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The encirclement of Syria

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A map prepared by German magazine Der Spiegel to show areas of control in Syria.

A map prepared by German magazine Der Spiegel to show areas of control in Syria.

Update: Samples collected by the UN chemical experts team in the Damascus suburb will be transferred to laboratories for analysis “within hours,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said in a note to correspondents. “The samples were shipped this afternoon from The Hague and will reach their destination within hours,” the note said. It added that the designated laboratories are prepared to begin the analyses “immediately after receipt of samples.”

Ria Novosti has quoted Alexei Pushkov, who heads the international affairs committee in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, as having said: “By sending the Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier to Syria’s shores, Obama demonstrates that the military action has been postponed, but not cancelled, and that he is determined to start a war.”

Press communiqués from Russia indicate that President Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow wants any military action to go through the UN Security Council, but will likely block any resolution to authorise it, citing lack of conclusive evidence that the Syrian government, not the insurgents, was behind the attack.
Moscow will continue to support the Assad government with weapons and humanitarian aid, as it has in the past. The view of Russian analysts is that this is so because Moscow has invested a considerable sum in Assad’s government through loans and financial support.

A readers' poll by presseurop shows 65% want nothing to do with war.

A readers’ poll by presseurop shows 65% want nothing to do with war.

Der Spiegel has a longish news feature in which it has explained that the USA has stepped back from an immediate response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013. But the Obama regime in Washington continues to profess “certainty” that Syrian president Bashar Assad is behind the attack. Der Spiegel’s tone is pro-White House and certainly not objective enough for even a third-rate district newspaper, but this sort of Europedantry is useful for indicating how the autocratic regimes in Berlin, Paris and London are currently thinking.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said secrecy by the West is unacceptable with regard to Syria and evidence of the use of chemical weapons there. He added that “what our American, British and French partners have shown us before – as well as now – does not convince us at all. There are no supporting facts, there is only repetitive talk in the vein of ‘we know for sure’. And when we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: ‘You are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you.’ So there are still no facts.”

An article in Counterpunch has said that “having been released prior to even preliminary reports from UN chemical weapons investigators on the ground in Syria, the (American) document (claiming proof of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on its own population) is as much a work of fiction as it is fact.”

Outside the cosmeticised clutter of the world’s mainstream and corporate media, a number of information channels are citing interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters in Syria and their families, from which a very different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad. Ingersoll referred to an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.

“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote. “Along with Saudi officials, the US allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise. Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the US, and the CIA totally loves this guy.”

A picture drawn by a Syrian child, living through the conflict. Image: CBBC Newsround (www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/21771713)

A picture drawn by a Syrian child, living through the conflict. Image: CBBC Newsround (www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/21771713)

Update: The rush to attack Syria by the Obama administration is being prepared in contempt of international law, democratic processes and in contempt of public opinion in the USA itself. This was made abundantly clear in the presentation US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered from the State Department on Friday, 30 August.

On Saturday, 31 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as “utter nonsense” the US claims that the Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons. “The Syrian government troops are on the offensive … So giving a trump card to those who are calling for a military intervention is utter nonsense,” Putin told reporters in Vladivostok.

The so-called US ‘Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons’ contains not one shred of probative evidence. As emphasised by the website of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the document, barely three pages long, includes a series of unsubstantiated assertions that are tailored to the US policy aim of manufacturing a pretext for direct intervention in a US-provoked civil war aimed at toppling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

To the question, put to him by Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar, which was, “You have a cautious stance on recent Western statements about arming opposition fighters. Why is this?”, Noam Chomsky, interviewed in July 2013, replied: “It is linked to an evaluation of the consequences. Once again, I believe there are much simpler ways that the West can take before making the leap to military aid, some of which I have mentioned above, but which further include providing increased levels of humanitarian aid. If we are serious, we must look at the consequences of such an action. What would be the result on a humanitarian level? My question is practical, not ethical.” More from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Middle East.

A page extract from NBC's poll on US military action against Syria.

A page extract from NBC’s poll on US military action against Syria.

But the views of the reasonable and pacifist many have rarely halted the war charges of the White House. A poll carried out by the American broadcaster NBC has showed that nearly 80% of those polled want approval from the US Congress for military action against Syria. “Nearly 80 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using force in Syria, but the nation is divided over the scope of any potential strike,” the NBC report has said.

The raw poll findings, which I have extracted from the document helpfully posted in full by NBC, show the clarity with which the polled public view the recklessness of the Obama administration. In particular see the “no, will not improve the situation” and “no, not in our national interest” responses.

