will be essential to any advance in the movement for democracy and people’s welfare at home and peace abroad.
- The Great Transformation: From the Welfare State to the Imperial Police State (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s Media Takeover Powers: The Infrastructure of a Police State (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Intifada – Hosted and produced by Hagit Borer for the SWANA (South and West Asia and North Africa) Collective of KPFK – February 8, 2007
Hagit Borer: There is little question in anybody’s mind about the special relation between Israel and the United States. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid to the tune of more than $3 billion dollars a year, plus miscellaneous additions like surplus weaponry, debt waivers and other perks. Israel is the only country that receives its entire aid package in the beginning of the fiscal year allowing it to accrue interest on it during the year. It is the only country which is allowed to spend up to 25% of its aid outside of the United States, placing such expenditures outside US control. Apart from financial support, the United States has offered unwavering support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, and has systematically supported Israel’s refusal to make any effective peace negotiations or peace agreements. It has vetoed countless UN resolutions seeking to bring Israel into compliance with international law. It has allowed Israel to develop nuclear weapons and not to sign the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty and most recently it strongly supported Israel’s attack on Lebanon in July of 2006. Support for Israel cuts across party lines and is extremely strong in Congress where criticism of Israel is rarely if ever heard. It also characterizes almost all American administrations from Johnson onwards, with George W. Bush being possibly the most pro-Israel ever.
What is the reason for this strong support? Opinions on this matter vary greatly. Within strong pro-Israeli circles, one often hears that the reason is primarily moral: the debt that the United States owes Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust; the nature of Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East; Israel as the moral and possible strategic ally of the United States in its War on Terror. Within circles that are less supportive of Israel and which are less inclined to view Israel and Israel’s conduct as moral, opinions vary as well. One opinion stems from the position of Israel being a strategic ally of the United States – its support is simply payment for services rendered coupled with the stable pro-American stance of the Jewish Israeli population. Noam Chomsky, among others, is a proponent of this view. According to the opposing view, US support for Israel does not advance American aims, it jeopardizes them. The explanation for the support is to be found in the activities of the Israel Lobby, also known as the Jewish Lobby, or as AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), which uses its formidable influence to shape American foreign policy in accordance with Israeli interests. The opinion has most recently been associated with an article published in the London Book Review, co-authored by Professor Merscheimer of the University of Chicago and Professor Walt of Harvard University.
This debate is the topic of our program today.
Let me introduce our guests: Norman Finkelstein is a professor of political science at De Paul University. Welcome to our program, Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: Thank you.
Hagit Borer: Professor Finkelstein is the author of several books on the history of Zionism and the role of the Holocaust in present day Israeli policies. His latest book, published in 2005 , Beyond Chutzpah, on The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
Our second guest is James Petras. James is an Emeritus Professor of sociology at SUNY Binghamton. Welcome to our program, James.
James Petras: Glad to be here, Hagit.
Hagit Borer: Professor Petras is the author of numerous books on state power and the nature of globalization in the context of the US and Latin America, and most recently in the Middle East. His latest book, published in 2006, is titled The Power of Israel in the United States. Perhaps starting with you, James, perhaps you could tell us by way of a short opening statement where you would place yourself on this issue of a debate on the source of the United States lasting and enduring support for Israel.
James Petras: Well, I think I would probably argue that the pro-Israel lobby, the Zionist Lobby, is the dominant factor in shaping US policy in the Middle East, particularly in the most recent period. And I think one has to look at this beyond AIPAC. I mean, we have to look a whole string of pro-Zionist think tanks from the American Enterprise Institute on down, and then we have to look at a whole power configuration, which not only involves AIPAC, but also the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations, which number 52. We have to look at individuals occupying crucial positions in the government, as we had recently with Elliott Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and others. We have to look at the army of op-ed writers who have access to the major newspapers. We have to look at the super-rich contributors to the Democratic Party, Media moguls etc. And I think this, together with the leverage in Congress and in the Executive, is the decisive factor in shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East. And I want to emphasize that.
