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Climate Change as Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2017 at 12:17 am

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives.

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.

Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%. It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen’s food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference. This is complicity in mass extermination.

Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. “That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” he told reporters. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.” In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen — or has ignored — equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don’t merit White House sympathy.

Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017? It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism. It’s a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.

Here’s the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like — one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?

Famine, Drought, and Climate Change

First, though, let’s consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen — interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.

In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent.” Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an “overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas” on that continent. With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising — precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.

It’s seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty. Such things happen with or without climate change. Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you’re in a new climate era.

It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn’t this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?

History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society — warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like — will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage. “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict,” points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program. “Climate is an added stress factor.” In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.

The Selective Impact of Climate Change

In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe — that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it’s certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don’t for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably. It won’t even be a complicated equation. As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society — the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge — will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.

As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America — home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.

Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight. In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades.

Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way. As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones. If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the “Okies” from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today’s climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or “informal settlements,” as they’re euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew. Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change. As the latest IPCC report noted, “Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects.”

The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. “The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events,” the IPCC indicated in 2014. “Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks.” It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).

Inaction Equals Annihilation

In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.

Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios — the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas — will become everyday reality.

In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible. If the world’s response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.

In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change — to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power — means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what — not to mince words — is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?

And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot — as many of us are — more is needed. Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

US strike sends message to Syria: what it didn’t say

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2017 at 8:20 am

Christian Science Monitor, APRIL 7, 2017 BEIRUT AND ISTANBUL

By Nicholas Blanford and Scott Peterson

The US has launched its first punitive military strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria since the civil war there began six years ago, a powerful message that Washington will no longer tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

President Trump’s administration indicated that the strikes, which saw 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at Syria’s Shayrat airbase near Homs, were linked only to the chemical weapons attack Tuesday that killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, in Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib Province.

And while they may have chastened Mr. Assad, analysts say, they do not appear to signal a broader change of US policy on Syria that would pose a longer-term threat to his hold on power.

“This [missile attack] clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters late Thursday. “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”

Those comments might offer some reassurance to Assad that the air strikes were more a slap on the wrist than the beginning of a knockout blow. And with the war in Syria slowly turning in his favor – and with his two key allies, Russia and Iran, continuing to stand by him – Assad looks likely to stay in power, a reality that Syria’s neighbors and the international community reluctantly have had to accept.

“We should not invest the limited American military attack with any strategic connotations so far,” says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics (LSE). “It’s an attack divorced from any strategic political vision. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration has any concrete ideas to find a political solution. I’m very skeptical.”

Mr. Gerges warns, however, that military action on its own, absent a strategy, is inherently hard to contain, and could lead to an unintended deepening of US military involvement if Russia and Iran redouble their support for Assad even as Syrian rebels try to use the US strikes as leverage.

“This administration is enamored with hard power,” says Gerges, author of the book, “ISIS: A History.” But “without soft power – without diplomacy, and a political strategy – military actions might be counter-productive.”

Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the strikes’ ability to trigger an escalation derives from the region’s very different perceptions of US military power, including fears in Syria and Iran that the ultimate objective could become regime change.

“Obviously, Trump has framed this through a narrow proliferation lens, and the attacks were very limited. But I don’t think anyone else on the ground or internationally is going to see them through that same narrow lens,” says Mr. Barnes-Dacey, speaking from Brussels.

“For [Syria’s] opposition and its backers, there’s long been a sense that once you get US skin in the game, an escalatory cycle will quickly take over.”

Cost of Assad’s rule

Whether or not the retaliatory strikes have any impact on Assad’s hold on power, his survival after six years of war has come at an increasing cost. Assad took office in 2000 on the death of his father, Hafez, and hopes were initially invested in him as a reformer who would modernize the ossified police state he inherited.

Seventeen years later, Assad has achieved an international pariah status unseen since the days of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. His country has been devastated, the economy ruined, an estimated more than 400,000 people are dead, and the conflict has created the largest refugee crisis Europe has witnessed since World War II.

His regime controls only about 35 percent of Syria, with the rest carved up between various Arab and Kurdish militias and the extremist Islamic State group (ISIS). He stands accused of employing chemical nerve agents against his own population and executing tens of thousands of people in regime prisons. Even if the war subsides and thoughts turn to rebuilding, it is difficult to see which countries or what global institutions would be willing to bankroll a multi-billion dollar reconstruction process with Assad still enthroned in the presidential palace.

“Maybe Bashar will stay for some time now, but eventually, sooner or later [he will go], nothing stays the same in this region,” Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said recently, speaking to a group of foreign reporters. Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, was assassinated in 2005, with Assad’s Syria widely believed to have been involved.

“It would be foolish to think that this regime is still in control in Syria,” Hariri adds. “The people who are in control in Syria are the Russians and the Iranians.”

Russia holds its fire

Moscow, meanwhile, has reacted angrily to the air strikes, calling them an “aggression against a sovereign nation” and announcing an end to the de-confliction mechanism set up between Washington and Moscow to prevent accidental clashes between US and Russian aircraft over Syria, where both nations fly ostensibly on “anti-terror” missions against ISIS.

The Pentagon alerted Russia before it launched the cruise missile attack, as well as NATO allies Turkey and Britain, and the Russian forces do not appear to have activated their S-300 and S-400 air defense systems, which could have intercepted some of the cruise missiles.

“There was an effort to minimize risk to third party nationals at the airport – I think you can read Russians from that. We took great pains to try to avoid that,” Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, told reporters.

The Pentagon’s target, meanwhile, an operational air base, is seen as having a negligible impact on Assad’s ability to continue waging war. Initial accounts of the attack suggest that aircraft and hangars were destroyed and the runway rendered inoperable.

Assad’s real military weakness, however, is not a lack of aircraft but insufficient ground forces to battle rebel groups, which is why his regime has had to rely on allies such as Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite paramilitary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia’s contribution to the Assad war effort has been mainly air support, and Moscow could deploy more aircraft to Syria if needed to plug any shortfall caused by US bombing.

On Thursday, Assad was quoted as repeating his determination to claw back the entire country, telling a Croatian newspaper that there was no “option except victory.”

“If we do not win this war, it means that Syria will be deleted from the map,” he told Vecernji List newspaper. “We have no choice in facing this war, and that’s why we are confident, we are persistent, and we are determined.”

Why chemical weapons?

Assad’s critical manpower shortage may be a reason the regime allegedly opted for chemical weapons in Idlib, analysts say.

“Assad doesn’t have anywhere close to the men to retake his territory, that’s why he’s using chemical weapons,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This [US strike] is a clear message he will not be able to gas his way over the two-thirds of Syrian territory outside his control.”

