World View: Strange values, denials and a few truths
The proverbial line has been drawn in the sand and President George W Bush has told the world “either you’re with us or you’re against us.” It’s a catch-all sentiment that is taking hold. Indeed, one writer asked me through the letters page of the Shields Gazette: “A simple message to John Bissett. Which side are you on, ours or the terrorists?” “It’s that simple”, I’ve been told on the streets!
The mainstream view is that the forces of barbarism have declared war on the bastion of democracy. George Bush boldly declared: “They hate our freedom, our freedom of religion, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with one another”, yet wonders not why, if this were so, the Statue of Liberty, the White House or the Lincoln memorial was not attacked on 11 September. Why the Pentagon and the WTC – one a symbol of America’s global military reach, the other a symbol of US economic prowess?
Of course there is much missing from Bush’s assertion that Islamic terrorists are simply jealous as hell of the democratic freedoms “enjoyed” in the US. The simple truth is that throughout the Middle East, indeed the world, the US has, despite its alleged support for movements towards democracy and greater freedoms for all, generally hampered provisional steps in the direction of democratisation whilst it has increased its support for despotic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco.
Israel, for instance, gets 40 percent of all US overseas aid. Meanwhile Israel is in breach of six UN resolutions and continues oppressing people in Palestine. During Jordan’s despotic and repressive rule in the 1970s and 80s, US aid for the Amman regime was enormous. Then when Jordan decided to oil the cogs of its political machine in the 1990s, that aid was vastly reduced and for a while suspended. Similarly, aid to Yemen was cut off within months of that unified country’s first “democratic” election. In recent weeks, when it was discovered that Qatar’s satellite channel Al-Jazeera was beginning to sound a little “pro-democracy”, upsetting regional dictators, broadcasting images of the US bombings and airing bin Laden’s now famous video, it was Colin Powell who demanded the channel be closed down, insisting it fostered “anti-Americanism”.
When it comes to Middle Eastern peace, the US’s actions have ensured that the region is as unstable as ever, cocking a snook at UN Resolution 687 which calls for region-wide disarmament – which would also mean an end to Israel’s nuclear capability – and at the same time selling $60 billion worth of arms to Middle Eastern country in 10 years (80 percent of all world arms exports to the Middle East). Israel, by the way, receives $3 billion in US military aid on the pretext that it is defending itself from its Arab neighbours – those same neighbours the US has armed to the teeth.
Writing in the Guardian (29 September), Artundhati Roy goes a little further. “Could it be”, she asks, “that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government’s record of commitment and support of exactly the opposite things, to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorships, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocides?”
This side of the Atlantic, in his finest Orwellian double-speak, Tony Blair could announce: “The values we believe in should shine through in Afghanistan”. Could this be the same Blair whose government armed the Indonesian military machine that not so long ago ran rampage through East Timor? Whose government has signed 91 military export licences for Israel in the last eight months of the current Intifada? Such instances fly in the face of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office claim that “we will not issue export licences where there is clearly identifiable risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression or adversely effect regional stability”. Are these the same “values” which, on the same day as the attacks on the US, allowed the DSEi arms fair to go ahead in London and to continue for another two days? And are these same “values” informing a Labour government who, without any mandate from the UN, has helped notch up 15,000 RAF/USAF bombing raids on Iraq since the second Gulf War?
These same values are now behind the decision that Britain and the US should support a proxy army, the Northern Alliance, an outfit with an impressive record of widespread rape, pillage and murder in Kabul, in its confrontation with the Taliban. One of the key figures in the Northern Alliance is Abdul Rashid Dostom, and ally of Uzbekistan’s President Karimov, who has made huge profits from exporting drugs via Uzbekistan, and who allegedly was all to keen to secure Russian weapons and military supplies in exchange for keeping the gas flowing north.
Just as Blair’s values can enable him to curry favour with Israel’s Ariel Sharon, architect of the slaughter in Qibya in 1953 and the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatila, so can these same ideals prompt him into friendly dialogue with President Karimov, whose airfields are suddenly strategically important now the bombing of Afghanistan has commenced. Karimov, incidentally, holds 7,000 political prisoners, allows no free press and no political opposition. And Karimov, of course, has other reasons for supporting the anti-Taliban alliance. His corrupt police state is facing bankruptcy and to prop it up he is intent on having a pipeline through Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to a Pakistani port.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was castigated by his boss for making a link between Palestine and the recent terrorist attacks in the US when he said that Middle Eastern terrorism was bred “by the anger many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine.” Tony Blair was to spend 15 minutes on the phone to Ariel Sharon, trying to calm him down and get him to agree to meet Straw.
US foreign policy aims
Neither will Washington acknowledge its complicity in other areas which have a direct bearing on the present. Whilst Bush is mouthing off about the importance of curbing the funding of terrorist groups and keen to see the Taliban’s overseas assets frozen, it was his own administration, May gone, that scuttled international efforts to clamp down on tax havens, withdrawing support for an OECD initiative that called for more transparency in tax and banking procedures.
Moreover, it was again in May of this year that the Bush administration was giving the Taliban $43 million as an incentive to reduce the cultivation of poppies, knowing full well the Taliban were notorious abusers of human rights and that they harboured terrorists from all over the Islamic world. And there was no criticism of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who for years gave the Taliban military and financial aid.
For quite some time now, US, German and Russian intelligence services have been alerting Washington to the fact that Osama bin Laden has been trying to acquire weapon’s grade nuclear material, indeed as early as 1993 from Russian outlets with poor controls. What was the response of the Bush administration to this? They proposed cutting funds for a programme aimed at preserving nuclear materials in the former USSR.
Of course all the cant and clever rhetoric and soldier speak of the last few weeks have helped mask what are now becoming the true intentions of the US. The attacks on the US on 11 September are now being used to serve US foreign and domestic policy.
The oil reserves of Central Asia are perhaps second to those of the Middle East and as Afghanistan is geographically located between the Caspian basin and the markets of Japan, China and the Indian sub-continent, we can well see the country’s strategic importance to foreign policy planners wishing to dictate the way in which the region’s oil and gas reserves are utilised to the benefit of the US dollar.
The “war on terrorism” is clearly being used to induce fear and mistrust in the US, and through this fear a justification will be found to curb all manner of civil liberties, increase police powers and military spending.
Furthermore, the current crisis serves to extend US power around the globe and perhaps set a definite agenda for the coming century, the ‘war on terrorism’ serving as a replacement for the Cold War, now that the US has had its anti-communist passport stamped null and void and is desperate to maintain a pretext to assert its hegemonic credentials.
None of which surprises socialists. We are well attuned to the machinations of the elites of powerful countries as they seek to promote the interests of their corporate backers. Though it is no easy task for the uninitiated, we urge our fellow workers to be as vigilant as ever. To believe the arguments of the likes of Bush and Blair is to disarm yourself intellectually – for it is at times like the present, when the media is dancing to the tunes of governments, when the trumpets of jingoism, patriotism and reaction are sounding, that we need to be fighting the war of ideas.