Monday, February 28, 2011
Some years ago in New England, a group of environmentalists asked a corporate executive how his company (a paper mill) could justify dumping its raw industrial effluent into a nearby river. The river—which had taken Mother Nature centuries to create--was used for drinking water, fishing, boating, and swimming. In just a few years, the paper mill had turned it into a highly toxic open sewer.
The executive shrugged and said that river dumping was the most cost-effective way of removing the mill’s wastes If the company had to absorb the additional expense of having to clean up after itself, it might not be able to maintain its competitive edge and would then have to go out of business or move to a cheaper labor market, resulting in a loss of jobs for the local economy.
Free Market Über Alles
It was a familiar argument: the company had no choice. It was compelled to act that way in a competitive market. The mill was not in the business of protecting the environment but in the business of making a profit, the highest possible profit at the highest possible rate of return. Profit is the name of the game, as business leaders make clear when pressed on the point. The overriding purpose of business is capital accumulation.
To justify its single-minded profiteering, Corporate America promotes the classic laissez-faire theory which claims that the free market---a congestion of unregulated and unbridled enterprises all selfishly pursuing their own ends---is governed by a benign “invisible hand” that miraculously produces optimal outputs for everybody.
The free marketeers have a deep all-abiding faith in laissez-faire for it is a faith that serves them well. It means no government oversight, no being held accountable for the environmental disasters they perpetrate. Like greedy spoiled brats, they repeatedly get bailed out by the government (some free market!) so that they can continue to take irresponsible risks, plunder the land, poison the seas, sicken whole communities, lay waste to entire regions, and pocket obscene profits.
This corporate system of capital accumulation treats the Earth’s life-sustaining resources (arable land, groundwater, wetlands, foliage, forests, fisheries, ocean beds, bays, rivers, air quality) as disposable ingredients presumed to be of limitless supply, to be consumed or toxified at will. As BP has demonstrated so well in the Gulf-of-Mexico catastrophe, considerations of cost weigh so much more heavily than considerations of safety. As one Congressional inquiry concluded: “Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense.”
Indeed, the function of the transnational corporation is not to promote a healthy ecology but to extract as much marketable value out of the natural world as possible even if it means treating the environment like a septic tank. An ever-expanding corporate capitalism and a fragile finite ecology are on a calamitous collision course, so much so that the support systems of the entire ecosphere---the Earth’s thin skin of fresh air, water, and topsoil---are at risk.
It is not true that the ruling politico-economic interests are in a state of denial about all this. Far worse than denial, they have shown outright antagonism toward those who think our planet is more important than their profits. So they defame environmentalists as “eco-terrorists,” “EPA gestapo,” “Earth day alarmists,” “tree huggers,” and purveyors of “Green hysteria.”
In an enormous departure from free-market ideology, most of the diseconomies of big business are foisted upon the general populace, including the costs of cleaning up toxic wastes, the cost of monitoring production, the cost of disposing of industrial effluence (which composes 40 to 60 percent of the loads treated by taxpayer-supported municipal sewer plants), the cost of developing new water sources (while industry and agribusiness consume 80 percent of the nation’s daily water supply), and the costs of attending to the sickness and disease caused by all the toxicity created. With many of these diseconomies regularly passed on to the government, the private sector then boasts of its superior cost-efficiency over the public sector.
The Superrich Are Different from Us
Isn’t ecological disaster a threat to the health and survival of corporate plutocrats just as it is to us ordinary citizens? We can understand why the corporate rich might want to destroy public housing, public education, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Such cutbacks would bring us closer to a free market society devoid of the publicly-funded “socialistic” human services that the ideological reactionaries detest. And such cuts would not deprive the superrich and their families of anything. The superrich have more than sufficient private wealth to procure whatever services and protections they need for themselves.
But the environment is a different story, is it not? Don’t wealthy reactionaries and their corporate lobbyists inhabit the same polluted planet as everyone else, eat the same chemicalized food, and breathe the same toxified air? In fact, they do not live exactly as everyone else. They experience a different class reality, often residing in places where the air is markedly better than in low and middle income areas. They have access to food that is organically raised and specially transported and prepared.
The nation's toxic dumps and freeways usually are not situated in or near their swank neighborhoods. In fact, the superrich do not live in neighborhoods as such. They usually reside on landed estates with plenty of wooded areas, streams, meadows, and only a few well-monitored access roads. Pesticide sprays are not poured over their trees and gardens. Clear cutting does not desolate their ranches, estates, family forests, lakes, and prime vacation spots.
Still, should they not fear the threat of an ecological apocalypse brought on by global warming? Do they want to see life on Earth, including their own lives, destroyed? In the long run they indeed will be sealing their own doom along with everyone else’s. However, like us all, they live not in the long run but in the here and now. What is now at stake for them is something more proximate and more urgent than global ecology; it is global profits. The fate of the biosphere seems like a remote abstraction compared to the fate of one’s immediate--and enormous--investments.
With their eye on the bottom line, big business leaders know that every dollar a company spends on oddball things like environmental protection is one less dollar in earnings. Moving away from fossil fuels and toward solar, wind, and tidal energy could help avert ecological disaster, but six of the world's ten top industrial corporations are involved primarily in the production of oil, gasoline, and motor vehicles. Fossil fuel pollution brings billions of dollars in returns. Ecologically sustainable forms of production threaten to compromise such profits, the big producers are convinced.
Immediate gain for oneself is a far more compelling consideration than a future loss shared by the general public. Every time you drive your car, you are putting your immediate need to get somewhere ahead of the collective need to avoid poisoning the air we all breath. So with the big players: the social cost of turning a forest into a wasteland weighs little against the immense and immediate profit that comes from harvesting the timber and walking away with a neat bundle of cash. And it can always be rationalized away: there are lots of other forests for people to visit, they don’t need this one; society needs the timber; lumberjacks need the jobs, and so on.
The Future Is Now
Some of the very same scientists and environmentalists who see the ecology crisis as urgent rather annoyingly warn us of a catastrophic climate crisis by “the end of this century.” But that’s some ninety years away when all of us and most of our kids will be dead---which makes global warming a much less urgent issue.
