By JEAN BRICMONT | December 4, 2012
Ever since the 1990s, and especially since the Kosovo war in 1999, anyone who opposes armed interventions by Western powers and NATO has to confront what may be called an anti-anti-war left (including its far left segment). In Europe, and notably in France, this anti-anti-war left is made up of the mainstream of social democracy, the Green parties and most of the radical left. The anti-anti-war left does not come out openly in favor of Western military interventions and even criticizes them at times (but usually only for their tactics or alleged motivations – the West is supporting a just cause, but clumsily and for oil or for geo-strategic reasons). But most of its energy is spent issuing “warnings” against the supposed dangerous drift of that part of the left that remains firmly opposed to such interventions. It calls upon us to show solidarity with the “victims” against “dictators who kill their own people”, and not to give in to knee-jerk anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, or anti-Zionism, and above all not to end up on the same side as the far right. After the Kosovo Albanians in 1999, we have been told that “we” must protect Afghan women, Iraqi Kurds and more recently the people of Libya and of Syria.
It cannot be denied that the anti-anti-war left has been extremely effective. The Iraq war, which was sold to the public as a fight against an imaginary threat, did indeed arouse a fleeting opposition, but there has been very little opposition on the left to interventions presented as “humanitarian”, such as the bombing of Yugoslavia to detach the province of Kosovo, the bombing of Libya to get rid of Gaddafi, or the current intervention in Syria. Any objections to the revival of imperialism or in favor of peaceful means of dealing with such conflicts have simply been brushed aside by invocations of “R2P”, the right or responsibility to protect, or the duty to come to the aid of a people in danger.
The fundamental ambiguity of the anti-anti-war left lies in the question as to who are the “we” who are supposed to intervene and protect. One might ask the Western left, social movements or human rights organizations the same question Stalin addressed to the Vatican, “How many divisions do you have?” As a matter of fact, all the conflicts in which “we” are supposed to intervene are armed conflicts. Intervening means intervening militarily and for that, one needs the appropriate military means. It is perfectly obvious that the Western left does not possess those means. It could call on European armies to intervene, instead of the United States, but they have never done so without massive support from the United States. So in reality the actual message of the anti-anti-war left is: “Please, oh Americans, make war not love!” Better still, inasmuch as since their debacle in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Americans are leery of sending in ground troops, the message amounts to nothing other than asking the U.S. Air Force to go bomb countries where human rights violations are reported to be taking place.
Of course, anyone is free to claim that human rights should henceforth be entrusted to the good will of the U.S. government, its bombers, its missile launchers and its drones. But it is important to realize that that is the concrete meaning of all those appeals for “solidarity” and “support” to rebel or secessionist movements involved in armed struggles. Those movements have no need of slogans shouted during “demonstrations of solidarity” in Brussels or in Paris, and that is not what they are asking for. They want to get heavy weapons and see their enemies bombed.
The anti-anti-war left, if it were honest, should be frank about this choice, and openly call on the United States to go bomb wherever human rights are violated; but then it should accept the consequences. In fact, the political and military class that is supposed to save the populations “massacred by their dictators” is the same one that waged the Vietnam war, that imposed sanctions and wars on Iraq, that imposes arbitrary sanctions on Cuba, Iran and any other country that meets with their disfavor, that provides massive unquestioning support to Israel, which uses every means including coups d’état to oppose social reformers in Latin America, from Arbenz to Chavez by way of Allende, Goulart and others, and which shamelessly exploits workers and resources the world over. One must be quite starry-eyed to see in that political and military class the instrument of salvation of “victims”, but that is in practice exactly what the anti-anti-war left is advocating, because, given the relationship of forces in the world, there is no other military force able to impose its will.
Of course, the U.S. government is scarcely aware of the existence of the anti-anti-war left. The United States decides whether or not to wage war according to the chances of succeeding and to their own assessment of their strategic, political and economic interests. And once a war is begun, they want to win at all costs. It makes no sense to ask them to carry out only good interventions, against genuine villains, using gentle methods that spare civilians and innocent bystanders.
For example, those who call for “saving Afghan women” are in fact calling on the United States to intervene and, among other things, bomb Afghan civilians and shoot drones at Pakistan. It makes no sense to ask them to protect but not to bomb, because armies function by shooting and bombing.
