Monday, 16 April 2018

The Pretext For War

Over the last week, the media has stepped up its propaganda campaign to support war in Syria by the US, UK and France. As with the justification for all such foreign wars, where a sovereign state is to be attacked, even though that state has undertaken no offensive action against the states launching the war against it, some other pretext for the war has to be created. Typically, that pretext has been some kind of pre-emptive action, on the basis of some secret information known only to, and which can only be made available to the states undertaking the pre-emptive strikes, or else is to assuage some supposed humanitarian crisis. 

Intervention on the latter basis is always problematic, for any state wanting to justify such a war, because, at any one time, there are always several such situations existing across the globe, equally meriting some kind of intervention, which leaves the states undertaking the military strikes having to explain why they have intervened in this particular instance rather than any of the others. Given that, it can usually also be demonstrated that the states undertaking the military strikes are themselves allied with other forces, across the globe, who are themselves guilty of creating such humanitarian crises, the use of such a pretext for war, can be easily seen to be a thinly veiled excuse, to disguise the real intention of undertaking the war. For example Trotsky that with the atrocities committed by the so called “liberal intervention” in the Balkans, or as can be seen today with the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians, or Saudi Arabia in Yemen, or indeed, the chemical weapons usage by the western backed jihadists of Al Nusra et al, in Syria. The atrocities committed by the liberal interventionists in Iraq, at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere also illustrate the point. 

But, to use the other pretext of a pre-emptive strike, to prevent an actual attack by a foreign power, is also problematic. It is always kept as a background possibility, which is how the retention of nuclear weapons has been justified, including today as a supposed deterrent against a threat coming from say North Korea, although no one, can provide any sensible reason as to why North Korea would ever want to launch a nuclear attack against Britain, out of the blue, other than in conditions where North Korea had itself somehow been threatened, previously by Britain! The threat of such an imminent attack was used by Blair to justify the Iraq War, with his claim that Iraq was within 45 minutes of launching an attack on British forces in Cyprus; a claim that was quickly shown to be nonsense. Using this kind of pretext for an attack requires that the domestic population has been primed to feel a high degree of apprehension of a foreign threat, so that as Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan, they are prepared to relinquish their own liberty, and hand over absolute power to the sovereign, to protect them from such threats. 

The Iraq War demonstrated the problem here, which is that not only was the 45 minute claim quickly shown to be nonsense, but the further pretext for war, that Iraq had WMD, capable of being put into warheads fired with only 45 minutes warning was also shown to be completely false, despite an assurance being given by all of the intelligence services of the belligerent powers that they were 100% certain of that fact! Using the pretext of humanitarian intervention, has, therefore, become the preferred means of belligerent states justifying their wars against foreign sovereign states. But, to do so, given the experience of Iraq, and of Libya, domestic populations have to be softened up, and bombarded with propaganda to ensure that there is no doubt in their mind that what is being fed to them is an unquestionable truth. That is the reason that Jeremy Corbyn's refusal to give 100% uncritical support for the line that the government was putting out over the Salisbury poisonings, brought down an avalanche of invective against him, even though, within a matter of a week, his caution had once again been vindicated.

What Did You See?

As in the case of the Schripal's, I start from a position of intense hatred of Putin's regime in Russia, and so a propensity to accept that anything it is accused of, it is probably guilty of. Certainly, I have no reason to give Putin and the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt on anything. I start from the same attitude to the vile regime of Assad in Syria. But, just because I have no sympathy for these vile dictators, does not mean that I, therefore, have some derived sympathy for their opponents. My enemy's enemy is not my friend; often they are merely just my more immediate enemy! That is certainly the case in relation to Theresa May's government, and the same applies in relation to US workers with Trump, and quite visibly in France at the moment, with the anti-working class, Thatcherite government of Macron engaged in its attacks on French rail workers. Given the lies told to British workers by May's government, and their attempts to avoid parliamentary scrutiny to hold them account for those lies, for example, in relation to Brexit, my immediate enemy is not Assad or Putin, but May, Johnson and the rest. Whilst they complain about chlorine gas poisoning in Syria, they are quite happy to impose chlorine washed chicken on British consumers, after Brexit, to assuage their friend Trump.

As with the Schripal case, therefore, although I have no reason to give Assad the benefit of the doubt, nor am I prepared to simply accept the claims of May, Trump or Macron, let alone of the jihadists of Al Nusra, fighting Assad. Probably, like most people seeing the images on TV screens of children in distress in Douma, and absorbing the narrative of the news channel, I started from the assumption that such a chemical attack had occurred. The only question then being who was responsible. Again, I have no reason to give Assad the benefit of the doubt in such a question, even though it has been shown many times that Al Nusra have also had possession of chlorine gas, and have used it in attacks against their opponents.

However, my wife who has little interest in politics had a different impression. She was paying no attention to the background narrative, and only saw the images as she looked up from her Sudoku book. What she saw was something different; she saw a lot of people who appeared to be panicked, as a result of people rushing around them spraying them with water, and shoving Ventolin inhalers in their mouths – often inadvisably, given the age of some of those involved. Only later after I saw reports from staff at the hospital, that they were unaware of any such chemical attack, but that members of Al Nusra, who were still at that time in control of Douma, had swept into the hospital, shouting about a chemical attack, creating panic, and then dousing people with water, etc., before disappearing again, did I look at the images repeated on the news several times, with a different eye. Looking at it again, I too now see something different.  

