Archive for the ‘Imperialism’ Category

Conspiracy-mongering and the Syrian Revolt

September 6, 2013

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Ellen Brown

Experience has taught me to be wary of conspiracy theories, but many of my comrades on the Left can’t get enough of the damn things. Even when it’s quite plain what is going on, they must look for a hidden agenda, or a grand, over-arching scheme outlined in a Goldmann Sachs memo.

CounterPunch and AlterNet have both posted an article by Ellen Brown, in which she writes:

    In his August 22nd article, Greg Palast posted a screenshot of a 1997 memo from Timothy Geithner, then Assistant Secretary of International Affairs under Robert Rubin, to Larry Summers, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner referred in the memo to the “end-game of WTO financial services negotiations” and urged Summers to touch base with the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citibank, and Chase Manhattan Bank, for whom private phone numbers were provided.

    The game then in play was the deregulation of banks so that they could gamble in the lucrative new field of derivatives. To pull this off required, first, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the 1933 Act that imposed a firewall between investment banking and depository banking in order to protect depositors’ funds from bank gambling. But the plan required more than just deregulating US banks. Banking controls had to be eliminated globally so that money would not flee to nations with safer banking laws.

Brown then goes on to tell how the U.S. pressured countries around the world to loosen their banking regulations. Most eventually gave in, but there were some hold-outs, one of which happened to be Syria. Brown’s article implies that this is what is behind Obama’s recent call for an intervention in Syria. I don’t buy it. I’m expected to believe that Obama waited two and a half years for Assad to gas his own people* so he could finally carry out Timothy Geither’s master plan? If Syria were that important to Obama, he would have found (or invented) some excuse for intervention before now. The fact that Geithner wrote something in a memo sixteen years ago doesn’t mean that must be the reason why the government is doing something right now. (*I know there are some who claim that a rebel group did the gassing, but in these situations the burden of proof is always on the conspiracy theorists. Unless I see some hard evidence indicating otherwise, I’m going to assume it was Assad who did it.)

Brown also writes:

    These seven countries were named by U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.) in a 2007 “Democracy Now” interview as the new “rogue states” being targeted for take down after September 11, 2001. He said that about 10 days after 9-11, he was told by a general that the decision had been made to go to war with Iraq. Later, the same general said they planned to take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

Again, this doesn’t prove anything. Just because somebody said something to Wesley Clark in 2001, it doesn’t necessarily follow that that is the reason why Obama is doing something today.

There are valid arguments that can be made against what Obama is proposing to do. We don’t need to confuse matters by putting forth dubious conspiracy theories.

Syria and the Art of Moral Imperialism

August 28, 2013

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The conflict in Syria has been going on for over two years now, and President Obama has been doing everything he can to stay out of it, but now there is talk in the media of an attack, possibly this week. Confronted by growing evidence that the Assad government has used poison gas against civilians, President Obama now has to make good on all his talk about red lines. (Barry Crimmins recently said, “If we’re prepared to use force on people who commit chemical warfare, when do we attack Monsanto?”) He is reportedly studying different options that have been presented to him by the military. However, a White House spokesman, Jay Carney, has said, “The options that we are considering are not about regime change.” So what are Obama’s aims then? My guess is that he is going to carry out a one-off attack, similar to Clinton’s missile strike in Khartoum or Reagan’s bombing of Libya. Obama can then say that the U.S. has shown zero tolerance towards the use of chemical weapons, to the applause of his supporters. The attack will increase tensions with Russia and with Iran, but it will be a small price to pay so that the U.S. can maintain its facade of moral high-mindedness.

We have come a long way since the giddy days following the invasion of Iraq, when there was delirious talk about the prospect of U.S. troops marching through the streets of Damascus and Teheran. I argued in an earlier post that the U.S. empire is not in decline, and I still hold that view. What has happened is that the Iraq War and its aftermath has taught the U.S. ruling class to take a more realistic view of what it can and cannot do, as well as to take a more realistic view of the internal politics of other countries. (Contrast Gen. Dempsey’s sober assessment of the Syrian opposition with the neoconservatives’ love affair with the convicted embezzler, Ahmad Chalabi.) In that respect, it can be argued that the U.S. empire is actually in better shape today than it was under George W. Bush.