Hagit Borer: James, just to stop you and maybe we can also have some kind of an opening statement from Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I would say that I situate myself on the spectrum somewhere towards the middle. I don’t think it is just the Lobby which determines the US relationship with Israel. And I don’t think it is just US interests which determine the US relationship with Israel. I think that you have to look at the broad picture and then you have to look at the local picture. On the broad picture, that is to say, US policy in the Middle East generally speaking, the historical connection between the US and Israel has been based on the useful services that Israel has performed for the United States in the region as a whole. And that became most prominent in June 1967, when Israel knocked out the main challenge, or potential challenge, to US dominance in the region, namely Abdul Nasser of Egypt. So, on the broad question of the US-Israel relationship that is the regional relationship, I think it is correct to say that the alliance has been based fundamentally on services rendered. On the other hand, it is very clear from looking at the documentary record, that the US was euphoric when Israel knocked out Egypt – or knocked out Nasser and Nasserism, it is also clear from looking at the documentary record, that the United States has never had any big stake in trying to maintain Israel’s control over the territories it conquered in the June 1967 war, that is to say, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the Syrian Golan Heights and, at that time, the Jordanian West Bank and Jerusalem. The US clearly had no stake in it and already from July 1967, wanted to apply pressures on Israel to commit itself from fully withdrawing. It was pretty obvious, if you look at the record again, that Israel, at that point, was able to bring to bear the Lobby. In 1967-68 it meant principally the forthcoming Presidential election and the Jewish vote. It was to bring to bear the power of the Jewish vote to resist efforts to withdraw. And since ’67, the Lobby has been very effective, I think, in raising the threshold before the US is willing to act and force an Israeli withdrawal pretty much like the withdrawal it forced on Indonesia in 2000 to leave Timor. The two occupations begin in roughly the same period: in 1974, Indonesia invades Timor with the US green light and in 1967, Israel conquers the West Bank, Gaza and so forth with the US green light. And so the obvious question is: Both occupations endured for a long period. The Indonesian occupation was infinitely more destructive, killing more than one-third of the East Timorese population. But it is true to say come 2000 the US does order Indonesia to withdraw its troops. Why hasn’t it done so in the case of the Israel-Palestine occupation? And there I think its true to say, ‘It’s the Lobby’.
Hagit Borer: I have a feeling that one of the things we really need to start with when we try to address this issue is: What is it that we recognize, if we could recognize, on more or less a global level, as ‘American Interests’? Such that we can say that they have so some degree systematically characterized different US Administrations. This is because it seems to me that it would be very difficult to evaluate to what extent policies that are going on with respect to Israel aren’t compatible with American interests, if we don’t talk a little bit about what we perceive to be ‘American interests’. So James, would you like to talk about that a little bit?
James Petras: Yes, I would. As a matter of fact, on that question, we have to be clear if we are talking about the US government and corporate interests in the Middle East, in particular, or if we are talking about what should be US interests.
Hagit Borer: Let’s talk about what they are… Let’s say, what the aims of various administrations are as opposed to what is in the best interest of either the American or the Israeli people, which may be very different.
James Petras: Very good. On that count, I think it is very clear that US policy is directed toward empire-building, extending its political, economic and military control over the world as a whole and, in particular, in the Middle East. And it pursues that policy, either through military means or through market mechanisms, such as the expansion of corporations, the capture of pliant client regimes, etc. And if we look at the Middle East, in particular, the US has been very successful in securing agreements with most of the oil-producing countries, except Iraq and Iran, and even there it is mainly because of its own rejection of relations with both those countries. US oil companies have done extremely well through non-military means. They have expanded their commercial ties- Goldman Sachs has just signed a big agreement with the biggest Saudi bank. Britain is organizing a secondary market in Islamic bonds. Wall Street is very interested in that. None of the oil companies supported a war in Iraq. And it is part of the rubbish that has been peddled – that the war was about oil. The oil companies were doing fabulously before the war and were very nervous about getting involved in a war. This, I think, leads us to the whole question of ‘why then’ if it was prejudicial to the major US economic interests.
As we can see, there were many US military people who were opposed to going into Iraq because they felt it would prejudice the US overall military capacities to defend the Empire – just like the war in Viet Nam prejudiced the capacity of the US to intervene in Central America against the Sandinistas, against the overthrow of the Shah, etc. So from the point of view of global imperial interests, the war in Iraq was certainly not at the behest of the oil companies. I have looked at all the documents, I’ve done interviews with oil companies, I’ve looked at their publications for the five years in the run-up to the war and there is absolutely no evidence. On the contrary, if you pursue research on the various members of the Zionist power configuration in the United States, which I think is a conceptually more correct way of talking about this, rather than ‘the Lobby’, you will find that people of dubious loyalties, like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams – the felon, had an agenda of furthering Israel’s interests.