There are other scientists who manage to be even more irritating by warning us of an impending ecological crisis then putting it even further into the future: “We’ll have to stop thinking in terms of eons and start thinking in terms of centuries,” one scientific sage was quoted in the New York Times in 2006. This is supposed to put us on alert? If a global catastrophe is a century or several centuries away, who is going to make the terribly difficult and costly decisions today whose effects will be felt far in the future?
Often we are told to think of our dear grandchildren who will be fully victimized by it all (an appeal usually made in a beseeching tone). But most of the young people I address on college campuses have a hard time imagining the world that their nonexistent grandchildren will be experiencing thirty or forty years hence.
Such appeals should be put to rest. We do not have centuries or generations or even many decades before disaster is upon us. Ecological crisis is not some distant urgency. Most of us alive today probably will not have the luxury of saying “Après moi, le déluge” because we will still be around to experience the catastrophe ourselves. We know this to be true because the ecological crisis is already acting upon us with an accelerated and compounded effect that may soon prove irreversible.
The Profiteering Madness
Sad to say, the environment cannot defend itself. It is up to us to protect it—or what’s left of it. But all the superrich want is to keep transforming living nature into commodities and commodities into dead capital. Impending ecological disasters are of no great moment to the corporate plunderers. Of living nature they have no measure.
Wealth becomes addictive. Fortune whets the appetite for still more fortune. There is no end to the amount of money one might wish to accumulate, driven onward by the auri sacra fames, the cursed hunger for gold. So the money addicts grab more and more for themselves, more than can be spent in a thousand lifetimes of limitless indulgence, driven by what begins to resemble an obsessional pathology, a monomania that blots out every other human consideration.
They are more wedded to their wealth than to the Earth upon which they live, more concerned about the fate of their fortunes than the fate of humanity, so possessed by their pursuit of profit as to not see the disaster looming ahead. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a corporate executive standing at a lectern addressing a business meeting with these words: “And so, while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”
Not such a joke. Years ago I remarked that those who denied the existence of global warming would not change their opinion until the North Pole itself started melting. (I never expected it to actually start dissolving in my lifetime.) Today we are facing an Arctic meltdown that carries horrendous implications for the oceanic gulf streams, coastal water levels, the planet’s entire temperate zone, and world agricultural output.
So how are the captains of industry and finance responding? As we might expect: like monomaniacal profiteers. They hear the music: ca-ching, ca-ching. First, the Arctic melting will open a direct northwest passage between the two great oceans, a dream older than Lewis and Clark. This will make for shorter and more accessible and inexpensive global trade routes. No more having to plod through the Panama Canal or around Cape Horn. Lower transportation costs means more trade and higher profits.
Second, they joyfully note that the melting is opening up vast new oil reserves to drilling. They will be able to drill-baby-drill for more of the same fossil fuel that is causing the very calamity descending upon us. More meltdown means more oil and more profits; such is the mantra of the free marketeers who think the world belongs only to them.
Imagine now that we are all inside one big bus hurtling down a road that is headed for a fatal plunge into a deep ravine. What are our profit addicts doing? They are hustling up and down the aisle, selling us crash cushions and seat belts at exorbitant prices. They planned ahead for this sales opportunity.
We have to get up from our seats, quickly place them under adult supervision, rush the front of the bus, yank the driver away, grab hold of the wheel, slow the bus down, and turn it around. Not easy but maybe still possible. With me it’s a recurrent dream.
Michael Parenti's recent books include: God and His Demons (Prometheus), Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); Democracy for the Few, 9th ed. (Wadsworth); The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For further information, visit his website: www.michaelparenti.org.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
It's pretty common now for supporters of the Palestinians and Palestinian leaders themselves to say, "Well, we have to abandon hope in the two-state solution." As one of the Palestinian leaders said, "We should give Israel the key and let them take over the entire West Bank. It will be one state, we'll then carry out a civil rights struggle. We can win that one, like South Africa." But this view overlooks a simple point of logic. Those are not the two options. There is a third option, namely that the U.S. and Israel continue doing exactly what they are doing. They're not going to take control of the West Bank. They don't want it. They don't want the Palestinians. So the analogy to South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle is pretty misleading. South Africa needed its black population. They were its workforce. They couldn't get rid of them. They were 85 percent of the population doing the work of the country. So, as under slavery, they had to take care of them. Bantustans were bad enough, but they were intended to be more or less viable because it was necessary to reproduce the workforce. That's not true for Israel and the Palestinians. Israel doesn't want to take responsibility for them, rather it wants them to get out. It's like the United States and the indigenous population. There's no sense in taking care of them, just exterminate that "hapless race" of Native Americans.
Israel can't just murder them. You can't get away with that these days, the way the U.S. could in the 19th century, so you just get them to leave. Moshe Dayan, who was one of the more dovish members of the Israeli elite, happened to be defense minister in charge of the Occupied Territories in 1967. He advised his colleagues at the time that we should tell the Palestinians, "We have nothing for you, you're going to live like dogs, and whoever will leave will leave. And we will see where it all ends up."
And that's exactly the policy they're following. In recent years, the U.S./Israel have somewhat modified the policy. They are taking the advice of Israeli industrialists who some years ago suggested that Israel should shift from a policy of colonialism to one of neo-colonialism.
The Philippines is the standard model from which many of the modern programs of neo-colonialism were carefully crafted. We know what happened during the conquest with, as usual, the most "benevolent intentions," while slaughtering a couple of hundred thousand people and committing massive war crimes. Al McCoy now has a fine study of what happened after the conquest, which he goes into in 800 pages of detail. The U.S. crafted a new technique of control of the population, using the most advanced technology of the day. They imposed a system of close surveillance over the entire population, co-opting a Westernized elite who would be able to live in luxury, breaking up nationalist groups by various methods—sowing rumors, buying people off. And, of course, a paramilitary force—the Philippine constabulary—in case things go wrong.
