Iraq: Stop The Massacre of Anbar’s Civilians

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genocide-paper

The website The International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq is calling for endorsements for the following statement here: http://usgenocide.org/2014/iraq-stop-the-massacre-of-anbars-civilians/

Iraq: Stop the massacre of Anbar’s civilians!

Please endorse, share and distribute (See below)
Date: 18 February 2014

IRAQ: STOP THE MASSACRE OF ANBAR’S CIVILIANS!

Maliki’s use of the army against the civilian population of Anbar constitutes the defeat of the policies Iraq has been following since 2003 and cements the divorce between the people of Iraq and the current sectarian government.

This new round of bombing has already produced 300,000 displaced, adding to the tragedy of the millions of Iraqi citizens already displaced by the failed and brutal US occupation.

While states are legally obliged to refrain from assisting other states to undertake internationally criminal acts, the United States is upping its supply of arms and military advisors to Iraq, along with intelligence cooperation. A new US “Surge” is in the making and will only bring more death and destruction.

Maliki’s government cannot wantonly kill civilians and claim a “State of Law”:
— Collective punishment is illegal under international law.
— Shelling water and electricity facilities, religious buildings, and hospitals are war crimes and crimes against humanity.
— The scale and target of the Maliki military strikes and shelling is utterly disproportionate and illegal and criminal in the face of the legitimate demands of the Anbar tribes.
— The lack of proportionality itself constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity.
— It is paramount for people everywhere to mobilise now to save Fallujah’s and Anbar’s civilians, understanding that their suffering mirrors the impact of the fascist sectarian regime that the US occupation created.

We appeal to all individuals of conscience, to all those who support human rights, to all progressives who believe in democracy and the right to self-determination, to the UN Security Council, to the president of the UN General Assembly, to members of the UN General Assembly, to the European Commission and member states, to the European Parliament and peoples, to Islamic and Arab states and people and their organisations, and to all human rights, anti-war and civil society organisations to:

1. Order the Iraqi government to stop its use of wanton shelling, air force attacks, and heavy artillery against the civilian population in keeping with the responsibility of states to protect civilians under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and its additional protocols.
2. Constitute an independent investigative committee to document the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Anbar and submit its findings to the International Criminal Court.

Abdul Ilah Albayaty
Hana Al Bayaty
Ian Douglas
Eman Ahmed Khamas

We call on all to join us, sign and spread this appeal. To endorse, email to: hanaalbayaty@usgenocide.org

Abdul Ilah Albayaty is an Iraqi political analyst. Hana Al Bayaty is an author and political activist. Ian Douglas is an independent political writer who has taught politics at universities in the US, UK, Egypt and Palestine.

Related Posts

I endorsed the statement with the following text:

I am writing to endorse your statement condemning state violence against civilians in Anbar. My name is Kieran Kelly. I have a Master’s degree in history from Massey University in Aotearoa/New Zealand. My Master’s thesis placed the Iraq Genocide in the context of prior genocides committed by the US under the guise of military actions. I consider the current violence in Iraq to be the direct result of deliberate and systematic policies of destruction aimed at the people of Iraq as such. Both the intentionality of these acts and their links to current divisions within Iraq are amply demonstrated by frequent references by US officials to the desirability of fostering division or even partition along sectarian and ethnic lines in Iraq. In line with these stated policies the actions of US forces in Iraq – though seemingly “mishandled” in the normal politico-military sense – efficiently implemented policies which inflicted economic, social, cultural, religious, and physical destruction. This included inflicting massive direct and indirect mortality; fostering eliticidal violence against academics; disruption and degradation of health services; ecocidal pollution with toxic and radioactive materials; and generating communal strife, division and violence.
The current violence does not merely threaten a subsidiary genocide against Iraq’s Sunni population (as suggested by Struan Stevenson) but also is an expression of the ongoing US genocide embodied through their material and political support for the Maliki regime’s divisive, oppressive and violent policies. The fact that the US is also inevitably channeling arms and money to Islamist opponents of the Baghdad regime (through its destabilisation programme in Syria) only serves to illustrate that it is the Iraqi people who are the target, not particular segments or formations. A strong Iraqi people (whether unified democratically or under brutal force) is inherently antithetical to US imperial interests. The objections they raise to putatively objectionable political or religious ideologies (and also their denunciations of leaders as being equivalent to Hitler) are simply rationalisations for morally unacceptable imperial policies including genocidal policies which inflict mass deaths.

The United States of Genocide

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Putting the US on trial for genocide against the peoples of Korea, Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Iraq and elsewhere.

The United States of America was built on a foundation of genocide against the indigenous peoples of North America. In fact, all successful settler colonial societies are founded in genocide. The process is one of dispossession – the erasure of one group identity and the imposition of another on the people and/or on the land. But genocide is not merely the foundation of the US nation state, it is also the foundation of the US empire. The US habit of genocide has not died, but has transformed. The US has become a serial perpetrator of genocide with the blood of many millions of innocents spilled in pursuit of imperial hegemony.

There is a fight going on for the very meaning of the term “genocide”. Western powers assert their right to accuse enemies of committing genocide using the broadest possible definitions whilst also touting a twisted undefined sense of “genocide” which can never, ever be applied to their own actions. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, apparently taking his cue from the US, is currently pushing for reform of the UN Security Council such that the veto power would be unavailable in cases of “genocide”. The UNSC is a political body and “genocide” will simply become a political term cited by powerful states to rationalise aggression against the weak.

Key notoriously said that his country was “missing in action” because it did not invade Iraq in 2003, reminding Kiwis that “blood is thicker than water”. If his desired reforms existed now, the US would probably have a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force against Syria on the grounds of “genocide”.

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John Key – Prime Minister of Aotearoa (NZ); former Merill-Lynch Currency Trader

All of those who oppose Western aggression justified as humanitarian intervention under the “responsibility to protect” must stop burying their heads in the sand over this matter. This is a very real fight for the future of humanity. We can either learn and propagate the understanding that US imperial interventions are, by nature, genocidal. Or we can just pretend the word has no meaning; indulge our childish moral impulses and the lazy fatuousness of our scholars and pundits; and let Western mass-murderers use this Orwellian buzzword (for that is what “genocide” currently is) to commit heinous acts of horrific violence which ensure the continued domination of the world’s masses by a tiny imperial elite.

(An aside: apparently people like a pragmatic focus to accompany a call to action. So, am I making the most obvious appeal – that US officials be tried for committing genocide? No I am not. They can be tried for war crimes if people really think that “holding people accountable” is more important than preventing suffering and protecting the vulnerable. But it has been a terrible mistake to construct genocide as being an aggravated crime against humanity committed by individuals, as if it were simply a vicious felony writ large. This has played completely into the hands of those propagandists for whom every new enemy of the West is the new Hitler. The means by which genocides are perpetrated are the crimes of individuals – war crimes, for example – but genocide itself is the crime of a state or para-state regime. That is the proper target of inquisition and censure. Though the attempt was tragically abortive, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal recently began hearing charges of genocide against Israel. We need this sort of process to hear charges of genocide against the US. I fully support such efforts, but my real call to action is a call for thought, for clarity and for self-discipline. People are drawn to using woolly thinking over genocide, wishing to use it as the ultimate condemnation of mass violence without reference to any actual meaning of the term. We must not tolerate it in ourselves or others. We are a hair’s breadth away from the point where “genocide prevention” will be used by major Western powers to justify genocidal mass violence)

US “Wars” are Actually Genocides

Every major military action by the US since World War II has first and foremost been an act of genocide. I do not state this as a moral condemnation. If I were seeking to condemn I would try to convey the enormous scale of suffering, death, loss and misery caused by US mass violence. My purpose instead is to correct a terrible misconception of US actions – their nature, their meaning and their strategic utility. This understanding which I am trying to convey is a very dangerous notion with an inescapable moral dimension because the US has always maintained that the suffering, death and destruction it causes are incidental to military purposes – they are instances of “collateral damage”. But, with all due respect to the fact that US personnel may face real dangers, these are not real wars. These are genocides and it is the military aspect that is incidental. In fact, it is straining credulity to continue believing in a string of military defeats being sustained by the most powerful military in the history of the world at the hands of impoverished 3rd World combatants. The US hasn’t really been defeated in any real sense. They committed genocide in Indochina, increasing the level of killing as much as possible right through to the clearly foreseen inevitable conclusion which was a cessation of direct mass violence, not a defeat. The US signed a peace agreement which they completely ignored. The Vietnamese did not occupy US territory and force the US to disarm and pay crippling reparations.

There is no question that the US has committed actions which fit the description of genocide. Genocide does not mean the successful extermination of a defined group (there is no such thing as “attempted genocide”). It was never conceived that way, but rather as any systematic attack on “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Those who deny US genocides usually only deny that there is any intent to commit genocide. The UN definition of genocide (recognised by 142 states) is:

“…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The US has committed these acts many times over and in many different countries. Some people object that this is some watered down version of genocide that risks diluting the significance of this “ultimate crime”. However, bear in mind that the victims of US armed violence are not usually combatants and even if they are they are not engaged in some sort of contested combat that gives them some ability to defend themselves or to kill or be killed. They are helpless as they die of incineration, asphyxiation, dismemberment, cancer, starvation, disease. People of all ages die in terror unable to protect themselves from the machinery of death. Make no mistake, that is what it is: a large complex co-ordinated machinery of mass killing. There is nothing watered down about the horrors of the genocides committed by the US, and their victims number many millions. The violence is mostly impersonal, implacable, arbitrary and industrial.

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There are at least three specific times at which US mass violence has taken lives in the millions through direct killing: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the wars and sanctions against Iraq in combination with the occupation of Iraq. I refer to them as the Korea Genocide (which was against both South and North Koreans), the Indochina Genocide (against Laotians, Cambodians, and Vietnamese), and the Iraq Genocide (which took place over at least a 20 year period).

There are many ways to show that the US committed genocides in these cases. On one level the case is straightforward. For example, if the US commits acts of “strategic bombing” which systematically kill civilians by the hundreds of thousands, and it turns out that not only is there no rational proportionate military reason, but that US military and intelligence analysis is clear that these are in fact militarily counter-productive acts of gratuitous mass-murder, then by any reasonable definition these must be acts of genocide. The logic is simple and inescapable. I have written lengthy pieces showing in detail that these were large scale systematic and intentional genocides which you can read here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

For a long time I have tried to think of ways in which I condense this in a readable form. The problem in many respects lies with the necessity of overcoming misapprehensions. Genocide is an emotive topic, whilst people are very reluctant to read that those who rule in their name (with whom they sometimes actively identify) are in the moral vicinity of the Nazi leaders of Germany. Permeating every level of the discourse is the constant position (whether as the unspoken assumption or as the active assertion) that the US has never acted with genocidal intent. Intentionality is a topic in its own right, but to be brief I will point out that intent does not require that “genocide” be its own motive. If I kill someone because I want their watch, I can’t turn around and say it isn’t murder because I didn’t intend to kill them because I was really just intending to take their watch. It may seem a ridiculous example, but the discourse of genocide is so twisted that it is the norm even amongst genocide scholars. We keep looking for the people, the bloodthirsty psychopathic monsters, who kill people just for the fun of it and grab their watch afterwards as an afterthought. Unsurprisingly, we find those people among the leaders of those countries who oppose Western political power. Now that includes Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

The best way of demonstrating US intentionality is to demonstrate the consistency of their approach in different times and places. However, this is a necessarily exhaustive approach, so I have decided to take a different tack here. I wish to sketch a fragment of autobiography here – an outline of the process by which I came to my current understanding of the topic. I want readers to understand that I didn’t seek these conclusions out. I have had it made clear to me, by rather comfortably embedded scholars, that they think that I am being provocative out of ambition. It is a testament to the self-satisfaction of such people that they somehow think that being provocative is some advantage. Academia thrives on the journal-filling peer-reviewed “controversies” of rival schools and scholars, but they aren’t really keen on anything that might actually be of any interest to anyone else. The fact is that I didn’t seek this out and it certainly has not endeared me to anyone that I can think of. On the other, hand I have had people act as if I had smeared my own faeces all over myself for using the g-word with respect to Iraq, and I have had many metaphorical doors slammed in my face. As I hope the following will indicate, at least partially, I cannot but characterise US genocides as such and I cannot but view the subject of absolute urgent fundamental importance.

Coming to Understand

The Vietnam War loomed large in my childhood. I was five when it ended. I watched the critical documentary series  Vietnam: The 10,000 Day War when I was ten or eleven years old. During the 1980s Vietnam War movie craze I was sucked into that powerful quagmire of pathos and adrenaline – not to mention the evocative music. But even then, as a teen, I could not abide the apologism and the way in which American lives and American suffering were privileged. The US personnel were portrayed as the victims, even in films which showed US atrocities. I knew far too much about things such as the nature of the atrocities carried out by the Contras to find that sort of propaganda palatable. For one thing, I had read William Blum’s The CIA: A Forgotten History. This book (now titled Killing Hope and still available) doesn’t leave the reader much room for illusions about the US role in international politics. Perhaps if I had been a little older I might have been “educated” enough to be blind to the obvious, but I wasn’t. While most people managed to avoid facing the facts, I knew from this book and others like it that although the atrocities of the Soviet Bloc were substantial, they were dwarfed by those of the US and its closest clients. If Cuba, for example, has been repressive, then what words remain to describe the US installed regimes in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, or Chile?

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How could one characterise a state that backed and created death squad regimes that massacred entire villages, that tortured children to death in front of parents? How does one describe a militarised country whose meticulously planned and executed bombing raids systematically visited untold death and suffering on innocents as an intended purpose. Any informed person who had an objective proportionate viewpoint could only conclude, as Martin Luther King Jr. had already concluded, that the US government and the wider US corporate state were “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Fred Branfman, who saw the results of US bombing first-hand in Laos, has more recently concluded that the executive branch of the US government is “the world’s most evil and lawless institution”.

So that is where I was coming from. On moral terms I could not have been more condemnatory of the US government. I considered the US government and military-corporate-intelligence complex to be the worst thing in the world since the demise of the Third Reich. I believed this on the basis that they had demonstrably brought about more suffering, death and destruction than anyone else. If someone had tried to claim that it was for “freedom” I would have laughed bitterly, thinking of the brutally crushed democracies and popular movements that were victims of the US. But if someone had said to me that the US had committed genocide in Korea and Indochina I would have most likely dismissed the claim as emotive overstatement. I didn’t actually know what the word genocide meant precisely, but I would still have seen its use as being a form of exaggeration. Implicitly that means that I took the word “genocide” to be a form of subjective moral condemnation as if it were an inchoate scream rather than a word that might have a consistent meaning. (You can’t exaggerate by calling something “arson”, for example. It is either a lie or it is the truth. Genocide is the same). However, “genocide”, as a word, has been subjected to the ideological processes (described so well by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four) which destroy the meaning of words. Here is how I put it in an academic piece:

Certain words are so highly politicised in their usage that, in Orwellian fashion, they are stripped of all meaning and become merely signals designed to provoke in impassioned unreasoning involuntary response. In this fashion ‘democracy’ means ‘double-plus good’ and the Party members1 respond with cheers and tears of joy. Equally, ‘terrorism’ means ‘double-plus bad’ provoking among Party members, ‘[a] hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer….’2 Genocide plays a starring role in an entire discourse shaped in such a way as to not only excuse but to facilitate the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Stripped of any actual meaning but given the significance of being the ‘ultimate crime’ it becomes a tool by which powerful Western states are able to threaten or carry out attacks against weaker states – attacks which are in themselves criminal and which in some instances are actually genocidal. The emotive misuse of the term genocide has become a powerful political tool. As Jeremy Scahill reveals after accusations of genocide by Arabs against black Africans, “even at antiwar rallies, scores of protesters held signs reading, ‘Out of Iraq, into Darfur.’” Scahill adds that, ‘[a] quick survey of Sudan’s vast natural resources dispels any notion that U.S./corporate desires to move into Sudan derive from purely humanitarian motives.’3

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What brought me around to using the term genocide was realising that there was no other word to describe what the US did in South Viet Nam. I had been aware that the vast majority of victims of the US military were civilians. It was commonplace to say that 90% of casualties were civilian. (Tellingly Western commentators, including those in the peace movement, would vouch that the figure of 90% civilian casualties was proof of how cruel and deadly “modern war” had become – as if US practices were some sort of universal standard and as if the fact that other belligerents did not produce such high rates of civilian death was not of any interest whatsoever.)

So, US violence mostly caused civilian deaths and the vast majority of those civilians were, in fact, subjects of the US installed puppet [sic] regime in Saigon. They were killing their own supposed allies. I have read all of the rationalisations for why the US thought it was a good idea to kill the civilians of their own client state, and they are all completely insane. I don’t even believe that killing the civilian populations of enemy countries is militarily effective and in that belief I am supported by the strategic analyses of the US itself going back to 1944. Killing the civilian population of an allied state makes no military sense whatsoever. Often killing civilians was rationalised in terms of counterinsurgency (usually crudely reversing Maoist doctrine about the relationship between the guerrilla and the rural population) despite the fact that it was recognised from very early on that the civilian deaths were recruiting and strengthening the enemy.

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That was the other striking thing about US activities in Indochina – they were systematically killing civilians without apparent purpose, but they were also undermining their own political and military efforts. This happened at all levels. As I was reading and coming to grips with this aspect of history, it seemed that exactly the same thing was playing out in Iraq. In 2003, as invasion loomed, I had initially expected that the US would conduct a fast vicious campaign particularly aimed at inflicting maximum damage to economic infrastructure. They would then leave, crowing about their surgical use of force and minuscule US fatalities. The US would continue to enhance the perceived legitimacy of its acts of aggression and would be able to use economic blackmail to exert neocolonial control. However, I was woefully naïve for believing that. In contrast, Paul Wolfowitz was  absolutely clear on this point – you cannot use normal neocolonial power on Iraq: “…[W]e just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.” Instead, the US invaded, occupied and then acted repeatedly and systematically in ways which would very predictably cause armed resistance, just as they had in Indochina. But without that resistance they could not have justified a major military presence and the proconsular rule of the occupation imposed on Iraq.

In 2006 I was able to devote quite a lot of time to the subject of genocide in Indochina as it was the topic of my Honours research paper. My initial understanding of genocide was pretty thin and one-dimensional, but it was sound in the given context. The most important aspect for me was that genocide matched means with ends. War is always a matter of uncertain outcome. To wage war is to wager (the words are cognates). Indeed that is why we use such terms as “wage” and “adventure” for military action. If memory serves, Carl von Clausewitz himself even wrote that a belligerent will never be able to attain their intended war aims because the war they pursue will itself change matters and impose its own realities. In that sense war is a gamble which will always be lost. Genocide is not a gamble.