Older post: There is little point now in switching on any of the mainstream television news channels, for the propaganda campaign has shifted into high gear. The last decade has provided enough practice for such a campaign – war and unrest have become orchestrated as spectacles. There has been Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Somalia and Al Qaeda. Hence the machinery used to package another war for the public has been well used. The official reasons given for the imminent attack on Syria are unsubstantiated and lies that are fashioned crudely into a bloodthirsty collection of pretexts to justify a policy planned well in advance.

Shoved aside are the voices that are calling for the investigations to find evidence of the alleged gas attacks inside Syria, to let dialogue and diplomacy dominate all interactions, to give all sides a hearing and count all views.

The voices are there and this is what they have said and are saying:

On 28 August 2013, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials urging continued cooperation, the UN team investigating alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria visited several locations in the suburbs of Damascus, including impact sites, where it collected additional information and samples. That work must continue, as Syria itself has asked the UN, speaking through its permanent representative to the UN speaking on 28 August 2013 (see this video clip).

On 25 August 2013 the Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 24 and 25 August 2013, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, met with senior officials of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. “The purpose of her visit was to seek cooperation of the Government in facilitating an expeditious investigation of the incident in the Ghouta area on 21 August involving the alleged use of chemical weapons,” noted the statement.

The UN Secretary-General instructed the investigating mission which began its on-site fact-finding activities on 26 August 2013, that is, only three days ago. And yet the governments in Washington and London are ferociously claiming there is no need for a UN Security Council resolution on what form of intervention to make in response, and indeed for the investigations to cease so that war can commence immediately.

For the USA and Britain – and their supporters in Germany and France and a few other countries – to threaten to or to militarily strike at Syria is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter – which has not been mentioned by Barack Obama or David Cameron. The UN Charter requires countries to settle their international disputes peacefully. Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country. Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only time military force is lawful under the Charter is when the Security Council approves it, or under Article 51, which allows a country to defend itself if attacked. None of the governments now howling for war were attacked.

A graphic by Ria Novosti showing the build-up of military in the Mediterranean and surrounding Syria.

A graphic by Ria Novosti showing the build-up of military in the Mediterranean and surrounding Syria.

Writing in The Guardian, Hans Blix reminded us that “In 2003 the US and the UK and an alliance of ‘friendly states’ invaded Iraq without the authorisation of the UN Security Council. “A strong body of world opinion felt that this constituted a violation and an undermining of the UN charter,” wrote Blix. “A quick punitive action in Syria today without UN authorisation would be another precedent, suggesting that great military powers can intervene militarily when they feel politically impelled to do so.” Blix was the head of the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission from March 2000 to June 2003. In 2002, the commission began searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately finding none.

We can expect that Russia and China, on the UN Security Council, will use their veto to halt an Anglo-American war on Syria. That is why the USA and Britain have been assembling warships in the Mediterranean – were these warships there before the alleged gas attacks in Syria? That is what responsible media should be asking governments in Washington and London.

Nonetheless, there are more reliable news sources to turn to. The Russian news website RT is running a ‘Syria ‘chemical weapons’ crisis live updates’ page. Ria Novosti is also covering the crisis and you will reports such as “Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, have discussed the situation in Syria, condemned the use of chemical weapons, and called for a political settlement”.

And the People’s Republic of China has its global news service, Xinhua, which has reported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as having said that his country “would defend itself against any foreign aggression, stressing determination to ‘eliminate terrorism’ in the war-weary country”.

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Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

Syria in 2013 and the opposition to war

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The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

A newly elected government in the USA is as intent as its predecessors were on deepening war and conflict where it already exists, and on embarking on new campaigns of state aggression and violence. The conflict in Syria has been converted by the United States of America and its partner western aggressors from a civil movement for democratic rights into a bitter and bloody civil war that has killed more than 20,000 and has made refugees of more than half a million people.

Unnoticed almost in the clamour for war that resounds in the capitals of USA and its western allies is new evidence from a United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry which has stated, finally and plainly, that a sectarian civil war is raging in Syria. Its findings are based upon extensive investigations and interviews between September 28 to December 16, 2012. The Commission has detailed massacres and gross violations of human rights that have polarised Syria.

Investigators, headed by Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, have interviewed more than 1,200 victims and refugees. The report produced is a devastating indictment of the United States and other western powers – said International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) – who have worked with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to depose of Bashar al-Assad by recruiting and aiding a Sunni insurgency overwhelmingly made up of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Salafist and Al Qaeda-style groups.