A favorite theme of the anti-anti-war left is to accuse those who reject military intervention of “supporting the dictator”, meaning the leader of the currently targeted country. The problem is that every war is justified by a massive propaganda effort which is based on demonizing the enemy, especially the enemy leader. Effectively opposing that propaganda requires contextualizing the crimes attributed to the enemy and comparing them to those of the side we are supposed to support. That task is necessary but risky; the slightest mistake will be endlessly used against us, whereas all the lies of the pro-war propaganda are soon forgotten.
Already, during the First World War, Bertrand Russell and British pacifists were accused of “supporting the enemy”. But if they denounced Allied propaganda, it was not out of love for the German Kaiser, but in the cause of peace. The anti-anti-war left loves to denounce the “double standards” of coherent pacifists who criticize the crimes of their own side more sharply than those attributed to the enemy of the moment (Milosevic, Gaddafi, Assad, and so on), but this is only the necessary result of a deliberate and legitimate choice: to counter the war propaganda of our own media and political leaders (in the West), propaganda which is based on constant demonization of the enemy under attack accompanied by idealization of the attacker.
The anti-anti-war left has no influence on American policy, but that doesn’t mean that it has no effect. Its insidious rhetoric has served to neutralize any peace or anti-war movement. It has also made it impossible for any European country to take such an independent position as France took under De Gaulle, or even Chirac, or as Sweden did with Olof Palme. Today such a position would be instantly attacked by the anti-anti-war left, which is echoed by European media, as “support to dictators”, another “Munich”, or “the crime of indifference”.
What the anti-anti-war left has managed to accomplish is to destroy the sovereignty of Europeans in regard to the United States and to eliminate any independent left position concerning war and imperialism. It has also led most of the European left to adopt positions in total contradiction with those of the Latin American left and to consider as adversaries countries such as China and Russia which seek to defend international law, as indeed they should.
When the media announce that a massacre is imminent, we hear at times that action is “urgent” to save the alleged future victims, and time cannot be lost making sure of the facts. This may be true when a building is on fire in one’s own neighborhood, but such urgency regarding other countries ignores the manipulation of information and just plain error and confusion that dominate foreign news coverage. Whatever the political crisis abroad, the instant “we must do something” reflex brushes aside serious reflection on the left as to what might be done instead of military intervention. What sort of independent investigation could be carried out to understand the causes of conflict and potential solutions? What can be the role of diplomacy? The prevailing images of immaculate rebels, dear to the left from its romanticizing of past conflicts, especially the Spanish Civil War, blocks reflection. It blocks realistic assessment of the relationship of forces as well as the causes of armed rebellion in the world today, very different from the 1930s, favorite source of the cherished legends of the Western left.
What is also remarkable is that most of the anti-anti-war left shares a general condemnation of the revolutions of the past, because they led to Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. But now that the revolutionaries are (Western backed) Islamists, we are supposed to believe that everything will turn out fine. What about “drawing the lesson from the past” that violent revolutions are not necessarily the best or the only way to achieve social change?
An alternative policy would take a 180° turn away from the one currently advocated by the anti-anti-war left. Instead of calling for more and more interventions, we should demand of our governments the strict respect for international law, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and cooperation instead of confrontation. Non-interference means not only military non-intervention. It applies also to diplomatic and economic actions: no unilateral sanctions, no threats during negotiations, and equal treatment of all States. Instead of constantly “denouncing” the leaders of countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Cuba for violating human rights, something the anti-anti-war left loves to do, we should listen to what they have to say, dialogue with them, and help our fellow citizens understand the different ways of thinking in the world, including the criticisms that other countries can make of our way of doing things. Cultivating such mutual understanding could in the long run be the best way to improve “human rights” everywhere.
This would not bring instant solutions to human rights abuses or political conflicts in countries such as Libya or Syria. But what does? The policy of interference increases tensions and militarization in the world. The countries that feel targeted by that policy, and they are numerous, defend themselves however they can. The demonization campaigns prevent peaceful relations between peoples, cultural exchanges between citizens and, indirectly, the flourishing of the very liberal ideas that the advocates of interference claim to be promoting. Once the anti-anti-war left abandoned any alternative program, it in fact gave up the possibility of having the slightest influence over world affairs. It does not in reality “help the victims” as it claims. Except for destroying all resistance here to imperialism and war, it does nothing. The only ones who are really doing anything are in fact the succeeding U.S. administrations. Counting on them to care for the well-being of the world’s peoples is an attitude of total hopelessness. This hopelessness is an aspect of the way most of the Left reacted to the “fall of communism”, by embracing the policies that were the exact opposite of those of the communists, particularly in international affairs, where opposition to imperialism and the defense of national sovereignty have increasingly been demonized as “leftovers from Stalinism”.