Hagit Borer: James, maybe we should go on with this: Basically if I understand what your are saying, your are suggesting that up to the point of getting involved militarily with Iraq, you would characterize American policies in the Middle East – you know, the Lobby notwithstanding, as extremely successful. So, I am just wondering…
James Petras: It’s what we call ‘market imperialism’.
Hagit Borer: Yes. Norman, do you want to comment on this?
Norman Finkelstein: Well. You have to look at the interests at many different levels. And unfortunately it becomes murky and complicated, where one would prefer a simple picture, I don’t think it is all that simple when you try to figure it out. Number one, you have to look at the interests in terms of who is defining them. And, I agree, I think it is fairly obvious certainly to your listeners that there are different interests that are being defined by corporate power, or are being defined democratically by the desires and choices of ordinary people in any democratic system. So, lets limit ourselves to the first – the question of the corporate interests, since obviously they are playing the dominant role in determining US policy. Or it should be obvious, not that it always is.
Hagit Borer: Let’s assume it is fairly obvious.
Norman Finkelstein: It’s playing the determinant role. Then you have to look at ‘how do they conceive the best way to preserve and expand their interests.’ Now the way they perceive it may seem to a person like you and me to be irrational. It’s that they are pursuing policies which are actually hurting them. But the fact that they may seem irrational to us, does not mean that that is the way they perceive these as the best way to preserve their interests. So you take the concrete case at hand. It may be the case that it was irrational for the US to go into Iraq because there are other ways to control the oil, or as some people have argued, that the market mechanisms are such that, on a world scale, you no longer need to control a natural resource in order to make sure you get the lowest price or make sure it is flowing at the lowest price.
Control isn’t all that important anymore in the modern world. It is not like when Lenin was writing his Imperialism. Now that may be rationally correct and maybe there is a good argument for making it. But that doesn’t mean that those in power aren’t making decisions to further their own interests, which may seem irrational to us. In the case of Iraq, if you look concretely at what happens: Number 1 – There is no evidence, whatsoever, that people like Wolfowitz or the others were trying to further an Israeli agenda.
Hagit Borer: Let me interrupt. What would be the Israeli agenda, if there was one?
Norman Finkelstein: There is an Israeli agenda, and I am not disputing it. The Israeli agenda is basically the following: Israel does not care which country you smash up in the Middle East, just so long as, every few years and, sometimes, every few months you smash up this or that Arab country to send a lesson or to transmit the message to the Middle East that we are in charge and whenever you get out of line we are going to take out the ‘big club’ and break your skull. Now, it happens that in the late 1990’s that Israel would have preferred the skull that was cracked would have been the Iranian one. There was no evidence that Iraq was upper most on the Israeli agenda. In fact, all of this talk about the famous document that was written up by these neo-cons to attack Iraq – that famous document – was handed to Netanyahu when he came to office to try convince him to put Iraq at the top of the agenda. It’s not as if Israel passed that document to the neo-cons, who then plotted to get the US government to attack Iraq. It was the opposite. Israel would have preferred to attack Iran. However, once those in our government, maybe for misguided reasons for all I know, decided to fasten on to Iraq – that is to attack Iraq – Israel was of course ‘gung ho’ because Israel is always ‘gung ho’ about smashing up this or that Arab country. That has always been its policy for the last hundred years – since the beginning of Zionism. The most common place, the cliché of Israeli power is ‘Arabs only understand the language of force’. So, when the US embarked on its campaign against Iraq, the Israelis were gleeful – but they are always gleeful. It doesn’t mean that people like Wolfowitz, let alone people like Cheney, are trying to serve an Israeli agenda. There is no evidence for claims like that. Its pure speculation based on things like ethnicity.
Lets take a simple example, that, I’ll call him James, I don’t usually call people by their first names, but Jim Petras mentioned…Let’s take the case of Elliott Abrams. These are interesting cases. Elliott Abrams is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz. And Norman Podhoretz was the first big neo-conservative supporter of Israel, the editor of Commentary , the magazine. But if you look at people like Podhoretz, you look at their history, I’ll take a book which I am sure Jim is familiar with, in 1967 Podhoretz publishes his famous memoir called Making It. It’s how he succeeded and made it in American life. He was a young man and the editor of Commentary Magazine. You read that book, his celebrated memoir written two months before the June 1967 war, there is exactly one half of one sentence in the whole book on Israel. People like Podhoretz, Midge Decter, all the neo-cons…I have gone through the whole literature on the topic and have read it quite carefully.