I saw genocide as being an attack on the peoples of Indochina which avoided the uncertainties of waging military war. The maximal aim of the genocide was the eventual neocolonial domination of Indochina. It worked. In Viet Nam the war and subsequent US economic sanctions were devastating. By 1990 the per capita GDP was only $114.4 Under doi moi liberalisation, Viet Nam has achieved much greater formal economic activity (GDP), but only by submitting to the “Washington Consensus”, which means no price supports for staples such as rice, which in turn means that the real income of the poorest urban dwellers has dropped 5 Former US military commander in Vietnam Gen. Westmoreland characterised doi moi as proof of US victory.6 The point is, though, that genocide doesn’t need an end goal such as such as submitting to neoliberal WTO regulations and IMF conditions. Chomsky called Vietnamese poverty “a vivid refutation of the claim that the US lost,”7 Similar stories could be related with regard to Laos and Cambodia. Whether these nation states are considered enemies or vanquished vassals or friends is of no relevance, the weakness of their populations is a gain in relative power for the US empire, and empires intrinsically function on relative gains.

This is what I wrote in 2006:

…[A]clever strategist, where possible, matches means and ends, thus making results more predictable. In a situation where there is a stated end and a given means are employed and continue to be employed despite continued demonstrable “failure” and are then employed elsewhere under the same rationale with the same results – in such a situation it is possibly worth considering that the “means” are themselves the end. In the case of the Second Indochina War, I will argue the means were widespread general destruction, employed on as many of the people and as much of the societal fabric or infrastructure as was physically and politically feasible. If those were the means, I will suggest, they were also the end. The results are predictable. The dead stay dead.

As I would later discover, when he first coined the word “genocide”, Raphaël Lemkin wrote that “genocide is a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost.” He also wrote: “Genocide is the antithesis of the … doctrine [which] holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations. … [T]he Germans prepared, waged, and continued a war not merely against states and their armies but against peoples. For the German occupying authorities war thus appears to offer the most appropriate occasion for carrying out their policy of genocide.”

(At this point I would like to urge people to read what Lemkin actually wrote when trying to describe genocide. It is not a time consuming task. You can find the chapter here.)

What I had found was that the US was maintaining the “war”. It helped to recruit its enemies, to arm them, finance them, and to supply them. Just as I was researching this, a book by David Keen was published about the “War on Terror” which claimed that it was a self-perpetuating endless “war system”. It focussed on clearly “counterproductive” actions undertaken by the US, belying its stated aims:

When it comes to war in other words, winning is not everything; it may be the taking part that counts. Indeed, as Orwell saw in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, certain kinds of regimes may thrive off energies and perpetual war. The irrationality of counterproductive tactics, in short, may be more apparent than real, and even an endless war may not be endless in the sense of lacking aims or functions.8

Keen never mentioned Indochina. The precedents he cited of were civil wars in Africa. However it was as if the idea of a war system was, in a sense, on the tip of people’s tongues towards the end of the US involevment in Indochina, as if they knew deep-down that the US was not trying to win the war. It seems almost the implicit subtext of Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths’ book Vietnam Inc. which by its title alone suggests an enterprise quite differently conceived than war. Even the orthodox political discourse (with talk of quagmires and a “stab in the back” story of brave soldiers hamstrung by politicians) hints at a war system. What the US did in Indochina was an absolute textbook example of what Keen was describing.

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As I found this way of understanding the past, I was also viewing events in Iraq with the same apprehension. What was occurring on a daily basis was very clearly indicating a parallel process. Captured weapons were dumped unsecured in the countryside. Efforts to secure borders (to at least impede the flow of weapons, resistance fighters and money) were systematically undermined. Just as in Viet Nam, diverted cash sloshed through networks of corruption and was available to resistance groups. People were driven into the arms of the resistance by the random brutality of US personnel, the murderous use of indiscriminate ordnance, and the systematic degradation of the civilian economic sphere. On top of this, the US fomented a civil war.

It is a pity that Keen did not know of the Indochina precedent, because what we know of it goes much deeper and reaches much higher than the what we know of the “War on Terror” (which Keen takes to include Iraq and Afghanistan interventions). Keen discusses various tactics and policies which are counterproductive. But it is not just the counterproductive things which sustain US enemies, it is the ways in which US leaders ensure that they cannot ever achieve a victory. This is what I wrote:

Numerous people, including Jeffrey Record9 and Harry Summers,10 have in effect suggested that the US lacked any winning strategy. In fact, what they had were three no-win strategies – strategies which did not, even in theory, have an end point at which a military victory would be obtained. These were the fire-power/attrition, the graduated response and the enclave strategies. The only strategy by which the US could have attained its stated objective was the pacification strategy, but this too was no threat because the pacification strategy was only weakly implemented while being misapplied, subverted, sabotaged and contravened – not least by the more vigorous application of the fire-power/attrition and graduated response strategies.

You can read all about thatstuffin detail if you want, otherwise you’ll just have to take my word for it. The US systematically ensured that it could never achieve “victory” in Indochina. Perhaps the most blatant example was the brutal genocide unleashed on Cambodia from 1970 until 1975. Not the “genocide” or “autogenocide” of the Khmer Rouge, but the genocide before that, without which there would never have been a Khmer Rouge takeover. Here’s a long excerpt from my Honours piece:

When the the US generated a war in Cambodia they had already had a great deal of experience in Viet Nam and Laos, and what occurred in Cambodia is, in many ways, a naked exposure of the logic behind the genocidal war system, less obfuscated because, ironically, Cambodia was a “sideshow” where it was not the details but the whole war which was kept obscure from the public.

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup, as mentioned, the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”11 Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death.12

Less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.13 This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of around half of the Cambodian population.14 Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”15

As has been detailed, US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.16 If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.17 Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.18

By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.19 The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million casualties occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him: “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”20

When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Viet Nam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”21

It was pretty clear that the US was maintaining the situation of armed conflict in order to commit genocide. This was a comprehensive act of genocide which did not merely involve the systematic killing of the target populations, it also involved every other “technique of genocide” described by Lemkin. There was systematic economic, social, cultural, political, and religious destruction. There was the systematic and deliberate ecocidal poisoning of the land and people with defoliants. There was very raw brutality. People were slaughtered by bombs, but there was also murder, rape and torture on a scale beyond imagining. In one book co-written by Nick Turse he finds that when he sets out to find the site of a massacre in Vietnam it becomes like trying to find a needle in a haystack of massacre sites.22 In his next book Kill Anything that Moves Turse tries to show that haystack for what it is. The results would be hard to believe if they were not so well documented. I cannot reduce its contents here, I can only recommend that people acquire and read the book. It is a litany of slaughter that seems almost endless and through it all the command structure and the political structure provide the framework for the personnel to commit atrocities.

MERE GOOKS

This is not just about the choice of tactics – it is also about “grand tactics”, strategy, doctrine, and indoctrination. Psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton famously discussed “atrocity producing situations” as a driving factor behind US war crimes, and I believe we can now conclude these situations were deliberately created, not just because we have other evidence that atrocities were tacitly encouraged, but because the US went to great lengths to replicate these these “atrocity producing situations” in Iraq.

Why Genocide and Not War?

By the end of my honours thesis I was convinced that both the 2nd Indochina War and the “Iraq War” were “genocidal war systems”. Since then I have learnt a great deal more, and my thinking has developed a great deal more. I won’t bore you with the detail, but I came to realise the the “war system” appellation was largely redundant. Genocides are “war systems” by nature. Almost every perpetrator of genocide explains their violence as fighting war.

Genocide was a key means by which the US secured global hegemony in the post-WWII era. I learnt that Korea was also a case of US genocide. US actions there were as shocking, as deadly and as militarily nonsensical as they were in Indochina. Hundreds of thousands were massacred and hundreds of thousands incinerated. 25% of the entire population of North Korea was killed and we should not forget that many hundreds of thousands of the ostensibly allied South Koreans died at US hands or those of US commanded troops. The whole war became widely recognised as a pointless killing machine (described as “the meatgrinder”) while the US needlessly sabotaged and prolonged armistice negotiations.

16Bombing_onto_Pyongyang

I can’t explain in this space why Korea, Vietnam and Iraq posed such great threats to US imperial hegemony, but they did and the US successfully dealt with those dangers by committing genocide. These are successful uses of genocide to establish, deepen and maintain imperial hegemony, but we have wilfully blinded ourselves to their nature. Critics of US interventions have evidently been scared to entertain the notion that there was some successfully applied rationale to US behaviour. They have joined with the lovers of war, the nationalists, the racists and the fanatics in declaring over and over and over again the wrong-headedness and failures of US military endeavours. The victims of US genocide quite understandably prefer to see themselves as the plucky Davids that beat the Pentagon Goliath. These are all lies.

US forces storm into one house after another, claiming to be trying to kill flies with sledgehammers. Given that they have entirely demolished several houses and severely damaged many others; and given that they have been caught red-handed releasing flies into targeted houses; and given that they forcibly try to make people buy very expensive fly “insurance”; maybe it is time we consider that neither they, nor their sledgehammers, are concerned in any way with flies (except as a pretext).

Where people might once have been terrified that to suggest any cogent purpose to US actions for fear of giving credit to warmongers, we need not be so worried now. It is very clear that the US does not exert imperial hegemony for the sake of peace and stability, or even for the sake of the enrichment of the US and its people. They never protected us from the nefarious threat of communism and they don’t protect us from the nefarious threat of Islam. A very narrow group of imperialists who share a cohesive long-term hegemonic programme have successfully concentrated power and wealth levels of disparity akin to those in slavery-based economies. They have also created a neofeudal framework of privatised regnal rights. No doubt many of these people have noble intentions, believing that only by such ruthless action can they exert enough control to save humanity from its self-destructive impulses. Many elitists will openly express such opinions and we can certainly understand having concern over the future of the planet. But such people are, in fact, completely insane and they should be taken out of circulation and treated exactly like any other dangerous megalomaniac who believes that they are the new Napoleon. It is not the masses that are threatening the planet. It is not the masses who bring about wars. And though communal violence seems almost the epitome of the mob in action, I know of no genocide that did not result from the actions of a narrow elite.

The reason that we must view US genocides as being genocides and not wars is that we cannot ever understand the logic of their actions in any other way. People shy away from the term genocide and people react violently to what they perceive as its misuse. That indicates just how important it is. I mentioned Nick Turse’s Kill Anything that Moves which is an entire book devoted primarily to the systematic killing of non-combatants. He never uses the term “genocide”. In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that the very nature of the Iraq occupation is that of an atrocity producing situation and that US personnel have gone “from killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.”23 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over, but they never use the term “genocide”. This despite the fact that US actions in Indochina have widely been adjudged genocidal and despite the fact that it was very strongly argued that the US and UK controlled sanctions against Iraq were genocidal. Ask yourself this: if someone was documenting the same thing being perpetrated by Sudan, or by Zimbabwe do you think the word “genocide” would be left out of such works?

Above all we must end the continuing fatuous nonsense spouted by security geeks (including high ranking military and civilian personnel) who seem to believe every exaggerated claim about threats from the Cubans, the Iranians, the Soviets, Al Qaeda in the Falklands (AQIF) or whomever. The morons with their clichés about “fighting the last war” will never ever tire of telling us how the US just doesn’t know how to do counterinsurgency. Really? The question must be, then how did they manage to remain so bad at counterinsurgency when they have spent more person hours on counterinsurgency and counter-guerilla warfare that all other states throughout the entirety of humanity added together? (I could list a few examples here starting with the Indian Wars, mentioning 200 years of interventions in the Western hemisphere, Cuba, Philippines, Pacific War, Korea and Indochina. Then there is also the institutional knowledge built and disseminated by “security co-operation”. Moreover, the US is trains many of the rest of the world’s military leaders to conduct counterinsurgency at Fort Benning).

The point is that you can’t understand what the US does through the lens of war. It is very satisfying, no doubt, for young liberal reporters to outsmart generals (who clearly have no idea how to fight wars because they are just stupid Republicans), but it is seriously delusional. There is an instant exculpation given when these genocides are misrepresented as wars. It is very, very important for perpetrators of aggression or genocide (or both) to conceal their intentionality. The UK government and Tony Blair, in particular, showed far more concern with convincing people that they themselves believed in their fictitious casus belli, than with convincing people that Iraq really did have pose a threat. All of the British media seemed to echo the mantra that you might not agree with Blair but, “no one can doubt his sincerity”. So for moral reasons, in order to end the impunity of the worlds worst war criminals, as well as for intellectual reasons we must grasp the nettle and begin using the term genocide.

Textbook Cases

There are many problematic areas in the subject of genocide. Sometimes it is hard to tell when war ends and genocide begins. It can be hard to tell where state repression becomes persecution and when persecution becomes genocide. Were not the Nuremburg Laws an epitome of what we now call apartheid? Is apartheid a form of slow genocide? Is there structural genocide? Should something only be called genocide if there are mass fatalities?

These are all important considerations and questions, but none of them are relevant here. The genocides I have referenced are absolute textbook cases of genocide. It is impossible to create a coherent and rational definition of the term “genocide” which does not include these genocides.

These genocides were more demonstrably genocidal in nature than the Armenian Holocaust. We should always remember that for the Turkish government, and for most Turks, there was no such thing as a genocide of Armenians. In their own eyes they were fighting a war against Armenian insurgents. Sound familiar?

1In Orwell’s allegory the ‘Party’ represented the ‘educated’ sector of society – people such as the central character Winston Smith, who worked as a journalist.

2George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Penguin, 1983.

3Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007, p 350.

4Hy V. Luong, ‘Postwar Vietnamese Society: An Overview of Transformational Dynamic’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, pp 12, 14.

5Nicholas Minot; Francesco Goletti, ‘Export Liberalization and Household Welfare: The Case of Rice in Vietnam’ in American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 80, No. 4. (Nov., 1998), p 743. Minot and Goletti actually (to their own evident surprise) projected a slight overall drop in poverty, but they do so on the basis of changes in real income which do not take into account that rural persons are better able to acquire food without income expenditure. They also slightly underestimate the level of urbanisation – they use the 1990 figure of 20 per cent, when by the time of their writing the figure was over 23 per cent (Michael DiGregorio, A. Terry Rambo, Masayuki Yanagisawa, ‘Clean, Green, and Beautiful: Environment and Development under the Renovation Economy’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, p 189.) and do not account for future urbanisation. Michel Chossudovsky suggests that the Vietnamese did, in the actual event, become considerably poorer (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty and the New World Order. Shanty Bay, Ontario: Global Outlook, 2003, p 168).

6Marc Jason Gilbert, “Introduction”, in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 26.

7Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture. Boston: South End Press, 1993, p 30.

8David Keen, Endless War? Hidden functions of the ‘War on Terror’. London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006, p 51.

9Record, “How America’s Military Performance…”, in Gilbert (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, p 117.

10Harry G. Summers Jr., On Strategy: A critical analysis of the Vietnam War. New York: Presidio Press, 1995 (1982), p 103.

11William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), p 220.

12Ibid, pp 317-9.

13Ibid, p 149.

14Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 127.

15Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

16Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 24.

17Ibid, p 19.

18Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

19Ibid, pp 254-5.

20Ibid, p 169.

21Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213; Westmoreland, ‘A Look Back’.

22Deborah Nelson, The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about U.S. War Crimes, New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 127.

23Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.

The Korean Genocide Part 3: June 1950 – Who Started It?

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(In Part 2 of this post I detailed the US propensity for installing and maintaining
corrupt and brutal clients as leaders, and their preference for those with a limited
popular base of support amongst their own countrymen. I showed that south of the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula, whilst under US military occupation, this immediately unfolded as a combination economic, political and military repression. The inevitable resistance prompted massacres at the hands of US or US-led proxy forces. I now continue with the subject of the outbreak of “major hostilities” on the 23rd or 25th of June 1950. I think the thing that will interest readers most in this is the significant circumstantial evidence which indicates the real possibility of a tacit or explicit agreement to foment war by US and USSR leaders.)

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We now come to the vexed issue of the events of 25 June 1950, or as the North Koreans would have it the 23rd of June when, according to them, the ROK initiated major hostilities.1 This is when “major hostilities” broke out – the start of “The Korean War”.
However, one defensible stance is that it is a nonsense to state that the war broke out on that day. Not only had guerrilla conflict and mass-murder already claimed over 100,000 lives south of the 38th parallel, but there was ongoing extensive border fighting which was particularly intense in 1949. It was mostly, but not solely by any means, the ROK which was the initiator of hostilities.2 As Stueck writes: “Who started the firing in the predawn hours of this dreary morning remains in doubt. The Ongjin region had long been the setting for border skirmishes between North and South Korean troops, and often the South had initiated the combat. The evidence for this day in June is ambiguous, even contradictory.”3 Peter Lowe concludes that it is “impossible to determine” who attacked first.4
The conundrum of the outbreak of major hostilities tends to suggest that simple
solutions of either a “South attacks North” or “North attacks South” scenario do not fit the unusual circumstances. To begin with, as Cumings points out with regard to the question of aggression this amounts to “Korea invades Korea”.5 Yes, there were two different armies with two different associated territories, but his was not anything like the German invasion of Poland. It wasn’t even like a normal civil war. The only reason that there were two armies in the first place was the US decision to unilaterally divide the country and the subsequent US and USSR actions which destroyed the normal intercourse between the two parts. There is no historical precedent to this, but as unusual a background as this provides to June 1950, it is only the tip of the iceberg. There are what Stueck terms “ambiguous, even contradictory” factors. As will be described, both sides had plans for military unification and were building forces towards that end, but neither was actually prepared for the sudden outbreak of a major war when it did happen. I would go so far as to suggest that the unusual circumstances themselves tend to necessitate a more complex answer than simply one side attacked the other.
In this work, of course, the point of interest is the US role in the outbreak major
hostilities. Those who concern themselves with this question often characterise US
actions as a “failure of deterrence” or “failing to deter” or virtually invariant phrases.6
One writer in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, (not where one would normally expect
the advocacy of more robust militarism) wrote: “By strongly implying that it would not defend Korea… the United States had invited attack”’7 It is also in the canon of failed deterrence as standing alongside the “failure to deter” Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.8 The problem with this is that it relies on an assumption which seems to be contradicted by the evidence, the assumption that an entity called the US actually did not want a war. One can compare this thesis with a counter-thesis thus: 1) the “failed deterrence” thesis in which a monolithic US undertook insufficient actions to prevent war; 2) the “successful provocation” thesis in which individuals from the US (including those in the Rhee regime) successfully caused the outbreak of major hostilities at a time which was entirely propitious for the US in strategic terms. An intriguing potential corollary to the latter is that, whether through coordinated collusion or merely coincident interests, this seems to have occurred with crucial support from the USSR.
It is interesting to note here that if the US failed to deter the DPRK, then the logical
implication is that it must have been the DPRK which attacked first on 25 June 1950.
Thus Stueck, who is unable to directly confirm DPRK initiation of hostilities, is able to write at great length about a “failure of deterrence” which constantly reinforces this nonfact as being factual in the reader’s mind. When dealing with only the “failure of deterrence” DPRK initiation is assumed9 and never is the possibility of deterring the ROK discussed, except to suggest that success in deterring the ROK was partly behind the failure to deter the DPRK.10 If evidence comes to light that the ROK did launch an offensive on 23 June then all of this “failed deterrence” discourse will be revealed as rather silly propaganda akin to the Germans suggesting that they had failed to deter Polish aggression in 1939, and since we can’t actually discount that possibility – it is silly propaganda. There are those who claim that we can in fact conclude that it was the DPRK which initiated major hostilities, and I will weigh such claims shortly. But before I do, I should emphasise that the only evidence we have is circumstantial, and
furthermore is violently contradictory.

Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum)
In 1981 and 1990 Bruce Cumings released the two seminal volumes of his work The
Origins of the Korean War. I have been unable to acquire this work, however some have
interpreted it as pointing to a US/ROK initiation or deliberate provocation of the Korean War.11 Another viewpoint is that: “In contrast to many historians… who maintained that by his remarks, Acheson unintentionally gave North Korea the green light to invade South Korea, Cumings argues that Acheson knew precisely what he was doing and that the speech had little to do with why North Korea invaded South Korea. ‘The Press Club Speech,’ he remarks, ‘was … consistent with his conception of Korean containment in 1947, and with his world view: and so was the intervention in June 1950’ (p. 423).”12
Marilyn Young writes that Cumings largely rejects the relevance of “who started it” but outlines three hypotheses in what seem to be roughly ordered as least to most likely: an unprovoked ROK attack; an unprovoked DPRK attack; or a successfully provoked
DPRK attack which young describes as “the preferred Achesonian stance: the offence demonstrably defensive.”13
I mention this work of Cumings at this point because the traction that this work might have gained was interrupted to some extent in 1993 (not long in academic terms after the publication of the more relevant second volume of The Origins of the Korean War) by the publication of a book seized on by many as the definitive proof of an unprovoked DPRK attack. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War14 is a diplomatic history of Sino-Soviet relations and, despite its name, only the final two chapters (about 35% of the main body) deal with the Korean war directly. One deals with the DPRK build-up to military reunification, the last with China’s entry into the war.
It is difficult to decide how much space to devote to a critique of Uncertain Partners,
but I think I must confine myself to a symptomatic exemplar. For reasons which are not at all apparent to me, several pages are devoted to describing two meetings that never occurred. The reason given?

We do so partly to suggest the kinds of information that appear to have been exchanged between Moscow and Pyongyang in these months (on which the archives do have significant documents) and partly to indicate how pseudohistory can become widely implicated in efforts to explain the origins of one of history’s tragedies.15

Their actual interest in the role of “pseudohistory” ends right there never to be
mentioned again. Instead the narrative of these meetings is simply incorporated (with a couple of reminders that these were fictional meetings) into the general flow of the chapter. One might wonder why they did not instead utilise the “significant documents” as their sources, but these are neither cited here, nor are they to be found among the 82 documents appended. In fact none of these documents deals with the subject of Korea before one dated 28 June 1950.16 Indeed throughout the chapter there was only one point made which seemed at first to support the conclusion that the DPRK attacked on 25 June, mention made of the “fact” that Mao was “in no doubt” that Kim Il Sung had launched the war.17 The supporting citation, however, merely quotes a Chinese official noting the Korean Workers Party’s determination to “wage a revolutionary war of liberation”.18 Intent, however, is not the issue, as will be shown.
The gist of this chapter of Uncertain Partners (either with or without the inclusion of
clearly unreliable sources) is that Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung had developed a coordinated plan of attack. This proves little, however, because Rhee also planned a
military reunification, and made no secret of the fact. He seems to have originally
envisioned invading at some time early in 1950, saying on 7 October 1949 that it would be only “3 days to Pyonyang”, while defence minister Shin Sung-Mo, after 25 October meeting with MacArthur, stated that the ROKA was “ready to drive into North Korea, If we had had our own way we would have started already….”19 Dean Acheson’s Press Club speech on 12 January 1950 explicitly rejected an US force being used to protect the ROK, putting Rhee’s plans on hold, but invasion plans were revived after Rhee met with MacArthur in February.20


Truman and Acheson had both effectively stated early in 1950 that the US would not
defend Korea militarily (even MacArthur had said as much in March 1949),21 and, on 2 May 1950, Senator Tom Connally, chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations, said that a communist take-over of Korea and Taiwan was inevitable: “the US would not go to fight for Korea”.22 However, Rhee must have either been given contrary assurances in private or have correctly read between the lines of these statements which were shown by subsequent events to be complete falsehoods. On 11 January the ROK ambassador to the US sent the following to Rhee:

I give you some encouraging news which I have received confidentially from a top level, reliable source in the Pentagon. I am informed that the State Department and the Pentagon are planning a firm stand with respect to the U.S. Oriental policy. In this anti-Communist plan, Korea will occupy an important position…President Truman will sign, very soon, authorization which will grant permission for armament for Korean ships and planes.23

Around March 1950 the DPRK achieved military superiority over the ROK24 and thus
US involvement became essential. Aware that the US could not support an attack north, the focus in the ROK became an effort to “provoke an ‘unprovoked assault’”.25
In the DPRK, meanwhile, preparations for military unification had begun in earnest in late April with major arms shipments from the USSR.26 This followed Stalin’s assent to conduct an offensive.27 Here’s where things get a little contradictory, because the Soviets sent a group of advisers to Pyongyang, supposedly as a response to Kim Il Sung’s determination to conquer the whole peninsula, but it seems that it was the Soviet advisers who took the initiative in making this happen. In Uncertain Partners a lengthy testimony from KPA Operations Director Yu Sung Chul states that the Soviet advisers took an operations plan (“[e]very army, of course, has an operations plan”) and unilaterally rewrote it entirely. The Soviets considered it too “defensive”. The original
operations plan was for a counteroffensive, but the new Soviet plan was entitled the
“Preemptive Strike Operations Plan”, though the DPRK leadership insisted immediately that it only be referred to as the “counterattack” plan.28 Goncharov et al. maintain that Kim Il Sung was the driving force behind the offensive, suggesting effectively that Kim was the tail wagging the Soviet dog29 despite also claiming that the DPRK was a “wholly dependent… Soviet satellite”.30 The story of the operations plan, however, suggests instead that this was Stalin’s war, not Kim’s, just as was claimed by the US government at the time.31
Kathryn Weathersby deals with this issue and this is how she concludes:

From 1945 to early 1950, Moscow’s aim was not to gain control over the Korean peninsula. Instead, the Soviet Union sought to protect its strategic and economic interests through the traditional Tsarist approach of maintaining a balance of power in Korea. However, in the context of the postwar Soviet-American involvement on the peninsula, such a balance could only be maintained by prolonging the division of the country, retaining effective control over the northern half.
The North Korean attempt to reunify the country through a military campaign clearly represented a sharp departure from the basic Soviet policy toward Korea. The initiative for this departure came from Pyongyang, not Moscow. In the spring of 1950 Stalin approved Kim’s reunification plan and provided the necessary military support, but only after repeated appeals from Kim and only after having been persuaded that the United States would not intervene in the conflict. Conclusive evidence of Stalin’s reasons for finally supporting the North Korean reunification plan has not yet been released, but it appears that Stalin’s motive may well have been to tie the Chinese communists more firmly to the USSR, to prevent a rapprochement between the PRC and the United States. If this interpretation is correct, it means that it was Soviet weakness that drove Stalin to support the attack on South Korea, not the unrestrained expansionism imagined by the authors of NSC-68.32

Indeed, Weathersby reveals that from the latter stages of World War II the Soviet Union was utterly consistent in recognising that it was best served by a divided Korea and that unification would risk that advent of a hostile entity in a threatening position: “Given the impossibility of establishing a ‘friendly’ government for the entire country, Moscow sought to protect Soviet security by maintaining a compliant government in power in the northern half of the country and shoring up the military strength of that client state.”33
The situation was mirrored on the US side, as has been suggested.
The obvious question here is why, if the USSR considered its interests best served by a divided Korea, did it force an aggressive “preemptive strike” plan on the DPRK and
begin immediately making substantial arms shipments beyond those required for
defence? In the situation there was ample scope for temporising and prevarication. But Soviet concerns also seem to have revolved around the situation of China and Taiwan, and here too the interests coincided to a great degree with those of the US. Here, I am sad to say, the picture gets even more confused.

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I return again to the narrative of Uncertain Partners wherein the contradictions of the
circumstances are unwittingly laid bare by the authors. Their understanding is that Kim Il Sung was single-mindedly driven to unify Korea by force, and that the plan was assented to by Stalin and Mao. The Chinese were focussed on finishing their civil war by eliminating the final GMD stronghold in Taiwan, but at the same time faced an urgent need to improve the desperate domestic economic situation which they believed necessitated massive demobilisations of troops. The Chinese were convinced that a DPRK offensive would bring about the direct involvement of the US and allow the US to prevent their final offensive against the GMD, while many feared that it would allow the US to attack the PRC itself.34 According to the authors “a race had begun between Kim and Mao. Each rushed to fire the first volley, an act that could doom the other’s plans.”35 The problem here is that it is difficult to see how a PRC conquest of Taiwan would have negatively affected DPRK plans. There was no claim on any side that there was such a state as Taiwan, this was a civil conflict between two formations which each claimed to be the legitimate government of China. On 5 January 1950, Truman had acknowledged Taiwan as being part of China and pledged not to intervene in the civil war, while Acheson’s 12 January Press Club speech omitted not just Korea but Taiwan from the perimeter which the US claimed as its right to defend.36 The US people, by and large, viewed the Taiwan issue as part of a civil war, not any business of the US.37
Moreover, the PRC did not act very much like it was in a “race”. To be certain it wished to take Taiwan as soon as possible, but it had every reason to do so without any consideration of possible events in Korea. The other major offshore island, Hainan, had been taken in April 195038 and in that month PLA forces began to amass for the invasion of Taiwan, but demobilisations were also an ongoing priority. Early in June the invasion of Taiwan was postponed until the summer of 1951. On June 15 Mao ordered a previously planned demobilisation of 1,500,000 troops to commence.39 On June 23, less than 48 hours from the putative outbreak of the Korean War, orders were made out to transfer 3-4 corps out of the northeast sector.40 It is true that the Chinese had transferred 40,000 Koreans from the PLA to the KPA beginning at the end of 1949, and these battlehardened troops probably gave the KPA more of an advantage over the ROKA by June 25 than the increased arms supply from the USSR, which had commenced only two months prior.41 But, the Chinese may have expected these personnel to be used defensively or to create a deterrent, after all it makes little sense for them to have knowingly provided crucial support for an offensive which they quite correctly predicted would be a disastrous setback for themselves.
From the US and USSR perspective, however, the defeat of the GMD in Taiwan was not a pleasing prospect. Stalin appears to have firstly hoped that the US would prevent the PRC conquest of Taiwan42 and secondly he hoped that China and the US would be drawn further into enmity. Weathersby recounts: “A Russian scholar who has seen the relevant documents has recounted to me that Stalin calculated that even though the United States might not defend the ROK, once it lost South Korea it would not then allow itself to suffer the additional loss of Taiwan. The United States would move in to protect Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), thereby preventing a rapprochement between the US and the PRC. Mao would thus be forced to continue to turn to the Soviet Union for economic and military aid.”43
So the US and USSR interests regarding the dispositions of Korea and Taiwan were identical. Additionally one might argue that it was in the US interest that China remain for the time being a comparatively weak state tied to the USSR, rather than an independent left-wing non-aligned state. What then would be the optimal outcome for both imperial powers? That somehow, against all odds, Korea would be overcome by a major war but not unified, leaving two weakened dependencies divided much as they were in 1945; that the US be given a serviceable pretext/distraction allowing it to intercede in the final stages of China’s civil war; and, perhaps more than anything else, that China, so ripe with potential, be prevented from demobilisation and an end to nearly a century of destruction and instead be drawn into even greater enfeebling conflict. No outside observer would have picked this as the likely outcome, but this is exactly what happened.

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All accounts agree that 3 a.m. 25 June 1950 Kim Il Sung announced to his cabinet that the ROKA had launched an offensive and that in 1 hour the KPA would launch its planned counterattack. Whether there was or was not an ROKA provocation, the one thing that can be said with certainty is that either Kim was fooled, or he fooled himself.
The planned campaign to unify Korea is widely understood to have been intended to have been enacted at a later date, possibly in early August when it was expected that Rhee would refuse to comply with a DPRK proposal of nationwide elections.44 Gye-Dong Kim points to the following indications of unpreparedness: 1) the mobilisation plan was not put in place, only 6 full divisions were ready when plans called for 13 to 15; 2) “the North Koreans were not sufficiently well equipped at the time” having mostly Japanese weapons of pre-1945 manufacture.45 I would add that given that the DPRK’s military build-up was proceeding faster than that of the ROK, premature action, whether offensive or counter-offensive, must have been powerfully motivated.
The explanation given by Gye-Dong Kim is that the offensive/counter-offensive was launched at this unpropitious time because Kim sought to take advantage of the unpopularity and instability of the Rhee regime.46 The Soviet, Chinese and defector sources used by the likes of Goncharov et al., are consistent in claiming that when touting his plans for a military unification Kim would evince a conviction that 200,000 guerrillas would rise up to defeat the Rhee regime.47 In the most widely known account, given by Khrushchev, Kim claimed that he wished to “touch the south with the tip of a bayonet” which would spark internal explosion.48 One way of looking at things, therefore, is that Kim, an autocrat with unquestioned authority, was possessed of a longstanding idée fixe, an obsessive and (in the circumstances) irrational belief that demonstrative military action on the part of the KPA would spark a southern revolution.
But, another way of looking at things, one which throws very serious doubts on the “tip of the bayonet” hypothesis, is that Kim was an experienced and successful guerrilla leader who was surrounded by and incredible wealth of knowledge gained by fighting the Japanese and the GMD for decades. Along with those of Moscow faction, the Yenan faction and Kim Il Sung’s faction, these included indigenous fighters such as the the southerner Pak Hon-yong,49 who was the foreign minister.50 The leaders of Cumings’s “guerrilla state” also had some experience, in China, of conventional and mixed warfare and were advised by Soviets from an army which had fought its way from Stalingrad to Berlin. These were hard-nosed experienced leaders who had won very hard fought desperate wars, and they had not done so by being prone to wishful thinking.
Guerrilla activity in the south was at this time hugely diminished. According to US intelligence “small bands of fifteen to thirty still operated in various areas but were generally quiet.”51 The political situation in the south may have provided the opportunity for reconstituting a more formidable guerrilla movement, but such things take time.52 It seems very unlikely that the DPRK leadership really believed that 200,000 guerrillas would arise spontaneously which is what a defector claimed to have been stated by Pak Hon-yong to a secret conference on 11 May 1950.53 In fact, Goncharov et al. claim that it was the failure of the guerrilla movement which prompted the DPRK to begin planning a major military effort,54 as do Stueck,55 and Kim.56 If the DPRK really was pinning its hopes on a southern uprising, it also seems rather odd that those guerrillas that remained were not informed or prepared in any way.57
A salient matter which I have not yet mentioned is an aspect of the “counterattack” plan.
This plan, which, as will be recalled, was written by Soviet advisers without consultation, stopped at Seoul. That is to say that the planning did not extend any further than the capture of Seoul which lies only about 50 kilometres from the 38th parallel.58 The war was supposed to “only last a few days” according to Yu Sung Chul and others. Continuing after the capture of Seoul required a completely new offensive plan (again authored by the Soviets) and a complete reorganisation of the KPA into two distinct corps which were lacking in communications leaving, according to one defector, “divisions, corps and armies… disconnected” to the extent that “[e]ach unit moved on its own and each had its own plan.”59 Gye-Dong Kim’s explanation is that the actual plan was to seize Seoul as a prelude to opening negotiations. He cites a 20 June 1950 decree by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly in the DPRK which contained demands which could be read as a basis for negotiations.60 Given that the “counterattack” plan was drafted in early April, and that it replaced another that was too “defensive”, this must in fact have been the basis of planning from the beginning. This contradicts a great deal of the tenor and detail of the narrative of the planning phase constructed from various sources by Kim himself (along with Stueck, Weathersby, Goncharov et al.). The fact is that whether attack or counter-attack, there are many questions arising about the KPA’s actions on 25 June, but to even attempt answers I must first turn to the events occurring on the other side of the 38th parallel, and in Taiwan, Japan and the US.
Direct evidence is slim that the ROKA launched an attack somewhere between 10 pm on 23 June (the time claimed by the DPRK and PRC to this day)61 and 4 am on 25 June (when all parties agree the KPA guns opened fire, though not in any account along the whole front). The ROKA 17th regiment claimed to have captured Haeju by 11 am of 26 June.62 As William Blum points out, this feat would have been impossible if the KPA really were launching a co-ordinated all-out attack.63 This unit was commanded by a committed right-wing ideologue,64 and its actions may have fitted a scenario of a unilateral attack without a broader mobilisation designed to “provoke an unprovoked” response from the DPRK. This may or may not have been accompanied by over 24 hours of preliminary artillery barrage as claimed by the DPRK. There is also the possibility, however, that the capture of Haeju was simply a lie. The ROK government later retracted its claim to have captured Haeju and claimed that it was all an exaggeration by a military officer.65

Rhee, Hodge and Kim Koo
One town south of the 38th parallel was prepared for fighting to break out on the 25th.66
However, in more general terms, the ROKA was even less prepared than was the KPA for the outbreak of major hostilities. A UN inspection on 23 June found the ROKA unprepared for war and they began writing a report detailing as much on the 24th which, by the 26th, had become a report claiming an unprovoked attack by the DPRK. Of course, this is rather astonishingly suspicious timing and, as Halliday and Cumings point out, their sources were purely ROK and US officials,67 but subsequent events show that the ROKA really was unprepared for the KPA onslaught even though we can quite confidently say that the KPA itself was not bringing its full potential force to bear.
What does this all mean? Well, if the thesis tested with regard to DPRK, USSR and PRC actions was that of a co-ordinated unprovoked attack at a time of USSR and/or DPRK choosing, then the thesis I will test with regard to ROK, US and GMD actions is one of a successful provocation taking place at a time of ROK and/or US choosing. Of necessity this would mean that the Rhee regime and/or the US deliberately left their own forces unprepared for an offensive which was both expected and desired. In fact, there would have to be posited a cultivated unpreparedness, both as an alibi and as a means of luring the DPRK into attacking.
I will set the tone here with a lengthy quote, with lengthier subquotes, from Peter Dale Scott. This is what he culls from Cumings’s Origins of the Korean War:

The historian Bruce Cumings, in a volume of 957 pages, has recalled the curious behavior in previous weeks of high levels in Washington:
The CIA predicts, on June 14, a capability for invasion [of South Korea] at any time. No one disputes that. Five days later, it predicts an impending invasion. . . . Now, Corson … says that the June 14 report leaked out to “informed circles,” and thus “it was feared that administration critics in Congress might publicly raise the issue. In consequence, a White House decision of sorts was made to brief Congress that all was well in Korea.” . . . Would it not be the expectation that Congress would be told that all was not well in Korea? That is, unless a surprised and outraged Congress is one’s goal.
In his exhaustive analysis of the war’s origins, Cumings sees this U.S. deception by high level officials as a response to manipulated events, which in turn were the response to the threat of an imminent expulsion of the Chinese Nationalist KMT68 from Taiwan, together with a peaceful reunification of Korea. ….
By late June, [U.S. Secretary of State Dean] Acheson and Truman were the only high officials still balking at a defense of the ROC [the “Republic of China,” the KMT Chinese Nationalist remnant on Taiwan]….Sir John Pratt, an Englishman with four decades of experience in the China consular service and the Far Eastern Office, wrote the following in 1951: “The Peking Government planned to liberate Formosa on July 15 and, in the middle of June, news reached the State Department that the Syngman Rhee government in South Korea was disintegrating. The politicians on both sides of the thirty-eighth parallel were preparing a plan to throw Syngman Rhee out of office and set up a unified government for all Korea.”….Thus the only way out, for Chiang [Kai-shek, the KMT leader], was for Rhee to attack the North, which ultimately made Acheson yield and defend Nationalist China [on Taiwan].
Meanwhile, in South Korea,
an Australian embassy representative sent in daily reports in late June, saying that “patrols were going in from the South to the North, endeavouring to attract the North back in pursuit. Plimsoll warned that this could lead to war and it was clear that there was some degree of American involvement as well.” [According to former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam,] “The evidence was sufficiently strong for the Australian Prime Minister to authorize a cable to Washington urging that no encouragement be given to the South Korean government.”
Cumings also notes the warning in late April from an American diplomat, Robert Strong, that “desperate measures may be attempted by [the Chinese] Nationalist Government to involve [U.S.] in [a] shooting war as [a] means of saving its own skin.” In chapters too complex to summarize here, he chronicles the intrigues of a number of Chiang’s backers, including the China Lobby in Washington, General Claire Chennault and his then nearly defunct airline CAT (later Air America), former OSS chief General William Donovan, and in Japan General MacArthur and his intelligence chief Charles Willoughby. He notes the visit of two of Chiang’s generals to Seoul, one of them on a U.S. military plane from MacArthur’s headquarters. And he concludes that “Chiang may have found …on the Korean peninsula, the provocation of a war that saved his regime [on Taiwan] for two more decades:”
Anyone who has read this text closely to this point, and does not believe that Willoughby, Chiang, [Chiang’s emissary to Seoul, General] Wu Tieh Cheng, Yi Pōm-sōk, [Syngman] Rhee, Kim Sōkwon, Tiger Kim, and their ilk were capable of a conspiracy to provoke a war, cannot be convinced by any evidence.
He adds that anti-conspiratorialist Americans “are prey to what might be called the fallacy of insufficient cynicism”69

(Yi Pom-sok, Kim Sok-won and Tiger Kim were all involved in the 17th regiment which may, or may not, have captured Haeju on or before 26 June.)70

https://i0.wp.com/www.japanfocus.org/data/ChangTaekSangKim2.jpg

Police Chief Chang Taek-sang with a man who may be Tiger Kim (left)
Indeed, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity centred around the ROK which seems very suspiciously timed in retrospect. I can add one more prominent diplomatic event to those mentioned above. The event that looms (and loomed) large in DPRK propaganda was the visit of John Foster Dulles in mid-June 1950. In particular, a photograph of Dulles with the ROK defence minister and military officers peering across the 38th parallel has been used as the iconic visual signifier of aggressive intent.71 Lowe writes that the “murky” talks leave room for “legitimate speculation”,72 adding later that:
“Mystery surrounds the precise motives for Dulles’s visit to Seoul”73 On 6 April 1950, John Foster Dulles was reappointed as an adviser to the State Department. The Republican hard-liner had been chosen reluctantly by Democrat Truman administration as a salve to “the explosion of McCarthyism”. In a broadcast dated 14 May 1950 he suggested that the US needed to “develop better techniques’ because the Soviets ‘could win everything by the Cold War they could win in a hot war.’”74https://i0.wp.com/www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/03_The-World-since-1900/09_The-Cold-War/pictures/EVN-420-1_Dulles-at-the-38th-parallel_1950.jpgJohn Foster Dulles peers across the 38th parallel.

I. F. Stone in his 1952 classic The Hidden History of the Korean War wrote:

Chiang Kai-shek and Rhee…feared that peace would be the end of them. Dulles feared that peace would fatally interfere with the plan to rebuild the old Axis powers for a new anti-Soviet crusade…the dominant trend in American political, economic and military thinking was fear of peace. General Van Fleet summed it all up in speaking to a visiting Filipino delegation in January, 1952: ‘Korea has been a blessing. There had to be a Korea either here or someplace in the world.’ In this simple-minded confession lies the key to the hidden history of the Korean War.75

https://i0.wp.com/www.chinasmack.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/chiang-kai-shek-time-magazine-cover-1955-april-18.JPG

Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi (Chang Kai-Shek)

On the 18th Dulles addressed the ROK national assembly, pledging US support “both moral and material”.76 The next morning Rhee requested an unscheduled interview with Dulles. According to the official US State Department history:

Mr Dulles went to considerable lengths to explain that formal pacts, allegiences or treaties were not necessary prerequisites to common action against a common foe and that the important thing was for a government to prove by its actions that it was in fact a loyal [my emph.] member of the free world in which case it could count on the support of other members of the free world against the forces of communism.77

This is, of course, quite a testament in itself to the power that the not-as-yet fully realised Cold War paradigm, Dulles, a mere adviser to the Secretary of State, felt he could openly demand loyalty (and one may pause here to think what it could mean to be “a loyal member of the free world”) in exchange for protection.
Dulles was in Tokyo on 25 June, able to communicate directly with MacArthur as events unfolded. He was thus able to advocate an immediate aggressive response.78
What evidence, then, exists that the US actively sought to bring about war? If one hypothesises that the desirable way to bring about war would be to make the ROK an attractive target for a DPRK offensive, there are certainly considerable factors which accord with such a course of action.
To begin with, there are the “failures of deterrence” embodied in US officials’ declarations that they would not intervene militarily if either the ROK or Taiwan were attacked. On 5 January 1950, at a press conference, Truman stated: “The United States has no predatory designs on Formosa, or on any other Chinese territory. The United States has no desire to obtain special rights or privileges, or to establish military bases on Formosa at this time. Nor does it have any intention of utilizing its Armed Forces to interfere in the present situation. The United States Government will not pursue a course which will lead to involvement in the civil conflict in China.”79
On 12 January Dean Acheson gave his speech to the Press Club: “Beyond Japan, the Ryukyus, and the Philippines, the United States could not guarantee areas in the Western Pacific ‘against military attack.’ The people in such areas must rely initially on their own efforts to defend themselves, but then on ‘the United Nations which so far has not proved a weak read to lean on by . . . [those] who are determined to protect their independence against outside aggression.’”80 Mention of the United Nations is interesting because the USSR had a veto over UNSC resolutions and yet, as will be seen, failed to use it under rather strange circumstances, thus allowing the US to intervene directly but under a UN mandate.
As has already been mentioned, in May Senator Tom Connally was even more explicit that “the US would not go to fight for Korea”. Yet the US committed forces to fight in Korea and to intervene to save Taiwan with extreme alacrity. In fact, in Japan the response seems to have started some days before 25 June when “many vehicles were taken out of store facilities and… American military activities increased.”81 After less than 48 hours the US had decided on committing troops. Halliday and Cumings state that the “United Nations was used to ratify American decisions,” quoting an official JCS study: “Having resolved upon armed intervention for itself, the US government the next day sought the approval and the assistance of the United Nations.”82 On 27 June, Truman announced that the US 7th Fleet was in the Taiwan strait.83 On that same day the US began aerial and naval bombardments which included targets above the 38th parallel. On 28 June the 24th US Infantry Division had landed and took command of all ground forces in Korea.84
A threat is when party a informs party b that if b undertakes action set x then a will undertake action set y which will cause a negative impact on b. If a does not actually intend to undertake action set y then this is commonly referred to as a bluff. It is intended to deter b from doing x. If a leads b to believe that it will not undertake y and then does so this, is the opposite of a bluff. In practical terms it is a form of inducement.
Most commentators suggest that probably neither Stalin nor Kim Il Sung took US implications of non-intervention seriously, but it is absolutely clear that if the DPRK had anticipated the actual US reaction that eventuated they would not have ventured in force below the 38th parallel.
There is another manner by which the ROK was made a more tempting target than might have otherwise been the case, and that is the restrictions placed on its military build-up. The ROKA was even more poorly equipped than the KPA on 25 June 1950. The following table is taken from a Russian history of the war:85

TypeofUnit KPAForces

ROKforces

ForceRatio

Battalions

51

39

1.3:1

GunsandMortars

787

699

1.1:1

TanksandSPGuns

185

31

5.9:1

Aircraft

32

25

1.2:1

Ships

19

43

1 : 2.2

(The KPA had 172 combat aircraft, but only 32 trained pilots,86 another factor suggesting a mysteriously premature action on 25 June.)
The failure to provide tanks, aircraft and self-propelled artillery is entirely consistent with deterring any ROK offensives, but the ROKA lacked more defensive armaments also. The most noted factor is the lack of usable anti-tank weapons, something which must assuredly be of more use in deterring KPA offensive action than it would be in facilitating ROKA offensive action.87
There are hints then that the DPRK may have been deceived into thinking that the time was ripe for a push south when in fact this was most advantageous to their enemies.
I have already mentioned the ways in which the USSR, US, GMD (Guomindang) and Rhee regime benefited from an outbreak of war at this time, but it is worth elaborating further on the benefits to the US. To begin with, there is the matter of NSC-68 and the rearmament of the US. The outbreak of the Korean War is held to have been crucial in bringing about the implementation of NSC-68. The importance of this document is amply demonstrated by the fact that its fundamental structuring of the US political economy has lasted now for over 60 years, more than 2 decades longer than the
“Communist threat” it was putatively created to address. Chris Floyd describes it as “the document that more than any other engineered the militarisation of America”.88 David
Fautua writes: “Truman finally approved NSC 68 as a national security policy on 30 September 1950. By 31 May 1951, the military budget swelled to $48,000,000,000,
nearly quadrupling the prewar authorization [of $13.5 billion].”89 Winston Churchill considered that the entire importance of the Korean War was that it led to US
rearmament.90 Not only that, but the outbreak of the Korean War prompted the rearmament of NATO turning it into “an effective alliance”,91 and prompting an increase
of 3 million personnel.92 By 1953 the US had achieved and enormous “strategic asymmetry” in its favour over the Soviet Union to an extent “approaching absolute
strategic dominance”.93

https://i0.wp.com/www.history.com/images/media/slideshow/korean-war/kim-il-sung-speaks-at-mass-rally.jpg
Nor was it only the Rhee regime that was looking unsustainable on 25 June. Jiang Jieshi’s grip on power had become so tenuous that the US covert officers were themselves planning a coup against him. This, however, was a move of desperation, the GMD were widely considered to be a lost cause.94 The US had led the effort to prevent the PRC from being recognised the legitimate Chinese state in the UN,95 but the sheer ridiculousness of leaving the GMD in place as “China” while the PRC constituted the entire mainland had brought about a tide of international opinion which was getting hard to resist.96 If the PRC gained UN membership there would be absolutely no way that the US could intervene in its civil war without attracting condemnation as an aggressor. It should be noted too that, unlike Korea, Taiwan was considered to have considerable military strategic significance: “’An unsinkable aircraft carrier’ positioned 100 miles off the China coast, as General MacArthur characterized it, Taiwan was regarded by military leaders as more important than South Korea.”97 Of course, it would be inconsistent of me not to point out that such strictly military strategic matters are less significant than broader economic, geographical and demographic strategic concerns of imperial hegemony, but nevertheless this sort of “power projection” asset has a key role such considerations as well as in its own right .
UNSC Resolutions 82 to 85 are all titled “Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea”. UNSCR 82, which was passed on the 25 June no less, “notes with grave concern the armed attack on the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea” and “determines that this action constitutes a breach of the peace.”98 Two days later UNSCR 83 recommended that “members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack….”99 UNSCR 84 (7 July) arrogated unified command of UN forces to the US.100 There was no hurry, of course, because no other troops would arrive for a month or so, and at all stages of the war US troop numbers far outnumbered the combined numbers of other UN forces.101 In all practical senses this was a unilateral US intervention, but one occurring under a UN banner, an interesting eventuality when one reflects on Acheson’s words of January the 12th.
In fact the US was only able to obtain such timely UN facilitation due to a couple of rather felicitously timed events. The aforementioned UN report revealing, largely on the say-so of US and ROK personnel, that the ROK was not engaging in offensive actions, had actually been commenced on the 24th and a draft was available by the 26th. Halliday and Cumings summarise the circumstances of the writing process:

UNCOK members woke up in Seoul on Sunday morning to a war, wrote a report based on the limited observations of two people and whatever the Koreans and Americans chose to tell them, and then were in the care of the American military for the next three days. They left all their archives behind in Seoul, making it impossible to verify the information that UNCOK had at its disposal.102

The other fortuitous circumstance is the absence of the USSR from the UNSC. “In mid-January the Soviets walked out of the UN Security Council, allegedly to protest its failure to seat Communist China but probably actually to freeze the Mao regime out of the international organization….”103 Had the USSR been sitting it would have seemed very odd had it not vetoed UNSCRs 82 to 85. As it is, the Soviet ambassador was perfectly capable of attending just the sessions in question to exercise a veto but did not do so on direct instructions from Stalin himself, against objections from Andrei Gromyko.104 Goncharov et al. speculate that allowing UN cover obviated the risk that a subsequent formal declaration of war between the US and China would draw the USSR into World War III due to its treaty obligations.105 The US did not need to start such a war, but whether Stalin feared that they wished to or not, he was once again going above-and-beyond the call of prudent enmity and providing crucial support for the US in its attacks on those who were the Soviet Union’s supposed allies by dint of ideology, and (in this case) formal ties.
The question still remains then, why did the KPA advance south of the 38th in force at a time so propitious to the US, so seemingly crucial to the survival of Rhee and Jiang, so disadvantageous to the PRC, and so premature with regard to its own preparations? The anomaly does not disappear if one assumes that there was in fact an ROKA offensive against Haeju, or anywhere else. It would seem that some unknown factor caused the DPRK to send its forces south. A logical suspicion would be that the DPRK leadership were victims of a ruse, and exploring this option may clarify matters. Imagine, for example, that the USSR had fed false intelligence to the DPRK suggesting that the ROKA was on the verge of mutiny or ready to disintegrate with only the slightest push.
This is almost exactly what the US did with its unruly quasi-client Saddam Hussein when it supplied false intelligence to his regime in 1980, as Barry Lando explains:

To encourage Saddam to attack, the United States passed on intelligence reports exaggerating the political turmoil in Iran. All Saddam had to do was to dispatch his troops across the border and the regime would collapse. According to Howard Teicher, who served on the White House National Security Council, ‘the reports passed on to Baghdad depicted Iran’s military in chaos, riven by purges and lack of replacement parts for its American-made weapons. The inference was that Iran could be speedily overcome.’
‘We were clearly stuffing his head with nonsense, to make conditions look better than they were,’ commented Richard Sale, who covered the intelligence community for United Press International at the time. ‘The information was deliberately fabricated to encourage him to go in.’106

Such a deception would resolve the enigma of the DPRK attack, and an equivalent ruse would not be beyond the capabilities of the US. Another matter that is both suggestive and offers a shard of illumination is the sudden change of plan by the KPA on reaching Seoul. Whatever they had originally planned to do on reaching Seoul, by its fall on the 28th it was apparently obsolete and, as outlined above, a new plan to take the entire peninsula had to be hastily created. This would suggest that whatever misapprehension the DPRK laboured under was belied very rapidly after the 25th. Given what we understand of the DPRK plan it seems to me most likely that it was the sudden intervention of the US which was the unwelcome surprise. The weight of evidence suggests that the DPRK sought to seize the pretext of some ROKA action to launch a quick offensive with the optimal aim of seizing Seoul. This is how Bruce Cumings describes what some documents related to such planning reveal:

Kim Il Sung’s basic conception of a Korean War, originated at least by August 1949: namely, attack the cul de sac of Ongjin (which no sane blitzkreig commander would do precisely because it is a cul de sac), move eastward and grab Kaesong, and then see what happens. At a minimum this would establish a much more secure defense of P’yôngyang, which was quite vulnerable from Ongjin and Kaesong. At maximum, it might open Seoul to his forces. That is, if the southern army collapses, move on to Seoul and occupy it in a few days.107

In other words the plan to attack Ongjin reinforces that fact that this was intended to be a short offensive leading to negotiations from a position of superiority or, at worst, consolidated territorial gains. This would explain why full preparation and mobilisation was considered less important than seizing a pretext. The DPRK, in this case, must have been very confident that the US would not intervene. The ROK, abandoned by the US and riven by internal discontent and political instability, could be forced to negotiate terms which would lead to eventual political union. If negotiations fail to bring this about, or even while they are ongoing, the DPRK would retain its territorial gains and facilitate the relaunch of a revolutionary guerrilla war in the south which would assure eventual victory. Instead, once it was clear that the US was going to bring as much force to bear as it could as quickly as it could, the DPRK had no choice but to commit the KPA to a blitzkrieg assault, a race to the tip of the peninsula before the US could commit enough forces to prevent such a conquest. This would also explain why, following the sudden change of plan, the KPA was forced, despite being well aware of the dangers posed, to stretch its improvised communications and its supply lines in an attempt to decide the issue before it was too late.
This is all somewhat speculative, but bear in mind that it is the only way of resolving the contradictions and anomalies that appear in our current understanding of these events.
The reader may wonder why I have devoted so much effort to exploring the events culminating on 25 June 1950 when I cannot provide absolute answers as to what happened. What the reader is required to understand is that the balance of probability is firmly on the side of US foreknowledge of these events and, indeed, that it acted in some manner to bring them about. There are far too many putatively coincidental circumstances which favoured the US, and they are far too closely timed to avoid serious suspicion. The means, motive and opportunity are there. The surprise evinced by the US is belied by that haste of its commitment of forces and such postures end by looking more like conscious efforts at establishing alibis. Consider this passage from Cumings:

With all this bubbling activity, the last weekend in June 1950 nonetheless dawned on a torpid, somnolent, and very empty Washington. Harry Truman was back home in Independence. Acheson was at his Sandy Spring country farm, Rusk was in New York, Kennan had disappeared to a remote summer cottage without so much as a telephone, Paul Nitze was salmon fishing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were occupied elsewhere, and even the United Nations representative, Warren Austin, was not at his post.108