That turned out to be very effective. In fact, it's still in place in the Philippines. If you look at today's papers, you'll notice that the U.S. welcomed the new government in the Philippines. They do point out that most of the population lives in misery. In fact, if you think about it, that's the one part of East and Southeast Asia that hasn't taken part in the spectacular East Asian economic growth during the last generation. It's also the one U.S. colony/neo-colony that is still run virtually the same way it was run 100 years ago—same elite elements, same brutal constabulary, different names—with the U.S. in the background, but not very far.
That was an extremely successful mode of colonization. It became the model for Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and many other neo-colonies later. It also turned back to the imperial countries. Both the U.S. and Britain adopted similar measures of population control domestically. At first, during WWI. Even more so today. So Britain is one of the leading surveillance societies with the U.S. not far behind. They're using modified versions of what was crafted with great care and success in the Philippines a century ago.
Well, Israel finally understood that that's the right way to proceed. You can read about, say, Ramallah in the West Bank and the reports, which are accurate, say it's kind of like Paris and London for the Palestinian elite. They live a nice life with theaters and restaurants. A typical third world country with a rich collaborationist elite in a sea of suffering and misery around them. That's the way the third world is structured. Israel has finally had the sense to follow the advice of industrialists and turn Palestine into a neo-colony. And it can be praised for how wonderful life is in Ramallah and so on. But you have to control it by force. There has to be the analog of the Philippine constabulary. And it's there. It's an Army run by an American general, Keith Dayton. It's constituted of Palestinians. Quite typically, in neo-colonial structures, the repressive force is domestic, but it's run by an American general. It's trained by Israel and Jordan (a harsh dictatorship). And it's very successful.
In fact, it's highly praised by American liberals. John Kerry, senator from Massachusetts, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Obama's point person in the Middle East—gave a talk at the Brookings Institute in which he explains that, for the first time, Israel has a legitimate negotiating partner, so now it can pursue its passionate hope for peace. The negotiating partner he's referring to is the Palestinian Authority and the reason it became legitimate, Kerry explains, is because it has a military force that can control the population, namely the Dayton army. And he points to its success.
Their main success story was during the U.S./Israeli invasion of Gaza, when they anticipated that there might be protests in the West Bank over the atrocities being carried out there. But there weren't any because the Dayton army was able to suppress them. So it kept things quiet. It kept things so quiet that General Dayton said, in a speech to one of the offshoots of the Israeli lobby, that he could dispatch forces to take part in the Gaza attack thanks to the American-run army controlling the West Bank. So that's considered a success, very much like the success in the Philippines and the later successes under the U.S.-imposed National Guard in Haiti, Nicaragua, and other neo-colonies.
Palestine can now look forward to the same auspicious fate. And we can praise ourselves for having created an army that can control the population so effectively that they can't even protest a major slaughter going on in the other part of Palestine. I say the other part of Palestine, but U.S./Israeli policy since the Oslo Accords in 1991 (and a crucial component of them) has been to separate Gaza and the West Bank. That's one of the ways to prevent any recognition of authentic Palestinian nationalism. If Gaza is part of the West Bank, as it is under international law, that means that a Palestinian state would actually have access to the outside world—it would have a seaport, for example. And that's dangerous. You want them to be completely controlled by the Jordanian dictatorship on one side and by U.S.-backed Israel on the other side, so you have to separate them from Gaza. And that's been done pretty effectively.
Going back to the options for Palestinians: one of them is the two-state settlement, the other is not what is being proposed—a one-state settlement and anti-apartheid struggles. There isn't the slightest indication that anything like that will happen, there is no support for it anywhere. The U.S. and Israel would never accept it.
But the third option—the real one—is a continuation of exactly what is being done and what's being done is not a secret. Actually, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined it to a joint session of Congress a few years ago, to rousing applause. It's what he called convergence (it's now been expanded), which means that Israel takes over everything that's of any value; takes over everything between what's called the separation wall—it's really an annexation wall, which is completely illegal, there's no question about that, even Israel accepts it. So Israel takes over everything inside the separation wall, which happens to include many of the sources of water in the region. The main sources lie underneath the West Bank aquifer. It also includes the pleasant suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. So Israel takes that, takes over the Jordan Valley, which is about a third of what remains of Palestine, the 22 percent that's left for Palestine. Israel will take over that, too. That imprisons the rest. It's more arable land and the Palestinians are now pretty much kept out of it. In the remaining territory, Israel has established several corridors which cut through it. So the main one begins from what's called Jerusalem, actually way bigger than Jerusalem. It was illegally annexed by Israel. I think it's five times the size of Jerusalem. Israel takes over all of that.
To the east is a corridor extending though the town of Ma'ale Adumim, which was established in the 1970s, but mainly built with Clinton support under the Oslo agreements. The purpose of the corridor was to bisect the West Bank. It reaches almost to Jericho, which will be left to the Palestinians. The rest is mostly desert.
To the north there are a couple of other corridors, which cut through the rest. So what you end up with is what the architect of the policy, Ariel Sharon, called bantustans or cantons, all separated from Gaza. Sharon's description was quite unfair because they're worse than bantustans, for the reason I mentioned. South Africa had to sustain the bantustans. Israel has no interest in sustaining these cantons. For them, it can follow the Dayan proposals: we have nothing to offer you, you're going to live like dogs, leave if you can. And many are leaving, especially the more wealthy Christian population. But some will be left in the neo-colonies for New York Times reporters to write travelogs about how wonderful they are, as has been done recently. That leaves nothing for the Palestinians. They are gone.
Can they call it a state? They can if they like. In fact, the first Israeli prime minister to accept the notion of a Palestinian State was, in fact, Netanyahu, the current prime minister. He took office as prime minister for the first time in 1996, replacing Shimon Peres, who's regarded here as a great dove. Peres left office in 1996, informing the press that there would never be a Palestinian State. After Netanyahu, condemned as a super hawk, came in, his minister of information was asked at a press conference, Look, you know you're going to leave fragments here and there for the Palestinians. What are you going to do if they call it a State? He answered, well, they can call it a State if they like or they can call it "fried chicken." We don't care. Either one will do.
