Of late I’ve done a slew of reading and want to share some of it, though I’m spoiled for choice. Fine pieces from Naked Capitalism, Caitlin Johnstone, Andrew Korybko, Simplicius the Thinker, Moon of Alabama and Michael Roberts to name a few – plus audio visual stuff from The Duran, US Colonel (ret) Doug McGregor and Jeffrey Sachs – were passed over not for lack of gravitas or impact but because the three I do pick exemplify, each in its own way, the theme given in my title. Eclecticity is all well and good, but once in a while it’s nice to have a leitmotif.
Amnesia for instance.
I start my variations on that theme with Michael Brenner, a professor of international affairs at Pittsburgh University, on how “Americans have become masters of memory management”. This is followed by my longest choice, a Media Lens 4,000 worder on Britain’s media memory holes re the feted war criminal Tony Blair, Russia’s “unprovoked invasion”, 1 and the “humanitarian” devastation of Libya; at the time Africa’s richest country – its free housing, education and health care putting America to shame – to create a land of terror, chaos, slavery and destitution. And while we’re on the subject, the demolition of Libya – recently returned to our screens, with the killers in high places saying their prayers out loud for the drowned – is the subject of my final selection from WSWS.
US Can’t Deal with Defeat (2989 words)
Steel city reader and BTL commenter Dave Hansell alerted me yesterday to Michael Brenner’s piece. After a fast read I replied:
Excellent. I’ll include it in my “three weekend reads”. I attach a caveat though … Brenner overstates subjective aspects – which undoubtedly play a part – of US hostility to China while paying too little attention to the implications for the US (and west at large) of very objective threats to dollar dominance. 2 Otherwise I love it, and especially appreciate its acknowledgement, still under-recognised, of the extent to which Europe loses big time.
I’ve now read it at greater leisure and stand by that assessment. Caveat aside, it has gravitas and impact in spades, and abounds in powerful passages. I could get half a dozen steel city masthead quotes from it. This for example:
[US strategy] was predicated on the fatally ill-informed supposition that Putin was an absolute dictator running a one-man show. 3 The US foresaw his replacement by a more pliable government ready to become a willing but marginal presence on the European stage and a non-player elsewhere. In the crude words of one Moscow official, “a tenant-farmer on Uncle Sam’s global plantation.”
Graphic images of burnt-out hulks littering the Ukrainian steppe are not advertisements for either Western military technology or foreign sales. Hence the slow-walking of deliveries of the promised Abrams and F-16s lest they suffer the same fate.
And most pertinently this:
… the strongest collective memory of America’s wars of choice is the desirability – and ease – of forgetting them. “The show must go on” is taken as the imperative. So it will be when we look at a ruined Ukraine in the rear-view mirror.
Now read on.
The United States is being defeated in Ukraine.
One could say that it is facing defeat — or, more starkly, that it is staring defeat in the face. Neither formulation is appropriate, though. The U.S. doesn’t look reality squarely in the eye. It prefers to look at the world through the distorted lenses of its fantasies. It plunges forward on whatever path it’s chosen while averting its eyes from the topography it is trying to traverse. Its sole guiding light is the glow of a distant mirage. That is its lodestone.
It is not that America is a stranger to defeat. It is very well acquainted with it: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — in strategic terms if not always military terms. To this broad category, we might add Venezuela, Cuba and Niger. That rich experience in frustrated ambition has failed to liberate Washington from the deeply rooted habit of eliding defeat. Indeed, the U.S. has acquired a large inventory of methods for doing so.
Defining & Determining Defeat
Before examining them, let us specify what we mean by “defeat.” Simply put, defeat is a failure to meet objectives — at tolerable cost. The term also encompasses unintended, adverse second-order consequences.
No. 1. What were Washington’s objectives in sabotaging the Minsk peace plan and cold-shouldering subsequent Russian proposals, provoking Russia by crossing a clearly demarcated red line, pressing for Ukraine’s membership in NATO, installing missile batteries in Poland and Rumania, transforming the Ukrainian army into a potent military force deployed on the line-of-contact in the Donbass ready to invade or goad Moscow into preemptive action?
I’m a Media Lens admirer. How could anyone, knowing the systemic corruption of our media and its negation of meaningful democracy – which presupposes informed consent – not be? Anchoring this piece – its content flagged in my main introduction – is a work intended as a warning, not as a manual:
Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
George Orwell, 1984
Now read on.
A key function of state-corporate media is to keep the public pacified, ignorant and ill-equipped to disrupt establishment power.
Knowledge that sheds light on how the world operates politically and economically is kept to a minimum by the ‘mainstream’ media. George Orwell’s famous ‘memory hole’ from ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ signifies the phenomenon brilliantly. Winston Smith’s work for the Ministry of Truth requires that he destroys documents that contradict state propaganda:
‘When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building’.
(Orwell, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, 1949, Penguin edition, 1982, p. 34)
The interests of power, hinging on the domination of an ignorant population, are robustly maintained:
‘In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.’
