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The Red Line and the Rat Line April 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Libya, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: Commentary Magazine referred to this article as “Seymour Hersh’s latest conspiracy theory.”  I am reminded of the saying: “paranoids can have real enemies.”  There are conspiracies.  The CIA, for example, has been “conspiring,” both at home and abroad since the end of WWII.  Hersch has based most of this report on a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) document that the DIA says never existed.  Someone is lying.  You will have to decide for yourself.

None of this surprises me.  What I really find interesting is that the real hawk when it came to the near all-out attack on Syria was none other than President Obama himself (with help from Secretary of State John Kerry, the country’s number one “diplomat”).  It was the generals and the Pentagon that didn’t want to go to war.  How’s that for irony?  And, while on the subject of irony, it took the neo-Stalinist Putin to bail Obama out from what likely would have been a Middle East holocaust.

 

Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’

Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.

The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)

*

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’

There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoglu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)

But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.

*

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’

Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’

4 April

It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, Kenya, LGBT, Nigeria, Religion, Right Wing, Zimbabwe.
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For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation all over Africa.

As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.

One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.

FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

Nigerian President Signs Ban on Same-Sex Relationships January 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, LGBT, Nigeria.
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Roger’s note: OK, so John Kerry and Samantha Power have spoken out against this abomination.  Now, what are they going to do about it?  If it were Cuba or Venezuela or Iran or North Korea, the U.S, would be at the United Nations demanding sanctions.    But Nigeria is a “friendlier” nation, not to mention one that has great reserves of oil.

 

By , JAN. 13, 2014, New York Times

A tough ban on same-sex relationships that threatens violators with 14-year prison terms has been quietly signed into law by the president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, a step that rights advocates have long feared not only as a repression aimed at gays but as an affront to basic freedoms of speech and assembly.

The ban, known as the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, was passed by Parliament last May but was not signed by the president, Goodluck Jonathan, until Jan. 7, Nigerian news agencies reported Monday from Abuja, the capital.

It is considered the most significant setback to gay rights in Africa, where same-sex relationships are already widely prohibited. The law took effect as gay-rights advocacy is gaining traction elsewhere, led by the United States and other Western nations where the legality and acceptance ofsame-sex marriage and civil unions are expanding.

Under the Nigerian law, it is illegal not only to engage in an intimate relationship with a member of the same sex, but to attend or organize a meeting of gays, or patronize or operate any type of gay organization, including private clubs. Any same-sex marriages or partnerships accepted as legal in other countries would be void in Nigeria.

 

The signing by President Goodluck Jonathan was not publicized apparently to avoid offense to other countries where such relationships are permitted. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Language in an earlier draft of the law that would have made it a crime not to report a same-sex relationship — which could have forced parents to report gay children, for example — was deleted in the final version, according to The Associated Press, which said it had seen a copy of the final text.

The signing was not publicized apparently to avoid offense to other countries where such relationships are permitted, but word of it still provoked widespread condemnation. Secretary of State John Kerry, hearing the news while on a trip to Europe and the Middle East, said in a statement on Monday that he was “deeply concerned,” and asserted that the law violated basic human rights protections guaranteed by Nigeria’s own Constitution.

“Beyond even prohibiting same-sex marriage, the law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians,” Mr. Kerry said. The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also denounced the new law in a Twitter message, asserting she was “Deeply troubled that #Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed anti-#LGBT law. Big setback for human rights for all Nigerians.”

International advocates of gay rights also expressed alarm. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had strongly urged Mr. Jonathan in recent months not to sign it. The International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based nonprofit group, called on Nigeria to repeal what it called “a draconian law.”

Nigerian gay-rights advocates said the law also elevated the risk to people living with H.I.V. and AIDS, because organizations that help them might also be deemed illegal. Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay-rights activist, said in an interview with SaharaReporters.com, a Nigerian news website, that the law’s effects “may well translate into more young people becoming homeless, and social and state violence.”

An even more severe antigay measure has been approved by the legislature in Uganda, but President Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed it.

With a population of more than 175 million, Nigeria is double the size of Africa’s next most populous nation, Ethiopia. As one of the world’s leading oil producers, Nigeria also carries enormous economic and political weight in Africa, and its message on gay rights is bound to resonate elsewhere on the continent.

Nigeria’s population, divided roughly in half between Christians and Muslims, is deeply conservative, with widespread hostility to homosexuality in both religious communities.

A poll on homosexuality conducted in 39 countries and published last June by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project found that 98 percent of Nigerians — more than any other population surveyed — answered “no” to the question “Should society accept homosexuality?”

Musikilu Mojeed contributed reporting from Abuja, Nigeria.

Nelson Mandela, Free Market Capitalism and the South African Crisis December 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, South Africa.
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Roger’s note:

“Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor.

Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.”

If you want more than that feel-good notion of Nelson Mandela as a champion of non-violent (i.e non. revolutionary) change, then read the article below.  Although I believe the author mistakes nationalization  for socialism, the article does give a credible analysis of why the South African masses, post-Apartheid, still live in miserable poverty.  Nationalization may be a necessary step towards socialism, but it is not sufficient.  Genuine socialism is not where the government rather than private interests are the owners of production.  Such as that exists in Vietnam and China and is functionally speaking nothing more than state capitalism.  Single party vanguards such as existed in the former Soviet Union and in China and Vietnam today by nature devolve into state tyranny over labor in order to maximize profit.  Genuine democratic socialism demands direct worker control over production, but that is another and much longer story.

