America’s new strategy

Subcomandante Marcos from the Zapatistas made a comment years ago when the government announced its “new military strategy” for the Chiapas conflict. He said: they have announced a new strategy, but it isn’t new, nor is it a strategy, it is the same stupid pounding we have suffered for 500 years.

Sound familiar?

I am working on a piece on the ‘strategy’ the US is pursuing in this war in Iraq and the likely consequences. It seems to me that the way the US is fighting this war, the war is taking on a logic of its own, changing Iraq in irreversible ways, and creating the conditions for a holocaust like that the US inflicted on Vietnam. In particular I was struck by two things: 1) at least half of Fallujah’s inhabitants (150,000 people) are now refugees in their own country, and 2) the US says openly that this assault is only the beginning. If the US goes around and does this in every city where there is resistance, we will be talking about millions of internally displaced refugees in a country with an already devastated infrastructure and a continuous inflicting of firepower by the US.

Below is a work in progress: comments are welcome. The final piece will probably just become a ZNet Sustainer Commentary.

Guerrilla wars are fought by parties that have no hope of matching the other side’s size or power. If guerrillas know what they are doing, they don’t stand and fight when the stronger side masses its forces. The United States military is immeasurably more powerful than the Iraqi resistance or any other force in the world. But Iraqi guerrillas don’t stand and fight. So the United States did what the larger, more powerful army could be expected to do: try to trap the insurgents in an area and destroy them. This forces them to stand and fight, removes their advantages as guerrillas, and allows the US to bring its firepower to bear to destroy them.

Was the above military analysis sufficiently detached to be worthy of an armchair general on the TV news? Add the human factor. To trap the insurgents in Fallujah, the US sealed the town off. They told everyone to leave. They told everyone that any military-age-male (or MAM, not to be confused with the marriage-aged-males that were so frequently the targets of US massacres in Afghanistan and Iraq earlier in the wars) under 45 years old would be arrested (perhaps for torture at Abu Ghraib?) They then prayed to God, talked about Satan, and invaded the city. First they blew up a hospital. Then they occupied another hospital, stating explicitly that they were doing so because they did not want the hospitals to release figures of how many people they were killing. It worked. According to an Al Jazeera Report “Doctors said people brought in at least 15 dead civilians at the main clinic in Falluja on Monday. By Tuesday, there were no clinics open, residents said, and no way to count casualties.” They blew up minarets of a mosque. What more they are doing is difficult to know, because they are controlling the information.

For example, no one knows how many people there are in Fallujah right now. The population before the invasion was 300,000. The population now could be half that, or 10% of that. In other words, tens of thousands of people have been displaced already. Will they be able to return to their homes? Will their homes be there? 20,000 are gathered at the town of Saqlawiya south of Fallujah. Thousands of elderly women, and children, have had no food or water for days, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Among those who stayed is Muhammad Abbud, who buried his 9-year old child in his garden because they can’t leave their houses because of the American siege. “My son got shrapnel in his stomach when our house was hit at dawn, but we couldn’t take him for treatment,” said Abbud, a teacher. “We buried him in the garden because it was too dangerous to go out. We did not know how long the fighting would last.” (1) The Red Crescent Society, according to a Reuters report, wants to distribute relief supplies in the city. The Americans have refused to allow them to do so. Firdoos al-Ubadi of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society was quoted saying “From a humanitarian point of view it’s a disaster, there’s no other way to describe it. And if we don’t do something about it soon, it’s going to spread to other cities… There’s no medicine, no water, no electricity. They need our help.”

The question in the mainstream media is: did the insurgents slip away before the attack started, or will this battle finish them off? The answer does not matter to the US: the massacre will go on regardless. Indeed, Rumsfeld and the gang have said as much in press conferences: admitting the important insurgents had long since escaped and that this assault was only the beginning.

The beginning, indeed. The Lancet study that estimates that 100,000 Iraqis have already been killed as a result of the occupation, the UN figures of hundreds of thousands of children who died during the sanctions regime from 1991 to the present, all these are just a prelude. The US is fighting this war in a way that is creating massive internal displacement and humanitarian crises. It has long since destroyed the infrastructure that enables a people to cope with such crises. It has destroyed hospitals and mosques, trapped people in their homes, and refuses to allow international aid organizations to operate in areas whose inhabitants it is killing.

In recent wars, when casualties have reached genocidal proportions, it has usually not been because of the firepower deployed, but because of the collapse of infrastructure and security leading to starvation and preventable disease. That is what happened in the Congo war that killed 3 million people between 1998-2001.