(Ibid., p. 36)
In today’s fictional ‘democracies’, the workings of propaganda are more subtle. Notably, there is a yawning chasm between the rhetoric of leaders’ professed concern for human rights, peace and democracy, and the realpolitik of empire, exploitation and control.
As Declassified UK observed earlier this year, the UK has planned or executed over 40 attempts to remove foreign governments in 27 countries since the end of the Second World War. These have involved the intelligence agencies, covert and overt military interventions and assassinations. The British-led coup in Iran 70 years ago is perhaps the best-known example; but it was no anomaly.
If we broaden the scope to British military interventions around the world since 1945, there are as many as 83 examples …
NATO imperialism and the Libya flood catastrophe (1495 words)
Given its relative brevity, I’m replicating this in full. WSWS have set out an admirably cogent and succinct description of what Obama and Biden did to Libya, with ample aid not only from Mrs Clinton as Secretary of State – and those compradors in London and Paris, Cameron and Sarkozy – but by western media. True to form on matters vital to those who rule, those media lied to us not only by omission – building up Gaddafi as a boo-hiss villain of Dr No proportions while passing over in silence the gains noted in my general intro – but by commission too; most infamously in their relaying of the self-serving lie, which to my mortification I fell for, that Tripoli was planning genocide of its ‘rebels’.
To be sure, the piece ends with that tiresomely predictable call for “workers and youth around the world to build an international movement against imperialism”. (Worthy cause, but a rabbit WSWS is too fond of pulling from its panacea-for-every-ailment hat.) But as with many an otherwise solid piece from this source, I’ve overlooked that. WSWS and its Socialist Equality Party host get too much right to be dismissed on so slender a basis.
Now read on.
More than 6,000 people are confirmed dead in the flooding across eastern Libya caused by Storm Daniel, which burst two dams and destroyed large parts of the port city of Derna. Many thousands are still missing and the confirmed death toll is expected to at least double as the remains of victims the flood swept out to sea wash back ashore.
This horrific catastrophe is not only the product of severe weather, intensified by climate change. It flows from the war NATO waged against Libya in 2011, which shattered the country and plunged it into civil war. Those who launched the NATO war in Libya or applauded it as a “humanitarian” intervention, and who today are backing a NATO war against Russia in Ukraine on similar grounds, bear direct political and moral responsibility for the Derna catastrophe.
Last year, hydrologist Abdelwanees Ashoor wrote articles warning that Derna’s dams were in poor condition, and that a major flood would be “likely to cause one of the two dams to collapse.” Ashoor continued, “If a huge flood happens, the result will be catastrophic for the people of the wadi and the city.”
No repairs were done, however, because of the civil war that has raged between rival governments in eastern and western Libya since NATO destroyed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in the 2011 war. International Crisis Group official Claudia Gazzini told France24: “In 10 years since the fall of the Gaddafi regime—in the following 10 years of wars, policy rivalry and isolation—both governments have completely neglected the infrastructure.”
What is systematically covered up, however, is the NATO powers’ role in instigating the civil war that created the conditions for the flood. Top NATO officials launched the 2011 war in Libya, relying on the professional liars in the major media, the academic establishment and the middle-class pseudo-left parties to sell the war as a crusade for democracy and human rights. These forces all have blood on their hands.
This includes then-US President Barack Obama, then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose governments pressed the hardest for the 2011 war in Libya. Also complicit are the major media outlets such as the New York Times and CNN, which peddle CIA-dictated propaganda, as well as legions of cowardly and conformist academics like Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and pseudo-left political operatives like Professor Gilbert Achcar of France’s New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA). They backed the war in Libya then, as they back NATO’s Ukraine war now.
NATO launched the war in Libya in February 2011, claiming that only its intervention could keep Gaddafi from killing protesters in eastern Libya, the same region now devastated by floods. To topple Gaddafi, NATO armed a collection of rival Islamist and tribal militias, led by figures such as Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader Abdelhakim Bekhadj, CIA asset Khalifa Haftar, and leaders of the Misrata Brigades. It then provided its proxy forces with air support, bombing Libyan army forces that fought the NATO-backed insurgent militias.
The war ended after seven months of fighting that claimed an estimated 25,000 lives, as NATO bombed Tripoli and Sirte, Gaddafi’s home city. On October 20, 2011, a gang of militiamen that included French intelligence agents captured, tortured and murdered Gaddafi in the ruins of Sirte. Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gloated on the day of Gaddafi’s death, laughing and telling reporters: “We came, we saw, he died.”