 


by Anthony Monteiro

The veil must be lifted from the deliberations and machinations that led Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to discard the people’s Freedom Charter in favor of an accommodation with white capital, in the early Nineties. Why, at South Africa’s most critical juncture, did the ANC make a pact with the Devil? And why did they keep it?

 

“The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994.”Why and when did Mandela change his mind about nationalization of the wealth of South Africa? And what have been the results? I find the mainstream media’s accounts, citing Mandela’s claim that he changed his mind at Davos, Switzerland, in 1992 implausible. More troubling is why when Mandela and the ANC led government saw things going so badly for the people they didn’t change course? These questions arise as we try to make sense of Mandela’s legacy. This is especially important in light of the catastrophic crisis of poverty, hunger, unemployment, education and health care besetting the South African people. The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994. White economic privilege remains the same, and their wealth exponentially increased, a tiny, rich and mostly parasitic black bourgeoisie and a black middle class have been created. For 90 percent of the African population things have not improved.

The New York Times reported on December 10 that Nelson Mandela’s change of thinking occurred at Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum (the annual meeting of the major bankers, capitalist, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians and intellectuals tied to the neo liberal globalist model of the world economy) in January 1992. Tito Mboweni, a former governor of the South African Reserve Bank (that nation’s Central Bank), who accompanied Mandela to Davos, says when Mandela and the ANC delegation arrived Mandela had a speech written by the ANC that focused on nationalization. Mboweni says “we discussed this at some length and decided that its content was inappropriate for a Davos audience.” Mboweni drafts another speech that was friendly to the Davos crowd. The speech was vague and filled with clichés and platitudes and assured the audience that they had nothing to fear from Mandela or the ANC.

In a letter to the Sunday Independent last January Mboweni says it was meetings with representatives of the Communist parties of China and Vietnam that changed Madiba’s mind completely. According to Mboweni the Chinese and Vietnamese told Mandela “We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies. We are Communists Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement. Why are you talking about nationalization?” According to Anthony Sampson, the author of Mandela: The Authorized Biography, Mandela told him “They changed my views altogether. I came home to say: ‘Chaps we have to choose. We either keep nationalization and get no investment, or we modify our own attitude and get investment.’”

”The path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.”

It is obvious that the ANC, the South African national liberation struggle and the nation as a whole were at a critical juncture. They were faced with problems of consolidating political power and moving the nation towards economic emancipation. On the other side, the white regime and its backers in the West were concerned with making concessions to black South Africans that would not disturb western corporate control of this mineral rich and strategically located economy. However I find the accounts of Mr. Sampson and Mr. Mboweni implausible. In other words, the path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.

The first question is about the representatives of China and Vietnam. Both nations in 1992 were at different levels of economic development. Vietnam was still in the social and economic reconstruction phase after 25 years of war against foreign aggression. China was a socialist economy that twelve years earlier had entered upon a path of reform within its socialist economy. China at that time had about 80 to 90% of the strategic parts of its economy under state control. Vietnam was similar with the state controlling economic reconstruction. Even today close to 70% of China’s economy is under state control. The most technologically dynamic and profitable sector of the Chinese economy is the state, or nationalized sector. The facts are that China and Vietnam are heavily state dominated economies and each says the objective of their economic planning is to build advanced socialism. Even if we accept that the Chinese and Vietnamese representatives at Davos said what Mboweni says, the next question is who were they and did they represent the official positions of their governments? If we accept the mainstream media’s accounts, they must have been saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” Of course this would have been an instance of unbelievable bad faith, even cynicism. But on this matter, rather than looking to the Chinese and Vietnamese delegates, I think we should question Mr. Mboweni ‘s and Mr. Sampson’s account.

The second point is that when Mandela emerges from prison two of his and the ANC’s most important allies were Cuba and Libya, two nations whose economies were heavily nationalized. Why did Mandela not consult Fidel Castro and Muammar Gadaffi among others to get a more complete view on how well nationalization was working or not working in their nations?

”The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact.”

The third point, any nation emerging from a long period of civil war and national liberation, experiencing a radical transfer of power, necessarily goes through a period of transition. It is ludicrous to think that sober minds, especially those with the training of most of the ANC, could underestimate a transition where something like a New Deal for the people, including a jobs and infrastructure programs, an anti-poverty crusade, health care, housing and political education, would not be considered necessary. No clear thinking person could have imagined an overnight great leap forward from a ravaged apartheid economy to an advanced socialist one. There would be a transition period of at least a decade where the groundwork would be laid for a new democratic and socialist economy. The forms of this transition would have many layers, even ambiguities, but its direction would be firmly established and based on the Freedom Charter and its call for nationalization. The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact and thereby recklessly undermined the future of South Africa.

The more plausible scenario, from my perspective, is that Mandela and a small circle around him, long before Davos, perhaps in the last year or so of Mandela’s imprisonment, cut a deal. As we know Mandela entered into secret talks with the white regime before being released. These talks were kept secret from the ANC leadership. There were others in and outside of the ANC who were involved in secret talks about the economy well before 1990. By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization. The question for Mandela and those in the ANC who supported him, was to get an appropriate time and place for Mandela to announce his change of position. There had to also be a plausible explanation of why such a drastic change. The Davos story fulfills both requirements, an appropriate place and a plausible story.

