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Friday, 25 November 2011

Military Industrial Complex and the Obama Administration

The military industrial complex is alive and well in the United States despite the deepest economic-financial crisis since the 1930s and unemployment levels topping 9%. And any threat from any quarter to the bloated military budget - which stands at $903 billion in 2011 - is dismissed by scare tactics of huge potential job losses - and of leaving the USA vulnerable to its enemies (without specifying who these enemies might be, given that the US spends vastly more on military hardware than practically the rest of the world put together). By using these arguments, the Obama administration merely shows how deeply embedded it remains in the militarised economy, culture and mindsets of the US foreign policy establishment. And that its attempts at solving the problem of unemployment do not include job-creating investment in education or other socially useful aspects of the domestic economy or society.

Interestingly, there are even voices on the Right, such as Republican hopeful Ron Paul, calling for deep cuts in military spending. Lawrence Korb, former Reagan adminstration appointee, also calls for the reallocation of parts of the huge military budget to domestic projects. Despite this, the 'centrist' Obama continues to pursue a militarist spending programme.

Obama claims that defense cuts will lead to massive job losses, raising a key question: where are the Obama administration's figures about the alleged effects of 'drastic' military spending cuts coming from? From research paid for by the Aerospace Industries Association, Inc, a lobbying organisation at the heart of America's military industries, citing figures generated at George Mason University, a university that comes closest to being a part of the 'conservative establishment'. And they paint a bleak picture of the future should the (very unlikely) military budget cuts transpire.

Yet, currently, the US military budget consumes 25% of the annual federal budget, representing the single largest item of government expenditure. While the health budget costs $882 billion, education comprises a mere $129 billion this year. On the other hand, interest on government debt eats up over $230 billion.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama administration has increased military spending in each year of its term of office - from almost $800 billion in 2009 to $847 billion in 2010 ( is a brilliant website for such matters). On the other hand, the gung-ho George W. Bush administration spent a 'mere' $730 billion and $650 billion during its last two years in office.

Despite the shrill warnings from the Obama administration and its arms industry allies, Lawrence Korb, former Reagan era assistant defence secretary, argues that a cut to the military budget of $1 billion would do wonders for domestic unemployment levels: "Applying $1 billion to domestic spending priorities would create far more jobs than the same $1 billion spent on the military, according to a 2009 analysis by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett Peltier, economists at the University of Massachusetts". He argues further that "spending on educational services creates almost three times as many jobs as military spending, and health care creates almost twice as many." (Read more:

Korb goes onto to debunk all AIA's, and the Obama administration's, claims of the impact of military budget cuts: he shows that potential job losses would likely stand at 600,000 not one million. But even more significantly, he exposes the AIA's alleged concerns for Americans' jobs:

Korb shows that in 2004 Congress tried to insert a clause into the National Defense Authorization Act that would have increased the percentage of US-made components of Defense Department purchases to 65 percent of the product, rather than the current 50 percent.

Korb declares that the proposal, which was supported by many small manufacturing companies and unions because it would create jobs in the U.S., "was vehemently opposed by AIA. Why? Because it would cut its members’ profits and make it harder to sell their wares around the world (The U.S. is the global leader in arms sales).

"As a result of AIA’s efforts, the 'buy American' provision, which would have increased employment in the U.S., was dropped. It is clear that the AIA study’s real purpose was to protect not U.S. workers but the group’s profits, which have exploded over the past decade, as spending on modernization doubled in real terms. Moreover, AIA fails to mention that, in the past decade, as a result of the industry’s own business practices, the Defense Department spent $50 billion on weapons that were canceled. Cost overruns of weapons exceeded $300 billion.

"Reducing the defense budget by as much as $1 trillion over the next decade will reduce defense spending in real terms to its fiscal year 2007 level. But it will still keep it above what we spent on average during the Cold War.

That $1 trillion, he argues, "could be used to create at least 2 million new jobs — to replace the 600,000 that could be lost."

Korb is no radical. He's a centrist at best, and the centre has shifted to the right in recent years.

In the Financial Times (23.11.11), Korb is quoted to the effect that US military spending had increased for 13 consecutive years up to 2011, and currently stands 50% higher in real terms than in 2001.

Obama's words about cutting unemployent are as hollow as those of the Aerospace Industries Association. He is the commander-in-chief of the world's sole superpower: and that demands, with his full support, continued massive trillion dollar military budgets. Running a global empire demands nothing less.

President brought needed sobriety to defense debate

By Marion C. Blakey, president 
and CEO of Aerospace Industries 
Association - 07/19/11 04:44 PM ET

President Obama did more Friday than effectively rule out trillion-dollar defense cuts (“Obama lays down new marker in Defense spending debate,” July 15). He also brought a needed dose of sobriety to the debate, reminding those calling to slash defense during wartime that any cuts must be “consistent with our defense needs and our security needs.”

For months, extreme figures on both the left and right have called for severe cuts that would undermine our dominance in the skies and gut our industrial base and research capabilities for decades.

Almost $200 billion in defense spending has already been placed on the chopping block, a remarkable figure for a nation fighting two wars as well as flying thousands of sorties a month over Libya. Those calling for indiscriminate additional cuts need to explain specifically how such cuts won’t cost jobs or compromise our national security.