The World Socialist Web Site exposed the imperialist interests motivating the war on oil-rich Libya and exposed the lies used to justify the war. Examining the case of professor and Middle East blogger Juan Cole, David North pointed to the pro-imperialist political amnesia that afflicted a broad layer of petty-bourgeois supporters of the war. North wrote:
Those who are hailing the attack on Libya as a triumph for the cause of human rights seem to have no recollection at all of the monstrous role played by the United States in attacking and subverting countries that interfered, in one way or another, with its strategic political and economic interests. It is not only the past that is forgotten (Vietnam, the savage war of the “Contras” in Nicaragua, the fomenting of civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, the overthrow and murder of Lumumba in the Congo, the longstanding support for the apartheid regime in South Africa, the invasion of Iraq); the present is all but ignored. The pro-war “left” assigns to the United States the task of removing Gaddafi for firing on his people, even as Predator drones rain missiles down upon Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing people every day.
As the war began, Cole attacked left-wing opposition to it, declaring that the left “should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo,” and adding, “To make ‘anti-imperialism’ trump all other values in a mindless way leads to frankly absurd positions.” To underscore his enthusiastic support for the US and NATO, he said, “If NATO needs me, I’m there.”
Similarly, Achcar, a professor at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and member of the Pabloite NPA, who functions as an adviser to the British army, admitted that the war aimed to plunder Libya’s oil resources, but backed NATO anyway.
“The Western response, of course, smacks of oil,” Achcar said in 2011. However, he argued, this was not a reason to oppose the war:
Here is a case where a population is truly in danger, and where there is no plausible alternative that could protect it. The attack by Gaddafi’s forces was hours or at most days away. You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians.
And once the Gaddafi regime had been toppled, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof traveled to Libya and boasted that the NATO war had turned him into a hero in Tripoli. In a column titled “Thank You America!”, Kristof wrote:
Americans are not often heroes in the Arab world, but as nonstop celebrations unfold here in the Libyan capital, I keep running into ordinary people who learn where I’m from and then fervently repeat variants of the same phrase: “Thank you America!”
In reality, the NATO victory in Libya resulted in a human tragedy. The country again plunged into civil war in 2012, after oil-rich eastern Libya tried to secede and cut its own deals with the major NATO oil corporations. Along with the escalation of civil war over the ensuing decade, there have been tens of thousands more deaths. Economic production has fallen by half, from $92 billion in 2012 to $46 billion last year, while gross domestic product per capita—roughly speaking, average personal income—has fallen from $15,765 to $6,716.
All the officials and professors who argued that the NATO conquest of Libya would produce peace, prosperity and democracy bear responsibility for the tens of thousands of deaths and incalculable human misery that have resulted from the war they backed and actively promoted. Cole claimed he supported the war because it created the prospect of “allowing Libyans to have a normal life.” But the war supposedly waged for democracy and normality devastated Libya and led to the reintroduction of slavery in the country.
In 2017, citing multiple reports in world media, Amnesty International concluded that in camps the European Union (EU) set up in Libya to detain refugees trying to flee to Europe, prisoners are beaten, raped, murdered and sold at auction into slavery.
Today, what do the war propagandists have to say about the catastrophe in Derna and the role their support for war has played? Cole and Achcar, on their blogs, have said nothing. They have left the disaster they helped create in Libya behind. Achcar has moved on to advocating support for the latest NATO war—this time, against Russia.
The war against Russia in Ukraine flows directly out of the spiral of military escalation launched by NATO. After the war in Libya, the NATO powers soon mobilized the Islamist networks they had used against Gaddafi as proxy forces to wage war in Syria. In September 2013, Russian warships based at Sevastopol intervened to block NATO ships from bombing Syria. Less than five months later, Washington and Berlin backed the February 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine and demanded that Russia hand over Sevastopol and the entire Crimean Peninsula to the newly installed pro-NATO regime in Kiev.
The decisive task facing workers and youth around the world is to build an international movement against imperialism to halt this spiral of military escalation, which is setting into motion an ever-greater chain of catastrophes. As the NATO imperialist powers escalate the war in Ukraine and conspire to divide up Russia and grab its natural resources, they again present themselves as defenders of “democracy” and “freedom”—this time, against Russian President Vladimir Putin. In reality, the rape of Libya and the catastrophe in Derna are imperishable warnings on the disastrous consequences of NATO victory in its wars of plunder.
* * *
- “Unprovoked invasion …” I’m an SMO man myself. I see zero evidence that Russia’s aim was a land grab, but do see a crime scene awash with evidence, some of it set out in this recent post, that the Kremlin moved to resolve an intolerable situation not thousands of miles away, US style, but on its border. (And not just any old border, but one from which the invasions of Charles XII, Napoleon and Hitler were all launched.) Still, the i-word isn’t a deal breaker. It’s that “unprovoked” which – for me, for Media Lens and for everyone else not fully asleep – sticks in the throat.
- Objective threats to dollar dominance form a major part of my post at start of this month: Broken, the implicit contract between rulers and ruled.
- Assuming an absolute dictator running a one man show is a mistake Washington never tires of making. It informed the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, whose planning group’s suppression of dissent helped social psychologist Irving Janis formulate the 1984 inspired concept of groupthink..