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Thursday, March 31, 2011

“No-Fly” Imperialism

As the super-power and its sub-super-power friends rain bombs and missiles on Libya, we face a new crisis of clarity and courage in the US. While many in the world recoil from the destruction and human toll of this un-provoked assault by foreign powers on a small, relatively defenseless country, most of our fellow citizens, without much thought, buy into the government and the slavish media’s spin on this aggression.

From a far-off planet, beings would trust their instincts and see the massive military force unleashed on a section of North Africa as the criminal violation of Libyan air space and territoriality that it is. They might wonder what possibly could justify this aggressive action, even what could motivate seemingly senseless economic and human destruction.

But in our corner of the world, words like “No Fly Zone,” “human rights,” “democracy” and “humanitarian intervention” are drained of any credible meaning and cynically repeated by perpetrators who know that, if they are repeated enough and echoed by a subservient media, they will cow masses into thoughtless compliance.

Libya is in the throes of a civil war. Unlike other risings in the Middle East, the opposing forces have resorted to armed confrontation, resolving to settle the affair violently. On one side is a once-popular nationalist leader credited with overthrowing an absolute, but “pro-Western” monarch. He has vacillated between hostility to Western interests and mutual, cooperative relations. Up until the uprising, he had many European friends and corporate collaborators attracted to Libya’s energy resources.

Gadhafi has the dubious distinction of being perhaps the first international leader openly targeted by the US Government for assassination. In 1986, the Reagan administration launched an overt air attack upon him that resulted in the death of numerous civilians. Formerly, government-sponsored international assassination was couched in deniability and reserved for US security services. With little significant domestic opposition, the precedent has encouraged subsequent administrations to expand these illegal murders, most recently with the wide-spread drone attacks embraced by the Obama Administration.

Gadhafi has created his own unique state structure that claims a “democratic” and “socialist” character, a matter best left to be judged by the Libyan people.

Arrayed against Gadhafi in the civil war is a resistance movement that embraced armed struggle and occupies key cities in the Eastern part of Libya. Nominally leading this movement is the former Libyan Justice Minister and a largely anonymous, secretive council that has yet to reveal either a clear program or ideological commitments. Interestingly, they fight under the flag of the old pre-Gadhafi monarchy. Many left commentators have exposed financial ties and covert contacts with Western intelligence agencies and covert organizations. The impact of these charges is difficult to assess since such contacts are widespread, infecting almost all of the oppositional movements in the Middle East, including those in Egypt and Tunisia. Subsequent news reports have confirmed a significant and growing engagement by US and British security forces, including the embedding of a top military leader with undeniable ties to the CIA and the US foreign policy establishment. Anti-imperialists should well remember the covert assistance delivered to Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Middle East by US and Israeli intelligence as a backstop to secular left movements, a devious tactic that spawned a new oppositional movement that turned against its sponsors. Nonetheless, the kept media has, with little evidence, proclaimed the anti-Gadhafi forces “democratic.”

No-Fly Zones

US and European intervention in Libyan affairs hides under the cover of a UN resolution authorizing a “No-fly zone.” A no-fly zone was a formal devise contrived in 1991 to pressure Iraq under the guise of protecting human rights. Forcing a resolution through the UN Security Council, the US and its allies “interpreted” the resolution to allow the policing of Iraqi air space, denying Iraqi military planes or missiles any activity in much of its territory. In fact, this maneuver was an attempt to provoke a response that would lead to an escalation of US military action. Interestingly, US policy assumed that pre-emptive strikes were unnecessary because the US maintained such an overwhelming military and technological advantage.

Facing little effective international or domestic opposition to the Iraqi venture, the US and its allies again went to the UN well for approval of air power to secure “human rights” in the ongoing dismantling of Yugoslavia. From 1993 on, NATO conducted air strikes to influence the outcome. Emboldened by the success of the “humanitarian intervention” ruse and confident of their domination of the UN, the Western allies nakedly used air power to shape the post-Soviet world in their own interests, but at the cost of thousands of innocent lives and massive economic destruction. With most opinion makers in the Western capitalist countries seduced by the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention,” a new tool of imperialism was born.

Now the tool has been unsheathed against Libya. Rushing through another “No-fly” UN resolution with the shameful acquiescence of some abstaining “progressive” states, the US and its allies are again seeking to dictate the fate of a sovereign state. In this case, they have shed even the illusion of disinterested humanitarian intervention by actively coordinating with and supporting the military operations of the anti-Gadhafi forces. The initiative for this aggression was eagerly assumed by France and the UK, a development that likely reflects their reliance on Libyan energy resources.

Like a petulant child, the Western powers – the US and its NATO allies – press the limits of tolerance. From its malign origins as a maneuver to influence regime change in Iraq, the “no-fly zone” tactic has morphed into a scheme to dismantle the former Yugoslavia and, now, a transparent cover for naked, unprovoked aggression against a sovereign nation. The full might of Western military power has wrecked havoc upon the civilian population to sheer away Gadhafi supporters through terror. While paying lip service to the UN resolution, NATO spokespeople have endorsed this terror campaign as the strategic goal – an updated version of “shock and awe.”