The fact that Mr. Mboweni, a free market capitalist, accompanied Mandela to Davos and had such power that he was allowed to trash the ANC speech and substitute for it his own, should raise further troubling questions about the behind scenes operations among the ANC elite. Why weren’t other views present in the ANC delegation at Davos? Or were they dismissed as “too radical” even before Davos?

”By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization.”

Not long after the Davos announcement the ANC (or the free market and neo liberal elements within the ANC) announced that the first black government would assume the entire debt of the white regime. A sum of close to $25 billion. The ANC took an IMF loan to pay the debt, which came with severe strings attached that protected white control of the post apartheid economy. (see my article in BAR Dec 11 2013 for a further discussion of this). Mandela’s claim that he was turned around at Davos is questionable and his turn against the Freedom Charter and the aspirations of the masses of South Africa (who cherished the Freedom Charter as their manifesto of freedom and reflective of their freedom aspirations) is problematic.

Winnie Mandela has said repeatedly that when Mandela emerged from prison he was not the same man. She says his revolutionary resolve was different. What she probably meant is his change of heart on economic policy and his willingness to, as she saw it, make unnecessary compromises with white South Africans and Western interests. Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor. Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.

In my BAR article “Nelson Mandela, The Contradictions of his Life and Legacies” I argue there are four stages in Mandela’s life. The fourth is 1990 to 2013. This is the most contradictory in terms of his previous revolutionary activity. However, it is as significant to understanding his legacy and life as the previous ones are. The burning question is in power what did he and his ANC colleagues do to liberate the nation from economic apartheid and foreign corporate control. At this point the answer is in power the ANC failed. The problem is not important only to South Africans or Africans, but for how humanity, especially its impoverished and destitute majority, imagines the future world and how we fight for it.

Anthony Monteiro is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University. He can be contacted at tmon@comcast.net.

If Nelson Mandela Really Had Won, He Wouldn’t Be Seen as a Universal Hero December 10, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Revolution, Socialism, South Africa.
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Roger’s note: I have already posted a few articles of this nature, and this should be the last, but I think it says it the best.  I don’t know that Nelson Mandela died a bitter man, I think the author is speculating or using the notion metaphorically, but with cause.  Also, I am not too crazy about the way he used the Ayn Rand quote, but nevertheless I think overall he hit the nail on the head.

 

 

Mandela must have died a bitter man. To honor his legacy, we should focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to

 

 

‘It is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?’ (Photograph: Media24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In the last two decades of his life, Nelson Mandela was celebrated as a model of how to liberate a country from the colonial yoke without succumbing to the temptation of dictatorial power and anti-capitalist posturing. In short, Mandela was not Robert Mugabe, and South Africa remained a multiparty democracy with a free press and a vibrant economy well-integrated into the global market and immune to hasty socialist experiments. Now, with his death, his stature as a saintly wise man seems confirmed for eternity: there are Hollywood movies about him – he was impersonated by Morgan Freeman, who also, by the way, played the role of God in another film; rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification.

Is this, however, the whole story? Two key facts remain obliterated by this celebratory vision. In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Second, people remember the old African National Congress that promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory. No wonder that anger is growing among poor, black South Africans.

South Africa in this respect is just one version of the recurrent story of the contemporary left. A leader or party is elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a “new world” – but, then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to “play the game”? If one disturbs these mechanisms, one is very swiftly “punished” by market perturbations, economic chaos and the rest. This is why it is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?

It is easy to ridicule Ayn Rand, but there is a grain of truth in the famous “hymn to money” from her novel Atlas Shrugged: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.” Did Marx not say something similar in his well-known formula of how, in the universe of commodities, “relations between people assume the guise of relations among things”?

In the market economy, relations between people can appear as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality: domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such. What is problematic is Rand’s underlying premise: that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation, with any alternative dismissed as utopian. However, one should nonetheless bear in mind the moment of truth in Rand’s otherwise ridiculously ideological claim: the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolition of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish the market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation.

The general rule is that when a revolt begins against an oppressive half-democratic regime, as was the case in the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilize large crowds with slogans that one cannot but characterize as crowd pleasers – for democracy, against corruption, for instance. But then we gradually approach more difficult choices, when our revolt succeeds in its direct goal, we come to realize that what really bothered us (our un-freedom, humiliation, social corruption, lack of prospect of a decent life) goes on in a new guise. The ruling ideology mobilizes here its entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion. They start to tell us that democratic freedom brings its own responsibility, that it comes at a price, that we are not yet mature if we expect too much from democracy. In this way, they blame us for our failure: in a free society, so we are told, we are all capitalist investing in our lives, deciding to put more into our education than into having fun if we want to succeed.

At a more directly political level, United States foreign policy elaborated a detailed strategy of how to exert damage control by way of rechanneling a popular uprising into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist constraints – as was done successfully in South Africa after the fall of apartheid regime, in Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto and elsewhere. At this precise conjuncture, radical emancipatory politics faces its greatest challenge: how to push things further after the first enthusiastic stage is over, how to make the next step without succumbing to the catastrophe of the “totalitarian” temptation – in short, how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe.

