Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iraq: this is part of a pattern. Part II

"The United States has an extensive history of intervening in the elections of other countries to promote conservative, pro-investment and pro-US regimes, and to block the election of economically nationalist, socialist and communist governments that threaten the profit-making opportunities of US transnationals."

The following extract is taken from from:

Gagging Supporters of the Resistance

The British government introduced legislation banning British residents from "glorifying terrorism."

Given the practice of equating the use of violence against an aggressive state as terrorism, and the use of violence by aggressive states against weak countries as human rights crusades, rebuilding failed states, and other covers for imperialism, the legislation amounts to the gagging of those who would speak in favor of the use of violence in self-defense and pursuit of national liberation.

The British House of Commons voted in favor of the legislation not long after Abu Hamja al-Masri, a Muslim cleric, was sentenced by a British court to seven years imprisonment for promoting racial hatred, for speaking in favor of resistance to Anglo-American domination of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Anglo-American-backed Zionist oppression of Palestinians.

This amounted to rank hypocrisy, coming at a time Western governments were defending, on grounds of freedom of speech, crudely racist anti-Islamic cartoons, which promoted hatred of Muslims by depicting them uniformly as suicide bombers.

A cartoon that first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and was republished throughout the world, showed Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb, implying that terrorism is deeply rooted in Islam, indeed, springs from Islam’s prophet.

A German newspaper published a cartoon portraying the members of the Iranian soccer team as suicide bombers.

The defense of the cartoons on grounds of free speech by the same Western governments that have established or contribute to the occupations of the predominantly Islamic countries of Iraq and Afghanistan was disingenuous. Western countries do not recognize freedom of speech as an absolute.

Some of them, for example, impose sanctions on those who deny the Holocaust, or stereotype Jews in hateful ways.

David Irving, a favorite of neo-Nazis, was sentenced on February 20 to three years in prison for violating an Austrian law banning the denial, minimization, approbation or justification of the Holocaust.

Irving had called the Holocaust into question in speeches he delivered in Austria in 1989.

In 2004 alone, 724 people were charged under the law (Times Online, February 20, 2006).

Some 158 were convicted between 1999 and 2004 (Times Online, February 21, 2006).

Similar laws apply in other Western countries.

One need look no further than al-Masri’s conviction and imprisonment, or beyond this conspicuously meaningless sentence offered by Tony Blair in defense of his government’s "glorification of terrorism" gag law, to see that absolute freedom of speech is a fiction: The new law, said Blair, "will allow us to … say: Look, we have free speech in this country, but don’t abuse it" (New York Times, February 16, 2006).

That is, we have free speech, so long as you don’t say anything we don’t like.

Limits on free speech can be practical, if not formal, de facto, if not de jure.

Those who advocate revolutionary socialist views are denied the apparatus of the mass media to broadcast their views.

The reasons are clear. Their views are against those who own and control the media, and the owners of the media aren’t going to provide a platform for the promotion of views that are inimical to their own interests (though on occasion a platform will be provided to token, non-revolutionary, leftists, to create the illusion that the mass media are balanced and free.)

Advocates of revolutionary socialism, then, have a formal right to free speech, at least in times of stability, when the ideological hegemony of the ruling class is secure, but haven’t a meaningful right to free speech in practice. (Formal rights to free speech are often denied those who challenge the ideology of the dominant class, when the hegemony of dominant class’s ideology is insecure, as in the inter-war period.)

Since the costs of owning the mass media are prohibitive, and only within reach of major corporations and ruling class family fortunes, an effective right to free speech is exercised only by the dominant class and those who share its views and can be counted on to address its interests.

Significantly, those who wish to depict Muslims in crudely racist, stereotypical ways, have, as evidenced by the broad publication of these cartoons, both formal and effective rights to free speech.

It is no accident that depicting Muslims as suicide bombers is consistent with the interests of imperialist states to dominate the petroleum rich countries of Western Asia.

If you believe Islam to be dangerous, you’ll probably back a war against an Islamic state, as a matter of self-defense.

The key, in these discussions, as in discussions of democracy and human rights, is to ask:

Democracy, human rights or stirring up trouble for what class or group?