A Reply to Noam Chomsky: America’s Imperial Power Is Not in Decline

August 4, 2013

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Aletnet has posted an article by Noam Chomsky entitled America’s Imperial Power Is Showing Real Signs of Decline. Chomsky cites as proof of his claim the fact that the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) has passed a resolution condemning the countries that refused to allow Evo Morales’s plane to enter their airspace last month. However, I doubt that this resolution will have any concrete results. What is of greater significance is the incident that led to this resolution in the first place. The U.S. apparently pressured four countries – France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – into denying passage through their airspace to the President of Bolivia, in the belief that Edward Snowden might be on his plane. In doing so, these countries not only violated international law, they insulted the leader of a resource-rich nation. So, the U.S. got four governments to act against their own best interests. That’s a pretty impressive display of political power, if you ask me.

Chomsky argues that the U.S. no longer wields as much influence over Latin America as it once did. This is true, but a major reason for this is that since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. foreign policy has shifted its focus to the Middle East and southern Asia. The U.S. now wields greater power in that region of the world than ever before. The U.S. carries out drone attacks in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen with impunity. The U.S. now has military bases set up throughout the region. The Arab Spring was a setback, but the U.S. has since been able to reassert its influence in the countries involved.

Empires don’t always get what they want. When the British empire was at its height, the British suffered a military defeat in Afghanistan. A resolution passed by Latin American countries is no proof that the U.S. empire is in decline. Neither is Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden.

Chomsky wants to believe the U.S. is in decline when it really isn’t.

The Year of Living Dangerously

July 18, 2013

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The 1965 Indonesian military coup was one of the most horrific events of the second half of the twentieth century. It killed over a million Indonesians, and it ushered in the Suharto dictatorship that ruled Indonesia for 31 years. It was an event that has not gotten as much attention in the West as it should.

Peter Weir’s 1982 film, The Year of Living Dangerously is set in Indonesia in the months before the coup. Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is an ambitious young journalist from Australia, who has just been given his first foreign correspondent assignment in Indonesia. He meets a mysterious photographer named Billy Kwan (Helen Hunt). Billy arranges for Guy to interview the head of the PKI, the Indonesian communists, a major scoop that helps Guy’s career. Billy introduces Guy to Jill (Sigourney Weaver), who is an assistant to the military attaché at the British embassy. Guy and Jill have an affair, much to the disapproval of Jill’s boss. One day, Guy learns from that there is a shipment of arms coming from China for the PKI. Over Billy’s objections, Guy decides to write a story about this, even though everyone will know that he learned about this from Jill, which will hurt her standing at the embassy.

The Year of Living Dangerously is an oddly disappointing film, one that seems to promise far more than it actually delivers. There is a sense of foreboding during much of the film, because we know about the disaster that the characters can’t see coming. And some of the scenes seem to hint that more is going on than meets the eye. Yet the Indonesian coup ends up merely serving as the backdrop to a romance between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver. There are depictions of poverty in Jakarta, and there is a scene of communists being executed by the military, but the the film is mainly about a group of wealthy Westerners. It would be interesting to see a film about the coup told from an Indonesian point-of-view.

A Global Revolution?

June 19, 2013

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The recent protests in Turkey and in Brazil have brought some renewed optimism to this country’s perpetually gloomy Left. In The Daily Kos, Ray Pensador writes:

    We’re here folks. This is the real thing. The global revolution has started. What’s happening in Turkey, and Brazil, as a write this, are not unrelated events. The revelations about how corparatist cartels are using government institutions to cast a wide net of surveillance over the entire population (NSA spying) with the intent of using it as a tool to control, manipulate and exploit the citizenry, is part of the collusion.