If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Mandela: a Dissenting Opinion December 8, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Race, South Africa.
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Roger’s note: This article reflects pretty much what I have been thinking but did not have the courage to say it.  In a note to a friend I mentioned that the media and pundits have de-fanged Mandela much as they have MLK.

 

By (about the author)

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/57989987@N00/11259593334/: Nelson Mandela tributes in Parliament Square - London
Nelson Mandela tributes in Parliament Square – London
(image by John Pannell)

 
OpEdNews Op Eds 12/7/2013 at 19:55:59

Nazareth.

Offering a dissenting opinion at this moment of a general outpouring of grief at Nelson Mandela’s death is not likely to court popularity. It is also likely to be misunderstood.

So let me start by recognising Mandela’s huge achievement in helping to bring down South African apartheid, and make clear my enormous respect for the great personal sacrifices he made, including spending so many years caged up for his part in the struggle to liberate his people. These are things impossible to forget or ignore when assessing someone’s life.

Nonetheless, it is important to pause during the widespread acclamation of his legacy, mostly by people who have never demonstrated a fraction of his integrity, to consider a lesson that most observers want to overlook.

Perhaps the best way to make my point is to highlight a mock memo written in 2001 by Arjan el-Fassed, from Nelson Mandela to the NYT’s columnist Thomas Friedman. It is a wonderful, humane denunciation of Friedman’s hypocrisy and a demand for justice for the Palestinians that Mandela should have written. [http://www.keghart.com/Mandela-Palestine]

Soon afterwards, the memo spread online, stripped of el-Fassed’s closing byline. Many people, including a few senior journalists, assumed it was written by Mandela and published it as such. It seemed they wanted to believe that Mandela had written something as morally clear-sighted as this about another apartheid system, an Israeli one that is at least the equal of that imposed for decades on black South Africans.

However, the reality is that it was not written by Mandela, and his staff even went so far as to threaten legal action against the author.

Mandela spent most his adult life treated as a “terrorist”. There was a price to be paid for his long walk to freedom, and the end of South Africa’s system of racial apartheid. Mandela was rehabilitated into an “elder statesman” in return for South Africa being rapidly transformed into an outpost of neoliberalism, prioritising the kind of economic apartheid most of us in the west are getting a strong dose of now.

In my view, Mandela suffered a double tragedy in his post-prison years.

First, he was reinvented as a bloodless icon, one that other leaders could appropriate to legitimise their own claims, as the figureheads of the “democratic west”, to integrity and moral superiority. After finally being allowed to join the western “club”, he could be regularly paraded as proof of the club’s democratic credentials and its ethical sensibility.

Second, and even more tragically, this very status as icon became a trap in which he was required to act the “responsible” elder statesman, careful in what he said and which causes he was seen to espouse. He was forced to become a kind of Princess Diana, someone we could be allowed to love because he rarely said anything too threatening to the interests of the corporate elite who run the planet.

It is an indication of what Mandela was up against that the man who fought so hard and long against a brutal apartheid regime was so completely defeated when he took power in South Africa. That was because he was no longer struggling against a rogue regime but against the existing order, a global corporate system of power that he had no hope of challenging alone.

It is for that reason, rather simply to be contrarian, that I raise these failings. Or rather, they were not Mandela’s failings, but ours. Because, as I suspect Mandela realised only too well, one cannot lead a revolution when there are no followers.

For too long we have slumbered through the theft and pillage of our planet and the erosion of our democratic rights, preferring to wake only for the release of the next iPad or smart phone.

The very outpouring of grief from our leaders for Mandela’s loss helps to feed our slumber. Our willingness to suspend our anger this week, to listen respectfully to those watery-eyed leaders who forced Mandela to reform from a fighter into a notable, keeps us in our slumber. Next week there will be another reason not to struggle for our rights and our grandchildren’s rights to a decent life and a sustainable planet. There will always be a reason to worship at the feet of those who have no real power but are there to distract us from what truly matters.

No one, not even a Mandela, can change things by him or herself. There are no Messiahs on their way, but there are many false gods designed to keep us pacified, divided and weak.

Reprinted from counterpunch.org

Mandela, A Life of Struggle: The History Most Mainstream Obits Omit December 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in South Africa.
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Roger’s note: In the mid 1980s the United States Congress voted to demand South Africa recognize the ANC and free political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela.  When Reagan vetoed the act, Congress voted to override the veto.  A young congressman from Wyoming by the name of Dick Cheney voted both times against the initiative, insisting that the ANC was a terrorist organization.  Today Cheney says he does not regret his votes,  although he now considers Mandela to be a great man who in his old age has “mellowed.”  I kind of agree with Cheney (god help me) in the sense that the post-Apartheid Mandela has been much less threatening to the ravages of racist capitalism than he was in his radical youth.  Not that I have any grounds  to judge a man who survived 27 years in prison and came out of it with his heart and soul intact.  But there is no doubt that the mainstream corporate media and the political whores love the “mellowed out” Mandela and don’t want to think about the kind of principled revolutionary activism he represented and implemented, which spelled the death knell of Apartheid in South Africa.