Before June 1967, they didn’t give a ‘hoot’ about Israel. Israel never comes up in any of their memoirs, in any of the histories of the period. They become pro-Israel when Israel is useful to them in their pursuit of power and fortune in the United States. Elliott Abrams is as committed to Israel as his father-in-law, Norman Podhoretz, was committed to Israel: When it is convenient and when it is useful. This idea of trying to serve an Israeli agenda, especially coming from somebody as sophisticated as Jim Petras, strikes me as absurd. He knows as well as I do that power…
Hagit Borer: Lets me just interrupt to let James…
James Petras: Its very strange that one says Wolfowitz was not influenced by the Israeli agenda when he was caught passing documents to Israel in the 1980’s. And Douglas Feith lost his security clearance for handing documents to Israel. Elliott Abrams has written a book calling for maintaining the ‘purity’ of the Jewish race…
Norman Finkelstein: I know. They write that crap…and you believe them? Jim, do you think they care…?
James Petras: Its not a question of believing them, it’s a question of looking at the documentary evidence of uncritical, support for Israel in all of its policies – A position that is taken by the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations. They give unconditional support!
Hagit Borer: Let me perhaps interject here a little bit. I think that there a couple of things. One is…I am wondering, for instance, I don’t know whether you would agree, James, with the particular Israeli interest that Norman had identified with respect to the invasion of Iraq. But assuming that you would agree that the Israeli interests are precisely that, namely to smash some Arab country mainly because it is a ‘good idea’…
James Petras: I think that’s very superficial…
Hagit Borer: The question is also…has it been in American interests? So we have seen America go after countries, which are sometimes, in terms of their power, are otherwise really quite negligible – just so as to make a point that anybody who dares to stand up to American power is just a bad example and needs to be smashed…
Norman Finkelstein: I totally agree with that…
James Petras: Israel was running guns to Iran as late as 1987 during the infamous Iran-Contra Scandal…To say that they weren’t interested in destroying Iraq as a challenge to Israel’s hegemony and Iraq’s support for the Palestinians, particularly funding the families of assassinated Palestinian leaders…that’s absurd. And I think …
Norman Finkelstein: Oh look…
Hagit Borer: Could I stop you at this particular point…because we need to take a station break…
James Petras: I want to answer your question…
Hagit Borer: We will come back to it…At this point I think we should try to shift the topic a little bit and…
James Petras: Let me finish my last comment. I think when the Pentagon offices are flooded, like a crowded bordello on Saturday night, with Israeli intelligence officers, crowding out even members of their own Pentagon staff – full of Mossad, full of Israeli generals, in the making of Iraq policy, I don’t think you can say that they are ‘just any old Pentagon officials’. I think you can’t dismiss the fact that Feith, Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams have a lifetime commitment to putting Israel’s interests as their prime consideration in the Middle East. I think it is absurd to think that somehow they just happen to be right-wing policy makers that happen to support a militarist policy. Wolfowitz designed the program. Feith put together the Office of Special Plans, the policy board that fabricated the information for the Iraq war. They were constantly consulting on a day-day, hour-to-hour basis with the Israeli government. This has absolutely been documented a hundred times and I think it is impossible to deny this and say ‘Well, you can’t deduce policy from ethnic affiliations.” Yes, you can! When that ethnic group puts forward a position that puts the primacy of a foreign government at the center of their foreign policy and prejudices the lives of thousands of Americans…its economic interests in the area…then it’s absurd to say, ‘These are a bunch of irrational policy-makers.’
Hagit Borer: James, let me pursue this and actually go into a slightly different point. That is: Wouldn’t it be possible, you know, it’s a question for both of you, for instance to think about whatever the neo-con group is…it’s not a group that represents Israeli interests, it’s a group which represents interests which ‘happen’ to perhaps coincide for both countries and which represent alliances of particular politicians in both countries with one another, and particular power configurations in both countries with one another – but not by any means – all Israeli politicians or the entire Israeli power structure – or all American politicians or all American power structures.
James Petras: Absolutely.