The U.S. is second to none in aerospace and defense today. Budget proposals that fail to spell out how we maintain that second-to-none status are not proposals at all, but mere rhetorical posturing. And the abstract calls of some for hundreds of billions in additional cuts don’t seem very sober at all.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Obama Restores Gunboat Diplomacy, Imperial Power

At a round table discussion a few years back at Durham University, some of us discussed whether the-then President George W. Bush would order the bombing of Iran, such was the hubris of his administration despite setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week, it is revealed that there are contingency plans for Anglo-American military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities (The Guardian, 3.11.11). These come off the back of the general celebration over the great victory in Libya - 'great' because Gaddafi has been overthrown, casualties were "few" (some estimates number well over 10,000), "democratic" forces are now in charge (the Libya Islamic Fighting Group might beg to differ), and an era of peace and prosperity beckons (as lucrative oil and gas contracts and arms deals get signed). A great enemy - a "mad dog" - has been slain, and Obama and his supporters bask in the glory. There is an echo - a fearful, more anxious one but an echo nonetheless - of the great celebrations that followed the collapse of the great enemy in 1989-91 - the Soviet Union.

In the wake of the Soviet meltdown, it was Francis Fukuyama who led the chorus and set the tone for the festivities. Nothing less than 'history' itself, he claimed, had come to an end: liberal democratic capitalism had triumphed - there were no more fundamental problems to be solved. Even so, Fukuyama warned that there would be negative consequences for mankind, i.e., the West: great problems brought to the fore "men with chests" who took on the great struggles and helped resolve contradictions and drove history forward. Along with "history", he argued, "we" would live to lament the loss of history's heroes.

Fukuyama was dismissed by many as a deluded neoconservative extremist. Indeed, his ilk in the George HW Bush administration were labelled "the crazies" - they were that far from the realist and pragmatic Bush-Baker team in the White House.

Today's celebrations are led by Walter Russell Mead in the pages of Foreign Policy, the magazine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (a 'peace' organisation that supported American entry into World War I). This is instructive as to how far the ideas of the "crazies" of the early 1990s occupy the centre ground of US foreign policy politics today.

Mead sits at the heart of the US foreign policy establishment - Groton, Yale, Harvard, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, the Democratic party, and supporter of the 2003 war of aggression on Iraq - these elite institutions are his past, present and future. His books are reviewed in all the right places. He is described as a centrist liberal-conservative which, today, means he cannot be counted among the "crazies" but is "mainstream".

What does he say about Libya? Well, he invents a new name for Gaddafi - the "Great Loon" - and proceeds to remind us of the way his "lifeless body" was kicked around Sirte, and how the former dictator's allies "are huddled in their homes" fearing retribution from the people Gaddafi "tortured, murdeed and dispossessed" (is Tony Blair really that worried?).

"History", Mead announces, "will not shed any tears over the Loon" - he was the "worst type of ruler". Was Gaddafi worse than any key US allies, like Duarte in El Salvador, or Somoza in Nicaragua? Did Gaddafi kill as many people as were killed on the orders of US presidents in Vietnam or Korea or Cambodia? Did he kill more people than did Suharto in Indonesia? Did not the US use Gaddafi's torture and rendition services when it suited them? This is not to defend Gaddafi's rule - it is to point up the one-eyed analysis of US foreign policy 'centrists' for whom official enemies may be denounced as satanic devils, usually without recourse to comparative evidence.

Gaddafi, we're informed, was worthy of support only by fellow "thugs" Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez - conveniently forgetting that law-breakers like Bush and Blair and Obama welcomed and supported Gaddafi after 2003.

The "Great Loon" wrecked his country - which actually had a higher standard of living than its neighbours along with other strong social indicators in education, health, longevity etc..: again, facts cannot be permitted to stand in the way of a good story of enemy evil and American purity.

After all this, the reader will be surprised to read that Mead declares his sadness at the manner of Gaddafi's demise; but his humiliation, like Saddam's, was "deserved": indeed, Mead declares that he "can think of a list of other vain, vicious and delusional tyrants who deserve the same fate" - this quest he calls "universal justice". So much for championing the rule of law and humanitarian values.

And for bombing Libya from high above the clouds, Mead praises the "brave Americans" who helped bring Gaddafi down: how brave is it to bomb with little threat of effective retaliatory action from ground forces?

And that is the most significant import of Mead's article - that the Victory in Libya has restored the balance of power in favour of the West/America to 19th century levels. Bush's freedom agenda, he says, is alive and well, and the US remains a "revolutionary power" in the Middle east, that wants to overturn the "status quo" (excepting Saudi Arabia, he argues, but omitting mention of Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, not to mention Israel).

"The US has considerably more power to impose its agenda on most 'third world' countries than it did twenty years ago," Mead notes. There is no alternative superpower to protect them, and the US military is today "the most effective force in the history of the human race... America's unprecedented military power has changed the way the world works."

The US "swatted" Saddam's forces (twice), while Libya was dealt "with the back of our hand".

"We are back to the kind of military superiority that European forces enjoyed over non-European rulers in Victorian times... Drone strike diplomacy is not all that different from gunboat diplomacy.."

It is ironic that it should be Barack Obama - a Kenyan-American - at the helm while a colonial balance of power is restored.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Red Poppy Obscures history and state responsibility

As we approach 11 November 2011, and the red poppy once again appears on lapels, Richard Jackson reminds us of what the red poppy symbolises - militarism, unthinking patriotism, a second tax on citizens to make up for the state's refusal to pay the full costs of war, and the forgetting of civilian casualties of war. He urges we wear a white poppy instead which emphasises the need to make peace the cenral value of our society.