Clearly, anyone who pronounces favorably on the armed resistance of Iraqis or Afghans is not stirring up trouble for the resistance movements of these countries, but for the people who have set the spoliation of Iraq and Afghanistan in motion and stand to benefit from it.

One other thing that probably wasn’t expected after Bush pointed to "the dictator’s rape rooms and torture chambers": that a post-invasion Iraq would produce blemishes as ugly as the stories told about the horrors of Saddam.

The Iraqi police run secret underground prisons, in which detainees are beaten, tortured and starved.

Police special units are authorized to pluck Iraqis off the streets without warrants or court paperwork, and to cart them off to unofficial jails situated throughout the Iraqi capital (New York Times, November 17, 2005).

Washington expresses shock, but the shock is disingenuous.

This is exactly what US forces have been doing: making arrests, throwing suspected members of the resistance into Abu Ghraib, where they can be detained indefinitely without charge and subjected to torture, humiliation and sexual abuse – or worse.

What’s more, US forces do this on a worldwide scale, jetting into foreign countries, kidnapping people off the street, flying them to Guantanamo, or Kandahar, or Bagram or secret prisons in Eastern Europe, or handing them off to foreign governments that will use torture techniques even more gruesome than the ones the US will permit itself.

Thousands of people have been disappeared, thrown into concentration camps or liquidated under extrajudicial execution orders. In Iraq alone, the US is holding 14,000 political prisoners (New York Times, March 7, 2006).

The pledge that "American military officers will inspect hundreds of detention centers and embed with Iraqi police commando units … to halt widespread abuses" (New York Times, December 14, 2005) can hardly be comforting to Iraqis.

The point of the pledge, however, isn’t to comfort Iraqis, but to reinforce the ideology that has been instilled in Americans by their schools, media and government that the US state doesn’t do things like that, and if it does, it does so only with the greatest of justifications and the gravest of reservations.

Buying the Media and ElectionsCorporate forces in advanced capitalist countries can uniquely dominate the mass media, because only they have resources sufficient to buy newspapers, radio and TV stations, publishing companies, and movie studios and to hire public relations firms to shape the news in ways that serve their interests.

The class of corporate owners and billionaire investors can also dominate electoral contests, by using their wealth to tilt the electoral playing field in their favor.

They can press their considerable resources into service to finance pro-business candidates and political parties, underwrite NGOs that promote political goals that serve pro-corporate ends, and hire public relations and polling firms to persuade the public to vote for its candidates and policies.

In instances where corporate America’s considerable influence fails to shape electoral outcomes suitable to its own interests, it can use its resources to undermine or overthrow popular choices, and to legitimize the reversal of electoral outcomes through its domination of the mass media.

In short, the class of corporate titans and billionaire investors can shout louder, and do more to shape electoral contests, than anyone else.

Because the upward flow of wealth allows them to readily dominate the media and electoral arena, members of this class favor a "free" press and "free" elections, for while these institutions function as mechanisms of domination, the adjective "free" disguises their true character and therefore does not provoke the psychological resistance that a press and elections understood to be subordinated to ruling class interests would call forth.

Mechanisms of domination are portable, and can be transferred to other countries.

If corporate America can hide its influence over the information environment and electoral outcomes through the illusion of a "free" press and the illusory democracy of the ballot box, it can likewise be expected to transplant the same illusions to the countries the state has conquered on its behalf.

In addition, it will foster the illusion of sovereignty, by granting nominal political control to the conquered population, while exercising effective political control through a military presence and economic domination of the country’s land, labor and resources.

It will also funnel financial assistance and support to political parties and candidates that can be counted on to actively promote the interests of corporate America within the country, thereby tilting the electoral playing field in its own favor just as is done at home.

These same mechanisms, then, though adjusted to the circumstances of occupation, can be seen in the Anglo-American military domination of Iraq.

In place of direct corporate control, there is control by the US corporate class’s representatives in Iraq, the Pentagon and US State Department."

Psychological operations," observes former US Army spokesman Charles Krohn, "are an essential part of warfare, more so in the electronic age than ever.

If you’re going to invade a country and eject its government and occupy its territory, you ought to tell people who live there why you’ve done it" (New York Times, December 11, 2005).

The Pentagon secretly operates Iraqi newspapers and radio stations (New York Times, December 11, 2005), shaping editorial content to counteract the negative publicity of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and, more broadly, the scandal of the occupation.