Interventionism and European construction are both right-wing policies. One of them is linked to the American drive for world hegemony. The other is the framework supporting neoliberal economic policies and destruction of social protection. Paradoxically, both have been largely justified by “left-wing” ideas : human rights, internationalism, anti-racism and anti-nationalism. In both cases, a left that lost its way after the fall of the Soviet bloc has grasped at salvation by clinging to a “generous, humanitarian” discourse, which totally lacks any realistic analysis of the relationship of forces in the world. With such a left, the right hardly needs any ideology of its own; it can make do with human rights.
Nevertheless, both those policies, interventionism and European construction, are today in a dead end. U.S. imperialism is faced with huge difficulties, both economic and diplomatic. Its intervention policy has managed to unite much of the world against the United States. Scarcely anyone believes any more in “another” Europe, a social Europe, and the real existing European Union (the only one possible) does not arouse much enthusiasm among working people. Of course, those failures currently benefit solely the right and the far right, only because most of the left has stopped defending peace, international law and national sovereignty, as the precondition of democracy.
 On the occasion of the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Amnesty International launched a campaign of posters calling on NATO to “keep up the progress” on behalf of women in Afghanistan, without explaining, or even raising the question as to how a military organization was supposed to accomplish such an objective.
- Noam Chomsky’s Savage UN Warmongering (economicpolicyjournal.com)
By the middle of the 19th Century, the multi-ethnic empire was on its way out as the dominant political paradigm in Europe. Replacing it was the nation-state, a political form which allowed the concentration of ethnic groups within their own political borders.
This, in turn, formed cultural and “racial” incubators for an “us (superior) vs. them (inferior)” nationalism that would underpin most of the West’s future wars. Many of these nation states were also imperial powers expanding across the globe and, of course, their state-based chauvinistic outlook went with them.
Zionism was born in this milieu of nationalism and imperialism, both of which left an indelible mark on the character and ambitions of the Israeli state. The conviction of Theodor Herzl, modern Zionism’s founding father, was that the centuries of anti-Semitism were proof positive that Europe’s Jews could not be assimilated into mainstream Western society. They could only be safe if they possessed a nation state of their own.
This conviction also reflected the European imperial sentiments of the day. The founders of modern Zionism were both Jews and Europeans, and (as such) had acquired the West’s cultural sense of superiority in relation to non-Europeans.
This sense of superiority would play an important role when a deal (the Balfour Declaration) was struck in 1917 between the World Zionist Organization and the British Government. The deal stipulated that, in exchange for Zionist support for the British war effort (World War I was in progress), the British would (assuming victory) help create a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. It was no oversight that neither side in this bargain gave much thought to the Palestinian native population.
Years later, beginning in 1945 (at the end of World War II), the British were forced to officially give up the imperial point of view. They came out of the war with a population burdened by extraordinary high war taxes.
Retaining the empire would keep those taxes high and so the British voters elected politicians who would transform the empire into a commonwealth, granting independence to just about all of Britain’s overseas territories. One of those territories was Palestine.
It is interesting to note that in other European colonies, where large numbers of Europeans resided, the era following World War II saw their eventual evacuation as power shifted over to the natives. Kenya and Algeria are examples which show that this process was hard and bloody, but it happened.
And when it did happen, the official imperial mind set was defeated. That does not mean that all Europeans (or Westerners) saw the light and ceased to be racists, but that their governments eventually saw the necessity to stop acting that way.
Unfortunately, in the case of Palestine, this process of de-colonization never occurred. In this case the European colonists did not want the imperial mother country to stay and protect them. They wanted them out so they could set up shop on their own. They got their chance after the British evacuated in 1947.
Soon thereafter, the Zionists began executing a prepared plan to conquer the “Holy Land” and chase away or subjugate the native population. And what of that imperial point of view which saw the European as superior and the native as inferior? This became institutionalized in the practices of the new Israeli state.
That made Israel one of the very few (the other being apartheid South Africa) self-identified “Western” nation states to continue to implement old-style imperial policies: they discriminated against the Palestinian population in every way imaginable, pushed them into enclosed areas of concentration and sought to control their lives in great detail.
If one wants to know what this meant for the evolving character of Israel’s citizenry who now would live out the colonial drama as an imperial power in their own right, one might take a look at a book by Sven Lindqvist entitled Exterminate All The Brutes (New Press 1996). This work convincingly shows that lording it over often resisting native peoples, debasing and humiliating them, regularly killing or otherwise punishing them when they protest, leads the colonials to develop genocidal yearnings.
