Monday, April 11, 2011

“We are in five wars right now--Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and class war.”

I know I said there would be a second piece on Haiti, and believe me its in the works, but I wanted to briefly comment on two events I attended this week and make some observations about what I think are larger trends.
The first was the Frances Fox Piven and Cornel West initiated national Fight-Back Teach-In Against Manufactured, Austerity, Debt and Corporate. While the majority of its speakers are people I would generally associate with more liberal social-democratic wing of the American left that while holding ideas certainly left-of-center while refusing to challenge the Democratic Party I was pleasantly surprised on this note. Cornel West, who had criticized Obama as a “friendly face for empire” to a thunderous applause at Left Forum just shy few weeks earlier and called Obama a “puppet” on RT did not sigh away from criticizing the Democratic Party. More surprising though, was Jeffery Sachs, responsible for the devastating neoliberal shock therapy imposed on former Soviet bloc countries, denunciation of both parties as being beholden to “corportocracy.” 
Most disappointing though was the absence of linking the austerity, debt, and corporate to the the ongoing wars. Yes, Cornel West mentioned imperialism, but Piven herself noted near the end the complete absence of the military-industrial complex from her “tree of corporate destruction,” though she promised next time it would have an entire branch.
April 9 Antiwar Rally Union Square
One event that did not shy away from criticizing the Democrats, as well as linking militarism to the manufactured austerity we know face was the April 9 anti-war rally at Union Square. While I remember when antiwar rallies used to draw 100,000s to the streets of Washington DC (which was not the Vietnam era, but just a few years ago when Bush was President) and Democratic politicians addressed the crowd promising to end the war (which worked out marvelously) this was one of the larger rallies in recent years (thousands) and by far one of the more radical. Nearly every speaker both made the connection between the current calls for austerity and the war, as well criticizing the Democratic and Republican Parties as being one in the same when it came to US Foreign policy. And unlike the Fightback Teach-In, they didn’t lay the blame at a few indivuals (Glenn Beck or the Koch Brothers) or corporate persons (Newscorp), but rather rooted the issues in systemic problems of capitalism itself.
As one speaker said, “We are in five wars right now--Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and class war.” While I was disappointed she neglected Yemen, which the US has been bombing since 2002, her overall point was well taken.
We’re being told that we don’t have money for social services that benefit the least among us and that we need “austerity,” but we have money for foreign wars of aggressions. Let’s not forget that war is big business in the United States. Public money is being transferred to private corporations who profit from destruction. As one sign pointed out, the cost of one cruise missile fired in Libya could pay for ten teachers in New York.
The wars and massive military spending should be viewed in the same light as the bank bailouts, tax bailouts, and corporate welfare--as all our projects undertaken to benefit the few at the expense of the many. And all of them amount to class warfare.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Haiti and the Legacy of Debt, Intervention, and Exploitation

This is part of a two-part post on Haiti. The second post will deal with the soon to be known results of the election and the current political situation while this post will deal with the background of Haiti’s problems.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti brought renewed attention to the fact that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Many commentators on the Left have pointed out, that while an earthquake is indeed a natural disaster, poverty is manmade. The question arises--why is Haiti so poor? This query was largely ignored by the mainstream media and was only been taken up by a handful of rightwing commentators, who have implied Haitian poverty is divine punishment for a pact with Satan, the fault of “Communism,” or finally that Haitians “don’t produce anything.” As rational beings, we know all these said “causes” to be false. The correct answer lies of the 200 year legacy of Western policy towards  Haiti--namely the addressing issues of debt, intervention, and exploitation. The story of modern Haiti and its exploitation by imperial powers begins with Christopher Columbus. As detailed by CLR James in the prologue to his work on the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins,  Columbus arrived first at San Salvador, and “after praising God enquired urgently for gold” at which point he was directed to Haiti. As James describes, Columbus and the Spaniards “introduced Christianity, forced labor in mines, murder, rape, blood hounds, strange diseases, and artificial famine.” In a 15 year period the native population was reduced from around a million people to 60,000. Eventually, Spain would eliminate Native slavery and instead begin importing slaves from the Gold Coast of Africa. While colonial control of modern day Haiti drifted between the French and the Spanish, it was firmly entrenched in the ruthless resource extracting mercantilist system.   