Some analysts suspect that despite the posturing from the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin believed Assad deserved some kind of punishment for the gratuitous use of chemical weapons against civilians – as well as his lack of cooperation in a Russian-led effort to negotiate a peace deal between the regime and the opposition.

“I suspect that the Russians are furious with their ne’er-do-well client,” says Frederic Hof, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former State Department point man on Syria under President Barack Obama. “Why in the world would you use chemicals when everything is going your way?”
It remains to be seen whether the missile strike against the air base is a one-off response to the use of nerve agents or whether the Trump administration will repeat such operations anytime Syrian government forces inflict mass civilian casualties, whether with chemical weapons or conventional means.

Military action “would not likely reverse the tide of the conflict against Assad,” says Mr. Hof. “But it could be significant enough to teach Assad that mass civilian casualty events will no longer be cost-free. This would be important, because as long as civilians are on the bullseye, there can be no meaningful or productive peace negotiations.”

Democratic Socialists of America Condemns the U.S. Bombing of Syria

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Race, War on April 9, 2017 at 9:49 pm

Posted by Dsa 🌹 on 04.08.17
A Statement of the National Political Committee of Democratic
Socialists of America

April 8, 2017

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has consistently opposed U.S.
military intervention in the civil war in Syria and condemns the
Tomahawk cruise missile attack by the Trump administration. DSA has
also supported from spring 2011 onwards the massive and democratic
Syrian uprising against the brutal Assad regime, a regime that has
shown no hesitation to use massive force, including chemical weapons,
to suppress its people.

The Trump administration has committed an act of war that both
violates domestic law (having not been authorized by Congress) and
international law (having not been authorized by the United Nations).
Foreign power intervention, however, whether by Russia, the United
States, Iran or the Gulf States, has only served to militarize the
conflict and severely weaken the democratic forces within Syria. As
illustrated by the futile U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, United
States imperialist and unilateral military power cannot liberate the
Syrian people. U.S. air power cannot surgically take out those
individuals who develop and deploy chemical weapons; what it has done
and will do is kill scores of innocent civilians.

Therefore, we urge our members and friends to protest the Trump
administration’s military action and to lobby Congress to halt any
further U.S. military intervention. We urge our members and friends to
protest all bombings of Syrians and the war waged by the Assad regime
through foreign forces against the people of Syria. The U.S. coalition
and Russia have been actively bombing Syria for years, as documented
by https://t.co/tBPcySVVn4, in effect both siding with the regime,
allegedly to fight ISIS (while the context of massive pro-regime
violence is the fertile soil on which ISIS has grown). The Trump
Tomahawk cruise missile strike continues a long-standing U.S. policy
of bombing Syria, which is why Secretary of State Tillerson can state
that these attacks are in accord with ongoing U.S. policy.

In opposing all foreign military intervention in Syria we act to end
the mass slaughter of civilians and to honor the memory of those
civilians who fought for freedom, a fight that might have been won if
not for the militarization of the conflict by the Assad regime and by
U.S. and other foreign powers. As abhorrent as the use of chemical
weapons may be, DSA opposes all forms of mass violence against
civilians, including the U.S. bombing of mosques.

The United States should join the international community in
condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and press for a
return of United Nations inspectors to monitor the regime’s chemical
weapons capacity. The United States must also immediately reverse its
policy opposing the intake of Syrian refugees and grant refugee status
to at least one hundred thousand Syrian asylum seekers (of all faiths)
and challenge the European Union nations to take in proportionate
numbers. It is the ultimate hypocrisy to bomb a country while refusing
to give shelter to refugees from a carnage to which many foreign
powers, including the United States, have contributed.

Furthermore, the United States should join the international community
in providing massive humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrian
refugees in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere. The United States and all
other countries should engage in the necessary diplomacy to press
Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to cease their military aid to the Assad
dictatorship, as well as end United States and Gulf State funding of
internal Syrian combatants. The Syrian people alone can liberate
themselves; the task cannot be accomplished by external powers.

NO TO ASSAD’S BRUTALITY NO TO ISIS NO TO U.S. AND RUSSIAN BOMBING AND MILITARY FORCES IN SYRIA FOR A REVIVAL OF THE ARAB SPRING

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on April 9, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Statement of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy
April 8, 2017
http://www.cpdweb.org/letters/Syria-bombing.shtml

We are horrified by the relentless, cruel attacks of the Assad regime, aided by Moscow and Tehran, on the Syrian people. For sheer brutality the butchers in Damascus have few equals in the world today. But we also wholeheartedly condemn U.S. bombing and military forces in Syria, which will kill innocent people and contribute nothing towards a just solution to the Syrian conflict, while at the same time serving to deepen the reactionary U.S. military presence in the Middle East and reinforce Assad’s rhetorical claim that he is defending the Syrian people against Western imperialism, hollow though that claim may be.

Assad claims to be the only force standing between “stability” and the victory of ISIS, but this ignores the fact that authoritarian, repressive regimes like those in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Syria are highly effective recruiting agents for ISIS and similar jihadis. The other major recruiters for religious extremists and terrorists in the Middle East are the United States and its allies, with their bloody history of intervention and, in the case of the U.S., virtually carte blanche support for Israel. And while President Trump’s missile attack on the Syrian Shayrat airbase may have been limited, such bombing has its own logic, dangerously putting U.S. imperial prestige on the line and thus potentially triggering escalating attacks and counterattacks.

We are witnessing a set of deadly symbioses in Syria: Assad and ISIS use one another as justification for their own savageries, while the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other, point to the very real crimes of one another to excuse interventions which in no way protect or defend the Syrian people, but rather serve their imperial (or in the case of Iran, sub-imperial) interests in the region.

The war in Syria cannot be understood apart from the broader political landscape in the Middle East. The popular revolutionary uprisings of the Arab Spring, from Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain to Syria, Libya and Yemen, offered a glimpse of a democratic and just future for the peoples of the region. For now, they have been thwarted, and in most cases, apparently crushed by a combination of domestic reactionary forces and the support of their foreign patrons.

However, the resistance in Syria has proven amazingly resilient: as recently as March of last year courageous street protests under the slogan “The Revolution Continues” erupted in Syrian cities during the brief cessation of hostilities. As reported in The New Statesman, “When fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra tried to storm one of these demonstrations in the town of Maarat al-Numan, the protesters drowned them out by chanting, ‘One! One! One! The Syrian people are one!’ This is a maxim from the incipient, secular phases of the uprising, in which Syrians struggled to stem the tide of rising sectarian and ethnic tension injected by the jihadists’ engagement in the conflict.” (1)

It is truly a time of colossal, obscene double standards.