Knowing that there is a strong likelihood of a US role in instigating the “Korean War” is
important in what follows.
1 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 71.
2 Ibid, p 54.
3 Stueck, The Korean War, p 10.
4 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 178.
5 Cumings, The Korean War, p 22.
6 William Stueck, for example, is the leading proponent of this view. See: Stueck and Yi, ‘An Alliance Forged in
Blood….’, p 204; Stueck; The Korean War, p 29; Stueck, Rethinking The Korean War, p 78; Stueck, “The United
States and the Origins of the Korean War: The Failure of Deterrence”, in International Journal of Korean Studies,
24:2, Fall 2010, pp 1-18; for others who echo this see Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 42, and below.
7 Robert Jervis, “The Impact of the Korean War on the Cold War”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 24:4,
December 1980, p 581.
8 Austin Long, Deterrence: From Cold War to Long War: Lessons from Six decades of Rand Deterrence Research,
Santa Monica, Arlington, Pittsburg: RAND, 2008, p 9.
9 Stueck, “The United States and the Origins of the Korean War…”, pp 1-2 et passim.
10 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, pp 42-3.
11 Peter Dale Scott, “9/11, Deep State Violence and the Hope of Internet Politics”, Global Research, 22 June 2008.
Retrieved 25 June 2008 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9289.
12 Burton I. Kaufman, “Review: Decision-Making and the Korean War”, in Reviews in American History, 20:4,
December 1992, p 564.
13 Young, “Sights of and Unseen War”, p 500.
14 Sergei Goncharov, Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War, Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1993.
15 Ibid, p 137.
16 Ibid, p 270.
17 Ibid, p 159.
18 Ibid, p 334, n 140.
19 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 39.
20 Ibid, p 40.
21 Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
22 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 42.
23 Quoted in Appendix to S. Brian Willson, “Korea, Like Viet Nam: A War Originated and Maintained by Deceit”, 1
December 1999. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from http://www.brianwillson.com/korea-like-Viet Nam-a-waroriginated-
and-maintained-by-deceit/.
24 Ibid, p 41.
25 Cumings, The Korean War, p 144.
26 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 147.
27 Ibid, p 144.
28 Ibid, p 150.
29 Ibid, pp 132-3 et passim.
30 Ibid, p 131.
31 Kathryn Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-50: New Evidence
From Russian Archives”, Cold War International History Project, Working Paper No. 8, p 7.
32 Ibid, p 36.
33 Ibid, p 27.
34 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 154.
35 Ibid, p 147.
36 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 35.
37 Stueck, The Korean War, p 75.
38 Anthony Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor in the Korean War”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean
War in History, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p 5.
39 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 152.
40 Ibid, p 153.
41 Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor”, p 5.
42 Stueck, The Korean War, p 36.
43Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea….”, p 35.
44 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 35.
45 Ibid, pp 37-8.
46 Ibid, p 38.
47 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 144.
48 Ibid, p 138.
49 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 12.
50 Ibid, p 58.
51 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 50.
52 Mao can be used as an authority on the ‘gradual’ nature of the process in which critical developments are said to
occur ‘eventually’ (Mao Tse-tung, Guerrilla Warfare, (Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, trans) Fleet Marine
Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-18, Washington D.C.: United States Marine Corps, Department of the
Navy, 1989, passim).
53 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 37.
54 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 136.
55 Stueck, The Korean War, p 31.
56 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 36.
57 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 155.
58 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 38.
59Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 155.
60 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 38.
61 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 71.
62 Ibid.
63 Blum, Killing Hope, p 46.
64 Korea, p 71.
65 Blum, Killing Hope, p 46.
66 Korea, p 73.
67 Ibid, p 76.
68 KMT, deriving from Kuomintang, is an alternative acronym to GMD, which derives from the differing
transliteration Guomindang.
69 Scott, “9/11 and Deep State Politics….”
70 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, pp 76-7.
71 Ibid, p 66.
72 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 174.
73 Ibid, p 183.
74 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 49, n 57.
75 Quoted in S. Brian Willson, “Korea, Like Viet Nam: A War Originated and Maintained by Deceit”.
76 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 43.
77 FRUS (1950) Vol. 7, pp 107-8.
78 Ibid, p 186.
79 Harry S. Truman, The President’s News Conference, 5 January 1950. Retrieved 6 November 2011 from
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=13678#ixzz1csnKlJI8.
80 Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
81 Drifte, “Japan’s Involvement in the Korean War”, p 121.
82 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, pp 74-5.
83 Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor…”, p 6.
84 I. V. Petrova, The War in Korea 1950-1953, Saint Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Poligon, 2000, p 65.
85 Ibid, p 59.
86 Ibid.
87 See for example Bong Lee, The Unfinished War: Korea, New York: Algora, 2003, p 67; Norman Friedman, The
Fifty-Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000, p 152; Gordon
Tullock, Open Secrets of American Foreign Policy, Singapore: World Scientific, 2007, p 30.
88 Floyd, “The Slander that Launched….”
89 David T. Fautua, “The ‘Long Pull’ Army: NSC-68, the Korean War, and the Creation of the Cold War U.S. Army,”
Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, no. 1 (January 1997).
90 M. L. Dockrill, “The Foreign Office, Anglo-American Relations and the Korean Truce Negotiations July 1951 –
July 1953”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean War in History, Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1989, p 114.
91 Jeremy Black, War Since 1945, London: Reaktion Books, 2004, p 32.
92 Stueck, The Korean War, p 5.
93 Porter, Perils of Dominance, p 5.
94 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 67.
95 Stueck, The Korean War, p 45.
96 Kim, “Who Initiated…’, p 34.
97 Stueck, “The United States and the Origins…”, p 9.
98 UNSCR 82: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 25 June 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/95/IMG/NR006495.pdf?OpenElement.
99 UNSCR 83: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 27 June 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/95/IMG/NR006495.pdf?OpenElement.
100UNSCR 84: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 7 July 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/97/IMG/NR006497.pdf?OpenElement.
101Malkasian, The Korean War, p 17.
102Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 76.
103Stueck, The Korean War, pp 34-5.
104Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 161.
105Ibid, pp 161-2.
106Lando, Web of Deceit, pp 52-3.
107Bruce Cumings, “Cumings and Weatherby – An Exchange”, Cold War International History Bulletin, 6/7, 7 July
2011, p 121.
108Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 260.

The Guardian’s Death Squad Documentary May Shock and Disturb, But the Truth is Far Worse

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In what to many must seem a shocking exposé, the Guardian and BBC, after a 15 month investigation have produced a dramatic full-length documentary about US involvement in the formation and running of death squads in Iraq. One journalist describes the result as a “staggering… blockbuster”. But, by creating a false context, by omission, by deceptive emphasis and by specious analysis the Guardian and BBC have create a false and toothless critique. Indeed, though the authors would probably deny it vehemently, the impression given in this documentary is not inconsistent with the villain of the piece, James Steele, being a rogue Kurtz-like figure, with Col. James Coffman cast in the role of faithful sidekick. Other links to the established death squad practices are conspicuously absent – links such as John Negroponte’s appointment as Ambassador to Iraq and Steven Casteel’s role in forming the Police Commando units which functioned as death squads (not to mention ordering the Oregon National Guard to return rescued prisoners to their torturers). Even at the most basic level, the fundamental context was obscured, including one fact that the widespread use of death squads confirmed – the US-led “counterinsurgency” was not war, it was genocide.

Perhaps the most striking thing of all is that, after 15 months of investigation and nearly ten years after US officials set in motion the “Salvador option” in Iraq, this documentary reveals much less of substance than was being reported in 2005. In fact, it is a triumph of style over substance which packs an emotive punch, but disarms watchers by its lack of informational revelation. In January of 2005 it became public knowledge that the US was pursuing a death squad programme. In May 2005 the New York Times published the story showing Steele’s involvement in torture. In the intervening years people like Dahr Jamail continued to report on the US orchestration of death squad activity. And Max Fuller spent years and numerous articles (not to mention a website and the book Crying Wolf: Selling Counterinsurgency as Sectarian Civil War) documenting the death squad programme as well as revealing a deliberate ploy to misrepresent US-run death squads as sectarian murder.

Here is what I found wrong with James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq:

1) Mortality Data

One of the key distortions here is something very basic, the use of “more than 120,000” as a mortality figure. Some may argue that given the controversy over the mortality, it is only sensible to be conservative. But these figures are more than simply abstract numbers. When some people, most notoriously David Irving, put the case that only one million European Jews died during World War II, the media didn’t suddenly adopt the more conservative figure. In fact, Irving was thrown in prison. Irving’s casualty figure was crucial to his genocide denial, and the same is true of the lower figure used in “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. A mortality of 120,000 immediately colours the way in which we perceive US actions in Iraq.

While many simply accept such figures on the basis of faith, the origins of the lowee estimates lie entirely in the work of scoundrels and fools. The figures produced by the two Lancet (“L1 and “L2)surveys indicate a far higher level of mortality and have been reinforced by sources such as the ORB poll. The nail in the coffin of these lower estimates (based on adding the Iraq Body Count figure to those in the Iraq War Logs) came when Les Roberts and students at Columbia subjected the two data sets to analysis, by pains-taking cross-referencing, showed that the two sets of data should be extrapolated to indicate a figure of a similar order, though slightly lower, than the ORB survey suggested. IBC claim that they have a different analysis of the correspondence between IWL and IBC wherein the vast majority of the IWL fatalities are in the IBC count (81%). They also claim, completely speciously, that they can distinguish combatant and non-combatant casualties. However, IWL is thought to cover only about 50% of US military reports (omitting special forces actions, for example, not to mention the incident shown in the footage released as Collateral Murder). Also remember that, as with the “mere gook rule” in Vietnam,1 US forces regularly report civilian deaths at their own hands, such as those in Collateral Murder, as being combatant deaths as a matter of policy.2 You can either conclude that IBC made an honest mistake, trust them on their analysis, and simply add another 15,000 deaths whilst also conveniently ignoring the undisputed fact that the US systematically mischaracterised non-combatant deaths as combatant deaths, or you might think that maybe IBC are not to be trusted. After all, they swore blind in defence of their figure before IWL came out, and barely skipped a beat when the figure jumped over 10% overnight.

We can also use our own brains on this topic. In 2006, the Baghdad morgue received 16,000 bodies of whom 80-85% were victims of violence. In 2005 Robert Fisk wrote: “…in July 2003 – three months after the invasion – 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this rose to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 – 764 of them male, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200.” We are really talking about an average of (if you will excuse some arguable rounding up) 1000 per month violent deaths until at least the end of 2007 (with the “surge” being the most violent time of the entire occupation). That gives a figure of 59,000 violent deaths. Let’s be conservative and say that right through to the withdrawal of US troops 50,000 people killed by violence ended up in the Baghdad morgue. What percentage of Iraq’s fatalities does it seem likely to you will have passed through the morgue of Baghdad? Just over 20% of Iraq’s population live in Baghdad, and many who died in Baghdad would not have been taken to the morgue. I think that estimating the Baghdad morgue data as representing any more than 10-15% of Iraqi mortality would be an offence against basic rationality and numeracy, so that too indicates that the figure of 120,000 is a massive underestimate, possibly of entirely the wrong order of magnitude. Another simple and universal yardstick is the number of orphans. The Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs estimates that there are 4.5 million orphans (presumably those who have lost at least on parent) of whom 70% have lost parents since 2003. Is it possible that the 120,000 (which includes children) could have an average of 26.25 offspring? What about the number of widows in Iraq. One estimate is that 2.5 million Iraqi women have been widowed by the war. That seems inexplicably high, and in fact estimates range from 1 million to 3 million total Iraqi widows, but it is another indication that 120,000 is simply untenable and far below an actual conservative figure.

2) US War Aims

One of the central lies of the Iraq occupation, one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated perhaps, is not just that the US sought some sort of peaceful independent democratic Iraq, but that it sought to impose any sort of stable unified regime at all. No doubt many US personnel were genuinely engaged in attempting to create stability, but from the beginning decisions made at cabinet level and later those emanating from the CPA, very effectively and systematically continued the work that began in 1990, and continued through years of bombing and sanctions and military action. That work was to inflict maximum damage on the fabric of Iraq’s society through attacks on social, political, intellectual, religious and economic health, and through the direct killing and immiseration of the Iraqi people. That process is called genocide.

The only evidence that the US ever sought stability is their own say so, and this is hardly surprising if you consider how unlikely it would be for them to admit instead to a desire to destabilise, weaken and fracture Iraq even further than they already had. The reader may recall that famously Gen. Eric Shinseki was over-ruled on the required number of troops for an effective occupation, and only one third of that number was committed. Some readers may be aware that State Department planning for a successful post-invasion occupation (the “Future of Iraq” project) was systematically sabotaged and subverted. Then the original occupying authority, ORHA (Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) was fatally undermined by understaffing, lack of resources, and lack of standing within a chain of command. It was a joke, the only real resources and agency in the country were US military, which ORHA could not exert authority over, or the extant Iraqi institutions, which the US repudiated. After 61 days ORHA was replaced with the next seemingly Joseph Heller inspired spoof of governance – Bremer’s “Coalition Provisional Authority” (CPA).

With the CPA nominally in charge, actual power devolved to a confusing patchwork of military authorities whose only focus was security. Those who have read Imperial Life in the Emerald City know that there was systematic waste, fraud and mismanagement which ensured that reconstruction money belonging to the peoples of Iraq and the US was never successfully used for reconstruction. Everything was undermined. Even James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq showed that a mere 6 senior civilian police were supposed to train 30,000 police in 18 months. This sort of thing happened in every imaginable area of governance. So strong is the pattern that explanations of coincidence or incompetence cannot be borne, nor can explanations of systemic failure due to virulent partisan ideology (such as Rajiv Chandrasekaran puts forward).

In the meantime, abetted by the CPA, the US military was actually generating the very insurgency that this documentary would have us believe that the US sought desperately to avoid. As David Keen, author of Endless War, discusses here a function of the “war on terror” is to generate the very enemies which the US can use to justify its “war”. I myself have written about a prior instance of this pattern of US behaviour, the Second Indochina War, wherein the US acted to create recruit, arm and finance its insurgent opposition in order to effectuate genocide against the peoples of Indochina.

In Iraq too, the US actually became the midwives and nurturers of the very insurgency they claimed to be combating. The most obvious example is that by attacking or mistreating civilians, the US acted to recruit survivors and the bereaved as their enemies. In addition, though, accounts from early on in the occupation, in amongst the chaos, US forces left massive amounts of ordnance unguarded in the middle of the desert.3 A wild goose chase for WMD that the administration knew did not exist kept US personnel from securing actual conventional ordnance.4 And in one instance the US Marines more or less simply handed 800 assault rifles, 27 pick-up trucks and 50 radios over to a newly formed Fallujan brigade which promptly and predictably continued in its established role of armed resistance to Coalition occupation in spite of this generosity.5

The US regime also subverted its own personnel’s attempts to secure Iraq’s borders from the arrival of money, arms and fighters. Luis Montalvan gives an extraordinary testimony of obfuscation over the installation of a system for tracking migration, concluding: “From 2007—from 2003 to 2007, no computer systems for tracking immigration or emigration installed—were installed along the Syrian-Iraqi border. This surely contributed to the instability of Iraq. Foreign fighters and criminals were free to move transnationally with little fear of apprehension. It is probable that significant numbers of Americans and Iraqis were wounded and killed as a result of this.”

And then there was the infamous CPA Executive Order Number 2. At a stroke it made 500,000 often armed Iraqi military personnel unemployed. Where there had been none, there was now an insurgency. It should also be noted that the first executive order droves tens of thousands of government employees out of work and inevitably the two together were a massive jump start to insurgency where no serious organised armed resistance had existed to that point.

Also, as will be discussed below, the documentary distinctly gives the impression that US backed death squad activities inadvertently helped fuel sectarian civil war. This relies on the fallacy that death squads are a “dirty war” technique of genuine counterinsurgency (which I will counter below) and ignores the evidence that the US deliberately acted to sow ethnic and sectarian division in Iraq.

3) The “Dirty War” Fallacy

The phrase “dirty war” is used in this documentary to connote that the death squads are a form of counterinsurgency, if perhaps a morally questionable one. But the phrase “dirty war” was first applied to the killings and disappearances in Argentina, not by the Junta’s critics, but by the Junta itself. It is an excuse and a rationalisation of political terror. The Argentine politicide was part of a plan of drastic, if not revolutionary, societal transformation, referred to as el Proceso. The Junta who seized power in 1976 sought a “sanitized, purified culture”.6 Under cover of fighting “terrorism” and insurgency, the Junta implemented a totalitarian anticommunist “free-market” regime by destroying any possible ideological opposition or potentially rival power structures. Feierstein writes: “All those targeted had in common not their political identity, but rather the fact that they participated in the social movements of that time.”7 Those targeted were unionists, leaders of agrarian leagues, and community workers working with the urban poor. This was done over a period of years under the guise of fighting the “dirty war” against “terrorist” guerrillas, despite the fact that Argentina’s Montonero guerrillas were a spent force within 6 months of the coup.8 Some social structures (principally the Church) were cleansed rather than disintegrated, becoming instruments of furthering authoritarian obedience.9 To further ensure unquestioning obedience, books were burned and banned, then a blanket law criminalised writing, publishing, printing, distributing or selling anything found to be “subversive” after the fact. This created a sense of uncertainty and fear. As Galeano puts it: “In this program for a society of deaf mutes, each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.”10

What stands out most in el Proceso is the disappearances. Argentina has the sad distinction of being the first place to nominalise “disappear” into “the disappeared”, just as Guatemala had earlier made its unhappy linguistic contribution with the transitive verb “to disappear [someone]”.11 To disappear someone, rather than to simply gun them down in the streets, is to bring about awful uncertainties about their fate – for the loved ones of the disappeared uncertainty prevents the grieving process and even hope becomes a torment, for everyone the imaginings of protracted torture, usually all too real, become a source of great terror. According to Antonius Robben: “Argentine society became terror-stricken. The terror was intended to debilitate people politically and emotionally without them ever fathoming the magnitude of the force that hit them.”12

I would argue that what distinguishes Argentina from “dirty wars” in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Afghanistan and Iraq is that the Argentine Junta, perhaps unwisely in the circumstances, defeated the actual guerillas rather than ensuring their continuance to provide better cover for their ongoing autogenocide. But the pretence of war is often rather thin, surviving only because it is never challenged. Moreover, certain tactics and certain weapons systems are not even suited for military conflict at all. Look, for example, at the armed unmanned aerial vehicles which are currently used by the US government for a “targeted killing” programme. A Predator drone may carry a very lethal payload and the Reaper (formerly “Predator-B”) may carry 4 Hellfire missiles and 2 500-lb bombs. They are not suited for “fighting” opponents with an opportunity to fight back. In fact, while Obama is set on expanding drone usage even further, the US military is set to cut back on drone production because drones are not suited to “contested airspace” and require “permissive” conditions. Reading between those lines you can see that “combat” drones are in fact nothing of the sort because they do not engage in actual combat. The “hunter-killer” appellation is more honest. Reapers and Predators are for use against those who cannot fight back – like aerial death squads.