I don’t want to sound like Mr. Downer, but I’ve heard this kind of talk before. I heard it after the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999. (I remember Alex Callinicos saying that Seattle was “a fork in the road”. It was more like a speed bump for neoliberalism.) I also heard this talk in the Occupy movement in the fall of 2011. Yet at some point the increasing corruption and criminality of our global economic system is going to produce some kind of sustained fightback. If not now, some time in the near future. Something has got to give.

Breaker Morant

April 8, 2013

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Breaker Morant is a 1980 Australian film that is a loosely fictionalized account of an actual incident that occurred during the Boer War. Lt. Harry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward), Lt. Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown), and Lt. George Ramsdale Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), who are officers in an elite British army unit called the Bushveldt Carbineers, have been accused of killing captured Boer guerillas, as well as a German missionary. Maj. J.F. Thomas (Jack Thompson), who has no previous legal experience, has been appointed to act as their attorney at the court martial. The film alternates between trail scenes and flashbacks of the events being discussed. Despite his lack of experience, Thomas makes a valiant attempt to defend the men, but it becomes clear that the court is determined to find the men guilty.

Bruce Beresford, the director of Break Morant, once said about it:

    The film never pretended for a moment that they weren’t guilty. It said they are guilty. But what was interesting about it was that it analysed why men in this situation would behave as they had never behaved before in their lives. It’s the pressures that are put to bear on people in war time… Look at all the things that happen in these countries committed by people who appear to be quite normal. That was what I was interested in examining. I always get amazed when people say to me that this is a film about poor Australians who were framed by the Brits.

This film does show that Morant and the others were corrupted by the war. However, Breaker Morant does go out of its way to give the impression that these men were used as scapegoats, and that the British singled them out because they were Australians. (The British officers repeatedly refer to them as “colonials”.) So, it’s perhaps not surprising that some people would interpret it as exonerating these men, even though that’s not what Beresford intended.

Breaker Morant is a good film that has some powerful moments. The scene in which Thomas gives his summing up speech is especially effective. However, as a depiction of the dehumanizing effect of war, it is not as strong as Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket.

I should point out that Breaker Morant takes some liberties with the historical record. It changes some of the details of what happened, and it includes events that never occurred. In one scene, for example, the fort in which Morant and the others are being tried is attacked by the Boers. This never happened. In fact, the trial took place in Pretoria, far from the war zone. One can only assume that Beresford included this because he wanted to direct a battle scene. After he directed Breaker Morant, Beresford went to Hollywood. I suspect he wanted to show Hollywood producers that he could direct a “big picture”.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

March 20, 2013

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One of my Facebook friends suggested that instead of drinking green beer and getting violently drunk on St. Patrick’s Day, people should watch The Wind That Shakes the Barley. I decided to take this advice, and I’m glad I did. Ken Loach’s film about the Irish War of Independence is a remarkable work. Not only is it a stirring depiction of armed struggle against oppression, but it is also a disturbing examination of the moral dilemmas that such a struggle entails.

The year is 1920. Damien O’Donovan (Cillian Murphy) is a young doctor about to leave for London to work in a hospital there. When a friend of Damien’s is murdered by the Black and Tans, his friends urge him to join the Irish Republican Army, but he dismisses their cause as hopeless. At a train station, however, he sees British soldiers beat up some railway workers who refuse to let them on the train. He changes his mind and joins the IRA, where his brother, Teddy (Pádraic Delaney), is an officer. Together, they fight against the British. When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed, Teddy supports it. He argues they have no choice but to accept it, since the British threaten all-out war if it is rejected. (Considering that Churchill was not opposed to genocide, I don’t think this was an idle threat.) Damien, however, sees it as a betrayal of the Republican cause. They find themselves on opposite sides of the ensuing civil war.

