Monday, September 07, 2015

Wars, refugees and complexities of anti-imperialism

The single most constructive thing that the United States, the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and even France and Britain could do to ease the refugee crisis in Europe would be to stop promoting wars and "regime change" operations in the Middle East.

Wofgang Münchau (The deadly disunity of the Europeans Financial Times 09/06/2015) writes on the EU and the European refugee crisis: "Angela Merkel is, for once, on the right side of the argument." (my emphasis) That is truly an historic moment!

He also says:

The EU has 500m inhabitants. Setting aside refugees, net immigration — the difference between those coming into and those leaving the EU — was 539,000 in 2013, about 0.1 per cent of the total population. Net immigration was higher in 2010, when it stood at 750,000. ...

Net immigration including refugees is clearly rising. Still, this is not an immigration crisis. It is a collective action crisis.

Its solution would be straightforward in the presence of a central authority empowered to take decisions. But this is not how the EU works. It works through co-ordination and harmonisation — through fiscal rules, banking regulation and neighbourhood policies. But none of them prevented the crisis, and none of them helps solve it.
As Yanis Varoufakis recently called attention to the way in which the dysfunctional response to the financial/debt crisis in the eurozone has compounded the problems the EU has in developed common policies and implementing them effectively, now particularly in the refugee crisis (On CNBC discussing Greece and Europe – full transcript, 4th September 2015 09/04/2015):

You’re quite right; in the end we created a common currency which divided us. And the deeper those divisions grew, the greater the failure to be united when it came to other matters. For instance, the refugee crisis. For instance, ways of dealing with the dearth of investment throughout Europe. Instead of getting closer together we were torn apart. In the United States, in the 19th Century, there was one financial crisis after another. Even at the beginning of the 20th century – and especially after 1929. Every time, the United States faced a major financial crisis it managed to consolidate. To get closer together. To create institutions that were common and which created shock absorbers for the system. In Europe, the idea was that we must bind ourselves together by means of the same currency in order to create this process. But, the first time a crisis tested us, following the financial that began in Wall Street, the City of London, and so on – we failed. Instead of consolidating, we are dividing and multiplying. And failing at other realms. So Europe’s monetary failure is spreading to other realms. [my emphasis]
Thalif Deen writes in Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugees Inter Press Service 09/03/2015:

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.
And the article highlights the concept of "regime change refugees":

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

And the use of that term is a reminder that the anodyne phrase "regime change" describes a reality that can and sometimes does produce conditions that are catastrophically bad. Syrian and Ukraine are two current examples of that.

The left-Peronist site La Batalla Cultural raises an important point about regime-change operations in Los idiotas funcionales al imperialismo (Sept 2015; accessed 09/07/2015). The title, "The Useful Idiots of Imperialism," has a definite Leninist ring to it. But the point made by the article is a fairly basic one. Powerful countries like the US for Britain or France are happy to use democratic- and humanitarian-sounding claims and slogans to promote interventions whose aims are primarily narrow power-political ones. The difference in the US between "humanitarian hawks" and neoconservatives when it comes to advocating war is getting harder and harder to discern. Even the rhetoric is similar. Neocons are more likely to use cynically pragmatic arguments, but they have always used humanitarian claims to promote war as well.

The fact that a regime is bad in some way, even seriously bad, does not in itself justify military action against it. All the considerations of classic Just War theory still apply, including considering realistically whether the military action has a reasonable prospect of success. Any military action like the Iraq War of 2003 that produces more than a decade of civil war, massive population displacement and intensified international conflict is hard to see as one that ended up in a success in anything much more than killing a lot of Arabs and Kurds. Those who pointed the small chances of a good outcome prior to the invasion were not sympathizers of Saddam Hussein, as the Republicans inevitably called us. Actual sympathy for Saddam Hussein's general form of governance in the US was effectively nonexistent.

But it is possible to distinguish between the particular regime and the nature of a particular war. The Malvinas/Falklands War of 1982 is an excellent example. It pitted a cruel and unpopular dictatorship in Argentina against democratic Britain.

But Argentina had by far the better claim on the territorial question of to which country the islands belong. As the UN webpage on decolonization says as of this writing, " At present, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) across the globe remain to be decolonized, home to nearly 2 million people." The NSGT designation is a euphemism for "illegal colony." The Malvinas Islands are one of those cases. Ten of the 17, including the Malvinas and Gibraltar, are controlled by Great Britain.