Why I wear the White Poppy, not the Red Poppy

I would wear a red poppy if it was a symbol of remembrance for all the victims of war, and not just the ones who did the killing. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims: the heroic soldier who is worthy of respect and official commemoration, and the unworthy, unnamed civilians killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains unacknowledged and unremembered. This validation of those who wage war and the moral hierarchy of victims is a central part of the cultural architecture which upholds the continuing institution of war in our society. It is a central part of what makes war possible. When the red poppy comes to be associated with an honest public acknowledgement of all the people killed by our soldiers, enemy soldiers and civilians alike; when it symbolizes our sorrow and regret for all the victims of war, not just a chosen few; then I would consider wearing a red poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if it did not function to hide the truth and obscure reality – if it wasn’t a way of enforcing a particular kind of collective memory which is actually designed to forget uncomfortable realities; if it wasn’t intimately tied up with a whole series of myths and untruths about heroic sacrifice and necessary violence in war. The truth is that war is cruel, bloody, and inglorious, and that the soldiers we remember are there to kill and maim fellow human beings, and to die screaming for their mothers. The truth is that when we send soldiers to kill others, we consign those who survive to mental and moral injury; a huge proportion of them will attempt suicide in one way or another after they return home. The truth is that many of our wars are nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or democracy; they are often illegal, pointless, or predatory. When the red poppy is associated with an honest debate on the reality and morality of our wars; when it acknowledges the truth about the horror of war and its often pointless slaughter of our best and brightest; then I would consider wearing a red poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if its fund-raising and symbolism had the true interests of the military personnel it purports to support at heart. The fact is that the best interests of every military person would be to never have to kill or face death or mutilation ever again, and certainly not for the squalid purposes most often dreamed up by our venal and vainglorious politicians. The funds raised by the red poppy should be used to work for the end of all war, not to make up for the short-coming in state support for military personnel or to prepare the nation for the further slaughter of our fellow citizens in future wars.

I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t a way for the state to offset the costs of war so that it can engage in ever more military adventures. In truth, the state sends the nation’s young people to war and then refuses to spend the necessary money on supporting them when they return home. Buying a red poppy is in effect a second tax for funding war, as it allows the state to spend the money it should have spent on rehabilitation on buying new weapons and training new soldiers. Instead of buying a red poppy, we should demand that the state pay the full support and rehabilitation of all soldiers who need it out of the taxes we have already paid to the military. If this means that there is not enough money for the next military adventure because we are taking care of the last war’s victims, then this is how it should be. It should not be easy for governments to take the decision to go to war; they must pay the full cost. If the red poppy came to symbolize a challenge to government to properly care for service personnel; if it was a means to really question the decision to go to war, instead of implicitly supporting every war regardless of its morality; I would consider wearing a red poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t used socially to enforce an unthinking patriotism, and to punish and discipline those who would question the morality of war or the values of militarism. Those who fervently promote the red poppy often assert that the soldiers we remember fought for our freedom, but this does not include the freedom to question military values or public displays of violent patriotism. Anyone should be allowed to refuse to wear a red poppy in public on the basis of conscience without being questioned or looked down upon, or even to wear a different coloured poppy.

I would wear a red poppy if it wasn’t part of a broader militarism in our society which makes war more likely, rather than less; if it wasn’t bound up with national narratives of heroism and the legitimacy and rightness of military force; and if it wasn’t implicitly supportive of military values. If the red poppy came to symbolize opposition to war and support for peaceful values; I would consider wearing it.

I wear the White Poppy because it is an unambiguous commitment to peace, the end of all war and opposition to militarism. The Red Poppy may have once been part of a commemorative culture shortly after the First World War that was aimed at working towards ensuring that no one ever had to experience the horrors of war again; but this meaning has long since vanished, replaced instead by an insidious military patriotism. The White Poppy is now the main symbol of a commitment to remember all the victims of war, to tell the truth about war, to work to ensure that no soldier ever has to suffer its horrors again, and to make peace the central value of our culture, instead of militarism.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Libya Expose Obama's Contradictions

Libya's contradictions are real enough and devastating in their consequences. But a couple of points missed by most commentators are worthy of note, adding to the strange mix of motives and actions that are the principal feature of the situation in and surrounding Libya. Possessing NO weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is no guarantee of regime survival; and having a black president in the White House offers no gurantees that the incumbent will stand up for blacks' rights.

The first, and most significant point, is this: that not having, or even planning, or surrendering in full view of the "international community" (i.e., the American hegemon and its, mainly western, core allies) one's weapons of mass destruction programmes, is no guarantee that the West will not continue to nurture the desire or to attempt forcible regime change.

It will be recalled that the erstwhile dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was removed from power due to his alleged WMD stockpiles, primed for action at 45 minutes' notice, the Britain's Tony Blair regime claimed, despite all the evidence compiled by Hans Blix's UN inspection teams. There "had" to be WMD in Iraq, so they were manufactured by false intelligence reports.

It was in the wake of that blatant violation of international law and the UN charter that Libya's Colonel Gaddafi gave up on his WMD programmes and embraced, and was embraced by, the West. And, despite that, or perhaps because of that "deadly embrace", the former Libyan dictator lies buried in the middle of the desert in an unmarked grave, brought down by NATO firepower. No claim this time round of WMD programmes as an excuse for intervention - but recourse to the favoured post-1989 rationale of "humanitarian intervention", a justification that proved enough to obtain a figleaf resolution at the UN Security Council, but was revealed as precisely that when Tomahawk Cruise missiles began raining down on Gaddafi's military forces, command and control centres, and private residences. The switch from humanitarian intervention to regime change was immediate and obvious, with results now apparent to all observers.

The lessons from this for Iran and Syria are all too clear - take the "North Korean" route and develop WMD as soon as possible, because the Western 'hand of friendship' which Obama proffers is just the beginning of a new phase of intervention with a view to regime change.

It is instructive that in proffering a hand of friendship, Obama's approach is identical to that of his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Far from being a break with the past, Obama's administration has just picked up where Bush's left off, although Obama clearly delivers a better speech to justify his actions.