We see Donald Trump, along with most of the mainstream media and leading Republican and Democratic Party politicians, hypocritically deploring the massacre of innocent men, women and babies in Syria — while they remain coldly indifferent to the massacres and loss of human life at the hands of the U.S. and the forces it supports in Mosul and Yemen. And meanwhile desperate refugees from Syria’s carnage are cruelly turned away from U.S. borders.

We also see Donald Trump welcoming Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, while brazenly dismissing any human rights concerns and continuing Obama’s policy of generous military aid, despite Sisi’s horrific record of murdering and imprisoning thousands of his opponents. It is safe to predict, moreover, that if and when the Islamic State gains more and more supporters in Egypt in response to Sisi’s dictatorial rule, we will hear a chorus of apologists saying that unsavory as he may be, Sisi as a secularist leader is better than the barbaric jihadis, has significant popular support, and therefore has to be supported.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian government and its news agency RT deplore the heartrending destruction of neighborhoods and deaths of civilians in Mosul and Yemen and decry the callousness of the U.S. military — while justifying Assad’s attacks on the people of Aleppo and across Syria. In fact, Russian military involvement, including aerial support for attacks on civilian and military opponents of the regime, has actually played a significant, likely critical, role in keeping Assad’s regime in power.

We completely reject these grotesque alternatives. We urgently hope for a revival of the movements and the spirit of the Arab Spring, which offer the only possibility of breaking out of the death spiral of Middle Eastern politics. Many will dismiss this perspective as impractical, but what is truly impractical is the idea that the great powers, each with its own imperial agenda, will bring justice or democracy. If, against enormous odds, democratic forces are able to wrest an agreement that protects them from continuing slaughter by Assad and ISIS and leaves them in a position to struggle and fight again another day, then their decision to accept such a limited agreement should be respected. But even such an agreement will only be won as a result of pressure from the Syrian people, not through the initiative of outside powers who, despite their differences and rivalries, share a deep hostility to a resurgence of autonomous popular forces in Syria or anywhere else.

Democratic popular forces may be weak today, but our only principled and practical course is to declare our solidarity with their struggles, try to strengthen them, and oppose all those who attempt to subvert and destroy them.

(1) The 2016 demonstration in Maarat al-Numan is described in this New Statesman article
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/03/amid-fragile-ceasefire-syria-s-original-protesters-are-rediscovering-their-voice.

Protests in other Syrian cities are described in these articles:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/syria-ceasefire-aleppo-peaceful-protests.html

https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/new-demonstrations-throughout-free-syria

Thoughts about what the Syrian airstrike might mean for our work

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 7, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The following was written April 6, 2017, by my colleague and good friend Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — also very active with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
There was little warning. That is the nature of a surprise attack. Still, the reality that our country had carried out an act of war against another country was shocking. Knowing that our historic nuclear-armed nemesis is on the other side, on the ground in that country quickly turned my shock into a heavy dread.

There are many reasons for Russia to stand aside in response to the US attack on a Syrian airbase after Donald Trump was affected by scenes of children who had been murdered by chemical weapons.
There are also reasons for Russia to express concerns about a US President deciding to become the global enforcer of UN conventions without waiting for a greenlight from the security council or anyone else—what seems swift and decisive to President Trump could seem abrupt and impetuous to someone else.
And there could be reasons for Russia to take it personally—if Russian personnel were on the ground at the airbase and were killed in the attack, for instance.
The US President will receive accolades or condemnations from members of Congress and others who agree or disagree with his action. He declared his order to strike the airbase was based on the US’s “vital national security interest” in preventing the spread of chemical weapons. Pundits did not blink an eye; we have grown accustomed to defending any action we deign to take by invoking our vital national interest. In this case, no US citizens or military personnel were harmed by Assad’s horrific attack; no US corporate or government properties were at risk. If the US at this moment now holds UN conventions sacred, one can only hope we apply that same solemn obeisance to the Land Mines Convention and, when it enters into force, the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons.

But the hard looming question of this night is this: What if Russia decides to test the mettle of Donald Trump and the divided United States by countering with firepower in a limited strike? What if Russian personnel were killed in the attack, and Vladimir Putin’s pride requires a concomitant response?
That What If has numbed me this night. That What If is unspeakable on Talk-TV tonight.
How quickly could this spiral out of control—two deeply offended egos, puffing themselves up for the honor of their country, acting decisively, precipitously, provocatively to face down the enemy—
Could one or the other, feeling tested, decide to put any questions to rest by reaching for the nuclear codes?

We pray that would never happen, of course. We pray for our lives, and the lives of future generations. We pray whether or not we believe in God or a god or goddess.
But we cannot pray that it could never happen, and therein lies our deepest problem and the unmasking of the fundamental, fatal flaw in the concept of nuclear deterrence. It could happen.
And the fact that all we can do about it at this moment is pray should motivate every woman, man and child in the country to take up the cause of nuclear disarmament. We don’t all have to be on the same page, we don’t all have to agree on the nuts and bolts or the schedule.
We also don’t all have to sit back and say it can’t be done, because it can. Hundreds of millions of people around the world believe it can. One hundred twenty-three nations that convened last week at the United Nations to discuss a treaty to ban nuclear weapons believe that it can. History says that it can—several countries that once possessed nuclear weapons no longer have stockpiles or manufacturing capabilities. Other countries that could produce their own nuclear weapons have chosen not to.
Only three things are lacking, and they are connected.
One is political will translated into political power—the people, when asked directly, express by large majorities the desire to live in a world free of nuclear weapons.
The second thing lacking is courage to embrace a power greater than our fears.
And the third thing is the liberation of our governing officials in the House and Senate from the golden chains of the nuclear weapons institutions—the corporations and weapons communities and federal agencies that drain the national coffers to build weapons of mass destruction.

Tonight, as we wait to see how Russia might respond and what will happen as this chess game plays out with pieces bathed in blood, we must confront the terrible truth of the times we live in: decisions made by these few men could end us all in one afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon, or the one after that, before we can even reach our children to hug them to our chests.
If that is not acceptable to you, find a group working for the abolition of nuclear weapons—not talking about it, but working for it—and throw yourself behind them. If you belong to such a group already, double down. If you can’t find a group, start one. Nothing is more important.

Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts

In Art, Democracy, Justice, Poetry, Politics on April 7, 2017 at 7:07 am

Be Eve L. Ewing, New York Times, April 6, 2017

In 1937, ascending leaders of the Third Reich hosted two art exhibitions in Munich. One, the “Great German Art Exhibition,” featured art Adolf Hitler deemed acceptable and reflective of an ideal Aryan society: representational, featuring blond people in heroic poses and pastoral landscapes of the German countryside. The other featured what Hitler and his followers referred to as “degenerate art”: work that was modern or abstract, and art produced by people disavowed by Nazis — Jewish people, Communists, or those suspected of being one or the other. The “degenerate art” was presented in chaos and disarray, accompanied by derogatory labels, graffiti and catalog entries describing “the sick brains of those who wielded the brush or pencil.” Hitler and those close to him strictly controlled how artists lived and worked in Nazi Germany, because they understood that art could play a key role in the rise or fall of their dictatorship and the realization of their vision for Germany’s future.

“Degenerate Art,” a Nazi-curated exhibition, at the Haus der Kunst in Berlin, February 1938. Credit Reuters
Last month, the Trump administration proposed a national budget that includes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA operates with a budget of about $150 million a year. As critics have observed, this amount is about 0.004 percent of the federal budget, making the move a fairly inefficient approach to trimming government spending. Many Americans have been protesting the cuts by pointing out the many ways that art enriches our lives — as they should. The arts bring us joy and entertainment; they can offer a reprieve from the trials of life or a way to understand them.

But as Hitler understood, artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism. Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value. Like the proverbial court jester who can openly mock the king in his own court, artists who occupy marginalized social positions can use their art to challenge structures of power in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible.

The artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, after being released from jail, in Havana in 2015. He had been held for 10 months for anti-Castro art. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press
Authoritarian leaders throughout history have intuited this fact and have acted accordingly. The Stalinist government of the 1930s required art to meet strict criteria of style and content to ensure that it exclusively served the purposes of state leadership. In his memoir, the composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich writes that the Stalinist government systematically executed all of the Soviet Union’s Ukrainian folk poets. When Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile in 1973, muralists were arrested, tortured and exiled. Soon after the coup, the singer and theater artist Víctor Jara was killed, his body riddled with bullets and displayed publicly as a warning to others. In her book “Brazilian Art Under Dictatorship,” Claudia Calirman writes that the museum director Niomar Moniz Sodré Bittencourt had to hide works of art and advise artists to leave Brazil after authorities entered her museum, blocked the exhibition and demanded the work be dismantled because it contained dangerous images like a photograph of a member of the military falling off a motorcycle, which was seen as embarrassing to the police. Such extreme intervention may seem far removed from the United States today, until we consider episodes like the president’s public castigation of the “Hamilton” cast after it issued a fairly tame commentary directed at Mike Pence.

In its last round of grants, the NEA gave $10,000 to a music festival in Oregon to commission a dance performance by people in wheelchairs and dance classes for people who use mobility devices. A cultural center in California received $10,000 to host workshops led by Muslim artists, including a hip-hop artist, a comedian and filmmakers. A chorus in Minnesota was granted $10,000 to create a concert highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ youth, to be performed in St. Paul public schools. Each of these grants supports the voices of the very people the current presidential administration has mocked, dismissed and outright harmed. Young people, queer people, immigrants, and minorities have long used art as a means of dismantling the institutions that would silence us first and kill us later, and the NEA is one of the few wide-reaching institutions that support that work.

Ai Weiwei and remnants of an installation for the Venice Biennale in 2013. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
American observers shook their heads in disapproval when the performance artist Danilo Maldonado was arrested and jailed for criticizing the Castro regime, and when the Chinese sculptor and photographer Ai Weiwei was placed under house arrest and had his studio demolished by the government. But closer to home, it is imperative that we understand what Trump’s attack on the arts is really about. It’s not about making America a drab and miserable place, nor is it about a belief in austerity or denying resources to communities in need. Much like the disappearance of data from government websites and the exclusion of critical reporters from White House briefings, this move signals something broader and more threatening than the inability of one group of people to do their work. It’s about control. It’s about creating a society where propaganda reigns and dissent is silenced.

We need the arts because they make us full human beings. But we also need the arts as a protective factor against authoritarianism. In saving the arts, we save ourselves from a society where creative production is permissible only insofar as it serves the instruments of power. When the canary in the coal mine goes silent, we should be very afraid — not only because its song was so beautiful, but also because it was the only sign that we still had a chance to see daylight again.

Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and the author of the forthcoming book “Electric Arches.” Follow her on Twitter @eveewing.

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Climate Catastrophe Will Hit Tropics Around 2020, Rest Of World Around 2047, Study Says

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on April 6, 2017 at 9:57 pm

By Eric Zuesse, Huffington Post

The first study to integrate all prior scientific research in order to project approximately when climate change will produce permanent catastrophic consequences has been accepted and will soon be published in the scientific journal Nature, and it finds that things will start going haywire in the tropics at around the year 2020, and in our part of the world at around 2047.

Nature shares with Science and PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) the distinction of being tied as the world’s three most prestigious scientific journals, and an article is not published in these journals unless it has undergone extremely rigorous scientific peer-revue; so, climate-change deniers will have no professional credibility in attacking this study, as the Koch brothers and their friends can reasonably be expected to do, since they profit so much from what causes global warming – the burning of carbon-based fuels.

According to this study, the tropics, which are the near-equatorial region of this planet that’s almost 100% impoverished, and that has thus contributed virtually nothing to global warming, will begin the period of permanent catastrophe starting in approximately 2020; but the (cooler) moderate-latitude countries, such as in North America and Europe, will begin this catastrophic period in or around 2047.

This isn’t to say that things won’t continue to get worse after then; it’s only to say that this is, as the article will be titled, “The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability.”

This landmark article was co-authored by a team of 14 climate-scientists. It says: “Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries.” It explains that the reason for this is that the countries near the equator have far less variability in their weather than do the moderate-climate countries, and so the species that constitute the ecosystems there cannot tolerate temperatures outside their narrow range, which has existed within that narrow range for thousands of years. Consequently, species-extinctions will soar there much faster and earlier than here. The existing impoverished economies, within around 2,500 miles of the equator (where average per-capita incomes are less than 10% of the average in the moderate-latitude countries such as ours), will become unlivable.

This study notes the “obvious disparity between those who benefit from the process leading to climate change and those who will have to pay for most of the environmental and social costs.” Of course, “those who benefit from the process leading to climate change” are the oil companies, and the coal companies, and the natural gas companies, and the pipeline and service companies, and ultimately their owners: especially the aristocratic families who control them. It would be false to assume that any poor people, even in countries such as the United States, will benefit from continuation of “the process leading to climate change.” However, some of the chief financial backers of the Republican Party and of other conservative political parties in the moderate-latitude countries benefit enormously from that “process.” Thus, many people who will not benefit from climate change end up voting for climate change; and, of course, their children and subsequent descendants will suffer greatly from their votes.