Imperialism makes adjustments. After the demise of the Cold War, US imperialism structured a new world order. With the absence of a formidable military and economic counter-force, policy makers were emboldened to take direct, overt action to shape the world in a way agreeable to capitalist economic interests. During the Cold War, these goals were sought through covert action, subservient regional watch dogs, and surrogate armed forces, rarely through direct military engagement; fear of the military might of the socialist community foreclosed direct intervention. With those barriers removed, the imperialist countries are now feasting on weaker countries through open military action.

In order to dampen popular resistance, imperialist aggression is clothed in the lofty humanitarian language of democracy and human rights. With a tame, compliant mass media, aggression is readily postured as fostering democracy and promoting human rights, oblivious to the very lives of hundreds of thousands of those who disagree or are merely bystanders.

Unfortunately, many progressives and leftists have failed to adjust to the adjustments of imperialism; they have been blinded by the cynical, empty slogans proclaimed by imperialist aggressors. They refuse to see those resisting aggression as anti-imperialists, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or now Libya. Instead, they are side tracked by cultural, religious or political differences not palatable to smug, all-knowing Westerners.

The crucial and fundamental right of national self-determination, so crucial to the oppressed and scorned by imperialism, has been cast aside. For most of the twentieth century, this principle was the cornerstone of liberation from big power domination. In today’s world, it is expressed as non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. Throughout the world - from Cuba and Venezuela to Georgia, from Iran to Peoples’ China – the US violates this principle on a daily basis. However we may personally judge the practices or political systems of our neighbors, they are for them to determine. It is surely not a matter to be decided by the great powers of our time. Their sanctimony thinly disguises their own imperial interests.

Indifference or willful consent to imperialist aggression is not an honest option.

Zoltan Zigedy

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unwanted Advise

When in doubt about how to channel the movement forward, I suggest asking someone standing in the way of change. Do the opposite of what they advise.

Fortunately, we have unsolicited advise from William McGurn, a corporate Vice President of News Corporation, the giant media conglomerate that, under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch, brings the world the right-wing, pro-corporate, anti-democratic slant through familiar vehicles like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. McGurn is an especially important voice since he writes the speeches for CEO Murdoch and, before that, he was the chief speechwriter for George W. Bush.

He regularly writes the folksy WSJ column called “Main Street,” though it is doubtful that McGurn often visits “Main Street,” except when he mistakes it for “Wall Street.”

Most recently, McGurn penned a column entitled “Rules for Wisconsin Radicals”, offering “…ten rules for Wisconsin protesters…” (Wall Street Journal, 3-15-2011) Undoubtedly, he didn’t write these rules to seriously direct those fighting to preserve the wages, benefits, and rights of Wisconsin public sector workers, but rather to provide a moment of jocularity for his Wall Street pals and other moguls. (We used to call them “fat cats,” but they’ve joined the fitness craze; they still smoke fat cigars and belong to private clubs, though.)

McGurn begins with a rule that, should anyone take it seriously, guarantees a tame and ineffective movement: No more Jesse Jackson. Apart from its embedded racism, this rule is a recipe for dissipating the energy that street action generates. Lurking behind this advice is a fear that a movement can grow and develop into a real threat to corporate power and elite politics. Jackson’s rhetorical powers and ability to unite seemingly varied interests might “suggest to people... that the protesters may be more radical than they claim,” quoting McGurn.


And it is exactly the fire and brimstone and ability to link causes brought by people like Jesse Jackson that promise to mold a particular struggle into a national movement attracting millions. Mainstream McGurn’s rule reveals his own thinly concealed image of the average US citizen as dumbly sitting in front of the TV watching the demonstrations on Fox News and frowning at the sight of Jesse Jackson. Sure, that may be true of many Fox News viewers, but millions of people – certainly most African Americans – remember the picket lines, voter registration projects, protests and demonstrations that Jesse Jackson has enlivened.

Rule Two proscribes other figures associated with the left: Ditto for Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Tony Shaloub. While they and other activists may get under the skin of those trawling Fox News for wisdom, they bring together others who will recognize the connections between many and varied movements: health care, women’s issues, repression of Arab Americans, and immigrant rights. It is through these connections that recognition of a common foe creates the conditions for a united movement, something that Mainstream McGurn profoundly fears.

Sadly, many on the left have fallen into McGurn’s trap by narrowing the focus of struggles in order to court the illusory mainstream. Elements of the anti-war movement have excluded “controversial” leaders and issues so as not to alienate fair-weather friends in the Democratic Party or those they imagine too dumb to gauge their own stakes in various issues. Implicit in this tactic is contempt for people’s ability to learn and grow. Implicit in this approach is a lack of the ability to imagine a unified, diverse movement emerging. Cynically, this is often presented as an attempt for “broad unity.” Instead, as we have seen, this results in vague, tepid and uninspiring demands.