Hagit Borer: So in that case, these are not really American interests. These are just interests of a particular group of people, which is just as interested in bringing to effect in the United States as it is in Israel. Its just basically, if you wish, a wonderful symbiotic relationship. What would you say, Norman to something like that?
Norman Finkelstein: I’ve said in my remarks at the beginning that there is an overlapping of interests in a regional level for reasons for which, in part you suggested earlier. You said that the United States often goes after weak regimes as a kind of demonstration effect of its power and Israel also has a desire for demonstrating its power. Often there is an overlapping, or confluence, of interests. I think, however, its also true to say on the specific question on the occupation – there is a conflict of interests. Were there not a Lobby, its quite likely that the US would have exerted the kinds of pressures needed to force an Israeli withdrawal. On questions like Iraq and Iran, I don’t see any evidence whatsoever, of its being driven by cloak in dagger type of operations in the Pentagon. These operations, which Jim mentions, are so trivial – next to the very high level planning that goes on between the United States and Israel, conscious, legal high-level planning on a daily basis. High level planning and high level coordination. You don’t have to conjure up ‘cloak and dagger’ tales, many of them true, going on inside the Pentagon, in order to demonstrate there is collusion, planning and coordination between the United States and Israel. The question is not whether that goes on, the question is ‘whose interests are being served by it?’ There is this notion that somehow they are managing to distort and deform US policy in a crucial region, on a crucial resource, doesn’t, in my opinion, have any basis in fact. It defies any kind of reason or any kind of common sense reasoning – especially coming from, in my youth, I used to be a student of James Petras at SUNY Binghamton from 1971-74 and he used to be a Marxist and at that time he would tell you how people in power act from interests, which spring from …a basis in which they are the main beneficiaries.
Hagit Borer: Norman, let me ask you …
Norman Finkelstein: Just a second…Mr. Wolfowitz…, Mr Feith and all the others…their power springs from the American state. If Israel gets stronger, their power does not increase. If the United States gets weaker, their power decreases. So now we are having this weird phenomenon of people, due to their ethnic loyalties, are willing to strengthen another state and thereby weaken the sources of power from which their power comes…that doesn’t sound believable.
James Petras: This is a convoluted thinking. I am sure Norman didn’t take that logic from my classes. I’m afraid he has gone off the track somewhere – despite some very good books he has written on the Zionist ‘shakedowns’, on the Holocaust and the refutation of the plagiarism of Dershowitz. I am afraid that when it comes to dealing with the predominantly Jewish lobby, he has a certain blind spot, which is understandable. In many other national and ethnic groups – where they can criticize the world but when it comes to identifying the power and malfeasance of their own group…
Hagit Borer: I think maybe we should all…perhaps we can move away from this topic. OK?
James Petras: Let me finish my sentence. There is nothing ‘cloak and dagger’ about the multiplicity of pro-Israel groups, that have pressured Congress, that are involved in the executive body in shaping American policy in the Middle East. The US does not support any other colonial power, it has opposed colonial occupation/imperialism since World War II. They opposed the British occupation of the Suez in 1956/1955. They have been pushing these countries of Europe and other countries out in order to establish US hegemony through economic and military agreements. The policy with the Israelis is very different from the policies the US follows everywhere else in the world. It’s the only country that gets $3 billion dollars a year for 30 years. This is not just something that happens because of ‘cloak and dagger’. This is the result, as Norman knows – as a very brilliant analyst, from organized power, an organized power that openly admits and states very explicitly that Israel is their major concern…and ‘what’s good for Israel is good for the United States’. They say that, Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: I know that. But regardless of what they say…
Hagit Borer: Let me interrupt you. I need to do a station ID and maybe we could change the topic…
James Petras: OK. Norman was a good student of mine.
Hagit Borer: I think that at this point we can agree that you guys have a lot of mutual respect for each other. But obviously you do not agree on some topics. I wanted to move on to the question of whether there are in fact cases that show that when there are conflicts of interests, say between the US and Israel, that there are instances where the United States does in fact pressure Israel to at least in some cases to act in ways which are against what Israeli wishes would be. Because it seems to me that if we don’t find cases along these lines, then basically the discussion becomes one of ‘the eyes of the beholder’. We see a lot of cooperation, a lot of joint interest, but they could be coming from either side. If there are cases where perhaps there are interests, which part ways and where we can see in fact there is a discord that we can talk about. Norman, since you are the one who believes that this is a possibility, could you talk about that?