A previous article I wrote reports further on this problem of greater danger for the equatorial countries. Another reports on a study in Science showing that there is already too much carbon in the atmosphere for life as we have known it to be able to continue on much longer, and that, consequently, there will be sharp increases in human conflict (crimes, wars, etc.) resulting from this carbon build-up in the atmosphere. Another reports on a study in PNAS explaining that though the near-term predictions about the effects of this atmospheric carbon build-up contain far less certainty than do the long-term predictions, there is essentially no question that two thousand years from now, life on this planet will be hellish for everyone, even if the near-term consequences of the atmosphere’s existing carbon overload are far less certain. None of this is science fiction; all of it is science fact, though the Koch brothers and their friends do everything they possibly can to deceive the masses that it’s not true and that the conspiracy to deceive the public is to be found amongst the 97+% of climate scientists who say that global warming is happening and that its chief cause is human atmospheric carbon emissions. Though the numbers of the Kochs suckers might be declining, it’s already too late; the Kochs were successful for far too long to avert disaster now. From now on, efforts to reduce climate-change will be efforts to reduce the extent of the catastrophe, not to prevent the catastrophe.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

Noam Chomsky: Why Donald Trump is pushing the doomsday clock to the brink of midnight

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 4, 2017 at 10:13 pm

David Gibbs, Alternet, April 3, 2017

The following is an transcript of a recent public interview at the University of Arizona with linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky by Dr. David N. Gibbs.

David Gibbs: The main issue on everyone’s minds is the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has emphasized the extreme danger that Trump poses, due to the augmented risk of nuclear war and uncontrolled climate change. After inauguration, the Bulletin’s metaphoric clock has been repositioned at two and a half minutes to midnight, with “midnight” signifying catastrophe. Do you agree with the Bulletin regarding the alleged dangers posed by the Trump presidency?

Noam Chomsky: One of the dangers is unquestionable. Of the two existential threats — the threats to the termination of the species basically and most other species – one of them, climate change, on that I think there’s no basis for discussion. Trump has been very inconsistent on many things; on Twitter he’s been all over the place, but some of it is very consistent. That is: Do nothing about climate change except make it worse. And he’s not just speaking for himself, but for the whole Republican Party, the whole leadership. It’s already had impact, it will have worse impact. We’ll talk about this next week, but if there are ways out of this, it’s going to be not easy.

With regard to nuclear weapons, it’s kind of hard to say. He’s said lots of things. As you mentioned, the national security experts are terrified. But they’re more terrified by his personality than by his statements. So if you read people like say Bruce Blair[i]1 one of the leading, most sober, knowledgeable specialists, he says, look, his statements are all over the map, but his personality is frightening, he’s a complete megalomaniac. You never know how he’s going to react. When he learned for example that he’d lost the election by about three million votes, his instant reaction was insanity; you know, three to five million illegal immigrants somehow were organized in some incredible fashion to vote. On any little issue — Miss Universe, or whatever it may be — he’s completely unpredictable, he’ll go off into outer space. His guru Steve Bannon is worse, he’s much scarier. He probably knows what he’s doing.

Over the years, there’s been case after case when there were very narrow decisions that had to be made about whether to launch nuclear weapons in serious cases. What is this guy going to do if his vaunted negotiating skills fail, if somebody doesn’t do what he says? Is he going to say, “Okay we’ll nuke them? We’re done?” Remember that in any major nuclear war, the first strike destroys the country that attacks; it’s been known for years. The first strike of a major power is very likely to cause what’s called nuclear winter, leads to global famine for years and everything’s basically gone. Some survivors straggling around. Could he do it? Who knows.

Some of his comments can be interpreted as potentially reducing the threat of nuclear war. The major threat right now is right on the Russian border. Notice, not the Mexican border, the Russian border. And it’s serious. He has made various statements moving towards reducing the tensions, accommodating Russian concerns and so on. On the other hand, you have to balance that against expanding our nuclear forces, add to our so-called depleted military, which is already more powerful than the rest of the world combined; attack in Syria, send forces to Syria, start bombing. Who knows what could be next? Michael Flynn, national security advisor,[ii] [his reaction] to the Iranian missile test the other day was very frightening. Now the missile test is ill-advised, they shouldn’t have done it. But it’s not in violation of international law or international agreements. They shouldn’t have done it. His reaction suggested maybe we’re going to go to war in retaliation. Would they do it? If they did, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Everything could blow up.

This crazy ban on the seven states, where we can’t accept immigrants, almost every analyst points out the obvious: It just increases the threat of terror. It lays the basis for terror. It’s just like the atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo. They’re the most fabulous recruiting techniques for Al Qaeda and ISIS. Everyone knows it. Now, you ban not the whole Muslim world. You ban seven states, seven states that have not been responsible for a single terrorist act. Those are the seven he banned. But, you leave the ones that really are responsible, like Saudi Arabia, which is the center for propaganda and funding and so on for radical Islamic Jihadism, well you can’t touch them because of business interests, also they have oil and so on and so forth. There’s actually an article in the Washington Post, I don’t know whether it’s tongue in cheek or not, which said the criterion for being on the list of banned states is that Trump doesn’t have business interests there. Maybe. But it’s this kind of wild unpredictability, megalomania, thin-skinned craziness that really has me worried, more than his statements. Now, on the climate change there’s just nothing to say, he’s perfectly straightforward.

Gibbs: Let us turn to the role of the media in reporting alleged Russian interference in the US electoral process. Mainstream journalists have called Trump a puppet of Russia, a modern version of the Manchurian Candidate. Others have criticized the media for accepting unsubstantiated claims about Russian influence, and reporting such claims as facts. Norman Solomon and Serge Halimi, for example, stated that press reporting on this issue amounts to a mass hysteria reminiscent of the McCarthy era, while Seymour Hersh called the media reporting on Russia “outrageous.”[iii] What is your view of this situation?

Chomsky: My guess is that most of the world is just collapsing in laughter. Suppose all the charges are true, I mean every single one, it is so amateurish by US standards that you can hardly even laugh. What the US does is the kind of thing I described in Italy in 1948. Case after case like that, not hacking or spreading rumors in the media; but saying look, we’re going to starve you to death or kill you or destroy you unless you vote the way we want. I mean that’s what we do.