 

 

Nearly 50 years ago, in 1964, Nelson Mandela — along with many other comrades in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa from racist white domination under apartheid — was sentenced to life in prison. His statement to the court, made when he was facing the real threat of execution, remains an historic demonstration of defiance and resistance.

(Credit: JamesPlowman.com)

Mandela’s sentence was “reduced” to life imprisonment. He would spend 27 years caged by the brutal racist regime in South Africa, before the resistance movement there and a worldwide solidarity campaign helped to force his release.

Many times, the apartheid government dangled a pardon for Mandela — if he would agree to publicly renounce the armed struggle. Contrary to liberal, depoliticized histories of the life of Mandela, he was in fact a political leader who believed in achieving liberation by any means necessary. Indeed, in 1961 he helped to found Umkhonto we Sizwe — which means ‘Spear of the Nation’ — an armed struggle wing of the liberation movement. Earlier that same year, Mandela gave his first ever television interview. In it, he alluded to the sense of futility of fighting against a violent apartheid regime with only non-violent means.

On non-violence and the use of political violence, Mandela wrote in his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom:

Nonviolent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me,nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.

In the end, we had no alternative to armed and violent resistance. Over and over again, we had used all the nonviolent weapons in our arsenal – speeches, deputations, threats, marches, strikes, stay-aways, voluntary imprisonment – all to no avail, for whatever we did was met by an iron hand. A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor.

Mandela spent nearly three decades in prison for his defence of principles and for his role in the struggle — alongside hundreds and thousands of other political prisoners. During those years, many others were felled by the apartheid regime: for instance, the hundreds massacred in Soweto in 1976, and Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who was beaten and tortured before dying in police custody in 1977.

On February 11, 1990, Mandela finally walked free. On that day, he gave a speech to a joyous mass of humanity gathered to hear him on the steps of Cape Town’s City Hall.

“I great you all in the name of freedom and democracy for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people … I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands…”

International solidarity with South Africa took many forms. One under-analyzed factor in understanding the defeat of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela was the military support given by Cuba to Angolan forces battling South African invasion in the late 1970s and 1980s, in addition to Cuba support for Namibian independence and the liberation of other “front line” states neighbouring Apartheid South Africa. In the documentary film, Fidel Castro: The Untold Storyactor and activist Harry Belafonte reflected on the importance of Cuba to the freedom of South Africa:

Had it not been for the Cuban presence in Africa, and in particular in Angola, the history of Africa would have never been what it is now. One of the greatest friends that Cuba has in Nelson Mandela, and his appreciation for what the Cuban people did… If you don’t understand that history, then you’ll never really understand the enormous success and importance of the Cuban Revolution.

In 1991, Cuba was one of the first countries Nelson Mandela visited — in order to thank the Cuban people for their contributions.

Mandela has also been an outspoken proponent of the liberation movement in Palestine, drawing analogies between these two struggles against racism and apartheid: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela said.

In 1998, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Order of Canada. On that visit to this country, speaking before tens of thousands gathered in Toronto’s SkyDome, Mandela launched his children’s education fund.

In 2001, Mandela was honoured by Parliament with Honourary Canadian citizenship. One Member of Parliament, Rob Anders — who now sits as a Conservative MP — objected, shouting ‘No!’ during the vote in the House, and referring to Mandela as a “communist and terrorist.”

Mandela’s stature in history is now unarguable, and the just nature of the struggle against apartheid is denied only by outright racists and bigots. The likes of Rob Anders today sound like extremists, but in the 1980s it was standard practice for right-wing politicians around the world to disparage Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists.” In 1987, for instance, then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organization … Anyone who thinks it’s going to run a government is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”

Mandela and the ANC did indeed run the government of South Africa; Mandela was democratically elected to the presidency in 1994. And while his, and the ANC’s, record in government was contradictory and is contested because of its failure to reject neoliberal economic measures and eliminate poverty, the democratic struggle he came to personify put the lie to racists and right-wingers like Thatcher.

Mandela made fewer public statements after stepping down from his former role in government. But he did speak out strongly at times on urgent issues. For instance, in 2003 he condemned the invasion of Iraq in unequivocal terms.

Nelson Mandela. Madiba. A voice for justice has gone silent. But the words and example of Mandela will live as long as people struggle against injustice and oppression.

Derrick O'Keefe

rabble.ca Editor Derrick O’Keefe is a writer and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. He is the author of the new Verso book, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Derrick also served as rabble.ca’s editor from 2007 to 2009. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe.

 

 

Jahanzeb Hussain

Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage Magazine.

12 Mandela Quotes That Won’t Be In the Corporate Media Obituaries December 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in South Africa.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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On “sanitizing” the legacy of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela

- Common Dreams staff
>Nelson   Mandela

 

 

  1. “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
  2. “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.”
  3. “The current world financial crisis also starkly reminds us that many of the concepts that guided our sense of how the world and its affairs are best ordered, have suddenly been shown to be wanting.”
  4. “Gandhi rejects the Adam Smith notion of human nature as motivated by self-interest and brute needs and returns us to our spiritual dimension with its impulses for nonviolence, justice and equality. He exposes the fallacy of the claim that everyone can be rich and successful provided they work hard. He points to the millions who work themselves to the bone and still remain hungry.”
  5. “There is no doubt that the United States now feels that they are the only superpower in the world and they can do what they like.”
  6. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
  7. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
  8. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
  9. “No single person can liberate a country. You can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.”
  10. “If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.”
  11. “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
  12. On Gandhi: “From his understanding of wealth and poverty came his understanding of labor and capital, which led him to the solution of trusteeship based on the belief that there is no private ownership of capital; it is given in trust for redistribution and equalization. Similarly, while recognizing differential aptitudes and talents, he holds that these are gifts from God to be used for the collective good.”