One issue Obama has yet to make a speech about, however, is what's been happening to thousands of black Libyans and other black people who live and work in Libya as migrant labour. For many months both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have noted the indiscriminate killing, detention and abuse of black Africans by so-called rebel forces, under the false argument that the former were mercenary fighters for Gaddafi. Despite reports from reputable sources, Obama has yet to speak up for the rights of black Africans.

This is hardly surprising: Obama has yet to speak up for the rights of black Americans. Atlantic Magazine noted some time ago that President Obama was seen by whites as a "no demands black" - a black American politician who did not demand radical change or redistribution of resources from better off whites to poor minorities.

They were right then, and they're right now as Obama exports his domestic policy. Because, even when it comes to the killing of blacks in Africa, Obama demands nothing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Liam Fox et al: Corruption in domestic and foreign policy

Liam Fox has, rightly, been lambasted for his indiscretions as Defence Secretary and resigned in shame. His 'crime' - the one for which he was punished by a relentless media campaign - was that he may have benefited financially from arms and other deals done by his corrupt friend and unofficial adviser, Adam Werrity. Well and good.

What has hardly stirred the hearts or minds of the British media or political class is all the more instructive of their moral condition at this point in the 21st century: the pummelling of Gaddafi stronghold, Sirte, in Libya at the loss of countless lives, by the NATO-backed 'rebel' National Transitional Council's troops, followed by reports from the Washington Post and Reuters of looting on a massive scale, revenge killings, and a spiraling number of refugees from the war-torn city. No talk of humanitarian interventions any longer - the original fig-leaf for the Cameron-Sarkozy-Obama war on Libya.

Nor have recent events in Egypt - army-led and inspired divide and rule violence against Coptic Christians, leaving dozens dead and injured - led to any denunciations of, or sanctions against, the US-backed military regime that is supposedly the vehicle for a transition to democracy there. The Egyption army attacked and closed TV stations that showed army violence against peaceful protestors, moving one protestor to comment: "this is not religious strife, it is state-sponsored terrorism." (The Guardian, 15.10.11).

Nor was Liam Fox unduly detained or quizzed, while Defence secretary, by the exposure that he had effectively misinformed the country and Parliament time and again about the burgeoning costs of Britain's war in Libya. According to military journalist, Francis Tusa, who has dug deeper than anyone else into the murky world of the MoD's Orwellian accounting system, the real costs of Britain's military campaign in Libya is between £850 to £1.75 billion, NOT the ca £250 million figure bandied about by Liam Fox and his official advisers, and the official opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Douglas Alexander.

When it comes to foreign wars and military interventions, money appears to be no object. Take the estimated costs of the illegal Iraq war, for example: up to March 2010, Britain spent over £9 billion on the war there. In Afghanistan, over £11 billion has been expended since 2001, with other long term costs accumulating. No talk of deep cuts for foreign adventures, despite deep cuts to domestic social programmes.

Corruption - official and unofficial - is alive and well at the very apex of the British state and national life.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Political corruption is normal politics

Millionaires control British politics

Liam Fox's resignation has highlighted a deeper corruption in British politics and national life - over and above the goverment's slavishness towards American power: when free market capitalism becomes national ideology, the so-called drivers of growth and creators of wealth - private businessmen and major corporations - move into the very heart of the state, while practically all other political and social forces are elbowed out. With government and opposition armed with free market ideology, why wouldn't every problem look like it must have a private, 'big-monied' society solution?

It is hardly news to point out that the current British government of 'liberal-conservatives' is mired in free markets and corporate wealth, with social backgrounds to match: including premier David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, The Sunday Times counted 18 millionaires in the "austerity cabinet" (Sunday Times, 23.5.10).

The government's foreign and national security policy is in the hands of a group predominantly educated at exclusive public schools and Oxbridge, with previous careers in the City of London and big business. The Sunday Times calls them the "New Establishment...a new elite... pulling the strings in Britain".

And they govern as would be expected by any semi-impartial observer - an open door policy for practically anyone in big business to saunter into the most guarded of ministries, including the Ministry of Defence. Today's Guardian (17.10.11) provides the details on an open secret - that this government is wide open for business and wide shut to practically anyone else. While private corporations were met with by ministers across Whitehall over 1000 times in the 12 months to March 2011, trade union representatives were greeted under 100 times, while charities were entertained 640 times. The message is clear - working class politics (what's left of it) is out; corporate politics, with charities to look after the social fall out, is in.

In political science's mainstream, this is known as 'pluralism' - where competing interests ensure that no one interest predominates and the political system tends towards 'balancing' interests, producing governments that preside over the 'national' interest. How precisely do ordinary working people compete with corporate power?

The putative vehicle for the politics of the oppressed has embraced the free market, with some protections, itself, since the advent of New Labour. The last government also featured several millionaires, businessmen, and had cosied up to the City since the mid-1990s, and fetishised the 'market' to such a degree that it brought the 'market' itself into disrepute.

Ironically, it was a man called (Ralph) Miliband who wrote most cogently on this question, when David (Miliband) was still wearing short trousers, and Ed was yet to be born. In his classic study, The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Miliband argued that British (and Western) political systems were dominated by big business and their supporters who also determined the character of the 'national' interest in such a way that it enshrined the interest of big business into its very heart. Consequently, political philosophies and arguments could not be brooked that failed to take into account their impact on 'business confidence' and the 'markets', international or national.

Analysing the rest of the state, Miliband argued that the civil service, military, judiciary, BBC, among others, were led by (mainly) men drawn from the same elitist social backgrounds as the political elite, further reinforcing the 'conservative' character of the British state, and acting as a brake on radical political agendas.