Norman Finkelstein: Well, the thing is: I don’t want to make the argument that these kinds of individual cases can prove one side or the other. You pick up a book by Steve Zunes, and he is going to demonstrate that the US government always gets its way. You pick up something by somebody on the other side, and they are going to demonstrate that it’s Israel that always gets its way when there are conflicts of interests. And each side can give a list of examples – to demonstrate his or her case. I don’t think you can prove anything by citing a handful of cases on one side – Professor Chomsky will cite the recent case where Israel was severely reprimanded by Bush for trying to sell technology to China -and then you will find cases on the other side. Even though it’s important to look at the empirical record, I don’t think the empirical record – in and of itself– resolves the question. Let me give you a couple of examples of how I think it works: Let’s take two prime examples. Let’s start with 1948. Why did President Truman recognize Israel? There are all sorts of debate about that question. One claim that is constantly made was/is the role of the Jewish lobby. Namely Truman was heading for elections and wanted in particular, the New York vote…and the Democratic Party wanted Jewish money. It was due to the Jewish lobby of its time that Truman quickly recognized Israel, even though he was bound to alienate Arab interests which were very hostile to Israel’s founding. What does the record show? I have gone through the record very carefully. The record shows: Number 1 – our main interest at that time was in Saudi oil and the US enters into discussions with the Saudis: ‘What will you allow the US government to do regarding the founding of the state of Israel?’ And the Saudis basically said the following: ‘We will let you recognize Israel, but if you supply arms then there is going to be trouble. They are referring to arms after Israel was founded when there was an imminent war. What does the US do? It recognizes Israel, that is to say, it goes the limit. Truman goes the limit, because he wants that Jewish vote and he wants Jewish money. But he immediately slaps an arms embargo on the region. And the Secretary of State, Marshall, at the time says: ‘It looks like Israel is going to lose the war.’ That is what our intelligence tells us. We were wrong, but that is what US intelligence said at the time. So they were willing to let Israel be annihilated, because that’s what our intelligence told us, if the price was losing the support of the Saudis. It is true that Truman went the limit – the limit was ‘recognizing Israel’ to get the Jewish vote, but he never went beyond the limit of alienating a prime US interest in the region, namely the Saudis. Let’s take 1956, which Jim mentioned, but I don’t think he knows what happened. In 1956, it’s true – the United States told Britain, France and Israel – they had to get out of Egypt. And its true, we looked very anti-colonial. But the only reason the United States did that was because the British, the French and the Israelis acted behind the back of the United States. The very moment the tri-partite invasion of Egypt occurred, the US was plotting to overthrow the government of Syria. And the US wanted to knock-out Nasser, but they didn’t like the timing – because the timing was not the US choosing but rather the British, French and Israelis behind our backs. Once again it was the US interests that determined US policy, not any commitment to anti-colonialism or crap like that. It was the US interest.
James Petras: He’s had five minutes already. I demand equal time. He’s been giving us long lectures. If you look at US policy toward Israel, the US alienates practically the whole world in favor of a tiny country, which has practically no economic value to the United States, which is a diplomatic albatross and has its own hegemonic, military and political interests in dominating the Middle East. We go into the United Nations and we alienate the whole of Europe and the Third World when Israel destroys Jenin, when it engages in genocidal policies in the Occupied Territories, when it violates the Geneva Agreements. The US backs it and totally discredits itself before anyone seriously concerned with international law, with the niceties of international relations. I am not just talking about Moslem opinion, Arab opinion… I am talking about world opinion. Secondly, to say that the United States has overlapping interests with Israel is totally ‘off the wall’, I mean – I don’t know where Norman’s head is. The United States gets involved in countries to set up neo-colonial regimes. They are not into occupying and setting up colonial governments. They’d prefer local clients. And they had one in Lebanon – with the President (Fouad) Sinoria – who was receiving US backing when Israel attacks Lebanon, presumably to attack Hezbollah – but totally undermines the US puppet. Is that in US interests?
Norman Finkelstein: Yes.