 

Source: en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela

nelson-mandela-portrait

 

 

U.S. will pay a price for its hypocrisy on Egypt: Siddiqui August 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: Haroon Siddiqui is that rare journalist who continues to speak truth to power in the corporate mass media.  Canadian readers will appreciate his scathing references to Stephen Harper.

The U.S. and its allies have been enablers of the grave crimes committed by the Egyptian military.

egypt.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

Mohsen Nabil / AP Photo

Supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi capture an Egyptian security forces vehicle in Cairo on Aug. 14, 2013, after Egyptian police in riot gear swept in to clear their protest camp.

 

 

 

There has always been a hierarchy to the value of life. Kings mattered more than peasants. Killing continental European colonialists in Africa or the British in India brought the wrath of the empire down on the natives, who were strapped to the cannons and blown to bits by the hundreds. The contemporary era, with its spread of democracy, globalization and greater egalitarianism, raised hopes that all human beings would have equal value.

But the murder of 2,977 innocents on Sept. 11, 2001, led to the killing of at least 100,000 Muslim civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan. An Israeli life is deemed infinitely more valuable than that of a Palestinian. Our own government in Ottawa makes no bones about caring more about Christians in Egypt and Pakistan than Muslim victims of similar religious persecution there or in Myanmar. When the West does care about Muslims, it does so for the secular “good Muslim,” not the Islamist “bad Muslim.”

When Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s thrice-elected “Islamist” prime minister, ordered tear gas and water cannons on peaceful protesters in Istanbul, he was duly reviled. But the Egyptian army that has been firing live ammunition into peaceful “Islamist” protesters and killing them by the hundreds in the last month has only been told, politely, of our “concern.”

On July 11, Ottawa raised just such a pipsqueak “concern.” Stephen Harper’s government was more emphatic as it condemned the shooting death of a Coptic Christian priest near El Arish. “The targeting of religious leaders is unacceptable.” Following the second massacre, July 27, in which about 80 protesters were gunned down, Ottawa was “deeply concerned and appalled” — and fixated on its clarion call for respecting “religious minorities,” namely Coptic Christians.

Barack Obama was also mostly silent about the two massacres. So was David Cameron. So was much of Europe. They had refused to call the July 3 military coup a coup. In fact, John Kerry passed the perverse judgment that in toppling the elected president Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian army was “restoring democracy.” American annual aid of $1.3 billion was to continue.

It’s only now after Wednesday’s bloody massacre of pro-Morsi protesters that Obama stirred himself to shed crocodile tears. The U.S. and its allies have been enablers of the grave crimes committed by the Egyptian military as well of the Goebbelsian lies it has been peddling.

After each official atrocity, the army has under-reported the deaths and blamed the victims, accusing them of “inciting violence,” “hoarding weapons,” “torturing people in public squares,” “fomenting terrorism” and being “a threat to national security.” It has hurled a slew of charges against Morsi — murder, treason, espionage, conspiring with Hamas, attacking and insulting state institutions, etc. It has held him incommunicado, along with several top Brotherhood leaders. It has shut down a dozen pro-Morsi TV stations, with a nary a peep from free speech advocates in the West.

The U.S., the E.U and others have also been doing the Egyptian army’s bidding by calling on “all sides” to refrain from violence when, in fact, the violence has been almost always one-sided. Western governments and media have also accused Morsi of having been unduly partisan when, in fact, he was far less so than most ruling political parties in democracies. Proportionately, he appointed far fewer dummies than, say, Harper to the Senate, or the Republicans or Democrats named friends and funders to key posts.

Morsi was inept in the extreme. But he did reach out to his opponents who simply refused to accept their repeated defeats at the polls.

It has now been credibly reported that the secular anti-Morsi forces formed an unholy alliance with Egypt’s Deep State (the army, the intelligence, the security forces, the police, the interior ministry and its paid thugs, the judiciary and the bureaucracy), along with the beneficiaries of the Hosni Mubarak era (crony capitalists and corrupt politicians) to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood government. They collaborated in mounting mass protests, in a blaze of hateful anti-Brotherhood propaganda by both the state and privately-owned media, which heralded the unproven and unprovable claims that 20 million people had taken to the streets and 22 million had signed anti-Morsi petitions. Post-coup, acute shortages of gas and electricity miraculously disappeared overnight. Law-and-order situations improved in selective neighbourhoods.

Reportedly in on the plot were the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other oil-rich Gulf states except Qatar. They hate the Brotherhood, not so much for its Islamic ideology but the democratic threat it poses to their monarchies. They rewarded the coup with $12 billion in aid.

The army conveniently claimed that the coup was only a response to the people’s will. In turn, it has been forgiven all its sins — including the virginity tests on women protesters, and the shooting of Coptic demonstrators and running them over with armoured vehicles.