It seems that in every revolution, there comes a moment when one group decides that it has gone as far as it can possibly go, while another group is equally convinced that the revolution must go further. The most famous example is the split between the Girondists and the Jacobins during the French Revolution. What is less appreciated is that such a split actually happened three times during the Russian Revolution: first between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, then between Lenin and the Workers’ Opposition, and finally between Stalin and Trotsky. The Wind That Shakes the Barley illustrates how the Irish War of Independence followed this pattern, with tragic results for those involved. This film doesn’t present either side as being entirely right or entirely wrong. Like Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechuan, it presents us with an open-ended question.

Gilad Atzmon Knocks Down Straw Men, CounterPunch is Impressed

March 12, 2013

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It had been a while since I’d seen anything by Gilad Atzmon in CounterPunch, so I thought maybe they had lost interest in him. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that. On March 8, they posted an article by him entitled Is Palestinian Solidarity an Occupied Zone? It begins:

    Once involved with Palestinian Solidarity you have to accept that Jews are special and so is their suffering; Jews are like no other people, their Holocaust is like no other genocide and anti Semitism, is the most vile form of racism the world has ever known and so on and so forth.

Atzmon doesn’t name anyone who says this. I don’t know of anyone in the Palestinian solidarity movement who says such things. Atzmon continues:

    But when it comes to the Palestinians, the exact opposite is the case. For some reason we are expected to believe that the Palestinians are not special at all – they are just like everyone else. Palestinians have not been subject to a unique, racist, nationalist and expansionist Jewish nationalist movement, instead, we must all agree that, just like the Indians and the Africans, the Palestinian ordeal results from run-of-the-mill 19th century colonialism – just more of the same old boring Apartheid.

Again, Atzmon doesn’t identify who is saying these things. No doubt, this is because he can’t. I think I should point out that here in the U.S., simply using the word “apartheid” in connection with Israel can get one in a lot of hot water. Doing such a thing requires a certain amount of courage.

From this, Atzmon segues into an aesthetic criticism of the Palestinian Solidarity movement:

    Can you think of any other liberation or solidarity movement that prides itself in being boring, ordinary and dull?

I have met a number of people in the Palestinian solidarity movement, and they are among the least boring people I have ever met. One must admit here that Atzmon is not boring himself. Unfortunately, that is the only thing one can say for him.

    Palestinian Solidarity is an occupied zone and, like all such occupied zones must dedicate itself to the fight against ‘anti Semitism’.

Ah, now we see what’s really bugging Atzmon. It seems that his tender feelings have been hurt by all those people who have called him an anti-Semite. Of course, that does tend to happen when you say things that are anti-Semitic. Life can be funny sometimes.

Atzmon then delivers his knock-out punch:

    Dutifully united against racism, fully engaged with LGBT issues in Palestine and in the movement itself, but for one reason or another, the movement is almost indifferent towards the fate of millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps and their Right of Return to their homeland.

That’s right! All those people who have dedicated their lives to the Palestinian struggle – sometimes at great personal cost – have done so because they basically don’t give a shit about the Palestinians!

What a brilliant insight!

Why the hell do the editors of CounterPunch insult the intelligence of their readers by posting such gobbledegook? I am at a a complete loss to try to explain this.

As for Atzmon, I can’t see why he’s being so petulant. Things are actually looking up for him. At a special conference held by the Socialist Workers Party of Britain this past weekend, the leadership defeated motions put forward by the opposition, causing many of the latter to resign. This means that Atzmon’s good buddy, Martin Smith will soon be back on the SWP’s Central Committee, and they will soon be again sponsoring concerts featuring Atzmon playing the saxophone in front of empty seats. Good times!

Hangmen Also Die

March 9, 2013

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Hangmen Also Die is an entirely fictionalized account of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the leaders of Nazi Germany. This 1943 film was directed by Fritz Lang, from a screenplay by John Wexley, based on a story by Bertolt Brecht and Lang. This was the only Hollywood film that Brecht worked on for which he received an on-screen credit. Lang had originally intended to have Brecht write the screenplay, but he apparently changed his mind due to aesthetic, political, and personal differences between himself and Brecht that made it increasingly difficult for them to work together.