Death squads, by nature, are not a military tactic whatever their “counterinsurgency” or “counterterror” pretensions. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, it is a universal trait for death squad programmes to seek to conflate combatant targets with non-combatant. This is not restricted to death squad activity itself, but it part of the belligerent political discourse of the putative counterinsurgent regime. During the Cold War, the enemies were the “communists” and deliberate efforts were made to create the impression that the ideological identification was equivalent to combatant status, at least in as much as legitimising killing. The same applies to the uses of the terms “Islamist” and “militant”. Part of this process is to divide the world up into two camps – as Bush Jr said “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.

But Bush wasn’t stating anything new. Early in the Cold War, in Guatemala the motto was “’For liberation or against it.’ From this Manichean vision sprung the paranoid anti-communist taxonomy that added to the list of enemies not only communists, but ‘philocommunists,’ ‘crypto-communists,’ ‘castro-communists,’ ‘archi-communists,’ ‘pro-communists,’ and finally the ‘useful fools.’”13 In 1962, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff defined “insurgency” as any illegal form of opposition to regime rule, thus including passive resistance, joining banned unions or strikes, or anything else deemed illegal by a given regime. At this time they openly embraced terror tactics, such as those conducted by death squads, as “counterterror”.14 In South Vietnam, before there was any armed insurgency, the Diem regime conducted an horrific terror (seemingly forgotten to history) thought to have cost 75,000 lives.15 Mobile guillotines travelled the countryside to execute those denounced as communists and the campaign came to a head in 1959 with the notorious Decree 10/59 under which all forms of political opposition were made treason and any act of sabotage was punishable by death. Local officials could label anyone they wished “communist” and thus secure summary sentences of death or life imprisonment.16 Then, the US deliberately created the term Viet Cong, to conflate political dissent with combatant status, and then, when their own personnel began to reinterpret VC as referring solely to combatants, the US military then came up with another term – ‘Viet Cong infrastructure’. Prados defines them as “a shadowy network of Viet Cong village authorities, informers, tax collectors, propaganda teams, officials of community groups, and the like, who collectively came to be called the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI).” “Sympathizers” were also counted.17 It was the “VCI” that were the main supposed targets of the “Phoenix Programme” – the US run dedicated death squad programme. Those targeted were usually tortured and/or killed,18 so the programme was a war crime in any respect, but when it was expanded throughout South Viet Nam, it was run in such a way that the vast majority of victims were not in any manner involved with the NLF. Instead of using specific intelligence to target people with at least some known connection to the NLF, lists of names were coerced from detainees physically. Cash incentives were also offered for informers, while President Thieu used the programme to kill political rivals.19 “Neutralizations” resulting from the programme were about 20,000 each year. In 1969, out of a US figure of 19,534 “neutralizations” less than 150 were believed to be senior NLF cadres and only 1 (one) had been specifically targeted.20

In Argentina most victims were not guerillas but union leaders, young students, journalists, pacifists, nuns, priests and friends of such people. 21% of victims were students; 10.7% were professionals and 5.7% were teachers or professors. 10% were Jews who were tortured in specific anti-Semitic ways. CIA noted at the time the use of “torture, battlefield ‘justice,’ a fuzzing of the distinction between active guerilla and civilian supporter…arbitrary arrest… death ‘squads’….” Generals increasingly come to understand the threats as being Peronism and unionism. “One Argentine general is quoted as having said that ‘in order to save 20 million Argentines from socialism, it may be necessary to sacrifice 50,000 lives.’”21 General Jorge Rafael Videla defined his “enemy” in the following terms: “a terrorist is not only someone with a weapon or a bomb, but anyone who spreads ideas which are contrary to our western and Christian civilization.”22

As you can see there is a crossover between main force military “counterinsurgency” activities and death squad activities. In El Salvador, by 1992 there were 6800 guerilla’s and they were faced with over 60,000 regular military and over 50,000 ORDEN paramilitaries (many acting as death squads). The UN found the government side responsible for 95% of deaths, concluding that the violence was not guerilla war, but rather repression. This was also true of the 35 year “guerilla war” in Guatemala. UN estimates over 200,000 were killed. 93% of torture, disappearance and execution committed by government forces; 3% by guerillas and 4% described as “private”. The army was involved in 90.52% of massacres, alone in 55% of cases, in collaboration for the others. “In a majority of the massacres committed by the state, especially by the army, the counterinsurgency strategy led to multiple acts of savagery such as the killing of defenceless children, often by beating them against walls…; impaling the victims; amputating their limbs; burning them alive; extracting their viscera while still alive and in the presence of others… and opening the wombs of pregnant women.” A favoured way of torturing to death was to stab someone then throw them into a pit where they would be burnt to death. Specific deliberate raping torturing killing of women and children was a “counterinsurgency” tactic. “The murder of children was adopted by the army as terrorism – as a counterinsurgency tactic, part of a scorched earth operation.” It was a way of further attacking social cohesion – destroy the graves and the children and there are no ancestors or descendants. Rape was used as weapon to destroy social cohesion.23

The same blurring even applies to the current UAV “targeted killing” programme. The targets are “militants”, not combatants, and in the Israeli “targeted killing” programme (on which the US programme is apparently modelled), though Israeli courts use an “immanent threat” justification to legitimise the strikes,24in practice no victims pose an immanent threat and less than half are even wanted militants, while the rest are, once again, community leaders or political activists.25 If, like Israel and the US, “targeted killings” are carried out with missiles, then it is guaranteed that the majority of victims will not be those specifically targeted. Thus in 2002 when the US conducted a strike on an Afghan villager because he was tall (and therefore may have been Osama Bin Laden who was also tall and may have been in Afghanistan) they also killed two bystanders who were innocent of being tall.26 In the US case, they use “signature strikes”, where there is no known target, more often than “personality strikes”, which ensures that many innocents are killed. In addtion the US uses “double tap” strikes which are follow up attacks designed to kill those who come to help the wounded. It is estimated that about 50 civilians are killed for each known terrorist, but the US has a long standing habit of labelling anyone it murders a combatant by definition.27 William Westmoreland confidently proclaimed that no civilians had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because people in free-fire zones, whether 9 weeks old or 90 years old, were not civilians by definition.28 Similarly the US government currently defines any “military age male” as a militant unless proven otherwise, and not only do they not investigate such matters, we have no evidence that the US even tries to ascertain whom it has killed other than “military age males”.

As counterinsurgency death squad or targeted killing programmes can only be counterproductive in practical terms, not least because actual combatants are considerably harder to kill than civilians. These are much more efficient at eliminating political dissidents, activists and organisers, but at the same time inflicting terror on the general populace. We have already seen how this occurred in Argentina, but a recent report Living Under Dronesdevotes 30 pages to the non-lethal effects of social disintegration, mental trauma, economic and educational damage, health impacts, and cultural destruction. The constant presence of Reaper and Predator UAV’s audibly buzzing overhead and the constant threat of sudden incineration that accompanies the noise, creates constant grinding stress: “Drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there”. This plays the same role that disappearances do, heightening terror and trauma through “a chronic state of intense uncertainty [while] the later reappearance of highly mutilated corpses instils fear of the unknown rather than the known.”29 Signs of torture and mutilation on the bodies of loved ones creates deep psychological scars, but also militates against compromise promotes armed resistance over unarmed resistance.

The result is what is referred to as the “culture of terror” (a phrase also used to describe the post-2001 interventionism of the US). It inflicts exactly that state earlier mentioned wherein “each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.” This “culture of terror” and, indeed, the very use of deaths squads as a tactic are symptomatic of genocide, in as much as genocide was coined to denote war against peoples rather than armies. The inventor of the term “genocide”, Raphäel Lemkin, put it this way: “Genocide is the antithesis of the Rousseau-Portalis Doctrine, which may be regarded as implicit in the Hague Regulations. This doctrine holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations.” It is part of a “composite and manifold” set of behaviours that signify a “coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of a group”. The claim of those committing genocide that they are fighting “dirty wars” against insurgents has not merely been made in Argentina and Guatemala, but in every major act of genocide including the Herero genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda (usually known as the Rwanda Genocide), the subsequent genocide against the Hutu in Rwanda and Eastern Congo, and the Bangladesh Genocide (in what was then “East Pakistan”).

If you really want to give proper context to the US backed death squads in Iraq, it is essential to recognise them as a functional part of an ongoing genocide. It is increasingly difficult to seriously maintain that two decades of systematic destruction unleashed on Iraq by the US and allies were somehow unintended. And it is more evidently fatuous than ever to make the false distinction between the genocidal sanctions period and the occupation period which only saw an increase in the tempo of death and destruction. Each period saw a multiplicity of tactics and policies which worked together in exactly the manner originally described by Lemkin when he sought to explain the new concept which he called “genocide”. As Max Fuller wrote in 2006:

Iraq’s ‘democratic opening’ was just as vital a fig leaf for all-out dirty war as Duarte’s civilian presidency was in El Salvador. At this moment all of the voices are telling us the same thing and that is that US-trained, armed and backed forces are committing yet another genocide. Islamofascism is just another cover for ruthless political, economic and social repression, with Shiite militiamen in Iraq no more needing to take their orders from Tehran than Guatemalan death squads needed to take theirs from the Vatican. The objective is not a mystery. It is total neo-colonial domination.”

4) Steele in the Heart of Darkness

One version of the Steele documentary opens with an ominous soundtrack and describes him: “…a shadowy figure, always in the background….” The impression given is that Steele was a radical and puissant figure, and there is a definite implication that he was a rogue (with the possibility left open to viewers that US officials turned a wilful blind eye). In terms of relationships with other US personnel, Steele is placed in a very short vertical chain. Top officials may have valued his knowledge and analysis, but the death squad activities are subject only to a lack of oversight by unnamed officials, with one very important exception. Steele’s sidekick, Colonel Coffman, reported to General David Petraeus, but as to how much Petraeus actually knew, we are left doubting. That is quite literally all of the interconnection shown in this documentary – it implicates two US personnel and leaves one with a question mark. The problem is that this is a completely specious, irrational and amnesiac image of the evolution of US founded death squad programmes in Iraq.

In October of 2003, Steven Casteel arrived in Iraq to become the senior US advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. Fuller describes his background thus:

Whilst Casteel’s background is said to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the operation against Escobar was a joint intelligence effort, involving the CIA, DEA, Delta Force and a top-secret military intelligence surveillance unit knows as Centra Spike (Marihemp, SpecWarNet). The operation had no impact on Colombia’s position as the world’s major source of cocaine… with the centre of gravity ultimately shifting to dozens of micro cartels (Houston Chronicle). However, the operation did lead to the formation of a death squad known as Los Pepes, which was to form the nucleus for Colombia’s present paramilitary death-squad umbrella organisation, the AUC, responsible for over 80 percent of the country’s most serious human-rights abuses (Colombia Journal). Whilst no official connection was ever admitted, Los Pepes relied on the intelligence data held in the fifth-floor steel vault at the US Embassy in Bogota that served as the operation’s nerve centre. Lists of the death squad’s victims rapidly came to mirror those of Escobar’s associates collated at the embassy headquarters (Cocaine.org, Cannabis News).

Casteel’s background is significant because this kind of intelligence-gathering support role and the production of death lists are characteristic of US involvement in counterinsurgency programs and constitute the underlying thread in what can appear to be random, disjointed killing sprees.”

In December of 2003 Robert Dreyfuss reported that money had been set aside to form a paramilitary militia which analysts immediately pegged as being a death squad programme akin to Phoenix. The programme would bring together both former exile group members and “senior Iraqi intelligence people” from the notorious Mukhabarat of the former regime. James Steele arrived early in 2004 to run the paramilitaries which Casteel was creating, Steele had been in and out of Iraq during 2003, but wasn’t actually assigned to the paramilitaries until after June 2004 when David Petraeus took charge of the newly created “Multi-National Security Transition Command” which trained and equipped Iraqi forces. Also in June 2004 John Negroponte began his tenure as US ambassador to Iraq. It is in no way possible for me to any justice here to the intimate association that Negroponte has to death squad activities, but his record in Latin America is highly enlightening reading. Here’s a taste of his records from Dahr Jamail:

In Honduras he earned the distinction of being accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights while he worked as “a tough cold warrior who enthusiastically carried out President Ronald Reagan’s strategy,” according to cables sent between Negroponte and Washington during his tenure there. The human rights violations carried out by Negroponte were described as “systematic.”

The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA. Records document his “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” comprised of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people. Negroponte had full knowledge of these activities while making sure U.S. military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77.4 million a year during his tenure. Under his watch civilian deaths sky-rocketed into the tens of thousands. Negroponte has been described as an “old fashioned imperialist” and got his start during the Vietnam War in the CIA’s Phoenix program….”

The first of the paramilitaries under Steele’s guidance was publicly acknowledged in September 2004. In charge of one of the first Brigades was General Rashid Flayih, a former Ba’athist General who played a key role in crushing the 1991 uprising in southern Iraq (itself often misleadingly described as sectarian in nature). Moreover, as Fuller writes: “Even more significantly than the continued tenure of General Rashid Flayih, is that of General Adnan Thabit. Adnan was instrumental in establishing the Police Commandos according to Maas and is currently [ in charge of all of the Interior Ministry’s extensive security forces. Adnan is a Sunni and was a Baathist intelligence officer. Like Rashid, Adnan has a history of collaboration with the CIA.” The original prime targets were not the “Sunni insurgents” but the Mehdi Army. This Shia militia is, in US media discourse, an implacable enemy of the Sunni “insurgents” despite the fact that the Mehdi army’s leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, gave such vocal and voluble support to Sunni resistance in Falluja – even sending aid and personnel to Fallujah. Just as today Sadr’s support of the “Sunni uprising” and its demands is an unmentionable sour note spoiling the self-serving Western discourse of ethnic and sectarian fragmentation and calls for partition (Peter Galbraith, a major and influential partition advocate, has been allowed to make hundreds of millions of dollars out of his Iraq dealings).

So the death squads were US planned and run and though the sectarian aspect was deliberately inbuilt, it was both Sunni and Shia. The documentary leaves intact the impression that infiltration by Shia militias was the driving force behind the sectarian tensions, and a probable force driving the brutal excesses, rather than a calculated deliberate aspect of the death squad programme as designed by the US. Fuller shows that the implementation of the “Salvador option” created sectarian division by design to further the push for partition. Scott Ritter predicted that “the Salvador option will serve as the impetus for all-out civil war. In the same manner that the CPA-backed assassination of Baathists prompted the restructuring and strengthening of the Sunni-led resistance, any effort by US-backed Kurdish and Shia assassination teams to target Sunni resistance leaders will remove all impediments for a general outbreak of ethnic and religious warfare in Iraq.”

Rather than enlighten viewers to the comprehensive and intentional nature of the US death squad policy, the documentary makes it seem as if the callous and scary Steele had, in his ruthless pursuit of counterinsurgency, unleashed sectarian hatreds and opened up the paramilitaries to Shia militia infiltration because their vicious hatefulness and violence, though morally unacceptable to we civilised Westerners, could be harnessed to suppressing the anti-occupation resistance.

There is the deliberate implication that Steele was valued for his ability to utilise “human intelligence” and in the alternative version he is even touted as an expert as getting “actionable intelligence”. Indeed the entire documentary barely mentions the key death squad trait associated with these Special Police Commandos (disappearing live people and producing mutilated corpses). Instead it concentrates on detentions and torture under interrogation. However, I believe that the reason that the “actionable intelligence” quote is dropped from the official version is that it cannot be reconciled with the reality of the death squad activity in Iraq. The documentary, in either version, insinuates that officials did not enquire too closely into Steele’s methods because he got results. But the implication that these results had something to do with counterinsurgency is patent nonsense. At the height of death squad activity hundreds of corpses were turning up each week with signs of torture, only someone seriously deluded would believe that this torture was all done as a way of gathering real intelligence about insurgent threats to the Occupation and the puppet regime. Torture is not a very effective way of getting reliable intelligence from detainee interrogations.

In a “culture of terror” obviously torture promotes terror as has been discussed, but in death squad terror systems torture may also serve other purposes. One already touched upon is the production of what might be called “actionable intelligence” if one acknowledges that “actionable” need not mean “truthful”. As mentioned, in the Phoenix programme, torture was used to generate lists of names simply to perpetuate a largely indiscriminate terror programme. Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, found that pro-democracy Uzbek activists were being tortured to produce “intelligence” about “terrorists” in other countries for the use by the US and UK: “The information may be untrue, but it is valuable because it feeds into the US agenda.” (Incidentally, the same Craig Murray said of the Salvador option: “The evidence that the US directly contributed to the creation of the current civil war in Iraq by its own secretive security strategy is compelling. Historically of course this is nothing new – divide and rule is a strategy for colonial powers that has stood the test of time.”) Murray testified to the “Bush Commission” to the effect that “they needed false intelligence from torture chambers” in order to justify the war on terror. Indeed, even the justification for the invasion of Iraq had an integral element gained by torturing false intelligence from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The intelligence produced allows some officials to claim innocence or honest error. Other functionaries are genuinely innocent, actually believing the falsehoods, while others maintain ignorance with varying degrees of wilfulness. This includes those in the media, who are as much a part of this system as CIA or Pentagon employees. So if Steele was actually valued for his “human intelligence” gathering (and I think that much less likely than that he was valued for his skill at repression, terror and genocide) then the “actionable intelligence” was known to be false.

On the subject of torture, it remains to be noted that in a process similar to that used to produce self-justifying “intelligence”, there is a psychology of confession and the reification of the victim as malefactor in the mind of the persecutor. Whether in Argentine torture camps, or in the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng, torturers force confessions not for external consumption, but to create a reality which justifies their cruelty even if that reality extends no further than the four walls of a single cell. In this instance, however, the US created a grotesque high-tech dystopian version, like Soviet show trials but with Hollywood pizazz. In a reality show called Terrorists in the Grip of Justice a “parade” of torture victims provided by the SPC Wolf Brigade, confessed to heinous crimes including the murders of people later revealed to be alive.

5) Reel Bad Arabs

One of the strongest distortions in this documentary is the way it isolates the Iraqi paramilitaries’ actions from those of US occupation forces. We are left with the impression that no matter what degree of knowledge US officials possessed, their crime was one of inaction – not putting a stop to things getting out of hand as their ruthless Kurtz built his private army of thugs, and as that very army was infiltrated by vengeful sectarian militias. But as with Indochina or Argentina or Guatemala or El Salvador, the existence of dedicated death squads, or paramilitaries that function as death squads does not preclude death squad type activities from regular forces. The “counterinsurgency” tactics used in South Vietnam, in El Salvador, and in Iraq essentially involve all military personnel in a campaign of terror, in which many, even if quite unwillingly, will find themselves in the role of death squad executioner.