Scott Ritter, writing for Al Jazeera, made this prediction: “Falluja is probably the beginning of a very long and bloody phase of the Iraq war, one that pits an American military under orders from a rejuvenated Bush administration to achieve victory at any cost against an Iraqi resistance that is willing to allow Iraq to sink into a quagmire of death and destruction in order to bog down and eventually expel the American occupier. It is a war the United States cannot win, and which the government of Iyad Allawi cannot survive. Unfortunately, since recent polls show that some 70% of the American people support the war in Iraq, it is a war that will rage until the American domestic political dynamic changes, and the tide of public opinion turns against the war.” (2)

The invasion of Fallujah is an attempt by the US to use its firepower to try to change the political reality in Iraq. That political reality is one in which they are seeking stable control of the country and its oil resources, and the resistance, combined with the US’s own arrogance and incompetence, has made it impossible for the US to exercise control. The US is trying to use destruction as a substitute for control. It can’t work. But what it can do is transform the whole situation in horrific ways.




Palestine’s leader, Yasser Arafat, has died.

I expect that in the coming days there will be a lot of stupid things written about him on all sides. I have already read some of it. As when he was living, the point will not be to shower contempt on him and his legacy. It will be to shower contempt on the Palestinian people.

Continue reading “Arafat”

Missile defense

We interrupt coverage of the Fallujah massacre for some notes on blowing up the world.

But first, a note from the Black Commentator’s excellent editorial on the US election. The Black Commentator is less surprised than most about the ‘rise’ of the Christian fundamentalist right in the US:

It is actually a familiar enemy, drawn from the same “stock” that have cut off their economic noses to spite Black faces since the end of the Civil War. They were once the Dixiecrat base, who then became the southern Republican base, and are now tied together with similar white elements throughout the country by interlocking networks of churches and the Republican Party. The corporate media feign surprise and fascination at the emergence of this huge group of whites – a posture that strikes many Blacks as disingenuous, since those of us with southern roots know that crowd all too well. According to the Washington Post’s David Broder, “the exit poll indicated that about 22 percent of [Tuesday’s] voters were white evangelical or born-again Christians, three-quarters of whom went for Bush.” That amounts to about one-third of Bush’s total national vote.

The Bush constituency has deep social, cultural, and political roots in the country. But recognizing that, the Black Commentator goes on to note that the black community remains united against that strand of American political culture as it has always been and has more potential white allies than it ever has. Check it out, since I’m going to move on to “missile defense” now.

An article in this month’s Scientific American by Richard Garwin, who “has worked with the US government since 1950” and was on the “Rumsfeld Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” is a combination of interesting information about the uselessness and wastefulness of this technology and a complete lack of perspective about how dangerous the whole program is.

The “missile defense” program is designed to shoot down the kind of missiles that are fired from rockets, missiles that go up from the earth’s surface, into the atmosphere, and come back down to destroy cities. Garwin identifies three different times when it’s possible to shoot such missiles down: as they go up to space (boost phase), when they are in space (midcourse), and when they are coming down from space (terminal). Using some simple calculations, he shows that trying to shoot missiles as they come down is difficult because they have to be shot down high to prevent damage (if they are shot down near their targets, nuclear warheads can still devastate the targets), and that means there have to be a lot of interceptors, near all potential targets: “unless the Pentagon is prepared to carpet the nation with interceptors, terminal defense is not an appropriate response… Even a perfect defense of many cities would simply lead to the targeting of an undefended city.” Midcourse defense using interceptors in space or fired into space is difficult because it is cheap and easy to make decoys that would confuse the interceptors: “the countermeasures are all too simple. The money and skill needed to implement them are trivial” compared to the cost of the missiles.

What does Garwin conclude from all this? That “boost phase intercept” is the way to go, of course! The problem there is that in order to do “boost phase intercept”, you have to have missiles very close to the countries that you are worried about. So Garwin describes a scenario:

“To down [missiles] launched anywhere in North Korea”, Garwin suggests “boost-phase interceptors based on ships off the country’s coast or in a neighbouring nation”, while “Iran, though, is a much larger country”, so the ships would have to carry faster interceptor missiles. “Boost phase intercept becomes still more difficult when defending against [missiles] launched from Russia or China. These countries are so vast that offshore interceptors could not reach the missiles while they are ascending. The interceptors would have to be placed in orbit, which greatly increases the expense of the system.”