The film is set in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy) has just assassinated Heydrich, and he is fleeing down a street. Mascha (Anna Lee) sees him. When the Gestapo ask her where he went, she points them in the opposite direction. Svoboda, who is hiding nearby, observes this. Desperate for a place to hide, he follows her to her home, where he manages to persuade her to take him in, even though he knows that by doing so, he is placing her and her family in danger of retaliation by the Gestapo.

Lang and Brecht did not get along well when they were working on the story for Hangmen Also Die. Brecht thought some of Lang’s story ideas were unbelievable. He complained, for example, of one scene in which Lang had the leader of the Czech resistance evade the Gestapo by hiding behind a curtain. (I found this hard to believe myself.) Yet Lang was right to reject Brecht’s idea that the mistakes of the underground “are corrected by the broad mass of the people”. Brecht’s, influence, however, can perhaps be seen in the fact that one of the film’s chief villains is a Czech collaborator who is also the wealthy owner of a beer brewery. And there is some dark Brechtian humor in the moment when, in the midst of interrogating someone, a Gestapo officer pauses to squeeze a pimple on his face. (That’s something you don”t often see in Hollywood movies.)

John Wexley and Hanns Eisler (who composed the music) were both later blacklisted. Eisler was eventually deported because of his left-wing political views. Brecht left the country after being questioned by the HUAC.

Despite its contrived and melodramatic moments, Hangmen Also Die does touch upon some complex moral and political questions, such as whether terror tactics, like assassinations, are ever a good idea. In the film, the Gestapo begin carrying out random executions in retaliation for the assassination. What happened in real life was even worse. The Nazis destroyed the Czech city of Lidice, killing most of its inhabitants or sending them to concentration camps.

Although it is not one of Lang’s best films, Hangmen Also Die is nonetheless one of the more interesting films to come out of World War II.

The Legend of Bhagat Singh

January 13, 2013

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After reading my review of The Baader Meinhof Complex, a friend of mine recommended that I watch the 2002 Indian film, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, which also touches upon the question of what tactics should be used in the struggle against injustice. Although Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) is little known in the U.S., he is famous in India for his role in the Indian independence movement. He rejected Gandhi’s notion of non-violent resistance. He was a founding member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, which sought to organize a mass uprising against the British. When the Indian writer, Lala Lajpat Rai, died after being beaten by the police, Singh and his comrades killed a British police officer in revenge. Later, they threw bombs in the Indian National Assembly, with the intent of getting themselves arrested. Singh hoped that his speeches at the trial would inspire the Indian people to rise up against their colonizers. His trial received considerable attention, and for a time he became as popular as Gandhi. However, this did not stop the British from executing him.

This film shows Gandhi in an unflattering light. It accuses him of dropping his demand that the Viceroy commute Singh’s death sentence so that he could get a political pact with the British granting limited rights to Indians. Given all the adulation given to Gandhi in both India and the West, it’s interesting to see a film that portrays him in a negative manner. In effect, it accuses him of being willing to sacrifice principle in order to get an agreement with the British.

The director, Rajkumar Santoshi, paints the story of Singh’s life in broad strokes. He doesn’t spend much time on character development. Singh (Ajay Devgan) appears fearless and wise almost from the time of his birth. And in true Bollywood fashion, there are musical numbers. Singh sings. He sings (twice) while he is on a hunger strike, and he sings while he is going to his execution. The Legend of Bhagat Singh emphasizes Singh’s advocacy of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation. (Singh came from a Sikh family, but he became an atheist at an early age.) Santoshi clearly wanted to remind his fellow Indians of Singh’s politics, which are more relevant than ever with the sectarian violence that has sometimes taken place in that country in recent years. No doubt Santoshi thought that following the conventions of Bollywood would give the film more appeal, although I’m told that it actually did not do well at the box office. In all honesty, I could have done without the singing, but I found this a compelling film nonetheless.