There is evidence that the Zionists who created and now sustain Israel suffer from this process. For a long time Israeli government officials tried genocide via a thought experiment. They went about asserting that the Palestinians did not exist.
The most famous case of this was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who on June 15, 1969, claimed that “there were no such thing as Palestinians. … They do not exist.” One of the reasons she gave for this opinion was that the Arabs of Palestine never had their own nation state.
Others took a different approach by denying not so much the existence of Palestinians, but rather their humanity. At various times and in various contexts, usually in response to acts of resistance against occupation, Israeli leaders have referred to the Palestinians as “beasts walking on two legs” (Menachem Begin); “grasshoppers” (Yitzhaq Shamir); “crocodiles” (Ehud Barak); and “cockroaches” (Rafael Eitan).
Of course, these sentiments were not confined to the Israeli leadership. They soon pervaded most of the Zionist population because the old imperial superiority-inferiority propaganda had become a core element of their basic education. The Israelis have taught their children the imperial point of view, augmented it with biased media reporting, labeled the inevitable resistance offered by the Palestinians as anti-Semitism and took it as proof of the need to suppress and control this population of “Others.”
And, from the Zionist standpoint, this entire process has worked remarkably well. Today all but a handful of Israeli Jews dislike and fear the people they conquered and displaced. They wish they would go away. And, when their resistance gets just a bit too much to bear, they are now quite willing to see them put out of the way.
Thus, during the latest round of resistance rocket fire from Gaza and the vengeful killing that came from the Israeli side, we heard the following: “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water” (Eli Yishai, present Deputy Prime Minister); “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. … We need to flatten entire neighborhoods … flatten all of Gaza” (journalist Gilad Sharon in the Jerusalem Post); “There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down … kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.” (Michael Ben-Ari, member of the Knesset); Gaza should be “bombed so hard the population has to flee into Egypt” (Israel Katz, present Minister of Transportation); Gaza should be “wiped clean with bombs” (Avi Dichter, present Minister of Home Front Defense); Israeli soldiers must “learn from the Syrians how to slaughter the enemy” (prominent Israeli Rabbi Yaakov Yosef).
Finally, there were the numerous, spontaneous demonstrations of ordinary Israeli citizens, both in the north and south of the country, where could be heard chants and shouts such as “They don’t deserve to live. They need to die. May your children die. Kick out all the Arabs.”
If it wasn’t for the fact that the outside world was watching, there can be little doubt that the famed Israeli armed forces would have been tempted to do all that these ministers, clerics and citizens wished. After Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a cease-fire, a group of Israeli soldiers showed their frustration by using their bodies to spell out (in Hebrew) the words “Bibi Loser” (Bibi is a nickname for Netanyahu).
It was a pre-arranged photo-op and the picture can now easily be found on the Web. What seems to really irk the Israeli citizenry is not that Bibi killed and maimed too many innocent Palestinian civilians, but rather that he did not kill and maim enough of them to grant Israelis “safety and security.”
Throughout history it has been standard operating procedure to demonize those you fight and demote to inferior status those you conquer. But as Lindqvist’s work shows, there was something different about the way Europeans went about this business. The deeply racist outlook that underlay modern imperialism made it particularly perverse.
Now that apartheid South Africa is no more, the Israelis are the last surviving heirs to that dreadful heritage. So much for a “light unto the nations.” That proposition has quite failed. Wherever the Israelis and their Zionist cohorts are leading us, it is not into the light, it is to someplace very very dark.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.
- Disturbing Quotes From Leading Zionists (dogmaandgeopolitics.wordpress.com)
The downing of a Turkish jet by the Syrian military last week was not merely a military incident making the possibility of an intervention and regional war much more likely. This episode was the most recent in a long and storied history of “international incidents” or provocations used by imperial powers as pretexts for military aggression. Without such incidents, the forces of imperialism are seen as nothing more than aggressors, out to destroy weaker nations in their own interests. However, with the necessary justifications that such episodes provide, those same powers can portray their wars as justified, necessary, and wholly righteous.
This event last week was only the latest in a series of provocations specifically designed to justify a military intervention. However, as the façade of the Houla “massacre”, the use of children as human shields, and the countless other lies propagated by the Western media have been debunked or otherwise exposed, the Western imperialist ruling class looks for a new incident to legitimize their plan for total war on Syria.