This kind of thinking is emblematic of the dangerous world we live in. Garwin has a fine mind and can explain technical and scientific problems of missile technology with grace. He is honest enough to discuss the system’s technical flaws in a public magazine. But his prescriptions for solving them are suicidal because they are divorced from political – to say nothing of military – reality. First of all, everyone ought to understand that North Korea’s missiles are not pointed at the US via space: they are pointed at South Korea and US ships won’t have time to shoot those down. Nor do Iran, China, or Russia have any urgent desire to commit suicide by launching a nuclear attack on the US. So what is the logic of building this system at all? Why are scientists like Garwin going to such trouble advocating better missile “defense”, tremendously expensive technology which he acknowledges is not going to able to “defend” against any likely threats and will serve as massive provocation to proliferation?

When the red herring scenarios Garwin mentions are dropped, Garwin’s article actually makes it clear: the missile shield’s intentions are aggressive, not defensive. There are no threats to the United States. What there are, however, are a handful of countries that possess a nuclear deterrent against the United States: states that have the ability to retaliate against a first strike by the US. Rather than being a ‘threat’ to US security, these nations impose a limit on the US’s ability to dominate the world. The missile “defense” system seeks to remove that limit and give the US first-strike power by using these “interceptors” to stop any retaliatory strikes.

All that means is that if the US ever succeeds in this dubious venture, those states and groups that are worried about being targeted will seek other means of retaliation and cheap countermeasures that can defeat these billion-dollar schemes. That’s on one side.

On the other side, the technical proficiency of scientists like Garwin, instead of being controlled by wisdom and understanding, is actually merged with the dreams of the American fundamentalists and put at their service.

Anyone feeling safe yet?

Latin America and Bush Election’s fringe benefit

Followers of this blog’s Colombia/Venezuela coverage may remember the strange tale of Colombia’s attempt to purchase several dozen tanks for deployment to the Venezuelan border. The Aznar Spanish government had agreed to the sale, then the Zapatero government that replaced Aznar dumped it (after Venezuelan negotiations behind the scenes). A terrorist plot by 130 Colombian paramilitaries was foiled. Then the threatening rhetoric and threatening moves from Colombia dissipated when Uribe visited Chavez in July. But immediately after Venezuela’s August referendum that ratified Chavez in power, there was another raid in the border region and 12 Venezuelans were killed by Colombian paramilitaries. Now, we hear from that Colombia is planning to purchase combat aircraft. Reporter Robin Nieto was unable to find out where the planes are to be purchased from (any guesses, anyone?) but we’ll be following the story over the coming days. Don’t expect any amelioration of the global situation anywhere except by very hard struggle.

The Atrocity Experiment

Below is a piece on the ongoing Falluja massacre I just prepared for ZNet.

In the Spring of 2002, after the US had taken Afghanistan from the Taliban and handed it to the warlords, Israel launched its “Operation Defensive Shield” re-invasion of the West Bank. During the Jenin invasion, whole city blocks of densely populated concrete buildings were destroyed. A disabled man was run over by a tank. The removal of Palestinian corpses in refrigerated trucks was blandly reported in the Israeli media one day, then vehemently denied (1). The Israeli military shot and killed a number of children. In Jenin and elsewhere, the Israelis went house to house. Palestinian men were taken away to “interrogation” and prison. Most of their families eventually found out what happened to them. Not all. In that spring 2002 operation, the Israelis killed around 500 people, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Over the whole year 2002, Israelis killed over 1000 Palestinians.

I was in Jenin in the summer of 2002, and saw the mountains of rubble the Israelis had left behind (2). Israel presented its invasion as a “counter-terror” operation. It was razing these blocks and slaughtering these people in order to stop terrorist attacks against Israelis, said the military’s spokespeople. The real goal was different.

Israel’s ultimate goal, stated with increasing brazenness by Israeli politicians, right-wing religious leaders, and some of their supporters in the United States, is to remove the Palestinian population from the Occupied Territories and replace the Palestinians with Israeli settlers. It is a nationalist project with potentially genocidal consequences, and the balance of public opinion and the balance of power have long been unfavorable for it. A large segment of Israeli society, perhaps a majority, is against it. The entire world outside of the United States is strongly opposed. Ethnically cleansing the Palestinians would be detrimental to US interests and long-term plans in the region, and it is on the support of the United States that Israel’s military and economy depends. So the plan for rapid ethnic cleansing, using the full military power of Israel against the Palestinian population, remains on the shelf. Operation “Defensive Shield”, however, could be viewed as a test run, an experiment. By invading the territories, assaulting the population, besieging and slowly strangling the towns, and putting out ever more provocative statements about murdering Yasser Arafat, the Israeli regime could discern what the reaction would be in the region, in the world, and in the United States. It could then adjust its strategies for reaching its ultimate goals accordingly.