Labour governments in the postwar era were structurally constrained by the character of the British state as well as the generalised power of big business over economic affairs and policy, not to mention 'popular' culture and thinking. But Miliband also emphasised that the Labour party was no vehicle for revolutionary transformation but a symptom of the development of capitalist industrialism, seeking concessions from big business and some measure of social protection for workers. In the main, Labour governments managed capitalism rather than damaging or undermining it.

Furthermore, Labour leaders were hardly revolutionary, even in the nationalising phase of 1945-50: Clement Attlee was educated at Haileybury College, an elite public school established by the East India Company to train its servants for service in the empire. Attlee's foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who had headed the massive Transport and General Workers' Union since the 1920s, was authentically working class, of course, and offers an excellent example of how such individuals rise to the top of the greasy pole of British politics. He was deeply anti-communist and, like the majority of his party, an imperialist. Where the likes of Churchill openly declared Britain superior to all other races and nations and therefore justified in exploiting and dominating the colonies, Bevin et al wanted to 'develop' the 'backward' countries for the 'betterment' of their peoples. The old imperial ties and connections were maintained, despite (or because of) 'de-colonisation', along with Britain's large, but diminishing, global role.

While the benefits of a welfare state, inaugurated in 1945-50, are undoubted, it remained the case that at a fundamental level, the Labour project was at heart an ameliorative one of reforming capitalism and offering workers social protection from 1930s-style economic crises and deprivations. It did not fundamentally challenge 'market supremacy' in economic policy and the distribution of income and wealth.

Hence, we now have a situation where the government and opposition are dominated by rich and exclusively educated individuals, market-oriented in 'philosophy', and unrepresentative of the broad mass of British people. They claim to champion 'new politics' but are mired in the British aristocracy and the mindsets of the City of London. Like its American counterpart, British politics now features just one ideology - focused on free market economics and regular elections between parties that manage capitalism. There is a Centre, a Right but no Left in British politics.

When Cameron says that Britain is 'broken' he means that ordinary people are to blame for moral decline. He should look a bit closer to home - and his offices in Downing Street - to find the real heart of moral corruption in this country.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

British-American Project Needs Investigation Too

Although former British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, has been forced to resign because of his relationship with an unofficial adviser, Adam Werrity, the saga reveals another example of the numerous networks - pretty much all of them under the cover of being non-political and/or charitable - that operate to strengthen and consolidate the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States.

The Fox-Werrity Atlantic Bridge organisation was wound up earlier this year after the charities' commission ruled it had no charitable functions or benefits and seemed largely a vehicle for channeling funds in Werrity's personal direction. Yet, the political functions of the Atlantic Bridge, which unified elements of Britain's and America's aggressively interventionist establishments, should not be overlooked. Its members included William Hague, the current foreign secretary, as well as George Osborn, the chancellor of the exchequer; American members included US Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic hawk who backed the Iraq War. Its neoconservative ethos of aggressive support for military intervention is shared by PM David Cameron - as evidenced by his enthusiasm in backing military force to oust Colonel Gaddafi from office in Libya.

Yet, it is not only the extreme right in British and American 'mainstream' politics that maintains such 'charitable' networks: the British-American Project, funded by major oil and other corporations and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the subject of little public awareness or enquiry, represents a similar network on the centre-left, along lines Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would have approved. Indeed, it complemented the various schemes under which the future leaders of 'New' Labour were primed for high office, under the tutelage of the FCO's Jonathan Powell, who later went on to become Blair's chief of staff. Indeed, Powell was a member of BAP, as was David Miliband for many years.

What precisely does BAP do that is 'beneficial'? Is it not overtly political in its aims of developing and nurturing British elites to steer a path close to Washington's? Does it also benefit from tax exemptions under charities law?,

The BAP is a political project aimed at incorporating and developing rising stars in Britain - in a diverse range of fields - and ever so subtly helping them conclude that the United States - for all its faults - remains the power to which Britain's own chariot must remain hitched. The propaganda, to be sure, is subtle and needs to be - the sort of people attracted - whether Trevor Phillips of the Equalities Commission or Yasmin Alibhai Brown or Anatol Lieven, all critics of George W. Bush's adventurism - are not dupes. Yet, it is the very presence of such 'critics' that lends such weight to BAP.

Famously, Henry Kissinger ran for over 20 years a transatlantic organisation out of Harvard University for the very same ends - a bridge between Europe's emerging leaders who appeared seduced by 'neutralism' between the US and USSR and the American foreign policy establishment. It cemented relations that endure to this day. They made possible almost seamless cooperation between the foreign policies of Labour's Tony Blair and Republican George W. Bush, and the current cooperation between Democratic Obama and 'liberal-conservative' David Cameron.

The power of networks is considerable - they ensure the flow of money, people, and ideas that strengthen certain lines of thought and action while simultaneously marginalising others. Networks tend to legitimise some ideas and policies, making them 'normal' or 'conventional', beyond dispute at basic level. They tend to unify a range of people and organisations -public and private - and help develop new ideas or leaders. Being elite networks, they are by definition well connected with the media and politics and thereby gain a broader audience, skewing the 'free market of ideas' in specific directions.

The Atlantic Bridge has been exposed for its overtly political character: perhaps the British American Project should be subject to much closer investigation too?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Libya is a mass of contradictions

Libya is a mass of contradictions

However history judges the meaning of the current events in Libya, one conclusion might be hard to dismiss: that the situation there is a mish-mash of contradictions that appear to defy logic, in the conventional sense of that term. But there is at its heart of the Libya intervention what might be called imperial-political logic: my enemy's enemy is my friend (at least for now). It makes for an explosive brew, pregnant with potential for violent blowback in all directions - the western powers that led the charge, the various factions collectively known as the 'rebels' but, most of all, to the Libyan population at large in whose name, and for whose alleged protection or advancement, the west intervened.