US Army psychological operations groups pay journalists to write opinion pieces in Iraqi newspapers to justify the US occupation, while Iraqi TV stations are offered handsome fees to run US Army-written news items, with the understanding that the items’ authorship remains undisclosed.

A "U.S. Army National Guard commander acknowledged that his officers 'suggest’ stories to [a local Iraqi TV] station and review the content of the [station’s programs] in a weekly meeting before" they’re aired.

The staff at the TV station is paid by the US military to run the items.

The US military’s contribution remains anonymous (Washington Post, December 26, 2005). "The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country"-- that is, the country the US destroyed (Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2005).

USAID, the US government agency that funnels money to fifth column organizations in countries whose governments impose restrictions on US investment and exports, and accordingly are targets for destabilization and possible military intervention by US forces, has distributed tens of thousands of iPods through a third party to Iraqi citizens.

The iPods have prepackaged messages extolling the US and its occupation of Iraq. The origin of the iPods is not disclosed (New York Times, December 11, 2005).

The Pentagon hired a contractor named Lincoln Group to place news items favorable to the US in Iraqi media.

The private company has about a dozen Iraqi journalists on its payroll, selected on the basis of previous sympathetic coverage of the American occupation.

The company also hires Iraqis posing as free-lance journalists to sell articles to Iraqi newspapers ghostwritten by US psychological operations specialists.

But Lincoln Group doesn’t limit its scope to journalists alone.

"Told in early 2005 by the Pentagon to identify religious leaders who could help produce messages that would persuade Sunnis" to "participate in national elections and reject" the resistance, the contractor "retained three or four Sunni religious scholars to offer advice and write reports for military commanders on the content of propaganda campaigns" (New York Times, June 2, 2005).

This is the practice of controlling the information environment, and isn’t all that difficult to do if you have the money to buy radio and TV stations, newspapers, journalists and the people’s leaders – something the US has in abundance and which it uses around the globe to shape the information environment to the interests of US corporations.

It is no different from how corporate interests of every advanced capitalist country dominate the information environment of their own countries.

It’s simply a continuation of war, within countries, of class, between countries, of national oppression and resistance, by other means.

Iraqi journalists who write or place pro-occupation articles on behalf of the US state, or religious scholars who advise the US military on propaganda campaigns, are as much a part of the collaborationist apparatus as members of Iraq’s police and military are.

They are, too, indistinguishable from the inaptly named "independent" Cuban journalists who take money from Washington to write articles whose aim is to encourage the overthrow of Cuba’s socialist system and the return of the island to a position of political and economic subservience to US corporate interests.

The status of collaborationist journalists and clerics as legitimate targets of the resistance is no different from that of the Iraqi police or military, which is why the US has taken pains to conceal the identities of its Iraqi quislings.

War by Other Means

If journalism is simply war by other means, it follows that a good battlefield commander would not only want to strengthen his own forces, by buying newspapers, radio stations and TV stations, and buying journalists’ by-lines to pass off ghostwritten material, but also by weakening the opposition’s forces.

One way to do this is to funnel money and support to the opposition’s enemies to drown out the opposition’s message with one that provides you greater latitude to pursue your goals.

For example, during the Cold War, the US sought to elevate the appeal of social democracy among left-oriented Western Europeans, because social democracy was a preferable, non-revolutionary, and manageable alternative to Communism.

The US secretly funded social democratic scholars, subsidized social democratic and anti-Communist authors, including George Orwell, whose Animal Farm and 1984 was covertly backed by the CIA, and saw to it that social democratic political parties flourished

(see for example, Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press, 1990).

The US state did this, not because it is sympathetic to social democracy, but because it wanted to weaken the appeal of the Communists, and channel leftist sentiment into safe, non-revolutionary avenues.

Similarly, to weaken support for national liberation movements that take up arms to drive occupying forces out of their country, as, for example, Hamas has done in Palestine, support, aid and legitimacy may be given to groups that profess to seek the same goals, but in ways that involve compromise, negotiation and moral suasion, to be pursued from a position of weakness.

Another alternative is more direct: target media outlets for destruction that stand in the way of monopolizing control of the information environment.

No mass media outlet has done more to challenge Washington’s and the US media’s tendentious presentation of the Anglo-American intervention in the Middle East than Al Jazeera.