Inspired by the French Revolution, Haitian slaves led a successful revolt against the colonial system of slavery. In the process they defeated not only the white plantation owners of Haiti, but three separate imperialist armies (France, Britain, and Spain). Thus Haiti became not only the first successful slave revolt, it also became the world’s first black republic. Immediately, Haiti’s defiance drew the ire of Western Powers, who sought to punish the new republic. The United States Congress in 1806 voted to embargo Haiti, and did not officially recognize the island republic until 1862. More importantly though, the French demanded the freed slaves provide reparations for lose of property (i.e. themselves). At first, Haiti but eventually was forced by a French naval embargo to accept the demand. In order to pay such reparations Haiti had to borrow heavily. They would not finally pay off this debt until 1947. To make matters worse, United States Marines invaded Haiti in 1915, resulting in a 19 year occupation of the island nation. President Wilson’s invasion order cited the protection of US and Foreign interests as the official pretext. During this time the US wrote a new Haitian Constitution, which allowed for the first time since 1804 foreigners to own land in Haiti. According to noted social critic Noam Chomsky, “It was a murderous, bloody intervention which destroyed the constitutional systems, reinstated slavery.” The Marines, claiming authority under 1864 Haitian law which allowed peasants to work on state infrastructure in lieu of paying a road tax, forced Haitian peasants to labor building 1,000 miles of road. While the US finally withdrew in 1934, the US would continue to keep Haiti within its hegemonic grasps. After years of brutal dictators, most of them sponsored both politically and economically by the US, in 1990 Haiti had its first democratic election. Former priest and adherent of liberation theology, Jean-Betrand Aristide was elected President. President Aristide’s populist policies were opposed by both foreign and domestic wealthy elites and in 1991, members of the Haitian military with strong ties to the CIA staged a coup. 
Despite an embargo against the coup regime, both Presidents Bush I and Clinton authorized exemptions for US corporations. The coup regime also privatized key state industries, selling them to US corporations. Most notably, in the cases of the state flour and cement factories, factories were closed leaving Haiti dependent on imports. President Clinton, after getting President Aristide to agree to certain neoliberal economic policies, sent Marines to Haiti in 1994, allowing Aristide to out his last term of office. Ineligible to run for consecutive terms, Aristide would not return to power until being elected again in 2000. Neoliberalism was further cemented in Haiti as part of a 1996 IMF Emergency Development Plan. This Plan called for, among other things, a suppression of wages and an elimination of tariffs. This elimination of tariffs opened the way for US agriculture imports to flood the market. The Haitian government is not allowed to subsidize its own goods due to World Banks loans and thus US imports are far cheaper than domestic crops. This, of course, had devastating effects on Haitian farmers, causing many into forced migration in urban areas. This new labor force provided the necessary means for the development of the now infamous Haitian sweat shops. 
Aristide’s second election once again, caught the ire of the US. His opponents boycotted the election claiming it was undemocratic (a move similar to Contras). In the meantime, the US began indirectly funding Contra style guerilla groups in the Dominican Republic. When President Aristide went against US advice and raised the minimum wage to .54 cents, the US began an embargo against Haiti cutting off all aid, encouraging other countries to do the same and even went so far as to use its veto power at the Inter American Development Bank in order to block aid to Haiti. This is the backdrop upon which a disputed series of events led to the second ouster of Aristide and yet another occupation of Haiti, first by US Marines and then by UN Peacekeepers. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kosovo and Humanitarianism NATO Style

Supporters of the US-backed NATO bombing of Libya have so far cited humanitarianism as the reason for supporting the war. The United States, they say, cannot sit back and allow a dictator to murder his own people. While nearly every war dating back to the colonialism has been justified at least partially on humanitarian concerns the quintessential example of humanitarian intervention remains the 76-day NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. Per the prevailing narrative Slobodan Milosevic was engaging in crimes against humanity against Kosovar Albanians population, the US and NATO benevolently intervened, and stopped the atrocities. Given the potency of the both the dominate narrative of NATO intervention in Kosovo, as well as support for humanitarian intervention in Libya it worthwhile to go back and reexamine what happened in the Former Yugoslavia both within the framework of humanitarian intervention (did the NATO bombing achieve humanitarian objectives), as well as question the framework itself (were NATO objectives humanitarian).
Did the NATO bombing achieve Humanitarian Objectives?
The key claim to the legitimacy of NATO’s intervention was that it stopped Milosevic’s atrocities against civilian populations. There should be no question about Milosevic was a thug and a war criminal. However, as David Gibbs notes in The Guardian prior to NATO intervention civilian causalities were around 2,000 people, roughly half of which were Serbian. However, after the NATO bombing Serbian forces killed 10,000 civilians. Per Gibbs “The Serbian forces were furious that they could not stop the Nato air attacks, so they took out their frustration on the relatively defenceless Albanians, causing a huge increase in the number of killings.”