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

“The UN independent panel finds more breaches of human rights law by parties to Syrian conflict,” said the UN news service. The Commission has been mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The conflict is now in its 22nd month and apart from the enormous number of refugees has left an estimated 4 million people inside Syria needing urgent humanitarian assistance. “The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country,” said the UN news report.

That lack of access may change in early 2013 if the movement Peace In Syria is successful. This initiative consists in calling a delegation of high-ranking personalities of the international public to go to Syria with the aim of opening a national dialogue between the main political and social forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict to pave a way for a political solution.

As highlighted by Monthly Review’s MRZine, the peace initiative has said: “We are highly concerned not only because the conflict has been acquiring a dangerous geo-political dimension. The legitimate and at the beginning also peaceful movement of the Syrian people – along with their Arab brothers – for democratic rights is also in danger of being converted into a sectarian civil war with massive regional and international involvement.”

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Utterly unmindful of the calls for peace within the Middle East and outside, the government of the USA is just as brazenly ignoring the anti-war movement at home. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey whose finding is that the American public continues to say that the USA does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there.

“And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria,” said the survey report. “Only about quarter of Americans (27%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; more than twice as many (63%) say it does not. These views are virtually unchanged from March. Similarly, just 24% favor the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, while 65% are opposed.”

Far more bluntly, Veterans For Peace has urgently called on the United States and NATO “to cease all military activity in Syria, halt all U.S. and NATO shipments of weapons, and abandon all threats to further escalate the violence under which the people of Syria are suffering. NATO troops and missiles should be withdrawn from Turkey and other surrounding nations. U.S. ships should exit the Mediterranean”.

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

The organisation draws upon the experiences of military veterans in working for the abolition of war. “We have not entered into this work without consideration of many situations similar to the current one in Syria,” said the organisation, and added, “No good can come from U.S. military intervention in Syria. The people of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and dozens of other nations in Latin America and around the world have not been made better off by U.S. military intervention.”

But the USA, its aggressor western allies and NATO are intent on prosecuting war in Syria and gathering for greater, bloodier conflict. On December 17, Israel’s Haaretz reported that US cargo airplanes carrying military equipment landed in Jordanian airports over several days and that US military forces in the country have been significantly built up. The USA, Germany and the Netherlands have dispatched Patriot anti-missile systems and hundreds of troops to Turkey’s border and are seeking a pretext to use them. Hence last week, US officials accused the Syrian government of firing Scud missiles against opposition groups near Maara, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, a claim Syria denied as “untrue rumours”. [See Al Jazeera’s live diary of events in Syria for more.]

It is now left to the citizens of the USA and its western allies – citizens who are no less bludgeoned daily by the austerity measures imposed by their governments while their criminally-minded banking and corporate elite frame and set policy both national and international – to derail the war machine. A number of good reasons for doing so can be found in the work of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry, whose new 10-page update – the latest in a series of reports and updates produced by the Commission since it began its work in August 2011 – paints a bleak picture of the devastating conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria.

The full 10-page update can be viewed here – it describes the unrelenting violence resulting in many thousands of dead and wounded, and also focuses on arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria. It describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. Civilians continue to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition have moved deeper into urban areas. The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.

Libya, the USA and blowback

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In early July 2012, an article titled ‘Libya’s Militia Menace’ attempted to explain some of the instability in Libya, from an American point of view and which, in my view, is the result of the oil-driven aggression that was a ‘regime change’ (coined for Iraq under Saddam Hussein) which ended in the lynching of Muammar Gaddafi and the further immiseration of the Libyan people, in whose name so much violence and rapine was done.

The Foreign Affairs article said: “The strategy of trying to dismantle the regional militias while simultaneously making use of them as hired guns might be sowing the seeds for the country’s descent into warlordism. It has also given local brigades and their political patrons leverage over the central government.”

An interview in the Council on Foreign Relations sounds as confused about the realities of the region – in this case concerning the anti-USA action is Egypt. It is a worrying sign that this specialist think-tank sounds as confused as the welter of USA-based media outlets attempting to drum up outrage over the latest bloody retort, in Benghazi, to American ambitions in North Africa. Here is an example: “It’s really hard to understand why the Egyptian government is not acting in a more responsible manner right now. The United States has condemned efforts to offend Muslims’ sensibilities. The U.S. flag was taken down and destroyed. The embassy compound, which is considered American territory, was violated. This is a serious breach of diplomatic practice.”