It is a regular thorn in the side of Washington as US statesmen and PR consultants struggle to define the blatant plunder of Iraq on behalf of US corporate interests as desirable, not only for the people of the United States, but for the people of Iraq.

From the American perspective, Al Jazeera’s inflammatory reporting does nothing to pacify Arab anger, but only makes it burn more intensely, and fans the fires of the resistance.

There is some evidence that US forces have taken pot shots at journalists who fail to report the news in a manner congenial to US interests, but Washington hasn’t given the order to take out its Al Jazeera bete noire – though the silencing of the TV network, by force, has been considered.

According to a leaked British government memo of a conversation between Bush and his British subaltern, Blair, the US president talked about "bombing Al Jazeera’s studios in Qatar"

(New York Times, November 23, 2005).

Whether this was a joke, or whether Bush was serious, is unclear.

But nobody should think a military strike on a media outlet that contradicts Washington’s propaganda agenda is beyond the capability of the US state.

When Democrat Bill Clinton was president, NATO not only talked about bombing an overseas TV network, it did so.

During the alliance’s 1999 terror bombing of Yugoslavia, Serb Radio-TV challenged NATO’s self-serving take on the war.

Since this was intolerable to NATO’s leaders, NATO warplanes attacked the building housing the network’s broadcast facilities.

NATO said the Serb media -- that is, that part of it not celebrated as "independent," though funded by the US, Britain and Germany as a conduit for pro-NATO views -- was spreading "propaganda," similar to the charge the White House levels against Al Jazeera today.

Blair, a link to the aggressions against both Yugoslavia and Iraq – and a social democrat who’s living proof you don’t need to be a neo-con to jackboot around the world -- vigorously defended the violent silencing of Serb Radio-TV as necessary to counteract Yugoslav propaganda.

The Elections

The International Mission for Iraqi Elections, a monitoring group based in Jordan, reported that the December election had been corrupted by vote rigging and that "some additional fraud in all probability went undetected," but concluded, according to the New York Times, that the election was "an impressive display of democracy under difficult conditions."

(New York Times, January 20, 2006).

The group’s conclusions about vote rigging were largely beside the point.

The fact that the election was held under a military occupation in which the US was pulling the strings behind the scenes, and secretly blanketing the media with pro-occupation, pro-US and pro-election messages, is sufficient to discredit it.

But the conjunction of the finding that fraud was perpetrated with the conclusion that the election was nevertheless an "impressive display of democracy" is interesting for what it says about how the same set of facts can co-exist with diametrically opposite conclusions (an impartial observer might conclude, on the basis of the Mission’s findings, that the election was far from an impressive display of democracy.)

Which conclusion is advanced is a political decision, tied to a particular political or economic interest.

Evidence of vote rigging and electoral fraud, even the claim of fraud, is sufficient for the mass media and Western governments to call into question the election of regimes the United States and Britain have an interest in deposing and replacing with governments more congenial to the profit-making interests of their transnational corporations.

If the anti-US corporate class candidate is expected to win, the standard procedure is to loudly announce in advance that electoral fraud is imminent, and later to point to election results that favor the targeted regime’s candidate as confirmation of the prediction.

If, on the other hand, the pro-US corporate class candidate wins, his victory can be said to represent the triumph of the people’s will, despite attempts to steal the election. The strategy is one of: heads I win, tails you lose.

The presidential election in Yugoslavia in 2000 was dismissed by the Western media, whose governments had spent the preceding decade trying to crush Serb socialism, as fraudulent even before the first vote was cast.

When Slobodan Milosevic received more votes in the preliminary round than the candidate backed and financed by NATO, no further evidence was said to be necessary to demonstrate that a fraud had occurred.

Some degree of fraud, vote rigging and chicanery is inevitable in any election, including those in the United States, most famously in Florida in connection with the election of George W. Bush to his first term as president.

What matters is not whether fraud occurs, but whether it’s widespread and systematic, or marginal and random. Some degree of marginal and random fraud is an inevitable feature of any election, including the most scrupulously conducted ones.

Even so, low level, randomly occurring fraud, can be turned from mole hill into mountain by governments intent on fomenting insurrection or a "color" revolution in a state that has become a target to be folded into an imperialist country’s orbit.