So that was the first Israeli recognition of the possibility of Palestinian self-determination. A couple of years later, the Labor Party said pretty much the same thing, namely that the realistic option, if nothing is done, is to pursue present policies and end up by leaving what's left of the Palestinians as fried chicken. That's the option: not one state, not an anti-apartheid struggle. That's all pipe dreams, pie in the sky.
Is there any other alternative? What about the first option of a two-state settlement? There are a lot of problems in the world where it's hard to think of a solution, but in this case, it's remarkably easy to conjure one up. It's there. Furthermore, there's overwhelming international support for it and it's supported by international law. It has one barrier. The U.S. won't accept it. That's it. It's been sitting there since 1976 when the major Arab states introduced a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state settlement on the international border, using the wording of UN 242—which guarantees the security of every state in the region, including Israel, of course, with secure and recognized borders, all the nice words. That was the proposal in 1976. Israel refused to attend the session and the U.S. vetoed the resolution—and again in 1980, up to today.
Who supports it? Everybody, including the Arab League, Europe, the Non-Aligned countries, the Organization of Islamic Unity, which includes Iran. It's supported by Hamas and Hezbollah (which says it will support anything the Palestinians accept). So there's exactly one barrier: the U.S./Israel refuse to accept it. And they refuse to accept it on grounds that were established in 1971 when Israel made probably the most fateful decision in its history. In 1971, Egypt, under President Sadat, offered Israel a full peace treaty. Egypt, of course, is the only significant military force in the Arab world. So a peace with Egypt meant full security. There was, of course, a quid pro quo—Israel should withdraw from Egyptian territory (he said all occupied territory, but clearly cared primarily about Egyptian territory). Israel didn't want to do that because it was then planning on expanding into the Sinai and building a big city of a million people in the north on the Mediterranean—settlements and so on. Israel had to make a choice: expansion or security. They settled on expansion.
That was amplified the following year when Jordan made the same offer about the West Bank. At that point, Israel could have had full security, but it chose expansion—mostly into the Sinai at the time, but also into the West Bank. Israel recognized that this was completely illegal. In 1967, their leading legal authorities, including a very well known international lawyer, informed the government—and the attorney general seconded him—that any expansion into the Occupied Territories was in violation of international law. Moshe Dayan, who, as I said, was defense minister in charge of the Territories, agreed. He said, Yes, we know it's in violation of international law, but states violate international laws, so we'll do it, too. And we can do that as long as the U.S. supports us. And that's what's been going on.
The rejection of Sadat's offer led to the 1973 war, which was a very close thing for Israel. They were almost destroyed. At that point, the U.S. and Israel recognized that you can't just disregard Egypt. Then starts Kissinger's famous shuttle diplomacy, leading to the Camp David agreements in which the U.S./Israel basically accepted Sadat's 1971 offer—they had no choice. But from that point on, the U.S. and Israel have preferred expansion. It could have security now with no hostile countries on its borders, but then it would have to abandon expansion into the West Bank and the savage, criminal siege of Gaza.
Is it possible? Yes, it's possible. The U.S. has led the rejectionists pretty solidly since 1976, with one exception. It's a revealing one. In Clinton's last months in office, he recognized that the offers that had been made to the Palestinians by the U.S./Israel at the Camp David negotiations could not possibly be accepted by any Palestinians no matter how accommodating. He produced what he called his parameters, which were sort of vague, but more forthcoming. He then made a speech in which he pointed out that both sides had accepted his parameters and both sides have reservations. They met in Egypt in January 2001 to iron out those reservations. We have detailed information about the negotiations, most of it comes from high level Israeli sources. They came very close to a settlement. In their final press conference, the two sides jointly announced that if they had had a few more days, they probably could have settled everything—all the details. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely. That's been the end of that.
A lot has happened since then, but that single event is pretty instructive. It indicates that if a U.S. president was willing to tolerate a political settlement, it could probably be reached. Will that happen? So far there isn't the slightest indication of it. Obama's at least as extreme as George W. Bush, maybe more so. But there are some fissures developing and they are worth watching. One thing is that the American population, including the American Jewish population, especially younger Jews, are just not willing to support what's going on any longer. It's too inconsistent with standard liberal values. You see it in the polls and other indications. The Christian Zionists, who are a huge group, support it no matter what. Those who have a memory of U.S. settler colonialism, for them it's normal so they support it. But elite sectors and the American Jewish community are beginning to back off.
That's one development. Another one is that, apparently for the first time, there's a significant split in the Pentagon and intelligence. Up until now, they've been strongly supportive of Israel. They regard it as a very valuable ally. The U.S. high-tech industry has been highly supportive of Israel. The Wall Street Journal, among major newspapers, is the one that's most pro-Israel, in favor of Israeli expansion. But all of this is beginning to weaken. There are striking indications of it. You've probably seen a comment by David Petraeus—sometimes called Lord Petraeus, the great genius who's now the head of the Central Command. He made some comments months ago about how the U.S. now has armies in the field in several countries in the region—Afghanistan, Iraq, and maybe next in Iran—and it's dangerous for those forces in the field if U.S./Israeli intransigence creates problems among the population that could endanger U.S. forces in the region. He was told to shut up and he quickly withdrew his statements. But others have been repeating them. One of the major Mideast U.S. intelligence officials, Bruce Riedel, who ran Obama's Afghanistan policy review, he repeated pretty much the same statement. It got to the point that Mark Indyk, who was Clinton's ambassador to Israel and has roots in the Israeli lobby, wrote an op-ed in the Times warning Israel not to take the U.S. for granted as its policy could shift.