Take the famous 9/11, let’s think about it for a minute. It was a pretty awful terrorist act. It could have been a lot worse. Now let’s suppose that instead of the plane being downed in Pennsylvania by passengers, suppose it had hit its target, which was probably the White House. Now suppose it had killed the president. Suppose that plans had been set for a military coup to take over the government. And right away, immediately 50,000 people were killed, 700,000 tortured. A bunch of economists were brought in from Afghanistan, let’s call them the “Kandahar Boys,” who very quickly destroyed the economy, and established a dictatorship which devastated the country. That would have been a lot worse than 9/11. It happened: the first 9/11, it happened on September 11, 1973, in Chile. We did it. Was that interfering or hacking a party? This record is all over the world, constantly overthrowing governments, invading, forcing people to follow what we call democracy, as in the cases I mentioned. As I say, if every charge is accurate, it’s a joke, and I’m sure half the world is collapsing in laughter about this, because people outside the United States know it. You don’t have to tell people in Chile about the first 9/11.

Gibbs: One of the surprises of the post-Cold War era is the persistence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other US-led alliances. These alliances were created during the Cold War mainly or exclusively for containing the claimed Soviet threat. In 1991, the USSR disappeared from the map, but the anti-Soviet alliance systems persisted and in fact expanded. How do we account for the persistence and expansion of NATO? What in your view is the purpose of NATO after the Cold War?

Chomsky: We have official answers to that. It’s a very interesting question, which I was planning to talk about but didn’t have time. So thanks. It’s a very interesting question. For fifty years, we heard NATO is necessary to save Western Europe from the Russian hordes, you know the slave state, stuff I was taking about. In 1990-91, no Russian hordes. Okay, what happens? Well there are actually visions of the future system that were presented. One was Gorbachev. He called for a Eurasian security system, with no military blocs. He called it a Common European Home. No military blocs, no Warsaw Pact, no NATO, with centers of power in Brussels, Moscow, Ankara, maybe Vladivostok, other places. Just an integrated security system with no conflicts.

That was one. Now the other vision was presented by George Bush, this is the “statesman,” Bush I and James Baker his secretary of state. There’s very good scholarship on this incidentally. We really know a lot about what happened, now that all the documents are out. Gorbachev said that he would agree to the unification of Germany, and even adherence of Germany to NATO, which was quite a concession, if NATO didn’t move to East Germany. And Bush and Baker promised verbally, that’s critical, verbally that NATO would not expand “one inch to the east,” which meant East Germany. Nobody was talking about anything farther at the time. They would not expand one inch to the east. Now that was a verbal promise. It was never written. NATO immediately expanded to East Germany. Gorbachev complained. He was told look, there’s nothing on paper. People didn’t actually say it but the implication was look, if you are dumb enough to take faith in a gentleman’s agreement with us, that’s your problem. NATO expanded to East Germany.

There’s very interesting work, if you want to look into it by a young scholar in Texas named Joshua Shifrinson, it appeared in International Security, which is one of the prestige journals, published by MIT.[iv] He goes through the documentary record very carefully and he makes a pretty convincing case that Bush and Baker were purposely deceiving Gorbachev. The scholarship has been divided on that, maybe they just weren’t clear or something. But if you read it, I think it’s quite a convincing case, that they were purposely setting it up to deceive Gorbachev.

Okay, NATO expanded to East Berlin and East Germany. Under Clinton NATO expanded further, to the former Russian satellites. In 2008 NATO formally made an offer to Ukraine to join NATO. That’s unbelievable. I mean, Ukraine is the geopolitical heartland of Russian concern, quite aside from historical connections, population and so on. Right at the beginning of all of this, serious senior statesmen, people like Kennan for example and others warned that the expansion of NATO to the east is going to cause a disaster.[v] I mean, it’s like having the Warsaw Pact on the Mexican border. It’s inconceivable. And others, senior people warned about this, but policymakers didn’t care. Just go ahead.

Right now, where do we stand? Well right at the Russian border, both sides have been taking provocative actions, both sides are building up military forces. NATO forces are carrying out maneuvers hundreds of yards from the Russian border, the Russian jets are buzzing American jets. Anything could blow up in a minute. In a minute, you know. Any incident could instantly blow up. Both sides are modernizing and increasing their military systems, including nuclear systems.

So what’s the purpose of NATO? Well actually we have an official answer. It isn’t publicized much, but a couple of years ago, the secretary-general of NATO made a formal statement explaining the purpose of NATO in the post-Cold War world is to control global energy systems, pipelines, and sea lanes. That means it’s a global system and of course he didn’t say it, it’s an intervention force under US command, as we’ve seen in case after case. So that’s NATO. So what happened to the years of defending Europe from the Russian hordes? Well, you can go back to NSC-68,[vi] and see how serious that was. So that’s what we’re living with.

Right now the threat to our existence is Muslim terrorists from seven states, who have never had a single terrorist act. About half the population believes that. I mean you look back at American history and American culture, it’s pretty striking. I mean this has been the safest country in the world forever, and the most frightened country in the world. That’s a large part of the source of the gun culture. You have to have a gun when you go into Starbucks, because who knows what’s going to happen. It just doesn’t happen in other countries.

There’s something deeply rooted in American culture. You can pretty much identify what it was. You take a look at the history. Remember, the US is not a global power until pretty recently. It was internal conquest. You had to defend yourself against what the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, an enlightened figure, called the attacks of the “merciless Indian savages,” whose known way of warfare was torture and destruction. Jefferson wasn’t a fool. He knew that it was the merciless English savages who were carrying out these acts. That is in the Declaration of Independence, recited piously every July Fourth, the merciless Indian savages with no reason at all were suddenly attacking us. I mean, you can imagine the reasons. That’s one. Also you had a slave population, you had to protect yourself against them. You needed guns. One consequence of that was in southern culture, possession of a gun became kind of a sign of manhood, not just because of slaves but other white men. If you had a gun, you’re not going to push me around. You know, I’m not one of those guys you can kick in the face.

There was another element, which was kind of interesting. In the mid to late nineteenth century, the gun manufacturers recognized that they had a limited market. Remember that this is a capitalist society, you’ve got to expand your market. They were selling guns to the military. That’s a pretty limited market. What about all the rest of the people? So what started was all kinds of fantastic stories about Wyatt Earp and the gunmen and the Wild West, how exciting it was to have these guys with guns defending themselves against all sorts of things.