Just the Facts
On June 21st, a Turkish jet was shot down by Syrian military forces. Initially, the Western media rushed to portray this incident as a blatantly aggressive action by Assad and his military, hoping to play off their many months of propagandizing the public into believing Assad to be the devil incarnate. Vigorous condemnations were heard from all corners of the Western ruling establishment, as the world seemed to move closer to another so-called intervention. However, as the episode unfolded, the media had to backtrack and, as usual, reversed their initial story without a fraction of the fanfare that the initial lie had. They had to admit publicly that, in fact, the Turkish jet had violated Syrian airspace and so, according to international law, Syria was well within their rights to shoot it down. This fact gets lost in the narrative however, as the world looks to NATO, the military arm of US power projection around the world, to “act decisively”.
This episode is merely the latest attempt by the imperialist establishment to drum up support for some form of military intervention by portraying the Assad regime as bloodthirsty monsters. Last month, we saw the world recoil in horror at the brutality of what came to be known as the Houla “massacre”. However, as the United States, France, and the other Western powers attempted to spin the event as a brutal example of why they must wage war on Syria, the truth came out that, in fact, the victims of the massacre were not killed by government shelling, but by close range execution attributable to the NATO-sponsored death squads unleashed on the people of Syria.
Like the Houla massacre, the outrageous claim that the Syrian military was using children as human shields was designed to play on the emotions of the international community in hopes of eliciting a swift response and creating a climate conducive to war. Naturally, no evidence exists to back up this claim other than a dubious UN report based on so-called “activists” and “eyewitnesses”. The Western propagandists are less interested in being able to support these claims than simply making them and implanting them into the public consciousness.
The Historical Precedent
These sorts of manufactured provocations are nothing new. There is a rich historical record of such incidents being manipulated, distorted, or entirely fabricated in order to create a pretext for war. One of the most famous examples of what has come to be known as the “false flag” phenomenon is the Gleiwitz incident. Nazi operatives dressed as Polish soldiers attacked a German radio station and then claimed that this was the work of Polish saboteurs. The Nazis even went so far as to import bodies and stage an entire scene which could then be offered up to the press as “evidence” of the assault. Naturally, the incident was used as the direct pretext for the Nazi invasion of Poland and the official start of World War II.
A similar international false flag event, today known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, led to the official start of the Vietnam War. The claim was that the North Vietnamese had deliberately fired on two separate US naval vessels and that this, as an act of war, justified the US officially entering the war. Of course, these incidents have since been totally debunked by declassified documents that show, even at the time, lawmakers were skeptical of the claims. However, this episode illustrates the power of manufactured provocations to shape the course of foreign policy and the waging of war.
Perhaps no so-called “international incident” demonstrates more plainly the power of the media to influence public opinion and provide the necessary pretext for war than the sinking of the USS Maine. This event, which was manufactured by William Randolph Hearst and the US establishment in order to justify imperial aggression against Cuba, demonstrates the role of the media in making the case for war. In the lead-up to the sinking of the Maine, Hearst’s and other papers published wild stories of Spanish atrocities all throughout Cuba, the sorts of atrocities that required intervention. Naturally, the Maine incident provided the cover and the US entered into what came to be known as the Spanish-American War. More importantly, however, today’s observers should note that this moment in history is perhaps the official beginning of US imperialism (treatment of the indigenous Native population on the continent notwithstanding).
What To Do?
What makes this issue of false flag events and “international incidents” relevant is the fact that the imperialist ruling class will manufacture as many of these sorts of episodes as is necessary for their wars. Because of this, it is incumbent on the forces standing in opposition to such aggression to uphold the principles of international law and justice. Syria was well within their rights to shoot down a foreign jet operating within their airspace, just as the US military would be within its rights to shoot down a Mexican warplane within US airspace.
However, this episode is far larger than simply international law. Indeed, it strikes at the heart of the concept of the nation-state. It demonstrates first, the power of the nation, with its leaders, citizens, and institutions to resist the forces of imperialism. Conversely, it shows the existential need of the imperialist ruling class to destroy strong, independent nations that refuse to be enslaved by the forces of finance capital and imperial economic domination. Syria is the frontline of the struggle against these forces, and those who believe themselves to be anti-imperialists must unite to denounce provocations, pretexts, and legitimizations manufactured by the imperialist ruling class and preempt all their attempts to drive the world ever closer to total war.
- Syrian government denies involvement in Houla massacre (alethonews.wordpress.com)