Let us examine the realities of detention at the hands of US occupation forces in Iraq. Many men were detained in “house raids” which seemed almost invariably based on false or faulty intelligence. If that seems unlikely, consider that the US was using torture on detainees to gain information when the vast majority (estimated at 70%-90%) were innocent. Just like the paramilitary death squads, the US forces right from the beginning were torturing innocent people to get “actionable intelligence” on other innocent people. After just 6 months of US occupation, Abu Ghraib alone was crowded with 10,000 detainees. The US also gained intelligence by buying it, and replicated all of the venality and private vengeance that they cannot but have known (having gone down this road before) is an inevitable result of a denunciation system of bribery and coercion.

So within months of the invasion, terror spread to every Iraqi, because none was safe. Each night going to sleep brought the possibility of awakening suddenly to the violent invasion of a US house raid. “Military age” males were subject to detention. They were then “Persons Under Control” or PUCs. They would then pass through a chain of custody. Even before they reached the destination where interrogators were authorised to torture information out of them that they did not possess, the guards along the way might take the opportunity to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC”. The radically dehumanised process (wherein human beings labelled as “PUC”s) would make detainees inot nothing but anonymous living meat with bags on their heads in a factory-like process. Those who arrested them might understand that they are innocent of wrongdoing, they will have seen the humanity in their eyes, but, like so much else in this dystopian nightmare, all humanity was systematically effaced. So to the next tiers of people in the PUC production line, they are nothing more than a “bad guy”. Ricks even documents that some US personnel maliciously wrote “IED” on the bags of innocent detainees, just in order to prompt abuse which might easily prove fatal.30

Torture of detainees not an aberration for the US. According to Darius Rejali, contemporary US torture combines two distinct styles which he labels “French Modern” and “Anglo-Saxon Modern”.31 Key features include electrotorture, water torture, sleep deprivation and positional torture. These are what he labels “clean torture” techniques, meaning that they are physical tortures which, no matter how much agony they produce, leave no lasting scars: “Used by authoritarian states abroad, it is torture; but used at home, it is probably good policing.”32 Although Rejali emphasises on innumerable occasions that clean tortures occur in response to monitoring, I think that it is reasonable in this instance to take a more nuanced approach. The US doesn’t fear monitoring. Aside from the facts that a former President has happily admitted ordering torture and that Donald Rumsfeld is one of only very few high officials in modern times known to have ordered specific torture techniques to be used,33 systematic US torture is also well documented by NGOs, the UN, and many major news organisations outside of the US. In fact, the utility of “clean” torture is that it allows people, including torturers, to rationalise the effects as being primarily emotional or mental when they may, like water-boarding, cause excruciating physical pain. As Rejali points out even sleep deprivation causes physical pain.34 And yet these are widely understood to be psychological techniques, inducing fear and breaking down resistance.

Of course there is a great deal done by US personnel that is not among these “clean” tortures. Former interrogator Tony Lagouranis describes how “North Babel was probably the place where I saw the worst evidence of abuse. This was from August to October of 2004, so, it was well after the Abu Ghraib scandal. And we were no longer using any harsh tactics within the prison, but I was working with a marine unit, and they would go out and do a raid and stay in the detainee’s homes, and torture them there. They were far worse than anything that I ever saw in a prison. They were breaking bones. They were smashing people’s feet with the back of an axe head. They burned people. Yeah, they were doing some pretty harsh stuff.”

Somehow, however, these non-“clean”acts are erased when it comes to analysis. The entire world saw that attack dogs were made to bite naked restrained prisoners with photos such as these:

Yet whenever the use of dogs is mentioned something strange happens. For Rejali, the Nazis “set

dogs” on prisoners, but the US “threatens” with them.35 Alfred McCoy, another torture specialist

and strong critic of the US, takes the same approach, emphasising on multiple occasions the Arab

cultural sensitivities and fear of dogs. (Apparently Arabs are peculiarly sensitive to being bound

naked and blindfolded while military attack dogs savage them. Who would have thought?)

Our attitude seems to be that above all, though they might trick people into feeling fear or trick them into a “simulation” of drowning, US terror is somehow fake and unthreatening. But, for the loved ones of those taken by the US military, they were disappeared as effectively as if they had been taken by a Guatemalan death squad. Relatives would have no way of knowing where they were or even whether they were still alive for days, but often that might turn into weeks or even months. These were carceral disappearances with most victims entering a Kafkaesque realm of capricious abuse and arbitrary treatment within a characteristically massive and inhuman prison machinery. The prospect of dying in custody was also very real.

The terror inflicted through these indiscriminate detention policies as not the only way in which the US (and to a lesser degree Coalition partners) created a “culture of terror” which was part of their genocide in Iraq. US forces used ordnance guaranteed to kill civilians, such as white phosphorous, depleted uranium, cluster munitions, and large explosive munitions such as 1000lb and 2000lb JDAMs:

In addition, US forces were more intimately killing. As I have written previously:

…in excess of 100,000, civilians have been killed in a very atomised and geographically dispersed pattern with small arms by coalition forces. The closest parallel to this would be something like the Herero genocide, an early 20th Century colonial genocide.

In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that US personnel have gone“from killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.”36 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over. This is the result of a disproportionate fear and lack of security induced within US personnel as well as such policies and tactics as: force protection; reactive firing; suppressive fire; reconnaissance by fire. These are of relevance during convoy operations, house raids and at checkpoints and I am quite confident that each of these situations has been shaped by US policy in such a way as to maximise civilian deaths, often putting US personnel in the situation of being unwilling murderers. Joshua Key describes, from early in the occupation, having to build a “corpse shack” where Iraqis could go to collect the bodies of relatives killed by his company. It was “near our front gate, so relatives could retrieve their loved ones without entering our compound.”37

And then there are also those instances when, given legitimacy by rules of engagement, US personnel quite eagerly commit murder. International Humanitarian Law and even US Field Manuals forbid the killing of non-combatants, but if the ROE redefines a civilian as a combatant, because they stopped to help a wounded person, or carry a shovel, or do something suspicious, then considerable eagerness to kill people may take over. “Delightful bloodlust” as Bradley Manning terms it. This bloodlust is systematically induced in personnel subjected to intense military indoctrination using psychologically sophisticated techniques.

The same fundamental rules of representation and discourse apply to all mainstream Western media products, including both Hollywood blockbusters and “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. Above all, the average US person, including their heavily armed military personnel, can never be shown as a threat to the innocent. For Arabs (as for Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Africans etc. etc.), one is allowed to say that violence is part of their culture, but only the bad apples of the US commit abuses. Above all, one can never suggest that civilians might fear US personnel.

Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.

1 Jeffrey Record, “How America“s Own Military Performance in Vietnam Abetted the “North“s” Victory“ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 125.

2 Stjepan Gabriel Meštrović, Rules of engagement?: a social anatomy of an American war crime – Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq, New York: Algora, 2008, p 171.

3 Joshua Key writes of loading 1000 rpg and mortar rounds on to a truck, driving it into the middle of the desert and just leaving it. (Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, The Deserter’s Tale: Why I Walked Away from the War in Iraq, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2007, pp 78-9.)

4 Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 156.

5 Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007, p 142.

6 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, New York: Henry Holt, 2007, p 105.

7 Daniel Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina and its genocidal characteristics,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2),June, p 150.

8 Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pp 107-9.

9 Ibid, p 110.

10 Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America (1973), New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997, p 282.

11 Frank M. Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects of State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Case of Guatemala”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, pp 116.

12 Antonius C. G. M. Robben, “Disappearance and Reburial in Argentina”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p 96.

13 Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2), June, p 198.

14 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror, Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, pp 29-30.

15 William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1986, p 32 n 6.

16 David W. P. Elliott, The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta 1930-1975, Volume 1. London and Armonk, NY: East Gate, 2003, p 195-6.

17 John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 204-5, 210.

18 Tucker gives figures which suggest that just less than one third: “Between 1968 and 1972 it accounted for the deaths of 26,369 people; another 33,358 were captured and 22,013 surrendered,” (Spencer C. Tucker, Vietnam, Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999, p 151). These overly precise figures, however, should in themselves arouse suspicion, and accounts of the functioning of the programme make it seem unlikely that any accurate count of those killed was kept, although sometimes, in the words of an officer who helped oversee the programme, “they’d come back to camp with ears to prove they’d killed people,” (Christian Appy, Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told from all Sides. London: Ebury Press/Random House, 2006 (2003), p 361).

19 Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 116.

20 John Prados, ‘Impatience, Illusion and Assymetry’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 142.

21 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 96-8

22 Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina…” p 153.

23 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 41-9.

24 Michael L. Gross, “Killing civilians intentionally: double effect, reprisal, and necessity in the Middle East”, Political Science Quarterly, 120.4 (Winter 2005), p569.

25 Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, London: Verso, 2005, p 132.

26 Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2004, p 29.

27 See above n 1 and n 2.

28 James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000 (1986), p 135.

29 Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects…”, p 118.

30 Ricks, Fiasco, p 271.

31 Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp 20; 420.

32 Ibid, p 255.

33 Ibid, p 412.

34 Ibid, p 290.

35 Ibid, p 433.

36 Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.

37 Key, Deserter’s Tale, p 84.

Shedding crocodile tears while collaborating with US-led sanctions

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 As with Iran, the sanctions regime against the Syrian people is beginning to show its genocidal character.
Franklin Lamb
Are the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation targeting Syria’s civilian population?Damascus– One powerful image from Damascus that has become seared into this observers mind these days is when I walk by a Western Union office. Most of them remain open despite the brutal US-led sanctions which in their pervasive effects target almost entirely the civilian population.
Obama mulling Syria

But all Western Union offices were closed last Thursday and Friday due to heavy snowfall, some say the deepest here for more than a quarter century. Still, some Syrians braved the extreme cold and could be seen huddled outside some branches, evidently in vain hope that they might open and their families might eat.

One of the few economic lifelines not yet cut by the ever strangling, profoundly immoral and illegal US-led sanctions with their throat-hold tightening around the civilian population in Syria in order to achieve regime change, “WU” as it’s known, has become, for some, literally a lifesaver. This is because its money transfer service is still allowing family and friends from abroad to send in assistance to Syria for their desperate families caught up in this regional contest between Resistance and a return to Western hegemony.

Peering in the window or stepping inside a Western Union outlet in Damascus, reminds this observer of scenes from Western Unionthe floor of the New York Stock Exchange or a European bourse wherein traders wave pieces of paper or other objects trying to get the attention of someone. But in Syria those trying to submit their ten digit Money Control Transfer Number (MTCN) numbers and ID’s in order to collect cash, are not wearing clothes from the fashion houses. Rather, given the frigid temperatures and lack of mazot(heating oil that 90% of the population here relies on for heat) they are tightly bundled. Women and kids generally wrapped tight in thick head scarves.

Last week this observer went into the Western Union office in central Damascus to collect some cash sent from Canada for a family that had managed to escape from Aleppo. The place was packed but orderly. I smiled to myself as I thought about my own country when sometimes during a Black Friday type sale, the scene of waiting in queue collapses into yelling, insults, fights, throwing objects, threats, all to save a few dollars or get one’s hands on the, soon to be trashed, “must have” sale item.

The stressed but committed staff behind the WU counter could not give assurance how long I would have to wait but graciously did agree to take my passport and I could return later. On arriving after about three hours, my MCTN # had just been processed and I was in and out fast. I can’t imagine that I will see a yellow and black Western Union sign ever again without thinking about US sanctions targeting the Syrian civilian population.Hiram Sibley

An historical irony is that it was a Syrian gentlemen, Mr. Hiram Sibley, one of the thousands of Syrians who emigrated to the United States in the mid-19th Century (the first and largest Arab migration then and since came from Syria) who in 1851 established the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company with the goal of creating one great telegraph system with unified and efficient operations. Four years later Western Union was born and became an American icon and thirty three years on it had become one of the top ten companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange the day it opened in 1888.

The reason Western Union is able to avoid the US-led sanctions that include medicines and food (White House claims to the contrary notwithstanding), is quite simply that the US Treasury Department cannot easily face the domestic American political fallout from curtailing Western Union anywhere.

According to a July 2012 US Senate Banking Committee memo, were Treasury to be seen as tampering with Western Union’s $7 billion annual revenues, there would be a significant problem. Already there are growing complaints from US businesses flooding the White House & Congress claiming that sanctions imposed on Syria are costing American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profits — even more regarding US sanctions on Iran. So to date the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) at Treasury has kept its hands off Western Union and this is good for Syrian civilians.

For these reasons a thin lifeline — a reed really — exists for many in Syria with families and friends abroad able to use WU’s “Money in Minutes” to help them. It’s a relatively small factor in the larger Syrian crisis but it does help many.

Much more significant than Western Union remaining open, and the subject of much current criticism here, is the lack of assistance to Syria’s severely sanctioned civilian population from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, neither of which lack officials who are wringing their hands in public these days, in mock anguish it is claimed, over their brothers and co-religionists “victimization.”

Claiming solidarity with the Syrian people, on 11/12/2011 the Arab League suspended the membership of Syria (Lebanon and Yemen voted no and Iraq abstained) and cancelled its monitoring mission in Syria on 1/28/12. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation suspended Syria’s membership on 5/15/12 at a summit of Muslim leaders in Mecca. Saudi Arabia, the summit’s host, has led all Arab League and OIC calls for the Syrian rebel opposition
to be armed, which Foreign Minister Saud al-Fasial described in February and since as “an excellent idea.”

By their actions, the OIC and the Arab League are themselves sanctioning the Syrian people in brutal forms and doing nothing to object to the immoral and illegal aspects of the American sanctions. Both organizations stand accused of abandoning their charters in order to maintain profitable relations with NATO countries as they funnel large sums of money and weapons to various militias inside Syria. It is their “agents,” the jihadist groups, who have turned on the Syrian civilian population increasingly resorting to theft, kidnapping for ransom, rape, sale of children and killing hundreds according to UN agencies.

In one poignant interview near Omayyad Square the other day, a solemn, long bearded Sunni Sheik told this observer that the American sanctions are also directly targeting Islam because the sanctions constitute an attack on Islamic values. When pressed for specifics, he reluctantly replied, “Because your countries sanctions are impoverishing our people and forcing our Muslim women into prostitution. These sanctions are also flooding the streets with Muslim beggars, both adults and children. I am sure you have seen them, here in Damascus, across Syria and in bordering countries. But the claimed protectors of our holy sites are silent and shed only insincere tears in public. But if they resisted these sanctions they could defeat them. What is required in a 1970’s type Arab boycott of American and western companies until these anti-Muslim sanctions are lifted.”

The honorable gentleman has a point.

UNHCRThe Arab League’s recent ministerial-level meeting held in Cairo was called to focus on the Syrian refugees file. But the rather pathetic quick one day deliberations ignored the causes of the suffering of the civilian population as well as the fact that most of the 22 countries comprising the Arab League have been a main cause behind the displacement of the Syrian civilian population. Both the AL and the OIC stand accused here in Syria of participation in the sanctions which are decimating the Syrian people’s livelihood. Some AL and OIC officials are shedding crocodile tears about
the miserable living conditions of the Syrian refugees “in spite of spending millions on recruiting mercenaries and salifi-takfiries, training them and purchasing weapons for the terrorists,” the Sheik explained.

One frustrated American NGO director, affiliated loosely with the World Food Program, expressed her frustration: “If these organizations (AL and OIC) wanted to aid Syrian refugees they should stop supplying the gunmen with weapons and money and stop inciting sedition in Syria.”

The Arab League Secretary General, Nabil al-Arabi, still does not get it.

He used last week’s Arab League session to insist on foreign intervention and regime change, renewing the AL demand that the UN Security Council deploy international forces in Syria.

The Lebanese Foreign Minister, Adnan Mansour, offered his views of the Syrian refugee’s displacement. Notable causations, he claimed, are the flow of weapons and money into Syria, the entry of foreign gunmen and not joining a political dialogue. To his credit, Mansour called on the AL and OIC to “shoulder their responsibilities towards the refugees through ensuring their humanitarian, medical, livelihood, educational and services requirements in order to ease their daily suffering.”

As for the Kuwaiti Minister, he considered that the US-led sanctions were not a problem but rather that the suffering of the Syrian people was caused by the failure of the UN Security Council to meet the demands of the AL for immediate military intervention in Syria. He also insisted that Kuwait has mobilized all its resources to ensure that financial and relief resources alleviated the suffering of the Syrian refugees.

To date, the Syrian refugees, victims of US led and AL-OIC complicity, have not received any of the assistance Kuwait, the Arab League or the Organization of the Islamic Conference has promised. Rather, these organizations appear to be propping up the US-led sanctions.

Meanwhile, according to officials, Syria’s government has just authorized the UN World Food Program to extend its reach in the country where 2.5 million people are suffering from hunger. Ertharin Cousin, spokeswoman of the WFP, announced on Tuesday that Syria is allowing the organization to work with local aid groups to reach more of those in need. To boost the number of people receiving emergency assistance, the Syrian government last week drew up a list of 110 local NGOs authorized to participate in the aid effort.

WFP is working closely with the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society (SARCS) which, thanks to more than 9000 volunteers, are operating the following facilities to serve every Syrian and Palestinian without consideration of sect or political views: Damascus 15, Damascus countryside 68, Suwayda 2, Homs 71, Idelb 2, Aleppo 185, al-Raqqah 52, al-Hasakah 52, Dayr al-Zawr 4, and Quneitra 12.

Unlike the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, SARCS, the World Food Program, and more than 40 other NGO’s can be observed any day of the week confronting and attempting to ameliorate the profoundly immoral and illegal US-led sanctions — manifold actions, not crocodile tears — in aid of the civilian population of Syria.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

Source: Al-Manar Website

19-01-2013 – 09:47 Last updated 19-01-2013 – 10:41 | 1525 View

Dogma and Geopolitics

http://www.almanartv.com.lb/english/catpage.php?frid=41

Are the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation targeting Syria’s
civilian population?

Franklin Lamb

Damascus — One powerful image from Damascus that has become seared
into this observers mind these days is when I walk by a Western Union
office. Most of them remain open despite the brutal US-led sanctions which in
their pervasive effects target almost entirely the civilian population.
But all Western Union offices were closed last Thursday and Friday due to
heavy snowfall, some say the deepest here for more than a quarter century.
Still, some Syrians braved the extreme cold and could be seen huddled outside
some branches, evidently in vain hope that they might open and their
families might eat.

One of the few economic lifelines not yet cut by the ever strangling,
profoundly immoral and illegal US-led sanctions with their throat-hold
tightening around the civilian population in Syria in order…

View original post 1,658 more words

The Israel Lobby Thing – A New Improved Formula Commentary, Now with Hitler Jokes and 18% More Verbiage at No Extra Cost!