The sequence of events in Benghazi remains murky, undoubtedly because of the difficulty in ascertaining the real puppet-masters behind these maniacal militia. Initial reports attributed the attack to a militia known as the Ansar al-Sharia brigade, but the group has denied involvement. Libya’s deputy interior minister, Wanis al-Sharif, tried to pin the blame on supporters of Gaddafi, but also suggested that the Americans were responsible for their own fate for not heeding previous warnings of attacks by Al Qaeda. “It was necessary that they take precautions,” he told AFP. “It was their fault that they did not take the necessary precautions.”

The killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens is the first such killing of a US envoy since the death of Washington’s ambassador to Afghanistan in 1979. See the full briefing from the US Department of State here.

Written by makanaka

September 13, 2012 at 11:06

A dying empire is a dangerous empire

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US and western news agencies tell us that the news of bin Laden's death brought many to the streets in US cities. What are they celebrating? The end of a 10-year-old war that has eviscerated middle-class America? Photo: Al Jazeera/AFP

After the triumphalism of the Abbottabad strike, the cold reality of overshoot – In recent months the signals from what America sometimes calls its heartland have been worrying, downright alarming. Manufacturing in the USA is down to a shadow, as a percentage of GDP, of what it used to be 25 years ago. The services economy – which the Bretton Woods twins, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have prescribed to developing countries and then arm-twisted them for it – creates few new jobs and negligible new savings in the USA. First under George Bush the younger, and then under Barack Obama, social sector spending and support has been dwindling.

Working class America, burdened by a decade of wars their government has pursued all around the world, has been brought to its knees with a new round of cuts imposed by the latest in a growing line of war-mongering US presidents. For them, whether Obama is Republican or Democrat makes little difference. Why this is so can be seen from news reports found in the local and independent-minded newspapers (those that still exist) in that country: “Tennessee’s legislative onslaught against teachers”, “Wisconsin Senate rams through anti-worker bill”, “Idaho students walk out over education cuts”, “Momentum builds for austerity budget in California”, “Several thousand demonstrate in Columbus, Ohio” and “Ten thousand attend protest at Indiana statehouse”. These tell the tale of the effect at home of long years of warring abroad.

Today, apart from automobiles, aircraft jet engines and weapons (and, yes, nuclear reactors) there are few material goods the USA gives the world. It gives the world a great deal of weapons to kill, annihilate, destroy and burn, and it pursues this export of death-dealing with heavy-handed foreign policy and ham-fisted trade ‘negotiations’. But Americans, those who want to pursue humble professions and vocations that have nothing to do with their country’s export priorities, must buy some basics for their survival. That is when they contribute to the most visible symbol of imperial overstretch – the USA’s trade balance with its biggest trading partner, China. Rising steadily over 20 years, the US-China trade imbalance (when viewed with American eyes) dipped only slightly after 11 September 2001. In 2008-09, the dip was far greater, but the graph was much higher then, and stands today at just under US$300 billion.

Osama bin Laden, a picture from the Gulf News Archive

It is not a sight to soothe the riled and roiled states of today’s American heartland. Nor does it help the average American that the monetarily unhinged policies of Bush the younger, wherein he forgave the rich their taxes in order to submit the poor to more of them, have been enshrined as principle by his democrat successor, a man whose forefathers were Kenyan. It does not help, as the magazine Mother Jones says, that a New York janitor making slightly more than US$33,000 a year pays an effective tax rate of nearly 25%, but the effective tax rate for a resident of a Park Avenue building, earning an average of US$1.2 million annually, must complain about a 14.7% tax burden.

Perhaps the last word in cold spending logic should come from the Swedes. Two months ago the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest report on international military expenditures. World military spending rose only 1.3% in 2010 to US$1.63 trillion, after average annual growth of 5.1% between 2001 and 2009, said SIPRI. The USA remained by far the biggest defence spender in the world – US$698 billion – and accounted for almost all of global growth in military expenditure in 2010, an increase of US$19.6 billion out of the US$20.6 billion global increase. Today, the USA’s defence budget is 4.8% of its GDP, its budget has increased 81% since 2001 and is six times greater than that of China, the next biggest spender. In contrast, in Europe, military spending fell by 2.8% as governments cut costs to address soaring budget deficits.