James Petras: And when you talk about the fact that Israel is taking measures, overlapping with US policy-makers, you are overlooking the fact that most of the US generals were opposed to the war in Iraq and the Israeli agents in the United States, and that’s what they are and they should register themselves as agents of a foreign power, were attacking them (the generals) as wimps, attacking them because they wouldn’t follow the war precepts of the Zionists in the Pentagon. There is a whole string of military officials and conservative politicians who were opposed to going into Iraq. And if you look at the data …if you look at Cheney, Cheney was getting his from Irving (Scooter) Libby – another landsman, another member of the fraternity linked to Wolfowitz. He’s a protégé of Wolfowitz.
Norman Finkelstein: I think Cheney can think for himself.
James Petras: Look, if you are trying to set up a matrix of power, dealing with US policy-making in the Middle East, to simply say that this is ‘shared interests’ without looking at the fact that the Israelis blew up a US surveillance ship, killing scores of US sailors and got away with it and continue to get US economic aid and the US officers that were wounded or murdered by the Israeli warplanes, with US flags flying over the ship, and say…that’s overlapping interests. That’s chutzpah! That is really chutzpah. And it is very revealing that you went into a detailed explanation, or purported to be explanation, about the Suez, that you leave out that in 1967 the Israelis are the only country in US history that bombs a US ship and doesn’t even have to apologize – and receives no retaliation from the United States. Now that is ‘power’ for you. That’s ‘influence’ for you. And I thank to deny these realities…and say: ‘this is just overlapping interests, the Zionists have no power in the US government or if they are Zionists then they are not tied to Israel etc..’ That’s a strange kind of Zionist that doesn’t have allegiance to the state of Israel.
Hagit Borer: We have only five minutes left. I want to ask you about a couple of things that I want to cover. Maybe the most important one has to do with the fact that this debate, about the Israel Lobby in general has broken the surface into the mainstream in the last year or so. Of course, a lot of it had to do with the Mearsheimer and Walt article, and subsequently, let’s say, by the attacks on Carter’s book. There were attacks before and reviews and debates about the role of the Lobby before. But they never made it too the mainstream and they were never reviewed by, lets say, the New York Review of Books, and they were never discussed by major outlets in the United States. In fact the Mersheimer and Walt article originally was turned down for publication by the Atlantic Magazine that had commissioned it. So maybe you can comment a little bit about why this debate is finally breaking surface and why is it that it is now a much more legitimate thing to debate within American mainstream circles.
James Petras: I’ll give your three fast reasons: One, because of the disaster in Iraq, the public is open to discussion, particularly with the prominence of Zionists in bringing about the war – so I think you have public opinion open because of the discontent with the war and their concern about who got us into the war and into this mess. Second reason is that there is an inter-elite fight in the United States, between sectors of the military, sectors of the Congress, conservatives versus the pro-Israel crowd, the pro-war crowd. And the third reason is the arrogance and bullying by the Zionists, in particular, their organizations that go around trying to prevent this discussion has backfired and I think people are fed up with the Zionist banning (the play about Rachel) Corie in New York and elsewhere – so I think these are the reasons.
Hagit Borer: James, we have to move on. We have only a few minutes. We have only a minute and a half. So Norman, could you say some final words?
Norman Finkelstein: Well, I agree with the reasons…maybe I wouldn’t state them the same way as Jim does. Its clear that the debacle in Iraq forms the overall framework for the opening up of discussion. In my opinion, that’s probably not the most positive result because its going to end up with, I think, creating a ‘scapegoat’ for disastrous war by the US. I think the second reason is that the Israeli approach which seemed to have been successful since 1967, the approach of simply applying force to every break in conformity with US policy, of applying overwhelming force, plainly is not working. And so there are questions about the ‘usefulness’ of Israel’s guidance and instruction in how to control the Middle East. It has not worked in Iraq and it proved to be a disaster in Lebanon this summer (July-August 2006). So there is a question about the ‘effectiveness’ of the Israeli approach, in addition to the effectiveness of Israel itself as a ‘strategic asset’, which is very different than it was in 1967. And the third reason, it seems to me is that, Israel is becoming more and more what you might call a ‘bloated banana republic’ with scandals daily and this kind of squandering of resources and that being the case – it has alienated large sectors of American ‘liberal’ Jewish opinion.
Hagit Borer: I thank you very much, James and Norman. I think on this point of accord between you, we need to end. Thank you so very much for being here.
- AIPAC 101 – What Every American Should Know – Revisited (veteransnewsnow.com)
- Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby (Full Version) (undergrounddocumentaries.com)