Israeli observer Tanya Reinhart called the Spring of 2002 Israel’s moral low point, but Israel has gone lower since. By fall 2003, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food was reporting that Israel’s continuous siege of the Gaza Strip (it is called “closures”, but the 1.25 million Palestinians inside the tiny Gaza Strip are surrounded on all sides by electrified fence, controlled by the Israeli army, and attacked at will by that same army) was causing starvation among the Palestinians, and in particular, was having permanent debilitating effects on at least 1/5 of Gaza’s children. In the current round of killing in Gaza, picking up in force in September 2004, the Israelis have killed 274 Palestinians, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (3), and over 800 this year throughout the territories.

America has had more low points than Israel has had, and they have been lower. The genocide of the indigenous, the centuries of slavery, the invasions of Cuba, the Philippines, Haiti, the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, the invasions of Korea, Vietnam, the Latin American interventions, the first Iraq war, were all terrible low points. Vietnam, with its millions killed over many years of torture, destabilization, and destruction of the Southeast Asian region, was the lowest since World War II. But the current Iraq war, less than two years old and already having killed over 100,000 according to recent estimates, with its re-opening of Saddam Hussein’s torture prison in Abu Ghraib, is becoming competitive.

Take the opening move, for example: occupying and shutting down a hospital. Why? Empire Notes (4) quotes the New York Times saying that “outrage” over civilian casualties forced the Americans to withdraw from the first Falluja massacre without finishing it. “American commanders regarded the reports as inflated, but it was impossible to determine independently how many civilians had been killed. The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties. ‘It’s a center of propaganda,’ a senior American officer said Sunday.” An invading army shutting down a hospital claiming it is a “center of propaganda” about civilian casualties caused by that invading army’s killing is a moral low point. That it comes with praying, the wrapping of artillery guns in rosaries, and saying publicly that the “face” of the fighters in Falluja is the “face of Satan” (5) does not help. But in addition to saying something about the moral values of the country, it says something about the kinds of enemies America is fighting in Iraq. It is the clearest admission that this is not a battle, but a massacre, being carefully planned in advance to have no witnesses. It is a clear admission that what the US is afraid of in Iraq isn’t the military power of the Iraqi resistance — any more than Israel fears the military power of the Palestinians – but just the truth of its crimes getting out.

US goals in Iraq are different from Israel’s goals in Palestine. The US is not trying to displace the Iraqi people and replace them. The war aims are what they were when the war started: to establish a compliant regime backed by a substantial US military presence, secure control over Iraq’s oil resources, and demonstrate the ‘credibility’ of US power. That last is particularly important since Iraqi resistance and the US’s own ineptitude and arrogance has made it impossible for the US, in spite of all its power, to control the country (a blow to ‘credibility’ that the US is trying to rectify with the current slaughter). But like Israel’s spring 2002 invasion of the West Bank, the assault on Falluja is also a test run.

After the election, US planners feel that the American people are behind them, and are trying to find out how far that will allow them to go even if Iraqis and world opinion repudiate the assault. That explains the dual strategy: shut down hospitals to prevent casualty numbers and information from getting out to the world, and simultaneously hold obscene celebrations of the massacre for public consumption in the United States. When they called the first Falluja massacre off in April 2004 (6), it was because of a perception that their control of Iraq, their hold on American public opinion, and their international credibility was too tenuous to risk on a major massacre. This time they believe they are in a stronger position. They won’t stop – they won’t ever stop – unless they are wrong.


1)See Tanya Reinhart’s “Israel/Palestine”, which followed this coverage and reported on this, by Seven Stories Press.
2) Some photos can be found here
3) A table of figures is available here
4) Empire Notes
5) See Under the Same Sun
6) In fact the first Falluja massacre of this war was in April of the previous year (2003), when the US military fired on an unarmed protest, killing 14 people. Until that massacre, Falluja was not a center of resistance at all.

Delivering the massacre the American people voted for

From al jazeera.

Many of Falluja’s 300,000 inhabitants are thought to have already fled to makeshift camps to the west or sought refuge in Baghdad, while US planes have been dropping leaflets urging those few remaining to leave.