Originally touted as a UN-authorised intervention to impose a 'no-fly zone' over Libya, the US fired dozens of million-dollar Tomahawk missiles at Gaddafi regime targets from the outset, deliberately aiming at regime change, a goal rhetorically rejected as an object of US and western policy but aimed at nonetheless. It is crystal clear that a policy claiming to protect civilians, aspects of which are contested by human rights monitoring organisations like Amnesty, by attacking Gaddafi forces instantly transformed into military belligerence on behalf of one side of the domestic conflict as NATO rained bombs from the skies through thousands of airstrikes. The legitimacy of the intervention was, and remains, in doubt. To argue that the UN gave authorisation for intervention was exposed as a sham as soon as the US and Anglo-French forces started attacking Gaddafi's infrastructure. That the Arab League, originally established with British colonial-era support, provided legitimacy was always hollow - the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and other ‘conservative’ Gulf States repress their populations and put down domestic rebellions with ruthless force, and are hardly bastions of human rights and democratic virtue. Indeed, alongside support for Western intervention in Libya, the Saudis and others were busy putting down with military force uprisings in Bahrain.

Neither UN authority nor Arab League support legitimised intervention in a civil war, particularly the kind of selective interventions that are the hallmark of imperial powers.

On the other hand, it is interesting that the 'rebels' of the National Transitional Council (NTC) are a mixed, and contradictory, bag: there are former CIA agents in the lead, some people who have yet openly to be named, as well as people who support Al Qaeda and have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan against US and western forces. The legitimacy of the NTC is pretty tenuous (The Economist, 27.8.11), while the right-wing Daily Mail (24.8.11) referred to Britain’s favoured Libyan groupings as “a rackety gang of incompetents and hoodlums”. The Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), largely based in Benghazi, Darnah and Tobruk, all in eastern Libya, supplied more suicide bombers to the 'cause' in Iraq, per capita, than did Saudi Arabia. According to a 2007 paper by West Point academics, Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, based on 600 Al Qaeda personnel files seized by US forces in Iraq, Darnah supplied one fighter in Iraq for every 1500 of its population, a higher proportion than Riyadh. It was from this area that a major Islamist-led uprising against the Gaddafi regime occurred in 1996.

Echoes of the US (and Pakistani) creation of al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union are all too clear, and the possibility of blowback from support of LIFG and affiliates appears to be downplayed. One would think that with the approach of the 10th anniversary of 9-11, the west would reflect on its past practices and learn some valuable lessons.

The goals of the US and those of LIFG are not identical once Gaddafi has been definitively deposed. The people who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and presumably will continue to do so, are unlikely to cooperate with increased western control of national resources in oil and gas, of which Libya has 46.4 billion barrels of oil reserves and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the 9th highest proven reserves in the world. They will want to create a very different type of internal regime and culture, with a very different idea of foreign policy.

A current military commander of rebel forces – Khalifa Hifter - defected from Libya in the late 1980s and lived just 5 miles from CIA HQ at Langley, Virginia. Closely associated with a CIA-funded organisation for Libya's salvation, Hifter is for all intents and purposes a CIA asset. He headed for many years a contra-style organisation called the Libyan National Army (Washington Post, 26.3.1996).

Another leading figure among rebels is Abdel Hakim Belhaj - who was renditioned, tortured and held without charge by Britain with US support, and the assent of the Gaddafi regime, for 6 years. He is currently thinking over whether to sue the British government over his maltreatment.

The 'rebels' are actually made up of dozens of factions, possibly up to 40 in total, who owe only slight loyalty to the NTC which is a largely Benghazi-based organisation, representing various tribes that predominate in that region. And, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (September/October 2011), they have engaged in murderous racial attacks on black Libyans they have erroneously declared mercenaries for Gaddafi. Tribally-based, it is not clear that the NTC has legitimacy across the country as it embarks on 'nation-building' with western support.

This national revolution contains another contradiction: it's not national, and its revolutionary credentials are contested. The 'rebels' have come to power due to NATO's military might in knocking out the bulk of Gaddafi's military forces, as well as various western special forces on the ground who coordinated the rebel armies and identified targets for airstrikes. That is a contradiction that will haunt this 'revolution' - led by Islamist militants, tribal leaders, monarchist exiles, and former Gaddafi regime high officials. They have already promised lucrative contracts to rebuild Libya's rich and ‘sweet’ oil fields and refineries, and its infrastructure. Every western country - as are Russia and China - is lining up to reap the fruits of their state's military investments. As the Daily Telegraph reported (23.8.11), Britain is determinedly seeking to “recover commercially some measure of [its]… significant diplomatic and military investment.” Gaddafi - according to many reports - including US embassy cables released by Wikileaks - was increasingly engaging in "resource nationalism" against foreign, mainly western, oil companies, demanding more and more nationalist concessions, and possibly expulsion of non-compliant foreign corporations.

The declarations from practically all parts of the political spectrum that Libya was a humanitarian intervention may be deafening but they are nonetheless problematic. Libya is an imperial intervention, a colonial intervention that has not only secured control of scarce energy resources - a key force in the west's increasingly fraught contest with rising powers in the east - but also placed in virtual power a far more compliant regime in Tripoli. Libya has also placed the west back in the ‘good’ books of broad swathes of Arab opinion, for now at least.

In Tony Blair's memoir - A Journey (2010)- he reflects on the history of foreign interventions in Afghanistan, claiming that he knew all that there was to know about the unhappy fate that has met every foreign occupier there. Yet, Blair fully supported an invasion and occupation of that tragic country. 10 years later, the bloodbath continues there.