I grew up in that, when I was a kid. My friends and I used to play cowboys and Indians. We were cowboys killing the Indians, following the Wild West stories. All of this combined into a very strange culture, which is frightened. You look at the polls today, I think half the population supports this ban on these dangerous immigrants who are going to come in and do something, who knows what. And meanwhile the countries that really have been involved in terrorism, they’re out. It’s kind of like I think it was Oklahoma banning Sharia law. Now there’s probably fifty Muslims in Oklahoma, and they have to ban Sharia law, you know. This terror which is all over the country is constantly incited. The Russians were part of NSC-68, is a dramatic case. And that case, like most propaganda wasn’t totally fabricated. The Russians were doing a lot of rotten things, you can point to them. But the idea that if you consider what Hans Morgenthau called “I called abuse ofe reality,” the picture of the world was almost the opposite of what they presented. But somehow this sells and is continually repeated, at least in this kind of situation.
Gibbs: During the Cold War, the political left generally opposed military intervention. After 1991, however, the anti-interventionist movement collapsed and in its place has emerged the idea of humanitarian interventionism, which celebrates intervention as a defense of human rights. Military actions in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya have all been presented as acts of humanitarianism, which aimed to liberate oppressed peoples, and these interventions were at least initially popular among political liberals. Proposals for augmented US intervention in Syria often invoke the humanitarian principle. What is your view of humanitarian intervention?

Chomsky: Well, I don’t quite see it like that. Now, if you look back to the anti-intervention movements, what were they? Let’s take the Vietnam War – the biggest crime since the Second World War. Those of you who are old enough will remember what happened. You couldn’t be opposed to the war for years. The mainstream liberal intellectuals were enthusiastically in support of the war. In Boston, a liberal city where I was, we literally couldn’t have a public demonstration without it being violently broken up, with the liberal press applauding, until late 1966. By that time there were hundreds of thousands of American troops rampaging in South Vietnam. South Vietnam had been practically destroyed. The leading, the most respected Vietnam historian, military historian Bernard Fall[vii] – he was a hawk incidentally, but he cared for the Vietnamese – he said it wasn’t clear to him whether Vietnam could survive as a historical and cultural entity under the most massive attack that any region that size had ever suffered. He was talking about South Vietnam, incidentally. By that time, we did begin to get some protests. But not from liberal intellectuals; they never opposed the war.

In fact, it’s pretty dramatic when you get to 1975, very revealing, the war ends. Everybody had to write something about the war, what it meant. And you also had polls of public opinion, and they’re dramatically different. So if you look at the writings of intellectuals, there are two kinds. One said, l“Look, if we fought harder we could have won.” You know, the stab in the back. But the others, who were way at the left, people like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, way out in left stream, his view in 1975 was the Vietnam war began with blundering efforts to do good. But by 1969, it was clear that it was a disaster, that was too costly to us. We could not bring democracy to South Vietnam at a cost that we were willing to accept. So it was a disaster. That’ is the left extreme.

Take a look at public opinion. About 70 percent of the population, in the polls, said the war was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. And that attitude lasted as long as polls were taken in the early ‘80s. The pollsters don’t ask reasons, they just give numbers. So why did the people think it was fundamentally wrong and immoral? The guys who ran the polls, John E. Rielly, a professor at the University of Chicago, a liberal professor, he said what that means is that people thought too many Americans had beenwere being killed. Maybe. Another possibility is they didn’t like the fact that we were carrying out the worst crime since the Second World War. But that’s so inconceivable that wasn’t even offered as a possible reason.

Now what happened in the following years? Well, I think that among the educated classes it stayed the same. You talk about humanitarian intervention, it’s like Vietnam was a humanitarian intervention. Among the public, it’s quite different. Take the Iraq War, , it’s the second worst crime after the Second World War. It’s the first time in history, in the history of imperialism, there were huge demonstrations, before the war was officially launched. Actually it was already under way. But before it was officially launched, there were huge demonstrations everywhere. I think it had an effect. The public still was split.

And [after Vietnam] the type of interventions that are carried out are designed so as not to elicit public reactions. In fact, it was stated early in the first Bush [presidency], Bush I, in one of their documents they pointed out in the future, US wars are going to be against much weaker enemies. And they have to be won quickly and decisively before a popular reaction develops. And Iif you take a look, that’s what’s done. Look at Panama, for instance, over a couple of days; and Kosovo, no American troops. You wrote a great book about it.[viii] But I’m not convinced that it’s different from what it was.

Gibbs: With the end of the Cold War, there has been a decline of activism in the US and elsewhere around the issue of nuclear disarmament. Once again, this state of affairs differs from the period of the Cold War, when there was a mass movement that opposed nuclear weapons – recall the Freeze movement from the 1980s — but this movement largely disappeared after 1991. The danger of nuclear war remains as high as ever, but there is little public engagement on this issue, it would seem. How would you explain the disappearance of the anti-nuclear movement?

Chomsky: Well that’s absolutely right. The peak of anti-nuclear popular activism was in the early ‘80s, when there was a huge movement. And the Reagan administration attempted decided to defuse it and partially succeeded, by presenting the illusion of Star Wars, SDI, that somehow we’re going to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Reagan administration picked up the rhetoric of the anti-nuclear movement; they said “Yyeah, you’re right.” We have to eliminate nuclear weapons. And the way we’re going to do it is by having SDI, TStar Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which prevent nuclear weapons from impacting. Well, that did defuse the movement.

And whthen the Russians collapsed, and it looked like as if maybe we can reduce the nuclear tensions. And for a while they actually were reduced. There was a reduction of nuclear weaponsreally were reduced on both sides. Various steps were taken. Nowhere near enough, but some of them were taken.

On the other hand, it’s very important to understand the official position of the United States. You should read it. So in 1995, this is Clinton, a very important document came out, still classified, but large parts of it were declassified. It’s called “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.”[ix] What does post-Cold War deterrence mean? Deterrence means use of nuclear weapons. This was released by the Strategic Command, which was in charge of nuclear weapons planning and running nuclear weapons. I wrote about it when it came out and have been writing about it since. . Since then, I’ve never seen a reference to it. But it is an amazing document. Here’s what it says basically: It says we have to maintain the right of first strike, the right of the first use of nuclear weapons, even against nonnuclear powers. Nuclear weapons, they point out, are really constantly used, because they cast a shadow over other military actions. In other words, when people know we are ready to use nuclear weapons, they’re going to back off if we do something aggressive. So basically, nuclear weapons are always being used.
Now that’s a point that Dan Ellsberg has made for years. He said it’s kind of like if you and I go into a grocery store to rob it, and I have a gun. The guy may give you the money in the cash register. I’m using the gun even if I don’t shoot. Well that’s nuclear weapons — essential to post-war deterrence — they cast a shadow over everything. Then, it goes on to say that we must present a national persona of being irrational and vindictive, because that’s going to terrify people. And then, they’ll back off. And this is not Trump, this is Clinton. It’s not Nixon, you know. We have to be irrational and vindictive, because that’s going to frighten people. And we have to maintain this for years. And then we’ll be able to carry out the actions that we want to carry out.