The head of Mossad in Israel, Meir Dagan, warned the government that they were treading on thin ice. If they pushed too far, they might lose U.S. support. And there's some history which is worth paying attention to, particularly regarding the many comparisons drawn between Israel and South Africa. Most of them I don't think amount to much, like the apartheid/bantustan comparison which I don't think works for the reasons mentioned earlier. But there is one comparison, which isn't discussed that is worth attention. Around 1960, the white nationalists in South Africa were beginning to recognize that they were becoming a pariah state and losing global support. They were being voted down in the UN by a big majority of the former colonies and so on, even losing some European support. The foreign minister of South Africa called in the U.S. ambassador to discuss it and he said, Yes, we're becoming a pariah state. They're voting against us in the United Nations. But you and I both know there's only one vote in the UN—yours. As long as you support us, we'll stand up against the world. And that's what happened.
If you look at the following years, anti-apartheid sentiment increased. By 1980 or so, even U.S. corporations were pulling out of South Africa in opposition to apartheid. A few years later, Congress passed sanctions and the Reagan administration had to evade Congressional sanctions as well as popular and global opinion in order to continue supporting South Africa—as indeed they did right through the 1980s. The pretext was the war on terror. In 1988, the Reagan administration declared that the African National Congress, Mandela's ANC, was one of the more notorious terrorist organizations in the world. So we had to keep supporting white South Africa as part of the famous war on terror—which Reagan declared, not Bush. In fact, just a year ago, Mandela was taken off the terrorist list and can enter the U.S. without special dispensation.
So that continued right through the 1980s. South Africa looked completely impregnable. It had crushed the ANC on the ground. The world hated it, but it looked like there was no real opposition, and that it was in a permanent position of victory. Then, around 1990, the U.S. shifted its policy. Mandela was let out of Robben Island and began to be groomed to take over. Within a couple of years, apartheid was gone. The South African foreign minister was correct: as long as the Godfather supports us, it doesn't matter what the world thinks. But, of course, the Godfather can change his mind. And that happened and you go to the post-apartheid era—not beautiful, but a big victory.
It's not the only time. None of these things are ever discussed. They can't be discussed because what follows from them is that the U.S. rules the world and rules it by force. You can't accept that, though it's true. Another example, which is quite instructive, is Indonesia. In 1975, Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese territory of East Timor with strong U.S.—later French and British—support. It carried out some of the worst crimes of the late 20th century, virtual genocide—wiping out maybe a quarter of the population. This went on right through 1999, through all the posturing about Serbia and Kosovo and so on, with the Indonesian military declaring it was never going to leave, we don't care what the world thinks, it's our territory and we're going to keep it—with U.S. support.
In mid-September 1999, Clinton uttered a quiet phrase. He informed the Indonesian military that the game was over and the Indonesian military immediately withdrew. The U.S. could have done that 25 years earlier. Incidentally, Clinton's actions now go into history as "humanitarian intervention." Why did Clinton shift position? For one thing, there was a lot of international opposition at the time. There was also a domestic solidarity movement, which had some effect. But probably the major effect was the far right Catholics, who represent a strong sector of power in the U.S., including some leading figures in the Reagan administration. East Timor was a Catholic colony and they turned against the invasion. Under those pressures, Clinton changed his mind and a day later, the Indonesian military left. No more control.
It could happen in Israel. The Mossad director could be correct. The U.S. could shift its policy with enough pressure and insist on joining the world in accepting the international consensus on a two-state settlement. Israel will have no choice. It will have to follow U.S. orders, just as Indonesia did, just as white South Africa did. That's how power systems work. Could that happen? Well, we don't know. We do have the capacity to influence that consequence, maybe bring it about. That's kind of an optimistic conclusion in a way.
January 2011 Z
Noam Chomsky is Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at MIT and author of dozens of books and articles, mainly focused on U.S. foreign policy, as well as linguistics.
“It’s raining outside which is why I cannot address you. Sorry. It seems to be raining inside my tent as well. Can this be rain? No. It’s dogs polluting the uniforms of my bodyguards. No respect for women. Benghazi. I hate that city. Once I accidentally addressed my friend Berlusconi as Benghazi. Drunkards, pimps and religious extremists. I will bomb them again before I leave. I wish we had bought some drones so I could press button myself. My relations with the people are informal, based on friendship and fear. Why have they become so noisy and combative? I have many children. The British Foreign Office adopted one of them, my dear Saif, and wanted to put him on the throne, but that would have no effect on the intellectual landscape of the Jamahiriya.
I just received a tweet from Venezuela: ‘Have you read The Autumn of the Patriarch by G.G. Marquez?’ Why should I read this shit? Has G.G. Marquez read my science-fiction short stories ‘Escape from Hell’ that are even better than my little Green Book which is very nutty? They are set in an imaginary country with an imaginary ruler who kills his people and they rise and get rid of him. It’s very funny story. It is popular in Arab lands. I met them, these jokers and stray dogs of Europe. Blair, Berlusconi, they are my friends, but now they ask me to go. Why? Did they not go? It’s always raining in London. And that Roman pimp is always raining on his people. I will go when my time comes. When Allah summons me to discuss the political conjuncture. I like pizzas. Once there was a good pizza place in Tripoli. Much better pizzas than in Benghazi, but now all these shops are burning. Is it still raining? No? OK. Then I will go. Bury me in a colored shroud, not white. Bill Clinton. His penis should have been chopped off and fed to swine for letting Monica play with him when he was talking to heads of state. Men will be men, but that still upsets me. I never did that. Nor did Blair or Berlusconi.
I ruled this place for 42 years. And now it’s raining. I’m sorry not to rule for 50 years. Mubarak was a stray dog, Ben Ali a pimp. Why they compare those rascals to me. I struggled against my own military dictatorship. I am not a rootless pot of excrement. What do you think? I will ask the people, but I need an umbrella. Who is raining? Am I raining on my own people? Just one last point, I need to address to my people. Remember this: States are counter-Being. Similarly, being is counter-state. Being is the activity of being alive, free, agile and uncontained. Being, when pursued rigorously, state(s) would wither away like Clinton’s penis. States exist by ‘neutralising’ being. “State of being” is a moronic condition. However, ’normally’ we exist in the moronic conditions. I am proud to be the Chief Moron in a moronic state. I will neutralise you all.”