A man watches television news on the death of Osama bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo: Al Jazeera/EPA

This is the tenth year since the ‘war on terror’ was declared by No 43, Bush the younger, and it tells us much that all of them, from No 32 during World War Two, have begun or continued wars and military campaigns. No 44, the current president, claimed righteously that the USA “went to war against Al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies”. This is the same claim made by NATO in and about Libya. It has been repeated wherever, in the last half-century, imperial America has wanted to seize economic resources or prevent others from doing so. That is why US armed forces in Afghanistan have tripled since Obama took office. After Abbottabad, nothing in the remarks made by No 44 and his staff and generals have suggested in any way that the killing of bin Laden will lead to a significant change in American foreign policy, let alone an end to the relentless expansion of military interventions.

The announcment of the killing of Osama bin Laden is being underlined by the US Department of State as a milestone in America’s ‘war on terror’. In a campaign that is now in the last half of its tenth year, the costs of this ‘war’ have dwarfed most modern reckoning of conflict. Independent estimates place the cost of the US military engagement in Iraq at over US$780 billion since 2001, and at over US$400 billion for its deployment in Afghanistan over the same period. At more than US$1.1 trillion the sober question that is certainly being asked by those at home in middle America is: has it been worth it to reach this milestone? Perhaps a more accurate question will be: if the death of bin Laden indeed signals the final demise of the al-Qaeda network, what will it take to wind down these wars until the last American soldier goes home?

It will be some time before either of these are answered with some degree of belief, or or trust in Washington’s governance of its military-industrial complex. The US and its allies will enjoy a self-congratulatory glow in the short-term future but, far to the west of Abbottabad, the long-term future of northern Africa is being determined by means no less violent than those which removed forever bin Laden. We would like, as rational and peaceable folk, to agree that war and economic stability, that protracted conflict and human development do not and cannot coexist. Yet for the last decade, the world’s richest countries and most militarily ambitious have done their best to tell us the opposite.

A key influence on bin Laden was Dr Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian professor and member of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Photo: Al Jazeera

In the aftermath of the Abbottabad strike, which is the truer reflection of our times? Agencies of the United Nations, those primarily concerned with helping people live better, healthier, safer lives, have spared no effort in telling us that more, not less, needs to be done for the world’s poor and vulnerable. If the death of bin laden is also a signal that obscenely enormous military spending will now be used to feed the hungry, teach the young and give them a greener future, then perhaps we can indeed call it a milestone.

Any rendering of separatist groups, of insurgencies, of terror networks and their anarchist ideologies however informs us that a milestone, even one as important as this, is only a milestone. While for most governments in the Middle East the al-Qaeda and its allied organisations was a persistent and highly dangerous group under a bin Laden alive, without him it is hardly likely to be less so. The decade since the 11 September attacks has been as remarkable for the new insights into ideology-based armed insurrectionists as it has been for the huge resources it has required to tackle them, not always successfully.

Less than 24 hours after the Abbottabad strike, geo-political analysts and experts on extremist networks were already providing their immediate reaction: be cautious in assuming the damage done to al-Qaeda and be circumspect when predicting the strategic and security consequences of bin Laden’s death. For those entrusted with providing security to their country’s citizens in the face of extremism, the first assessment will be whether bin Laden is considered a martyr whose methods are to be emulated, or whether those who are influenced by al-Qaeda will value economic opportunity more than taking to the gun. It is a difficult assessment to attempt for in the Arab region, as the Arab Human Development Report 2009 underlined forcefully, human insecurity is reflected in the economic vulnerability of one-fifth of the people in some Arab states, and more than half in others, people whose lives are impoverished and cut short by hunger and want.

It is likely, although such a likelihood flies in the face of sanity, that the US regime does not recognise the problems facing us all, many of which have been central to campaigns by United Nations agencies and development organisations, including USAID. Less than two months ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded world leaders: “Millions of people have been pushed into poverty by the latest food price rises. I am especially concerned about the poorest households that often spend three-quarters of their income on food. When prices go up, they go hungry.”

And yet the World Food Programme late last year had to make hard decisions about who to abandon to starvation for lack of money to buy food aid with. Nor is that the only concern. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set up a new fund aimed at mobilising resources to help developing countries mitigate the impact of global warming, to help the transition to low-carbon futures – a seventh of the US annual defence budget will keep it on course for five years, benefiting millions. These are the greater challenges, solved not by attack drones and aircraft carriers, but by co-operation and sharing of ideas in a climate of peace. But No. 44, true to presidential form, will have none of it, just as he won’t from the people of Wisconsin, Idaho and Ohio.