In 1982, the Argentine military dictatorship landed its armed forces on the Malvinas. Britain retook the islands. But despite the unpopularity of the dictatorship, the war was tremendously popular among Argentines. That, of course, was part of the dictatorship's calculation. They hoped for a patriotic rallying to the government. Instead, the defeat of Argentina in that popular military cause was the nail in the coffin of the dictatorship. Losing wars is always unpopular. Losing wars that the public considers genuinely patriotic and justified is especially unpopular.

The current Argentine government headed by Cristina Fernández and the previous one held by her late husband Néstor Kirchner both strongly emphasized human rights and insisted on a thorough legal and educational reckoning with the crimes of the dictatorship.

But they also have pressed the claims of Argentina to the Malvinas - including the rights to major oil reserves to be controlled by the country that controls the islands - and have made a big deal out of honoring the veterans of the Malvinas War of 1982. Their recognition of the justness of Argentina's claim to the Malvinas in the 1982 war does not mean that they or their supporters admire the government that conducted the war. They don't even recognize the legal or moral legitimacy of that extra-constitutional and criminal dictatorship.

The Argentine Pope also supports the nation's legitimate claim to the Malvinas, as illustrated by this photo from August of this year, with him holding a sign saying, "It's time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Malvinas":

In an article appearing on Cristina's website, Alicia Barrios writes (A Francisco nadie lo toma por sorpresa #MalvinasArgentinas 21.08.2015):

Francisco es, fue y será muy malvinero. Todos los años, el 2 de abril, celebraba misa en la Catedral metropolitana junto a todos los familiares y ex combatientes de Malvinas. Los alentó y abrazó siempre. A las seis de la tarde las puertas del templo se abrían de par en par para ellos. Recordaba con emoción a los 649 caídos en combate. En ese día glorioso y doloroso para la memoria de los argentinos, de la misa salían con una sonrisa. Esperanzados para seguir luchando un año más. Antes era un ruego desde el país, ahora es desde el Vaticano para el mundo. Al Papa no lo tomó de sorpresa la presencia de Gustavo Hoyo, director de Diálogo Malvinas. Se acercó. Tomó la pancarta en sus manos y les dijo: “Sigan adelante”. Posó para la foto. Nunca dudó, sus homilías así lo demuestran, que las Malvinas son argentinas. Él sabe mejor que nadie, que decir la verdad no conforma a todos.

[Francisco is, was and will be a malvinero [i.e., supporter of Argentina's claim to the Malvinas]. Every year on April 2, he celebrated Mass in the Catedral metropolitana together with all the relative and ex-combatants of the Malvinas [from the 1982 war]. He always encouraged and embraced them. At 6:00 in the evening, the doors of the temple opened wide for them. He recalled with emotion the 649 fallen in combat. On this glorious and mournful day for the memory of Argentines, the left the Mass with a smile. We hoped to keep to keep fighting another year. Then it was a prayer from the country, today it is from the Vatican for the world. The Pope was not surprised by the presence of Gustavo Hoyo, director of Diálogo Malvinas [Diálogo por Malvinas, a campaign promoting Argentina's claims to the Malvinas]. He took the poster in his hands and told them, "Keep going forward." He posed for the photo. He never doubted, as demonstrated by his homilies, that the Malvinas are Argentine. He knows better than anyone to state the truth not accepted by everyone.]
For whatever reason, the Vatican decided they needed a little diplomatic dissimulation on that particular event, presumably to avoid the impression that the Pontiff was directly endorsing a particular political campaign, in this case on an issue rather than a candidate. (Nadia Khomami, Pope Francis 'tricked' into calling for Falklands talks The Guardian 08/20/2015)

See also: Carlos Cué, El Papa sostiene un cartel a favor del diálogo para las Malvinas El País 19.08.2015; Rosie Scammell, Pope Francis holds sign urging Falkland Islands dialogue, causes stir in Argentina Religion News Service/National Catholic Reporter 08/21/2015. The points Barrios makes about how Francis knew very well what he was doing are convincing. Who knows what the diplomatic mealy-mouthing afterward from Vatican press people was about?