February 25 2011
With western-backed despots being turfed out politics has changed for ever. So just how far can the revolution spread?
The refusal of the people to kiss or ignore the rod that has chastised them for so many decades has opened a new chapter in the history of the Arab nation. The absurd, if much vaunted, neocon notion that Arabs or Muslims were hostile to democracy has disappeared like parchment in fire.
Those who promoted such ideas appear to the most unhappy: Israel and its lobbyists in Euro-America; the arms industry, hurriedly trying to sell as much while it can (the British prime minister acting as a merchant of death at the Abu Dhabi arms fair); and the beleaguered rulers of Saudi Arabia, wondering whether the disease will spread to their tyrannical kingdom. Until now they have provided refuge to many a despot, but when the time comes where will the royal family seek refuge? They must be aware that their patrons will dump them without ceremony and claim they always favoured democracy.
If there is a comparison to be made with Europe it is 1848, when the revolutionary upheavals left only Britain and Spain untouched – even though Queen Victoria, thinking of the Chartists, feared otherwise. Writing to her besieged nephew on the Belgian throne, she expressing sympathy but wondered whether "we will all be slain in our beds". Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown or bejewelled headgear, and has billions stored in foreign banks.
Like Europeans in 1848 the Arab people are fighting against foreign domination (82% of Egyptians, a recent opinion poll revealed, have a "negative view of the US"); against the violation of their democratic rights; against an elite blinded by its own illegitimate wealth – and in favour of economic justice. This is different from the first wave of Arab nationalism, which was concerned principally with driving the remnants of the British empire out of the region. The Egyptians under Nasser nationalised the Suez canal and were invaded by Britain, France and Israel – but that was without Washington's permission, and the three were thus compelled to withdraw.
Cairo was triumphant. The pro-British monarchy was toppled by the 1958 revolution in Iraq, radicals took power in Damascus, a senior Saudi prince attempted a palace coup and fled to Cairo when it failed, armed struggles erupted in Yemen and Oman, and there was much talk of an Arab nation with three concurrent capitals. One side effect was an eccentric coup in Libya that brought a young, semi-literate officer, Muammar Gaddafi, to power. His Saudi enemies have always insisted that the coup was masterminded by British intelligence, just like the one that propelled Idi Amin to power in Uganda. Gaddafi's professed nationalism, modernism and radicalism were all for show, like his ghosted science-fiction short stories.
It never extended to his own people. Despite the oil wealth he refused to educate Libyans, or provide them with a health service or subsidised housing, squandering money on absurdist projects abroad – one of which was to divert a British plane carrying socialist and communist Sudanese oppositionists and handing them over to fellow dictator Gaafar Nimeiry in Sudan to be hanged, thus wrecking the possibility of any radical change in that country, with dire consequences, as we witness every day. At home he maintained a rigid tribal structure, thinking he could divide and buy tribes to stay in power. But no longer.
Israel's 1967 lightning war and victory sounded the death knell of Arab nationalism. Internecine conflicts in Syria and Iraq led to the victory of rightwing Ba'athists blessed by Washington. After Nasser's death and his successor Saadat's pyrrhic victory against Israel in 1973, Egypt's military elite decided to cut its losses, accepted annual billion-dollar subsidies from the US and do a deal with Tel Aviv. In return its dictator was honoured as a statesman by Euro-America, as was Saddam Hussein for a long time. If only they had left him to be removed by his people instead of by an ugly and destructive war and occupation, over a million dead and 5 million orphaned children.
The Arab revolutions, triggered by the economic crisis, have mobilised mass movements, but not every aspect of life has been called into question. Social, political and religious rights are becoming the subject of fierce controversy in Tunisia, but not elsewhere yet. No new political parties have emerged, an indication that the electoral battles to come will be contests between Arab liberalism and conservatism in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood, modelling itself on Islamists in power in Turkey and Indonesia, and ensconced in the embrace of the US.
American hegemony in the region has been dented but not destroyed. The post-despot regimes are likely to be more independent, with a democratic system that is fresh and subversive and, hopefully, new constitutions enshrining social and political needs. But the military in Egypt and Tunisia will ensure nothing rash happens. The big worry for Euro-America is Bahrain. If its rulers are removed it will be difficult to prevent a democratic upheaval in Saudi Arabia. Can Washington afford to let that happen? Or will it deploy armed force to keep the Wahhabi kleptocrats in power?
A few decades ago the great Iraqi poet Mudhafar al-Nawab, angered by a gathering of despots described as an Arab Summit, lost his cool:
… Mubarik, Mubarik,
Wealth and good health
Fax the news to the UN.
Camp after Camp and David,
Father of all your Camps.
Damn your fathers
The stench of your bodies floods your nostrils …
O Make-Believe Summit
May your faces be blackened;
Ugly your drooping bellies
Ugly your fat arses
Why the surprise
That your faces resemble both ...
Summits … summits … summits
Goats and sheep gather,
Farts with a tune
Let the Summit be
Let the Summit not be
Let the Summit decide;
I spit on each and every one of you
Kings … Sheikhs … Lackeys …
Whatever else, Arab summits will not be the same again. The poet has been joined by the people.
• This article was amended on 23 February 2011. The original misspelled the poet's name as Muddafar al-Nawab. This has been corrected.
The Guardian 22 February 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
The privatisation of aid after Katrina offers a glimpse of a terrifying future in which only the wealthy are saved.
The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box. This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the US government's calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: businesses do disaster better.
"It's all going to be private enterprise before it's over," Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys, currently under hurricane watch for tropical storm Ernesto, said in April. "They've got the expertise. They've got the resources." But before this new consensus goes any further, perhaps it's time to take a look at where the privatisation of disaster began, and where it will inevitably lead.
The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The theory is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient (please suspend hysterical laughter).
We saw the results in New Orleans one year ago: Washington was frighteningly weak and inept, in part because its emergency management experts had fled to the private sector and its technology and infrastructure had become positively retro. At least by comparison, the private sector looked modern and competent.