Imperial leaders believe that they can overcome, despite history. They cannot help themselves. It is the very essence of their imperial mentality that they know best, that they will prevail. To achieve short term objectives, they side with all manner of 'allies' - empowering all sorts of people whose longer term goals are very different.

Therein lies the fatal flaw in imperial-political logic.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Military schools miss the target

The Cameron Government is encouraging the formation of a 'free school' in Manchester (the Phoenix school) - funded by the state - that is to be run entirely by former soldiers. According to The Sunday Times (4.9.11), the new school is to operate a "zero tolerance" approach to indiscipline, the malady the government most obviously identified as the principal cause of the riots across England's cities in August 2011.

This announcement, first made public in The Guardian (2.9.11), comes hot on the heels of a declaration that the American "zero tolerance" policing champion, William Bratton, was to be considered for the post of Commissioner at London's Metropolitan Police because of his record in tackling gang culture in New York and Los Angeles; in the wake of a proposed Sandhurst-style police training college to create an officer class, packed with former soldiers and intelligence officials, among police that would be a precursor to an American-style FBI; and amid calls for the return of 'national service'.

The above indicate worrying levels of militarism and coercion in national life, the insertion of "martial values" ever deeper into the social and psychological fabric of British society. Britain is at war in two theatres - Libya and Afghanistan - and also leading the EU's efforts at sanctions against Syria. Pro-military charities are evident in schools, nurseries and communities, military personnel appear on a range of television programmes.

The latest announcement, however, would institutionalise martial culture in the very curriculum of a state-funded school. Commented the Phoenix school's likely headteacher, Captain Affan Burki: "All the old rememdies for poverty, underachievement and alienation have been tested to destruction. The consequences were starkly before us on the streets of Tottenham and Croydon."

According to Burki, echoing the government's thoughts about broad and deep moral decay as a source of the English riots, "...before we put troops on the streets we should consider putting them in our schools".

What will troops do in the schools? Despite claims that there would be no parade ground humiliation rituals for wayward behaviour, it is instructive that schools' secretary, Michael Gove, has recently scrapped the requirement for teachers to record every instance of corporal punishment, opening the door to harsher disciplinary regimes. In language all too familiar in an imperial culture, Gove aims, thereby, to restore "civilised " behaviour among "a vicious, lawless, immoral minority". It's the language used by many before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only now it's being deployed at home.

What's wrong with that? Surely, there must be discipline? Of course, but the problem with the series of proposals and plans discussed above is that they suggest that the solution to Britain's problems of crime and disorder lie almost entirely in better behaviour among the children of the poor. And that solving the behavioural problem will generate youth capable of taking advantage of what opportunities there might be in terms of education and work. Herein lies the major flaw.

The vast majority of rioting youth arrested and prosecuted after the riots are from very poor neighbourhoods which have lost jobs at a faster rate than the rest of the country. Over 40% of defendants live in the top 10% of the most deprived places in the country, according to Liverpool University's Alex Singleton. The Institute of Public Policy Research argues that defendants come from areas of "stubbornly high" child poverty rates and low educational attainment.

The youth and community budgets in those areas are earmarked for deep cuts, as are other public services on which those communities in particular depend. Rates of unemployment in poor areas are 3-4 times the national average. In that context, morality and behaviour are marginal as causes of alienation: it is the very physical, economic and social fabric of stability, legitimate opportunity and progress that is missing, allowing little or no room for ambition, initiative and endeavour.

Getting school children to listen more to their military mentors won't change that.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Is All Violence Unjustified?

Richard Jackson posted aan article on his blog recently - an excellent post – raising a number of very interesting issues (see below). Basically, violence of any kind and under any circumstances, he argues, is unjustified. I raise a number of issues with this view

Is violence never justified? How about in self-defence and in a proportionate degree and manner? Surely, if one of the victims of the Anders Brevik had picked up a gun, if available, or a stick and hit him with to prevent him from doing even more killing, that cannot be classified as equivalent to what Brevik was doing – an unjustifiable violent aggression against unarmed civilians? On a larger canvas, is violence such as used by the ANC to resist apartheid unjustified and the ‘same’ as the violnce of the apartheid state?

And, on non-violence: can it not be argued that the political strategies of the two major exemplars of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, jr., required state or other violence in order for the non-violent to make their moral case?

I won’t even mention what anyone opposed to nazi aggression in the 1930s and WWII was supposed to do to overcome that particular foe?

I guess my point is that ‘violence’ needs to be seen in context – why is it being carried out, to what end and purpose, whether defensive or offensive, rather than being condemned as negative, regardless of the circumstances.

Understanding the Oslo Attacks: “It’s the Violence, Stupid!”

It is very doubtful that Anders Breivik is insane; terrorists very rarely are, because they would not be able to effectively carry out their attacks if they were prone to anxiety, doubt, depression, mania or mental instability. If we want to understand why he chose to commit these horrible acts, we need to look closer to home and consider the central role of violence in our culture, in particular, the almost universally accepted and commonsense idea that violence can sometimes be the right thing to do – that violence can be an effective and legitimate tool to bring about positive political change. It was this widely-shared belief that Anders Breivik was acting on; it is the same belief that our leaders act on when they bomb and invade other countries to try and bring about democracy. It is, in fact, the same belief that drives all forms of political violence, from terrorism to war, humanitarian intervention and capital punishment.

In other words, it is a simplification and a distraction to assume that it was his extremist right-wing ideas or his desire to rid Europe of Muslims that made Anders Breivik commit mass murder in Norway last week. After all, there are probably millions of people across Europe who hold to very similar beliefs without ever considering going out and slaughtering children. These ideological beliefs were merely the justification he used to rationalize his decision to use violence, and the way he strengthened his resolve to act. All violent actors use ideological justifications to justify using extreme violence, such as when politicians claim they have to bomb a country in order to bring about democracy or create greater security. This is a reason for the violence, not its cause.