That’s our nuclear weapons strategy, as of the early post-Cold War years. And I think this is a real failure of the intellectual community, including scholarship and the media. It’s not like you had headlines all over the place. And it’s not secret, the documents are there. And I think that’s probably the right picture. You know, people talk about Nixon’s “madman theory.” We don’t really know much about that. It was in memoirs, by somebody else.[x] But this is real. This is the real mad man theory. We have to be irrational and vindictive, so people don’t know what we’re up to. This is not Trump and Bannon, it’s from the Clinton era.

Gibbs: I think we have time for one more question. In popular discussion, the phrase “national security” has come to mean security against military threats almost exclusively. This narrative downgrades the significance of nonmilitary threats, such as climate change, antibiotic resistant bacteria, or viral epidemics. It would seem that there is an imbalance between perceived military threats, which receive overwhelming governmental funding and press attention on the one hand, and nonmilitary threats, which receive relatively little on the other hand. How do we account for the apparent overemphasis on military threats?

Chomsky: Well [with] military threats, you can see them actually, you can imagine it. People don’t think about it enough. But if you think about it for a minute, you can see that a nuclear attack could be the end of everything. These other threats are kind of slow, maybe we won’t see them next year. Maybe the science is uncertain, maybe we don’t have to worry about it. Climate change is the worst, but there’s others.

Take pandemics. There could easily be a severe pandemic. A lot of that comes from something we don’t pay much attention to: Eating meat. The meat production industry, the industrial production of meat, uses an immense amount of antibiotics. I don’t remember the exact figure, it’s probably like half the antibiotics. Well antibiotics have an effect: They lead to mutations that make them ineffective. We’re now running out of antibiotics that deal with the threat of rapidly mutating bacteria. A lot of that just comes from the meat production industry. Well, do we worry about it? Well, we ought to be. You go into a hospital now, it’s dangerous. We can get diseases that can’t be dealt with, that are moving around the hospital. A lot of that traces back to industrial meat production. These are really serious threats, all over the place.

Take something you really don’t think about: Plastics in the ocean. I mean plastics in the ocean have an enormous ecological effect. When geologists announced the beginning of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, humans destroying the environment, one of the main things they pointed to is the use of plastics in the earth. We don’t think about it, but it has a tremendous effect. But these are things you don’t see right in front of your eyes. You need to think about them a little, to see what the consequences are. It’s easy to put them aside, and the media don’t talk about them. Other things are more important. How am I going to put food on the table tomorrow? That’s what I’ve got to worry about, and so on. It’s very serious, but it’s hard to bring out the enormity of these issues, when they do not have the dramatic character of something you can show in the movies, with a nuclear weapons falling and everything disappears.

Professor Chomsky approved this transcript for publication. The interview is presented in full, with only very slight editing for style.

[i] For the recent opinions of Princeton University nuclear weapons specialist Bruce G. Blair, see Blair, “Trump and the Nuclear Keys,” New York Times, October 12, 2016.

[ii] Note that Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security advisor on February 13, 2017, several days after this interview took place[iii] See Solomon, “Urgent to Progressives: Stop Fueling Anti-Russia Frenzy,” Antiwar.com, December 21, 2016, http://original.antiwar.com/solomon/2016/12/20/urgent-progressives-stop-fueling-anti-russia-frenzy/ ; Halimi, January, 2017, ; Jeremy , “Seymour Hersh Blasts Media for Uncritically Reporting Russian Hacking Story,”

[iv] The End of the Cold War and the US Offer to Limit NATO Expansion,” International Security 40, no. 4, 2016.

[v] On George F. Kennan’s warning about the dangers of NATO expansion, see Thomas L. Friedman, “Foreign Affairs: Now a Word from X,” New York Times, May 2, 1998.

[vi] 6 Here, Chomsky references the National Security Council memorandum NSC-68, one of the key documents of the Cold War. This document was the topic of Chomsky’s lecture, which preceded the interview. The document text is now fully declassified and available online. See “A Report to the National Security Council – NSC 68,” April 14, 1950, made available through the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/coldwar/documents/pdf/10-1.pdf.%5Bvii%5D Regarding Bernard Fall’s writings on Vietnam, see Fall, Last Reflections on a War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

[viii] The book Chomsky references with regard to the Kosovo intervention is David N. Gibbs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009.

[ix] This e full text of this declassified document is now available online. See US Department of Defense, Strategic Command, “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,” 1995 [no exact date indicated], made available through provided by the Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Information Project, http://www.nukestrat.com/us/stratcom/SAGessentials.PDF.

[x] The idea that President Richard Nixon subscribed to a “madman” theory of international relations first appeared in the memoir by former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in Haldeman and Joseph DiMona, The Ends of Power. New York: Times Books, 1978, p. 98.

Nations have moral duty to destroy nuclear weapons, Vatican envoy tells UN

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on April 3, 2017 at 10:19 pm

Catholic World Service, March 29, 2017

“The threat of mutually assured destruction through nuclear weapons cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states,” the Vatican’s delegate said in an address to a UN session on nuclear disarmament.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza called the attention of UN members to the call by Pope Francis for the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons. He said that all states have a moral obligation to stop nuclear proliferation and to destroy their own stockpiles of nuclear arms.

Nuclear weapons cause “unnecessary suffering” for survivors, the archbishop argued, and “merit unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” He argued that states should provide compensation for people harmed by radiation from nuclear tests.

Archbishop Auza said that the UN’s discussion of disarmament was itself “an act of defiance against the logic of fear.” He called for universal acceptance of the principle that conflicts should be resolved by dialogue.

Message from Beatrice Fihn, ICAN info@icanw.org

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 29, 2017 at 1:56 am

Yesterday, negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons under international law began in New York. The treaty is being negotiated based on the recognition that the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon use is morally unacceptable and that the weapons themselves represent a significant risk to human security.

The treaty will finally ban weapons designed to indiscriminately kill civilians, completing the prohibitions of weapons of mass destruction.

While the majority of the worlds governments gathered in the room, Trump’s UN envoy, Nikki Haley, held a protest together with the UK, France and a number of Eastern European allies outside the negotiations.

The very unusual protest by Ambassador Haley and others demonstrates how worried they are about the impact of the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This treaty will also affect countries that fail to participate, by setting international norms of behaviour and removing the political prestige associated with nuclear weapons.

Over 115 governments, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Pope and other faith-based leaders, over 3,000 scientists, and civil society agreed yesterday – this is the time to ban nuclear weapons.
There are many ways to follow the treaty negotiations:

Live stream from the proceedings in New York
ICAN’s blog
#nuclearban on Twitter
Daily video updates
This is a really exciting moment and negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would not have happened without the strong support from civil society around the world.