But the honeymoon doesn't last long. "Where has all the money gone?" ask desperate people from Baghdad to New Orleans, from Kabul to tsunami-struck Sri Lanka. One place a great deal of it has gone is into major capital expenditure for these private contractors. Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction of a privatised disaster-response infrastructure: the Shaw Group's new state-of-the-art Baton Rouge headquarters, Bechtel's battalions of earthmoving equipment, Blackwater USA's 6,000-acre campus in North Carolina (complete with paramilitary training camp and 6,000-foot runway).
I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, watertanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.
This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it. So far, that reality hasn't sunk in because while these companies are getting their bills paid by government contracts, the Disaster Capitalism Complex provides its services to the public free of charge.
But here's the catch: the US government is going broke, in no small part thanks to this kind of loony spending. The national debt is $8 trillion; the federal budget deficit is at least $260bn. That means that sooner rather than later the contracts are going to dry up. Insiders call it the "homeland security bubble".
When it bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor and Blackwater will lose their primary revenue stream. They will still have all their hi-tech gear giving them the ability to respond to disasters, while the government will have let that precious skill wither away - but now they will rent back the tax-funded infrastructure at whatever price they choose.
Here's a snapshot of what could be in store in the not-too-distant future: helicopter rides off rooftops in flooded cities at $5,000 a pop ($7,000 for families, pets included), bottled water and "meals ready to eat" at $50 a head (steep, but that's supply and demand), and a cot in a shelter with a portable shower (show us your biometric ID, developed on a lucrative homeland security contract, and we'll track you down later with the bill).
The model, of course, is the US healthcare system, in which the wealthy can access best-in-class treatment in spa-like environments while 46 million Americans lack health insurance. As emergency-response, the model is already at work in the global Aids pandemic: private-sector prowess helped produce life-saving drugs (with heavy public subsidies), then set prices so high that the vast majority of the world's infected cannot afford treatment.
If that is the corporate world's track record on slow-motion disasters, why should we expect different values to govern fast-moving disasters such as hurricanes or even terrorist attacks? It's worth remembering that as Israeli bombs pummelled Lebanon not so long ago, the US government initially tried to charge its citizens for the cost of their own evacuations. And, of course, anyone without a western passport in Lebanon had no hope of rescue.
One year ago, New Orleans's working-class and poor citizens were stranded on their rooftops waiting for help that never came, while those who could pay their way escaped to safety. The country's political leaders claim it was all some terrible mistake, a breakdown in communication that is being fixed. Their solution is to go even further down the catastrophic road of "private-sector solutions."
Unless a radical change of course is demanded, New Orleans will prove to be a glimpse of a dystopian future, a future of disaster apartheid in which the wealthy are saved and everyone else is left behind.
Naomi Klein's book on disaster capitalism will be published in spring 2007.
The Guardian, Wednesday 30 August 2006
Gaddafi and Berlusconi
The most worrying side to world events is if Gaddafi and Berlusconi both depart, there'll be hardly any world leaders left to offer Tony and Cherie Blair a free holiday. It only needs Murdoch to be overthrown and the Blairs will have to go to Pontins at Camber Sands.
Luckily, they seem to have instructed the current Government in how to deal with dictators, so the chairman of the parliamentary group that deals with Bahrain, Conor Burns, went on the radio to say that His Royal Highness the King and his son the Crown Prince of Bahrain are committed to democracy. Of course they are. The King believes in one man, one vote – him. They even use the AV system, with the King voting for himself as King, with his son second choice.
Once Mr Burns has had more experience, he might spot that there are clues in the name of Bahrain's rulers as to their preference for a system that isn't all that democratic. Words such as "His Excellency" and "Crown Prince" and "King" suggest they favour a method of rule that doesn't entirely rely on the popular vote, but it takes time to read between the lines like that.
Another clue is that the deputy commander of the armed forces is the Crown Prince, or maybe that is just coincidence and the King's son really was the best man for the job, selected after an exhaustive series of interviews and role-play exercises. And some of the other candidates went home and said: "I think it went quite well, it's down to me and the Crown Prince, so fingers crossed."
Even so, Mr Burns insisted, the King is "trying to reform", and there is a long tradition of undemocratic leaders who have tried the same. Supporters of apartheid, such as Margaret Thatcher, always insisted South Africa was "trying to reform". So was the Shah of Iran, and the Soviet Union and Mubarak, but it is always really hard luck that they never quite get round to it and then they are overthrown before they get the chance.
Another phrase Mr Burns used in defence of the King was "this is not Egypt". This is becoming a catchphrase for Western officials backing a regime against protesters, as if they knew all along that Egypt was corrupt, and cleverly disguised their distaste by arming and financing the place, but this regime is lovely and the demonstrators must have made a mistake. If Mubarak had been smarter he would have responded to the protests in Cairo by saying: "What are you doing? This is not Egypt."
Mr Burns insisted that there are elections in Bahrain, which is true, but the royals still make the major decisions, such as whether to shoot people. This presented a problem for the Conservative fan of the King, as his radio interview followed an account from a witness, speaking live from Bahrain, agonisingly describing the killing. So the MP said this account was thoroughly "unreliable". Because the trouble with these reports from protesters and journalists and doctors is that they are actually there, so they don't get a true picture, which is much easier to put together if you're at home in Bournemouth. Mr Burns probably did an extensive search on Google Earth and couldn't see any corpses, so it is obvious that this whole thing was a huge misunderstanding.
Mr Burns saved his best for last. The folly of the protesters, he said, was that the Saudi government might watch and think: "Well if that's the gratitude you get for trying to reform, we won't bother." That's right, you know who's to blame for the dictators in Saudi – the people protesting in Bahrain, the selfish bastards. The sensitive Saudi royals are considering moving towards trying to reform but they're easily startled, so the last thing we need is people complaining about being shot, especially when they're probably making it up.
Next week we'll hear from the Cross-Parliamentary Anglo-al-Qa'ida Friendship Society, who will declare that "Mr Bin Laden is committed to reform but these things take time".
The Independent Wednesday, 23 February 2011
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with Obama after a back operation in New York last year.