In these cases, the reports of monitoring organizations about elections being marred by vote rigging will be used to call for the ouster of the undesirable candidates.

Candidates who win elections in Third World countries who are prepared to remove restrictions on foreign investment, allow repatriation of profits, and to open up markets, even if they have come to power in elections corrupted by wide-spread and systematic fraud, will be said to have received a mandate to govern in elections that, "though marred by some irregularities, were essentially fair, even impressive displays of democracy."

The conclusion, then, about whether an election is fair or not, is politically determined, and reflects the interests represented by the person making the conclusion.

The United States has an extensive history of intervening in the elections of other countries to promote conservative, pro-investment and pro-US regimes, and to block the election of economically nationalist, socialist and communist governments that threaten the profit-making opportunities of US transnationals.

It is also an inveterate organizer of coups, both soft and hard, to bring down governments that fail to promote the economic interests of US corporations, and is a keen architect of programs to reverse electoral outcomes deemed to be inconsistent with the interests of the US ruling class.

(William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Global Interventions Since World War II, Common Courage Press, 1995; Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, Common Courage Press, 2005).

In recent years, the United States has: launched a concerted effort to block the return of the leftwing Sandinista party to power in Nicaragua (New York Times, April 5, 2005); set up a multi-agency taskforce to funnel money to "foundations and business and political groups opposed to" the Chavez government (New York Times, April 26, 2005); financed opposition groups in Georgia and Ukraine that instigated "color" revolutions (New York Times, May 29, 2005) which paved the way for pro-Russian governments to be replaced by governments committed to facilitating the profit-making activities of US transnational corporations; taken "a page from the playbook" on Ukraine and Georgia to channel money to fifth column groups in Iran which seek to replace the current economically nationalist government with one more amenable to US investment and economic domination (New York Times, May 29, 2005); pledged millions of dollars in funding to media and opposition groups (New York Times, December 17, 2005) seeking to oust the Lukashenko government in Belarus, whose crime has been to turn "Belarus into a miniature version of the Soviet Union itself, with a state-run economy" (New York Times, January 1, 2006).

Terry Nelson, the national political director of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, is running the campaign of the US-selected opposition candidate, Aleksandr Milinkevich, in Belarus’ presidential election.

The campaign’s own polling, paid for by the International Republican Institute, shows that Milinkevich’s support is in the single digits.

With Milinkevich’s popularity so limited that he has virtually no chance of winning the election, his US handlers are trying to make the case that the election will be marred by fraud, as the basis for an uprising.

At the center of the plan to foment an insurrection is an activist youth group called Khopits, financed by "cash smuggled into Belarus in small amounts" from the US, British and German governments (New York Times, January 1, 2006; New York Times, February 26, 2006).

One might expect, given the US ruling class practice of buying electoral outcomes at home, and bringing the same approach to the domination of weaker countries, that the stamp of intervention would be impressed upon the elections in Iraq.

Washington, however, adamantly denies this, saying that while it considered funneling campaign financing to favored candidates, in the end, it decided not to (New York Times, July 16, 2005).

Not true, says Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker.

According to Hersh, the Bush administration went ahead with its plans to directly meddle in the elections, over the objections of the US Congress, using "retired CIA officers and other non-government personnel, and … funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress," to get around US law (New York Times, July 16, 2005).

The funds were used to "bolster the campaign of Ayad Allawi, who had been installed by the United States as Iraq’s interim prime minister in 2004, and who had worked closely with the CIA during his years as an Iraqi exile" (Washington Post, July 18, 2005). Allawi didn’t win, but he did better than expected.

The nature of the elections is best glimpsed, as so much as else in Iraq, through the eyes of Iraqis.

"It is difficult for any sensible person to believe the US would give up its domination of Iraq after spending billions of dollars and sacrificing the lives of hundreds of soldiers," remarks Mohammed al-Obaidi, a member of the People’s Struggle Movement.

"Iraqis never believed that the US would simply allow free and democratic elections that could, and would, results in a government that would make the first priority ending the occupation. In fact, the main purpose of the election process was to secure a government that will facilitate long-lasting agreements with the US to keep its forces on Iraqi soil and transform the country into an American colony" (, July 12, 2005).


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