What we’ve witnessed is “fascism under the false pretence of democracy and liberalism,” said Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political activist and former MP.

All this will not be lost on the Muslim masses in Egypt and elsewhere. There will be a price to pay — we don’t quite know when and where and how. But as American pollster Dalia Mogahed, who has surveyed Muslim societies worldwide, says, it is useful to remind ourselves that “Al Qaeda was conceived in the prisons of Egypt and, contrary to conventional wisdom, not the caves of Afghanistan.”

Haroon Siddiqui’s column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

 

The Military Coup in Egypt: Requiem for a Revolution That Never Was July 26, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Imperialism, Revolution.
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by Ajamu Baraka

 

In the two-and-a-half years between the ouster of Mubarak by the Egyptian military and the ouster of President Morsi by that same military, no revolutionary process occurred. Yet, “the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity,” an imagined revolution in which the “military and the people are one.”

 

 

 

 

by Ajamu Baraka

 

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

 

As the military in Egypt consolidates its putsch against the leadership and political structures of the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be obvious that the initial narrative rationalizing intervention by the military as a necessary corrective to a “revolutionary process” has lost all credibility. Yet many liberals and radicals appear united in a fanciful reading of the events in Egypt that not only legitimizes the coup but characterizes the collection of small-minded state-capitalists thugs who make up the top officer corps of the military as part of the people and the revolutionary process.

 

From bourgeois intellectual hacks like Isabel Coleman to venerable Marxist materialists like Samir Amin, who implied that the Egyptian army was a neutral class force, the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity, or as Frantz Fanon refers to it as – cognitive dissonance. This can be the only explanation for the theoretical and rhetorical acrobatics many are engaged in to reconcile their beliefs in democratic rights and revolutionary transformation with what is occurring right before their eyes in Egypt.

 

A revolution in name only

 

The popular use and acceptance of the term revolution to describe the events in Egypt over the last two years demonstrates the effectiveness of global liberal discourse to “de-radicalize,” with the collusion of some radicals, even the term “revolution.”

 

Eschewing the romanticism associated with revolution and the sentimentality connected to seeing the “masses in motion,” it has to be concluded that between February 2011, when Mubarak was ousted, and July 3, 2013, when the military officially reassumed power, there was no revolutionary process at all, in the sense that there was no transfer of power away from the class forces that dominated Egyptian society. No restructuring of the state; no new democratic institutions and structures created to represent the will and interests of the new progressive social bloc of students, workers, farmers, women’s organizations etc.; and no deep social transformation. In fact, the rapes and sexual assaults that occurred during the recent mobilizations were a graphic reminder that sexist and patriarchal ideas still ruled, untouched by this so-called revolutionary process.

 

A revolutionary process is a process by which structures of power are created by a broad mass of people that allow them to eventually transform every aspect of their society – from the structure and role of the State and the organization of the economy to inter-personal relations – all with a view to eliminating all forms of oppression. There were some important organizational advances made by some elements of the labor movement in Egypt, including the creation of independent trade unions. However, the organizational imperative for revolutionary change that requires the building of popular structures to sustain mass struggle and represent dual power, was not as strong as it should have been in Egypt.

 

The liberal appropriation of the term ‘revolution’ to describe everything from the events in Libya and Syria to the Green movement in Iran not only distorts social reality but also advances a dangerous narrative.”

 

Early 2011 in Egypt saw mass agitation for social change and a mass rebellion against a dictatorship that galvanized previously disparate social forces and classes – Westernized secular liberals, labor rights activists, radical students, women’s rights activists and Islamic fundamentalists – into one oppositional social bloc. The initial demand was for the end of the Mubarak dictatorship and the creation of a democratic system that respected democratic rights – the essential component of an authentic national democratic revolutionary process. However, the maturation of this process was arrested due to three factors: (i) the seizure of power by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) on February 11, (ii) the channeling of mass dissent primarily into the electoral process, and (iii) the failure of the oppositional forces to organize sustainable mass structures to safeguard and consolidate the developing revolutionary situation.

 

The concern with characterizing the nature of mass struggle in Egypt and in Tunisia that eventually was branded as the “Arab spring,” is not driven by a desire for some kind of neat, categorical purity that abstracts complex social phenomenon from its historical context. But instead the concern is the need to differentiate politically and programmatically the specific political challenges and tasks between an insurrectionary phase of struggle and one that has entered a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary phase.

 

This is important because the liberal appropriation of the term “revolution” to describe everything from the events in Libya and Syria to the Green movement in Iran not only distorts social reality but also advances a dangerous narrative. That narrative suggests that revolutionary change takes place as a result of spectacle. It devalues organizing and building structures from the bottom up as unnecessary because it is the theater that is important; the episodic show; the display that refutes Gil Scott Heron’s admonition that “the revolution will not be televised!”

 

The perverted logic of this approach is reflected in both the failure of the opposition to organize itself beyond the spontaneous mobilizations of 2011 and the knowledge of Morsi’s opponents, the Tamarod – thanks to signals from their patrons in the U.S. – that if they demonstrated significant street opposition to President Morsi the U.S. would have the cover to support intervention by the military.