The Middle East earthquake of the past five weeks has been the most tumultuous, shattering, mind-numbing experience in the history of the region since the fall of the Ottoman empire. For once, "shock and awe" was the right description.
The docile, supine, unregenerative, cringing Arabs of Orientalism have transformed themselves into fighters for the freedom, liberty and dignity which we Westerners have always assumed it was our unique role to play in the world. One after another, our satraps are falling, and the people we paid them to control are making their own history – our right to meddle in their affairs (which we will, of course, continue to exercise) has been diminished for ever.
The tectonic plates continue to shift, with tragic, brave – even blackly humorous – results. Countless are the Arab potentates who always claimed they wanted democracy in the Middle East. King Bashar of Syria is to improve public servants' pay. King Bouteflika of Algeria has suddenly abandoned the country's state of emergency. King Hamad of Bahrain has opened the doors of his prisons. King Bashir of Sudan will not stand for president again. King Abdullah of Jordan is studying the idea of a constitutional monarchy. And al-Qa'ida are, well, rather silent.
Who would have believed that the old man in the cave would suddenly have to step outside, dazzled, blinded by the sunlight of freedom rather than the Manichean darkness to which his eyes had become accustomed. Martyrs there were aplenty across the Muslim world – but not an Islamist banner to be seen. The young men and women bringing an end to their torment of dictators were mostly Muslims, but the human spirit was greater than the desire for death. They are Believers, yes – but they got there first, toppling Mubarak while Bin Laden's henchmen still called for his overthrow on outdated videotapes.
But now a warning. It's not over. We are experiencing today that warm, slightly clammy feeling before the thunder and lightning break out. Gaddafi's final horror movie has yet to end, albeit with that terrible mix of farce and blood to which we are accustomed in the Middle East. And his impending doom is, needless to say, throwing into ever-sharper perspective the vile fawning of our own potentates. Berlusconi – who in many respects is already a ghastly mockery of Gaddafi himself – and Sarkozy, and Lord Blair of Isfahan are turning out to look even shabbier than we believed. Those faith-based eyes blessed Gaddafi the murderer. I did write at the time that Blair and Straw had forgotten the "whoops" factor, the reality that this weird light bulb was absolutely bonkers and would undoubtedly perform some other terrible act to shame our masters. And sure enough, every journalist is now going to have to add "Mr Blair's office did not return our call" to his laptop keyboard.
Everyone is now telling Egypt to follow the "Turkish model" – this seems to involve a pleasant cocktail of democracy and carefully controlled Islam. But if this is true, Egypt's army will keep an unwanted, undemocratic eye on its people for decades to come. As lawyer Ali Ezzatyar has pointed out, "Egypt's military leaders have spoken of threats to the "Egyptian way of life"... in a not so subtle reference to threats from the Muslim Brotherhood. This can be seen as a page taken from the Turkish playbook." The Turkish army turned up as kingmakers four times in modern Turkish history. And who but the Egyptian army, makers of Nasser, constructors of Sadat, got rid of the ex-army general Mubarak when the game was up?
And democracy – the real, unfettered, flawed but brilliant version which we in the West have so far lovingly (and rightly) cultivated for ourselves – is not going, in the Arab world, to rest happy with Israel's pernicious treatment of Palestinians and its land theft in the West Bank. Now no longer the "only democracy in the Middle East", Israel argued desperately – in company with Saudi Arabia, for heaven's sake – that it was necessary to maintain Mubarak's tyranny. It pressed the Muslim Brotherhood button in Washington and built up the usual Israeli lobby fear quotient to push Obama and La Clinton off the rails yet again. Faced with pro-democracy protesters in the lands of oppression, they duly went on backing the oppressors until it was too late. I love "orderly transition". The "order" bit says it all. Only Israeli journalist Gideon Levy got it right. "We should be saying 'Mabrouk Misr!'," he said. Congratulations, Egypt!
Yet in Bahrain, I had a depressing experience. King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman have been bowing to their 70 per cent (80 per cent?) Shia population, opening prison doors, promising constitutional reforms. So I asked a government official in Manama if this was really possible. Why not have an elected prime minister instead of a member of the Khalifa royal family? He clucked his tongue. "Impossible," he said. "The GCC would never permit this." For GCC – the Gulf Co-operation Council – read Saudi Arabia. And here, I am afraid, our tale grows darker.
We pay too little attention to this autocratic band of robber princes; we think they are archaic, illiterate in modern politics, wealthy (yes, "beyond the dreams of Croesus", etc), and we laughed when King Abdullah offered to make up any fall in bailouts from Washington to the Mubarak regime, and we laugh now when the old king promises $36bn to his citizens to keep their mouths shut. But this is no laughing matter. The Arab revolt which finally threw the Ottomans out of the Arab world started in the deserts of Arabia, its tribesmen trusting Lawrence and McMahon and the rest of our gang. And from Arabia came Wahabism, the deep and inebriating potion – white foam on the top of the black stuff – whose ghastly simplicity appealed to every would-be Islamist and suicide bomber in the Sunni Muslim world. The Saudis fostered Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. Let us not even mention that they provided most of the 9/11 bombers. And the Saudis will now believe they are the only Muslims still in arms against the brightening world. I have an unhappy suspicion that the destiny of this pageant of Middle East history unfolding before us will be decided in the kingdom of oil, holy places and corruption. Watch out.
But a lighter note. I've been hunting for the most memorable quotations from the Arab revolution. We've had "Come back, Mr President, we were only kidding" from an anti-Mubarak demonstrator. And we've had Saif el-Islam el-Gaddafi's Goebbels-style speech: "Forget oil, forget gas – there will be civil war." My very own favourite, selfish and personal quotation came when my old friend Tom Friedman of The New York Times joined me for breakfast in Cairo with his usual disarming smile. "Fisky," he said, "this Egyptian came up to me in Tahrir Square yesterday, and asked me if I was Robert Fisk!" Now that's what I call a revolution.
The Independent Saturday, 26 February 2011