Many of Falluja’s 300,000 citizens are thought to have fled

Continue reading “Delivering the massacre the American people voted for”

Back to the world, please

The world didn’t get to vote in the US elections. And of course, as much as the election was a referendum on Bush-ism, the election was not a referendum on the occupation of Iraq or imperialism or capitalist globalization or support for Israel or paramilitaries in Colombia or destabilization in Venezuela or ecological devastation and climate change… since those are priorities that transcend anything anybody gets to vote for in the US or for the US.

I wrote a piece with some obvious stuff in it a couple of days ago and got some interesting hate mail, some bizarre reactions from outlets ranging from the Socialist Worker to the Globe and Mail. There is a whole lot more to say about the United States, its political culture, and the possibilities (or lack thereof). But this blog is mostly about the world outside of the United States, and there are things going on in that world that need to be reported on.

For example, if you want an analysis of an important election, take a look at Jonah Gindin’s article at that analyzes the very interesting and positive results of local elections in Venezuela. As usual, the world is flipped upside down in Venezuela, where popular movements have surged from one victory to another. The local victories put the Bolivarian movement in a much stronger position to put forward its reforms, particularly land reforms, and gives local activists fewer headaches about repression at the local level.

And in case you needed a reminder that not everything is Venezuela. The remarkale Colombian union activist Alex Lopez and member of Congress, who I interviewed over a year ago, has had a threat against his life advertised by paramilitaries. Paramilitaries have killed a lot of unionists, and they are threatening to kill Lopez. Imagine a sitting member of Congress in the United States getting assassinated by killers working with the American Army. Hard to picture? Maybe because there is no one in the US Congress that is the kind of dissident activist that Lopez is. And maybe because life under US controlled domains is different from life in the US itself. The events, as reported by the UK Colombia Solidarity Campaign:

1.On 25 October an envelope arrived with a type written address directed to “CHAMBER OF REPRESENTATIVES Plaza de Bolívar BOGOTA”. In the place of the sender was put “SINTRA EMCALI Calle 18 No. 6-54 B. San Nicolás. CALI received 25 October 2004 at 2:20 p.m.”. This envelope was apparently handed in to the post room in Congress and not sent by any postal service.

2.- On 27 October 2004 RAYMUNDO MENDEZ BECHARA, Private Secretary of the Congress Presidency directed the following communication to Dr ALEXANDER LOPEZ MAYA, with a copy to Colonel JERSON JAIR CASTELLANOS SOTO, Security Liaison Official for Congress: “Respected doctor: Following instructions of the Lady President of the Chamber of Representatives, Doctor Zulema Jattin Corrales, I forward an anonymous letter addressed to you”.

3.- The white envelope with red and blue edging (not often seen having fallen into disuse some years ago) contained a sinister manuscript addressed to Dr. ALEXANDER LOPEZ MAYA that read:

“ALEXANDER LOPEZ MAYA rotten gonorrhea – you are dead – you already smell of formaldehyde, son of a bitch, mother fucker – we are going to kill you for all the misdeeds and wicked things that you have committed against the people of Cali – but before that we are going to torture you- we will pull out your eyes – we will cut off your tongue – we will slit off your ears – we will tear out your nails – we will put a bullet in each of your knees – we will crush your balls with a hammer – we will put a red hot steel bar up your backside and we will open your stomach, we will fill you with stones and throw you in the [river] – we hate you, son of a bitch you are pure shit You already know who we are”

The text ends with a skull.

4.- It is important to point out that doctor ALEXANDER LOPEZ MAYA, was in Quito Ecuador carrying out his parliamentary activities and he only knew of this document on 2 November.

The sinister manuscript arrived last Wednesday to the congress presidency addressed to ALEXANDER LOPEZ.

They are asking for email protests to be done as follows — e-mail to Uribe: login to and click on ESCRIBALE AL PRESIDENTE at the bottom of the page.

In Palestine, Yasser Arafat is close to death, and that will have major implications. More on that in another post, soon. But don’t expect his death to change Israeli behaviour: the Israeli army is happily shelling and killing in Gaza, two children (8 and 7, Ahmad al-Sameery and his cousin Mohammad al-Sameery), in Khan Younis, along with 5 others shot and 10 homes demolished.

And yes, one more thing seems to have happened. The predicted Fallujah massacre has begun. The assault would probably have happened even if Bush had lost, but since Bush won, it is time again for American politicians to prove how tough they are to the American public by slaughtering large numbers of helpless people. If America really is ‘deeply divided’ and ‘polarized’, that could help the people of Fallujah and Iraq quite a lot. If, on the other hand, the nation works to ‘heal its wounds’, it will be doing its ‘healing’ on the corpses of Iraqis.