 

The military’s pre-emptive strike against revolution

 

To have a clearer view of the current situation in Egypt, we must debunk the nonsensical, a-historical gibberish that suggests that the Egyptian military is a neutral, grand mediator of contending social and political forces, and stepped into the political scene in January 2011 and again July 2nd as a national patriotic force allied with the interests of the “people.”

 

The reality is that what we have witnessed in Egypt is a lateral transfer of power, in class terms, from the civilians in the Mubarak government, representing capitalist interests tied to the State, to the military, which has similar economic interests, with their enterprises and retired officer corps populating companies connected to the State sector. In fact, under President Morsi, the military never really went away. It maintained an independent space in the Egyptian state and economy. Critical ministerial positions in the Morsi cabinet, such as the Interior Ministry, Defense and Suez Canal Authority, were given to individuals associated with the Mubarak regime that were allied with the military. And the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, populated by Mubarak-era appointees, was the main instrument used by the military to limit and control any efforts to restructure the state or expand Morsi’s power.

 

For U.S. policy-makers, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government were never seen as an alternative to Hosni Mubarak. Despite the repression meted out to members of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Mubarak regime, it was well understood that the Brotherhood was part of the Egyptian economic elite and open to doing business with the West. Therefore, Morsi was seen as an acceptable and safe civilian face to replace Mubarak while the U.S. continued its influence behind the scenes through the military.

 

We must debunk the nonsensical, a-historical gibberish that suggests that the Egyptian military is a neutral, grand mediator of contending social and political forces.”

 

Both the U.S. government and the Egyptian military had objective interests in making sure that the power of the Morsi Presidency remained more symbolic than real. The military, working through the Constitutional Court and the bureaucracy, made sure that President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood only had nominal control of the State. Morsi did not control the intelligence or security apparatus, the police, the diplomatic corps, or the bureaucracy, which was still staffed with Mubarak holdovers.

 

In fact, one of the major sources of tension between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood was the threat – and real moves – made by the Morsi government to use their nominal state power to curtail the economic activity of the military, which holds interests controlling anything from 15 to 40 percent of the economy, in favor of the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, representing sectors of the competitive capitalist class.

 

One way of looking at the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood is that it was nothing more than a militarized solution to an intra-bourgeois class struggle within the context of Egyptian society, and had nothing to do with the interests of the fragmented and institutionally-weak opposition.

 

So the idea that the military, as a neutral force, allied itself with “the people” and only stepped in to resolve a political crisis is nothing more than a petit-bourgeois fantasy.

 

The class-based, social and economic interests of the military mean that it will oppose any fundamental transformation of the Egyptian economy and society, the ostensible aim of the “revolution.” Significantly, this means that the power of the military is going to have to be broken if there is to be any prospect of revolutionary change in Egypt.

 

A National Democratic Revolution: One step forward, three steps back

 

This analysis, however, should not be read to suggest that the people were just bit-players in a drama directed by powers they had no control over. The mass rebellion in Egypt created a crisis of governance for the corrupt elite that were in power and their U.S. patron. The demand for the end of the dictatorship was an awesome demonstration of people-power that created the potential for revolutionary change. The problem was that the dictatorship had severely undermined the ability of alternative popular forces to develop and acquire the political experience and institutional foundations that would have positioned them to better push for progressive change and curtail the power of the military. Unfortunately for Egypt, the force that had the longest experience in political opposition and organizational development was the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

The call by a sector of the “people” for the Morsi government to step down was a legitimate demand that expressed the position of a portion of the population that was dissatisfied with the policies and direction of the country. Yet, when the Egyptian military – a military that has not demonstrated any propensity for supporting democratic reforms – intimated that it would step in, the mass position should have been “no to military intervention, change only by democratic means” – a position that a more mature and authentically independent movement might have assumed if it was not being manipulated by powerful elite forces internally and externally.

 

The mass position should have been ‘no to military intervention, change only by democratic means.’”

 

It was wishful thinking that bordered on the psychotic for liberal and radical forces in the country and their allies outside to believe that a democratic process could be developed that reflected the interests of the broad sectors of Egyptian society while disenfranchising the Muslim Brotherhood, a social force that many conservatively suggest still commands the support of at least a third of the Egyptian population, and is the largest political organization in the country. Liberals and some radicals that supported the coup did not understand that the construction of the “people” is a social/historical process that requires both struggle and engagement. Not understanding this basic principle has resulted in the killing of the national democratic revolution in its infancy.

 

The powerful national elites that bankrolled the anti-Morsi campaign and their external allies, including Saudi Arabia and the U.S., have successfully set in motion a counter-revolutionary process that will fragment the opposition and marginalize any radical elements. The Egyptian elite understood much more clearly than the Tamarod or the National Salvation Front that a revolutionary process would entail the development of a political program that has as its objectives the subordination of the military to the people, the public appropriation of state capitalist sector and the rejection of neoliberal capitalist development. Because of that understanding, they moved with textbook precision over the last year and a half to protect their interests.

 

Sadly, the liberal and radical collusion with the anti-democratic forces of the Egyptian military and economic elite has provided legitimacy for the same retrograde forces that dominated Egyptian society under Mubarak to continue that domination, but this time in the name of “revolution.”

 

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation Movement. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Baraka can be reached at www. Ajamubaraka.com.

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