Having suffered with asthma for more than 60 years, I am quite familiar with all of the signs that people display when then are struggling for breath, which is what would be expected where someone has suffered from a chlorine gas attack, which acts to dissolve lung tissue, which is why if you are using the most common household form of chlorine – bleach – you should ensure that you do so in well ventilated conditions. Actually, the most common form of chlorine in the home is salt – sodium chloride - but its not usually going to be emitting chlorine gas. Looking at the oft repeated TV images, I have not seen any evidence of those involved showing any indication struggling for breath, in the way asthmatics will be familiar with. Indeed, nor was their any sign of the other symptoms of chlorine, such as people rubbing their eyes and so on.

Now this could simply be that the TV images do not show the full extent of such symptoms, and the reports about hospital staff reporting that the TV images had been staged by members of Al Nusra, may itself be propaganda put out by the Assad regime, but I have no reason to believe the claims of one side or the other in that respect. And, the fact that British journalists like Robert Fisk are now uncovering a different story, strengthens my conviction that such skepticism is justified.  Certainly, as even some British military specialists have said, given that Assad has effectively won this war, and can more effectively achieve its aims by using devastating conventional weapons, that hypocritically, the West does not object to, its hard to see exactly what benefit, as opposed to the obvious costs, Assad might obtain from using chemical weapons!

What Purpose?

And, the fact that its argued that Assad used Chlorine in this attack, begs the further question of what purpose the attacks on his facilities were supposed to achieve. I heard some people who clearly were prepared to back the government without any thought this morning on the TV, assert that the bombing would seriously damage the potential to produce chemical weapons. But, every military expert knows that it will not. The whole point about chlorine is that it is readily available. It is produced from one of the most abundant compounds on Earth. It is nearly as easy to produce chlorine for use as gas, as it is to produce bleach. Of course, the claim that chlorine was used as the chemical weapon is useful for those wanting to make such a case, because its not difficult to ensure that chlorine can be found in soil samples, and given that no one knows what was actually in the inhalers that were indiscriminately being forced into people's mouths, it would not be difficult to ensure that non-lethal doses could result in blood samples subsequently providing indications of chlorine inhalation.

If the purpose of the bombing was to prevent the creation of chlorine, or to destroy chlorine stocks, it is then clearly pointless, because any facility capable of producing bleach can probably quickly produce the chlorine required to use as poison gas, and can do so in huge quantities.

But, the US, UK and France had waited a week before launching this bombing, and even then, aware that any such strike that killed Russian troops would be likely to provoke an immediate response, gave them prior notice of where the strikes would occur, so that the impact is likely to have been minimal. The real purpose here was not to deal with chemical weapons, or to provide any kind of humanitarian relief, but is merely to assert the continued right of the US, UK and their allies to intervene militarily, anywhere in the world they choose, in order to promote their global strategic interests. It is to put Russia on notice that they will not allow it, and Iran to create their own stable sphere of influence from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.

Overlapping Interest

Of course, in practice, there are many other factors involved here. Various groups with axes to grind, such as Al Nusra, who have become the vehicle for western imperialism to attack Assad, and thereby Russia, like all such forces, are able to utilise the concept of humanitarian relief to mobilise military action in their support. Because, such groups are given the impression that all they have to do is to shout “atrocity”, in order to garner a military intervention to give to them the military victory, their own forces and support within the country cannot provide, they are, of course, given an incentive to organise such false flag operations, so as to generate such intervention. With mobile phones, and modern computer software, it becomes very easy for such groups to fabricate images that appear to paint a particular scenario to support their claims, and they have repeatedly been shown to have done so. The jihadists have become extremely adept at using such methods, and to flood social media with these images, to create a groundswell of support for their claims. Where such Jihadists, as with Al Nusra are in alliance with the West, such methods become even more powerful, though it also means that their western backers lose control of their actions, which can go beyond what they might themselves want.

In the present context, we see Theresa May's government desperate to distract attention from the disaster of Brexit. That doesn't mean they created these events for that purpose, but the art of such politics is to utilise events where possible to your own ends. For May, too, with the knowledge that outside the EU, Britain is no longer as useful to the US, as it once was, there is a strong incentive to suck up to Trump in even more sycophantic style where possible, and that is what May has done from the start. Similarly, Macron notes that with Britain outside the EU it can no longer play its historic role as the US agent inside the bloc, and so that job becomes vacant. With Germany the dominant power in the EU, Macron sees, a chance to re-establish the glory of Imperial France, by supplanting Britain as the US's oldest and closest ally.

But, all of these various factors that at one time reinforce, and at another counter the coalition of interests, that are continually shifting, are simply a part of the dynamic and dialectic of war that has been seen many times in the past. It only demonstrates that we are once again treading that old path to death and destruction, and it will not be halted by simply assigning a privileged role to one set of combatants over another, to the so called liberal interventionists over the authoritarians – especially as, as always happens in such circumstances, the liberal interventionists themselves are led to become authoritarians, so as to avoid scrutiny and accountability – but only by the workers of all countries recognising their common interest, and standing up to their ruling classes, whether they wear the mask of democracy or dictatorship.

"Those working class “leaders” who want to chain the proletariat to the war chariot of imperialism, covered by the mask of “democracy,” are now the worst enemies and the direct traitors of the toilers. We must teach the workers to hate and despise the agents of imperialism, since they poison the consciousness of the toilers; we must explain to the workers that fascism is only one of the forms of imperialism, that we must fight not against the external symptoms of the disease but against its organic causes, that is, against capitalism."

(Trotsky, “Anti-Imperialist Struggle is key to Liberation”)

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