The fact is: extremist ideology or particular political creeds do not cause violence in the sense commonly meant, nor is violence the direct consequence of any particular set of beliefs. Violence has been committed by, and continues to be committed by, all belief systems and ideologies: fascists, nationalists, communists, socialists, democrats, patriots, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and even humanitarians. People from all these faiths and creeds regularly commit, and almost universally support, certain forms of political violence. At the same time, the fact is that most people who hold to a particular belief system or ideology chose not to use violence and instead to pursue their goals non-violently – although most do support forms of military violence.

The real problem is not ideology or belief therefore, it is violence and the decision to use it. It is the almost universally accepted idea that violence can be an effective and legitimate way to achieve a good political goal, whether it is ending an occupation, ridding the world of a dictator, eliminating a threat to one’s way of life, stopping human rights abuses or resolving conflict. The real problem is the widely accepted belief that killing and injuring thousands of fellow human beings may be a way to do something positive in the world – the idea that violence can be good if it is done in the right way by the right people.

This idea is embedded in our culture and our politics. We give children toy weapons and violent video games to play with, and teach them to kill the ‘bad guys’ for hours at a time. We watch ‘good people’ – cops, vigilantes, soldiers, spies – killing all the ‘bad people’ on television and movies a thousand times a day. We consume violence in comics, novels, songs, cartoons, plays, and a thousand other cultural artifacts without question. Our societies maintain powerful militaries which are almost universally supported and valorized as heroic and necessary. We commemorate and celebrate military victories and military sacrifice in the name of freedom and democracy through regularly held national ceremonies, and in the statues and plaques which adorn every town and church. We have entire economic industries which research and make new weapons by the ton, which we then export all over the globe until you can buy an automatic weapon for a few dollars almost anywhere in the world. And our politicians launch wars and military interventions regularly and without significant opposition to solve their political conflicts or to try and bring about the political goals they want to achieve.

The fact is that we live in a culture of violence, and most of us accept and celebrate violence and agree that violence can often be the right thing to do. The hard truth is that as a society, we love violence; we are addicted to it, especially as entertainment or jobs. Anders Breivik loved it too, as photos showing him holding weapons and dressing up in military style gear reveals. We may try to maintain a separation between ‘good’ kinds of violence and ‘bad’ kinds of violence, but violence is always unjust and bad to its victims: a child killed by a NATO bomb is just as dead and her parents suffer equally to the child killed in the name of a Muslim-free Christian Europe. We may try and devise ways to control when violence is used, who it is used by and how much violence may be applied, but such justifications – just war theories – have failed to control or limit violence for thousands of years. The fact is that we live in the most war-like, aggressive and violent period in human history; within our lifetime, our societies have killed hundreds of millions of people in hundreds of the most vicious and deadly wars in history, and there are dozens of violent conflicts going on right now.

The only possibility for really ending violence and stopping people from using it is to de-legitimise it completely – to make it as abhorrent as slavery and racism now are. If we want some people to stop using violence, we must all stop using it. To do this, we will have to face up to our deep love affair with and acceptance of violence, and try much harder to change our violent culture and our violent politics. We will have to take the philosophy and values of non-violence seriously.

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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

British Militarism Marches On

It's not enough that retired colonels in hotel lobbies drone on about their military campaigns and kill ratios; the Conservative government's latest wheeze is to recycle former senior military and intelligence officers into an "officer class" of Britain's police forces. Plans are being floated of a Sandhurst-style police training facility to improve the quality of policing, as well as to develop a US-style FBI, a national police force.

In truth, this has been on the cards: British police increasingly resemble soldiers in terms of their uniforms, equipment, helmets, vehicles. It is staggering to think that back in 1981, when youth riots and uprisings hit Britain, police were reduced to using dustbin lids for protection. It was shortly after that that Margaret Thatcher's "stop youth in their tracks" policies really took hold, and we saw the appointment of a Metropolitan police commissioner, Newman, with experience of policing the north of Ireland. One assumes that the Cameron government is preparing the Eton Rifles for service against British people squeezed out of their jobs and pensions and benefits.

But the open espousal of plans to place former soldiers in the top ranks of the police suggests that the militarisation of practically all aspects of national life marches on. We have nursery militarism, military charities working in schools, broadcast on popular entertainment programmes at peak time, and the virtual hijacking of poppy day by the British Legion which has come under fire for militarising what is supposed to be a solemn remembrance of men and women who were killed in war and a reaffirmation of the universal desire for peace. And we know that, as a matter of policy, the British military recruits virtual child soldiers at the tender age of 16 years on the basis of some semblance of a career for kids from council estates. We also know that the British military welcomes the impacts on kids of air shows and military parades, with all their pomp and ceremony and colour, as it sows a seed that latter germinates into signing up. No mention of death and destruction, of unjust wars.

It is also interesting that the crisis in the Metropolitan police brought to attention by their extremely close and corrupt relationship with News International is being used as a lever to inaugurate change in the police. Meanwhile, the larger lessons of the Murdoch empire's behaviour, that a media in the hands of a tiny number of large corporations is corrosive of free speech and democracy, and that successive governments have been in hock to Murdoch appears, to have slid onto the inside pages of most newspapers. No calls there for a radical shake up of media ownership laws.

The Conservative government may well plan deep cuts in military spending but it is clear, from its leading role in the intervention in Libya's internal affairs, and in its other actions and plans, that it still marches to a militarist tune. And the full brunt of that militarism is to be faced by those who protest against job losses, cuts to benefits and university places, those very often who have very little in the first place. What more could be expected from the most elitist Cabinet in recent history?