Lose the peace signs
, McGurn admonishes, that would suggest “a hankering for the anti-middle class 1960’s.” This third rule is an odd twist on history. The movements of the sixties produced an end to legal segregation in the South, civil rights legislation, anti-poverty programs, Medicare, the collapse of a President’s re-election bid, and enormous pressure to end an unjust war. While the peace sign was just one of the symbols of the time, it is hard to envision how these gains were achieved while offending the “middle class.”

The simple truth is that McGurn fears a repeat of the movements that swept the sixties; he fears that the peace sign and its broad appeal might unify those seeking peace with those promoting other causes for social justice.

Put out more flags and sing “a few verses of ‘God Bless America.’” Sure, flags, like peace symbols, are welcome, but turning the Wisconsin struggle into an orgy of patriotism and chest-pounding loyalty is a sure-fire way to divert a movement that shows a glimmer of recognition of class oppression into a celebration of common destiny and the mirage of shared sacrifice. Whenever the moguls sense a stirring of resentment among their vassals, they bring out the flag and patriotic songs to remind the downtrodden of how they are all part of “…one nation, invisible…” I doubt if McGurn would invite a band of workers carrying flags into the corporate board room to remind the directors that we are “…one nation, indivisible…” and entitled to jobs and fair and equitable treatment. Maybe that’s where we most need more flags and patriotic songs.

Rule Five: Respect the law. Paraphrasing Marx, agents for change shouldn’t interpret the law, but force the legal system to embrace social justice – to change it. This is rarely possible without defiance of the law. All the successful movements that have made the US a better nation have challenged the law when it was a barrier to advancing the struggle. From the slavery abolitionists to anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, principled fighters for justice have energized movements with their determination to go beyond the constraints of polite discourse and even the laws. One of our great democratic achievements – the elimination of legal segregation – would have failed if the civil rights movement abided by the laws of the time.

Mainstream McGurn scolds the Wisconsin teachers with his sixth rule: If you are teachers, don’t call in sick as a group so you can all protest. McGurn’s concerns about cancelled classes and student welfare would be touching if he showed the same concern for teachers’ unions and their welfare. Once again, he shows scorn for the intelligence and integrity of the “mainstream” students and parents who value the well being of teachers and identify with their needs. (In every opinion poll, teachers are among the most respected segments of society—well above corporate bigwigs, politicians, and even pundits!)

McGurn is especially appalled by the incivility of the demonstrators. No more Hitler moustaches on Governor Walker, he exclaims. “…Hitler analogies are tired.” Or do they touch a raw nerve? In any case, my own survey of the multitude of homemade signs suggests that McGurn’s imagination is even greater than his indignation. But in any case, policing the signs and images is merely a distraction from the work of nurturing a dramatic fight back against his friend, Governor Walker. Where McGurn sees a public relations spectacle, others see the kindling of class struggle, a fire that McGurn deeply dreads.

Rule Eight: Make local workers your public face: real teachers, real cops, real firemen. “… [T]hey make a much more sympathetic case than the professional union leaders.” While “professional union leaders” are struggling to shed the rust of class collaboration, dividing them from the rank-and-file is a sure way to derail a movement. When masses are in motion, even the most cautious, backward union leaders will jog to keep up. They pose a real danger, however, when their fears of worker militancy threaten to clear the streets in favor of political maneuvers and back-room deals. But the spotlight is large enough for everyone to stand in it.

If you want to cripple a movement, take McGurn’s Rule Nine to heart: Don’t call for grand actions only likely to confirm your weakness. Certainly modest, polite and limited requests will hearten the moguls and elites who are only too happy to dismiss them. This brand of pre-destined defeatism limits the horizon of victory before the battle is waged. Surely, the decades-long, one-sided class war waged by corporations and their minions must be met with more than the threat of minor, tentative skirmishes. Unquestionably, great victories require thorough and thoughtful preparation, but they are foregone if couched in timidity. Lenin said it well: “Only struggle discloses to it [the masses] the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will.” For Lenin and other peoples’ leaders, weaknesses are not to be heeded, but to be overcome through action.

The “business unionism” practice of offering concessions before confrontation has proven to be bankrupt. The prospect of “grand actions” should be on the agenda.

Lastly, McGurn admonishes protesters to [s]how some sympathy for the tax payers. In McGurn’s world, public sector workers are merely burdens on taxpayers and not the essential elements of a functioning and hospitable society. It never crossed his mind that they may be more socially useful than stock brokers, Wall Street managers or CEOs. Workers’ struggles to maintain and advance a modest standard of living is seen by him and those like him as a personal burden rather than compensation for the education, protection and services that they provide for the vast majority. In his world of gated communities, mansions, private jets and limousines, private schools, private clubs and the other privileges of wealth, the public services that sustain the work, security and private lives of most of us is of little consequence.

Of course we are all taxpayers and most of us are grateful for the social benefits that public workers provide. We wish that less of our tax burden were wasted on destructive wars, subsidies for giant corporations and fixing the messes left in the wake of corporate irresponsibility and crime. For McGurn and his friends, these are tolerable uses of taxpayers’ dollars; for the rest of us, they are not.

Thanks, but no thanks, William McGurn. As the battle for justice for public sector workers grows in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and most other states, we’ll find our own way.

Zoltan Zigedy