Getting back to the polemical article in La Batalla Cultural, they are taking an anti-imperialist position informed by a Latin American view not so familiar to most Americans, and not always a comfortable one for people in the US and Europe. One widely-held perspective on the Argentine dictatorship of 1976-83 is known as the Two Devils theory, a kind of Both Sides Do It approach in which the crimes of the dictatorship are considered together with violent actions by the leftwing guerrillas in Argentina before and during the dictatorship. The latter are certainly a major part of the historical story. The now-annual journal La Lucha Armada en la Argentina, for instance, is a journal devoted primarily to a serious historical study of the leftwing guerrilla movements of that period.

But the crimes committed by the military government not only were far more massive in number. They also were done in the name of the Argentine nation and under general cover of law. And of the Christian religion, as the dictatorship endorsed a strong reactionary/national brand of Christianity that was deeply rooted in part of the Argentine Catholic Church. (Pope Francis has no justification for being proud of the general role he played during the dictatorship. But it's clear that he now identifies more with the liberation theology that was violently and murderously persecuted by the dictatorship.)

Americans can understand how the Two Devils theory can be misused as a defense of the dictatorship by reference to the current political movement in the US known as Black Lives Matter. White racists who want to see the widespread practice of (mostly white) police killing unarmed African-Americans (mostly men) continue, are eager to make a both-sides-do-it argument, arguing that the advocates against criminal violence by police practiced on young black men is somehow an incitement to active violence and murder against police. It is a bad-faith argument that really is directed only at providing phony justification for police murdering African-Americans at will and with impunity. (See Charlie Pierce, who addresses this issue though not exactly like I'm going here in Texas Cop Killing Could Spark National Backlash Against #BlackLivesMatter Esquire Politics Blog 08/31/2015)

Sometimes "both sides do it" is really an attempt to validate the actions of one side.

La Batalla Cultural (LBC) argues that not only is the Two Devils framing dominant in the way Argentines think about the dictatorship and the guerrillas. It also argues that this attitude carries over into views of foreign policy, and specifically to the Syrian conflict. LBC makes the point that a Two Devils approach to a situation like Syria, in which the Assad regime in Syria is equated with ISIS/Daesh and its Sunni backers can make an effective cover for regime-change intervention by countries like the US, France and Britain for whom alleged humanitarian concerns are entirely subordinate to other power-political consideration. LBC puts it this way:

Tenemos ahora en Medio Oriente un clásico escenario de invasión imperialista. Los Estados Unidos y sus amigos de la OTAN (en una palabra, el Occidente capitalista y cristiano) están poniendo la mesa para entrar con todo en Siria y hacer allí un nuevo Irak o Afganistán, para luego apropiarse de los recursos naturales y disponer de la suerte de los pueblos. ¿Cómo? Con estas sencillas jugadas, que son de manual:

  1. Financiando y armando a los grupos llamados “rebeldes” sirios, que son lo equivalente a la oposición cipaya de Venezuela o Argentina (o de cualquier otra semicolonia) hasta fogonear bien la guerra civil
  2. Con la guerra civil en marcha, poniendo en el territorio al “Estado Islámico” o ISIS, un tercer actor para complicar y desestabilizar aún más.

[Today we have in the Middle East a classic scenario of imperialist invasion. The United States and its friends in NATO (in a word, the capitalist West) are setting the table to enter Syria in full force and make a new Iraq or Afghanistan there, in order to later appropriate their natural resources and control the fortune of the peoples. How? With these open plays that are right out of the book:

  1. Financing and arming groups called Syrian "rebels," that are the equivalent of the opposition loyal to foreigners of Venezuela or Argentina (or of any other semi-colony) to the point of fomenting civil war
  2. With the civil war in progress, set up a third actor in the territory of the "Islamic States" or ISIS to further complicate and destabilize {the situation}.]

LBC particularly calls attention to the way that the ugly consequences of these policies, like today's refugee crisis between the Middle East and Europe, can be used by warmongers as excuses to continue and intensify the very policies that generate the problem in the first place.

This is why, despite the record of some its major figures like Henry Kissinger, I can't give up my fondness for the "realist" school of foreign policy theory. At its best - as in Stephen Walt's work - it emphasizes careful evaluation of the potential negative consequences of foreign policy decisions and the dangers to clear thinking that comes from taking one's side's own propaganda too seriously.

And LBC is also reminding its presumably mainly Argentine readers that a regime-change approach used in one part of the world without effective international criticism and resistance can be used in other parts, as well.

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