Gibbs is not alone in his thinking. When Noam Chomsky was asked by UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon to address the General Assembly on the issue of “responsibility to protect,” he noted that the worst Serbian atrocities were committed after the NATO bombing had begun, and later noted in a response to criticism of his speech that when Milosevic was indicted only one count referred to instances from before the NATO bombing. More importantly, Chomsky notes that at the time of the NATO bombing the then head of NATO Clark was asked about the spike in Serbian atrocities. His response? They were “anticipated.” Clark further elaborated this point in his memoirs in which he recounts how he told Secretary of State Madame Albright that a bombing of Serbia would merely exacerbate the situation and result in heightened Serbian atrocities. He was later proven right by history. The correlation between NATO intervention and a spike in the very short of crimes it was supposedly meant to prevent is an undeniable historical fact. Debatable, however is whether there was a direct causation between the events. Given that even the architects of the so-called “humanitarian” war assert causation it’s fair to say that there’s not much debate.
Gibbs brings a up a second inconvenient fact for proponents of the humanitarian war. As Gibbs notes, that the “war crimes of Serbian forces are well known, but their Kosovan adversaries committed crimes too.” Indeed, while the pretext of the war was Serbian ethnic cleansing of Albanians, the Kosovo Liberation Army after being brought to power by NATO conducted their own ethnic cleansing campaigns, not just against Serbians, but against Roma as well. 
In addition to failing to prevent Serbian crimes and enabling Kosovar crimes there is a third damning fact about NATO’s humanitarianism--that NATO itself committed numerous war crimes. The bombing of Serbia and the targets selected by NATO were at the time condemned as violations of international law by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations Committee on Human Rights. The bombing, which included such targets as a Serbian television station, resulted in 500 civilian casualties. Considering the entire number of civilian dead on all sides of the conflict prior to NATO bombing was 2,000 that number is staggering. 
Equally importantly was the legitimacy of the intervention itself. NATO intervened without security council approval meaning the intervention was a violation of international law. Additionally, Bill Clinton did not seek Congressional approval for US bombing, and continued the bombing even when Congressional motions to authorize the airstrikes and declare war on Yugoslavia failed to pass in the House of Representatives.
Was The NATO bombing motivated by humanitarianism?
Given the established humanitarian record, that NATO illegally intervened knowing that it would result in an increase of Serbian atrocities, backed atrocities committed by the KLA, and itself engaged in a massive campaign of war crimes it seems worthwhile to call into question NATO’s intentions. Perhaps NATO really are just among the worst humanitarians in history. They are, after all, a defensive military alliance designed to counter Soviet influence in Western Europe. And in spite of their recent attempt to rebrand themselves a global intervention force to ensue Western access to Caspian sea oil, humanitarianism really is outside their expertise. Cruise missiles are not agents of relief and therefore can never be used to alleviate humanitarian concerns. Perhaps.
Or perhaps not. Things continue to get interesting when examining what the lead US negotiator in Kosovo, Strobe Talbot, had to say about NATO intervention. Per Talbot, “It was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform--not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians--that best explains NATO's war.” Emphasis is mine.
Further questions about NATO’s motivation in bombing Serbia arise from the series of event that lead NATO to intervene. Prior to the bombing, peace talks were held in Rambouillet between the government of (the former) Yugoslavia and the Kosovar Albanians. NATO presented an agreement (dubbed the Rambouillet Agreement) which Yugoslavia could either accept or be bombed. Journalist Jeremy Scahill has labeled the accord an “occupation agreement” and Henry Kissinger said of it “The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing. Rambouillet is not a document that an angelic Serb could have accepted. It was a terrible diplomatic document that should never have been presented in that form.” Defenders of the agreement have argued that the provisions for a NATO occupation of all of Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo, were merely a photocopying accident. If so, NATO is not just the world’s worst humanitarians, but also the most incompetent diplomats.
Another interesting element of Rambouillet Agreement in light of Talbot’s comment is the section on “economic issues.’ The first statement of it is “The economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles.” For more on how this played out I recommend Neil Clark’s Guardian article.
NATO’s bombing of Kosovo is hardly the case for the success of humanitarian bombing. Even if NATO’s intentions were purely humanitarian they failed spectacularly, both bumbling a potential diplomatic solution to the atrocities with their poor photocopying skills and that they made worse Serbian atrocities, enabled Kosovar atrocities, all while committing what has been nearly universally recognized as war crimes. If one goes so far to look at the architect’s of the NATO war official comments it becomes abundantly clear that NATO were not incompetent humanitarians, but had no humanitarian motivations at all.