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the issue, some people claim that the “Israel Lobby” shapes US foreign policy in the Middle East. I disagree, and the reasons why I disagree are explained in the following commentary. There are two accompanying written pieces which are cited. The first, here, is an orphan fragment from an abandoned draught dealing with attributes of US imperialism. Grafted on to the end is another orphan fragment about the qualities which made Iraq a natural target for US genocide in the imperial context. And here is a second piece which deals with US neocolonialism with the most relevant part (at the start) describing the reasons behind the US tendency to align with kleptocratic and violently authoritarian client regimes. A few other interesting links can be found in the transcript below.

The audio can be downloaded or streamed at A-Infos and comes in 32Kbps or 128Kbps.

UPDATE 20130116:

I have already received a comment that it seems as if I am accusing all users of terms like “Jewish Lobby” and “Jewish Money” of being hateful racists in this commentary. I don’t mean too, but I do stand by my use of the term “bigotry”. This form of usage (e.g. “Jewish Money”) marries a prejudicial negative connotation to a particular group of people – hence it is bigotry. But I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who employs such language is a bigot. They may quite innocently be partaking in a discourse of bigotry without actually thinking through the implications of what is being said or written. The hazard is in letting that sort of thing stand unchallenged, which is how deep-seated bigotry can often take root. 

What I wanted to suggest in my commentary is not that you have to hate Jews to believe the W&M thesis, but rather that people who do hate Jews find it really, really attractive. I was genuinely shaken by how quickly my online disputants back in 2006 turned to racism. I think that Israeli policy is creating a whole new generation of anti-Jewish racists in many countries around the world, and I think that in the US the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis gives them a very sharp and dangerous focus in providing a discourse of treason against the United States. Zunes is absolutely correct to point out the parallels between this and that scapegoating of Jews that has occurred historically.

Zunes articles on the Israel lobby issue can be found here and here and here.

I know that this is going to confuse people, but here is where I stand: I support a one state-solution in Palestine; I support the BDS movement; I believe that the Israel lobby has a ridiculously disproportionate influence over US domestic politics at the congressional level and, more importantly, at the street level, but I firmly believe that the idea that the Israel lobby determines in any manner or degree US foreign policy is utterly stupid. I admire Jeff Blankfort and Noam Chomsky; Stephen Zunes and Stephen Gowans, but see ways in which every single one of them is guilty of inadvertantly (though sometimes rather wilfully) becoming apologists for and ideological supporters of US imperialism. On the other hand I see nothing admirable, nor even excusable in Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer who are not only more fatuous than the aforementioned, but also, given their Professorial positions as political scientists and so-called “neo-Realists”, do not have any excuse for being such idiots.

So, how did I get to be this “neither fish nor fowl” creature? And how can I persuade you to join me in this annoying world where weighty matters are not reducible to sound bites? Firstly I can point out that there is a simple way of looking at these things. The idea that a tiny state such as Israel, a virtual dependency of the US, dictates US foreign policy is silly. It is that simple. It is the very same far-fetched excuse as those who suggest that the US was drawn into the Korean War by the machinations of Syngman Rhee, and drawn into Indochina by systemic inertia. This is blatant apologism for repeated acts of genocide whose fundamental similarities alone are enough to indicate intentionality. But I am aware they my simply stating this stuff leaves much to be desired and much to be answered, particularly “what are the drivers of US foreign policy?”, and why do I so confidently discount the role of the Israel lobby in this when it is demonstrably powerful in US politics?

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Before I start however, I want to have a bit of a self-pitying whinge. I’m aware that I’m probably making no friends by taking a stance which contradicts everyone else’s stance. But instead of getting angry at me for taking much the same line as Zunes and Chomsky, remember that I am also alienating those people who agree with Chomsky on the subject of Palestine (a dying breed, admittedly). Before you write to gainsay my claims I would ask that the following matters be of consideration: One, that you ask yourself, can your stance be reconciled with the pattern of historical events (including analogous situations) such that you are not claiming some peculiar exceptionalism for US society that you would find unreasonable in other societies? Two, is there a theoretical consistency to what you are claiming, or does the attempt to translate into theoretical terms expose contradictions which once again are suggestive of an insupportable claim of exceptionalism. You might ask yourself, “what theory? What is this guy on about?” The fact is, however, that each time you link a cause with an effect, you are doing so in theoretical terms. What I am concerned about is those who have a world view wherein theories contradict themselves.

On last thing remains with regard to the fact that I chose to comment on matters where I disagree with everyone. I could do otherwise, I could choose a more agreeable path of greater agreement, but the result might be a little bit like – “so I hear that the Earth actually circles the Sun, I reckon that’s probably true, so that’s maybe something we can agree on. They tell me that the majority of dogs have four legs and, well its only anecdotal, I know, but almost every single dog I’ve seen has four legs, and I’ve seen quite a few dogs. They also say that Hitler wasn’t a very nice person. I’d more or less agree with that proposition. They didn’t give him a Nobel Peace prize, which is probably a good thing I think we can agree. I mean, they must have been tempted, if they’re like they are now. You know, that whole non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, I reckon that nowadays that’d probably have netted Hitler and Stalin a peace prize each. Hitler, instead of killing himself, could have simply pointed out that he was sincere, that he sincerely believed that Jews were a form of demographic Weapon of Mass Destruction and that Poland was in possession of millions of Weapons of Mass Destruction with the potential to reach as far as New York city, if they weren’t denied entry. He could have become a peace envoy just like Tony Blair, trying to find common ground in decolonising struggles such as in Indonesia or Indochina. Ahh, if only they were as civilised then as we are now….” Sorry, got a bit off-track there, but hopefully you get my point, which is that if I talked about what I agreed with, it would be boring and pointless and then I’d just start making stupid jokes just to relieve the tedium.

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At this point I was going to introduce matters with a brief summary of what I had written in another context about the US empire, but it is too complicated and it can’t be presented in theoretical terms because existing theory, as we shall see, is woefully inadequate. So I have created a pdf from the exerpt with a grafted on bit about why there was a strategic imperative for the US empire to commit genocide in Iraq. OK, it’s massive, but at least look through it and I will summarise the pertinent bits for you here and, hopefully, you can see that my reasoning is based on solid evidence.

The US empire is based on power structures which are now often referred to, not unreasonably, as corporatist. Corporatism is as good a word as any, but it should not be linked explicitly with Fascism per se. Structurally it is akin to feudalism in that it accords so-called “regnal rights” to entities which are not theoretically sovereign. Indeed US “corporatism” is the continuity of that form of regime which has persisted through transitions from feudal, to early modern mercantilist, to liberal. In the year 1900 its highest expression was in the liberal British Empire. There was no “revolving door” at this time, government and private interests only separated when circumstances dictated that they must. The supposedly sovereign governmental structure constituted far, far less than half of the state power wielded in the imperial polity. In 1902 John Hobson noted that the British Empire was a drain on the wealth of the majority of the people of Britain and the majority of the capitalist enterprises of Britain. He wrote: “Seeing that the Imperialism of the last three decades is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations, we may ask, “How is the British nation induced to embark upon such unsound business”; The only possible answer is that the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests that usurp control of the national resources and use them for their private gain.”

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But the nature of these “certain sectional interests” was far from random: shipping, coal, arms, finance, and military contracting. These were the beneficiaries of empire, but they were also the tools. These are strategic industries. They were the British military-industrial complex – the empire complex if you will. None of these interests were separable from the Crown, nor, more to the point, was the reverse the case. The English had transitioned from feudalism by transforming it into mercantile terms (awarding charters and patents and so-forth) and into liberal Locke-ian terms by allowing enclosure and outright ownership to effectively deepen privilege, rather than challenge it. It is true that they instituted direct rule in India and ended private imperialism through the East India company, but this was occuring at a time of the expansion of scope, depth and complexity of state power and much of it was in non-governmental hands (The Bank of England serves as a good example here). After this British corporate rule was part of the “informal” empire which included more-or-less the entirety of South America, and semi-formal possessions like Egypt. These places were run by private British finance interests, interpenetrated with other empire complex interests which were of course interpenetrated with Her Majesty’s Government and could rely on military incursions and other interstate actions when required.

If there were strategic sectional interests making up the empire complex, there were also strategic resources. Mainly this meant coaling stations at this level, and the British were able to use their naval supremacy to ensure their naval supremacy. Gold, however, was also a form of strategic resource, and it is important to note that the British view of gold was that strategic denial was a good as possession. If they couldn’t have it then they would make sure no one else would get it, thus bolstering the value of their own reserves. Then the British discovered the potential of oil, a strategic resource like no other. While the French were bled white on the Western Front the British used the cover of the Great War to grab oil. By 1920 they had virtually cornered the entire world supply outside of the United States, but they had ceded financial hegemony to New York and Washington thanks to war costs.

An Anglo-US petroleum condominium later formed and became the basis of a shared empire complex in which the UK is the junior partner. Domination of oil meant the ability to deny all hard power (economic or military) to those reliant on those petrochemical resources. For complicated reasons (which you can read about if you want) the US also chose to tie its financial hegemony directly to its ability to militarily dominate oil resources. Nowadays the empire complex is far more expanded than that of the British empire. It includes a large array of “sectional interests” which are all of direct strategic relevance. Many are directly related to matters of life-and-death – arms and military; water; energy; pharmaceuticals and food – others are similarly fundamental to societal funtioning such as finance and media. It is not just about an “iron triangle” these are interlocking iron triangles and profit is both central and incidental at the same time. That is how it works. The “sectional interests” are the imperial state, but they cannot dominate the imperial state for some hypothetical private ends that are separate from imperial ends.

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The other thing to note is that imperial elites are not tied to the interests of the mother state, nor the people thereof, nor the people of subjugated regions. They are almost entirely independent of the welfare of nations and their peoples and almost entirely dependent on the massive unrelenting centripetal coercive power which holds empires together. That is why they kill so many people and ravage whole societies and economies. That is, in very simple terms, why empires are as inherently genocidal as settler-colonial enterprises. This is also why many empires all but destroy their home economies. The Romans did, the Spanish did, the British did and now the US does with deindustrialisation, outsourcing and so forth. (There is also the need to maintain stratification domestically, which you may also read about at some length if you wish).

In theory terms what I am proposing here is a form of Realism, in that it doesn’t have anything to do with national character or ethics or specific ideologies and so forth. The power relations determine the behaviours. Traditionally Realism is often distrusted as being inherently amoral and for being a kind of apologism because it implies that horrendous behaviour is the result of inevitable laws. There is a logical fallacy in this, however, in that Realists might recognise potential ways of diminishing the capacity to inflict mass violence and the possible advantages to be gained through mass violence. What they tend to emphasise, however, is the continuity of strategic interests that are not altered by idealism or ideology; the personality of rulers or the theology of governments. Realism is about power relations.

One result of this is that it may have a “normative” aspect, which is the term used by academics to describe their own prescriptiveness. Thus a Realist might proclaim that it was a horrible mistake by France to alienate and attack the newly formed Soviet Union when they had inevitable shared interests. It is quite a strong Realist current that includes progenitors such as Hobbes and Machiavelli, but in modern self-professed “Realists” it does tend to beg the question of why (if reality is failing to live up to allegedly “Realist” norms) the term Realism is applied to what, in the final analysis, is the promotion of an ideal of amoral power relations. The fact is that if you are going to call yourself a “Realist” then more than a tiny bit of normative content indicates a broken model. Realism, by its very nature, should be able to accommodate actuality within its analytical framework and, to be quite honest, it could only be academics that might seriously take real political actors to task for not acting “real” enough.

So proper Realism requires a model which reflects actuality. Realism evolved in a fairly empirical manner, as a counter to mythologised anthropomorphism and idealism. It was clear that changes in regime and ruler did not prevent repeated patterns of behaviour. I planned to say more on this, but I’m going to have to cut it short. Suffice it to say that Realism evolved from being centred on the nation-state to neo-realism (or structural realism) which posits constraints on nation-state behaviour through international structure, which has been built upon and challenged in various ways.

Standing apart from this are a bunch of lowercase realists – people who are basically realistic, but not aligned to a given dogma. The most obvious one of these in Noam Chomsky, who takes a clearly realist stance, but one that emphasises elite interests and elite power over the nation-state and its security. Others are similarly realistic in outlook, but unattached to a school of thought – they are agnostic realists and tend to look for confluences of imperatives and powers rather than impose a prior framework.

So here is where my stance fits in with all of that. And I apologise for any jargon and over-simplification, but this is all taking too long to explain as it is. 1) Nation-states belong in the classical Realist model to a large extent. 2) Empires do not. 3) The world and its people do not function under a paradigm of relative gains (except in some immediate circumstances), but imperial power does. 4) Nation-state elites are tied to the welfare of the nation-state and its people; imperial elites are less so, or not so, or even benefit in relative gains terms from immiseration. I’m using “nation-state” here to stand for any unitary polity which, in some degree, might even include some historical empires, but if you squint your eyes, you’ll see what I’m getting at.

You can see a good example of this in Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts wherein the British Empire destroyed communal economic resources and famine protections causing many millions to die, when neighbouring princely states, though much weaker and poorer, saw no famine despite a devastating drought.

So, I am saying in realist terms that empires are run by imperialists who cannot but serve the imperial interest, such as it is. The US empire has committed genocides in Korea, Indochina and Iraq and each time Pollyanna’ish opponents have squealed that such things are not in the “national interest”. Well, maybe not, but as the US continues its rollout of new regimes in the Middle East and bullies most of the states of the world most of the time into doing its bidding, it is very difficult to see how so much power was accrued through so many “mistakes”.

Security” is often fetish for political analysts, and not just Realists, which I believe has more to do with a desire for vicarious drama and a sense of self-importance than with actual issues of security. There is a whole bunch of academics who I tend to think of as the “security geeks”. They style themselves as latterday players of the “Great Game” on the “Grand Chessboard”, living out peurile fantasies of power and relevance. Most of them are uppercase Realists, and they tend to be in think tanks or University departments with “Strategic” in the title. These people believe that US, UK and NATO actions are undertaken for genuine security reasons. If not security reasons they are inclined to accept humanitarian intervention or reject it, but they don’t question its sincerity. In other words, these people are hopelessly naïve and easy prey for ruthless political and military leaders. What makes them more to be loathed than pitied is their unbelievable arrogance. Iraq is the perfect example – a security threat that even these idiots couldn’t believe in. When faced with the plain and very clear fact that political leaders were lying about a security threat…. No, let me be very specific – when faced with the fact that political leaders were engaged in a very complex systematic attempt to deceive not only through lying but through misrepresentation, dissimulation, and the manufacture of fraudulent evidence – when faced with that, did they say “Oh my goodness! These people are lying to us. They are making huge efforts to try and deceive us. They must be covering something up”? No. Not a chance. They smugly pronounced that they were not deceived, unlike the political leaders who were so incredibly less intelligent than clever people like them that they believed their own lies.

Well done guys. You spotted that Iraq wasn’t really a security threat (even if some of you were a bit slow on it). That’s right, not a big security threat to the United States like all of those other really threatening poor countries such as Laos, Haiti, and Panama. Let’s not forget that tropical menace to world peace known as Grenada. What about Nicaragua and Reagan’s assertion that if the Sandinistas weren’t defeated there would be Soviet tanks rolling across the Rio Grande? Do you remember Jack Nicholson in that movie saying “You can’t handle the truth!”? The “truth” referred to, and embraced by the movie, was that only savage men like Nicholson could “provide freedom”. How? By occupying Guantánamo, that well known bastion of freedom. According to the movie, lives are saved by vicious thuggish frontiersmen who have to face down the iron disciplined and robotically fanatical Cubans – yes the Cubans, all of that rum and jazz and partying is just a front – in an eyeball to eyeball macho contest. But if Cuba is such a threat, why exactly do they continue to allow the US to occupy part of their country? Surely, if they were really all that, they could chuck Jack Nicholson and any number of wannabe Davy Crocketts out.

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So, these Realists and assorted security geeks (all of whom probably love that movie and think that it raises substantive issues) get all tetchy at people like George W. Bush, because he’s so frustratingly stupid. Not smart like them. Imagine a weedy self-important accountant sneering at Tony Soprano because he had failed to claim on the hardhats in his construction business and thus had paid several hundred dollars more tax than required. The US has used international mass violence so many times since World War II that it really is impossible to quantify. It would be fairly impossible to point to any one of these and say with any sort of assurance that they made the US more secure, yet there are many instances when a fairly robust argument could be made that they made the US less secure. Hmmmm…, nearly 70 years of frequent interventions that don’t make the US more secure? Maybe, I know this is a bit of a weird thing to say, but maybe US security is not the goal. Let us not forget also, that despite 50 years of very clever people pointing out that the US empire is destroying itself with its hubris and over-reach, it is now quantifiably more strategically predominant and far more comfortable about acting outside of international law, defying the bulk of other nations, and enforcing its will on the majority, if not the entirety of the planet. Personally, I do believe that this is the high tide mark, and the beginning of the end, but I also know that others in the past have misinterpreted the active consolidation of imperial power as weakness, failure and loss, because of the naïve beliefs I have already mentioned.

There is another matter, in that, in the US it seems that some of those who would oppose imperial aggression feel that they must point out its wrongheaded counterproductive stupidity. Again, their ability to believe themselves so much more intellectually able to determine policy than those who actually do so is quite something to behold, but I feel too that there is an element of fear that accompanies this arrogance. The fear seems to be that any suggestion that there might be an ounce of rationality and purpose in US aggression would be to concede far too much in the battle for the hearts and minds of “Middle America”. It is always funny that the bourgeois fear the fascist instincts of the working class (who don’t tend to have any) while ignoring the growing tendency of their own kind to be goosestepping around the place.

This, to me, is where Walt and Mearsheimer come in. The first aspect of their appeal to anti-imperialists is that they tick this box, the box that says that the Iraq invasion was a horrible mistake from the perspective of maintaining US power in the international arena. But that is far from the end of it. There is an unreasonable and quite irrational tendency to give these guys far more credit than they deserve and the causes are actually quite broad.

Firstly there is their academic standing. On this, I would have to say that they are actually letting themselves down as much as anyone else. It is not their theoretical content that is at fault (though clearly insufficient) it is this silly, naïve understanding of US interventions, the basis of which is both the academic arrogance I have already discussed, and a chauvinist and ultimately exceptionalist reading of US interventions.

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The next reason for cleaving to Walt and Mearsheimer is the nature of their most strident critics. Who doesn’t want to believe these guys when their critics include Dershowitz, Kissinger and Albright? That is only scratching the surface of repugnant people who criticise them and the nature of these criticisms tends to be exactly the same sort of specious bullying that is systematically used to silence real criticism of Israel and Zionism.

Then there is anti-Jewish bigotry. In 2006 I debated the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis on comment sections online, and it didn’t take very long before those I was debating tended to forget that they were supposed to be referencing Israeli policy and Zionism and started referencing “The Jews”, sometimes with supplementary epithets. I was shocked. These young educated people obviously hated “The Jews” and weren’t that reticent to show it. Two things were obvious from this: one was that Israeli policy was fueling hatred of Jews (this was obvious from the context of what was written); and also that the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis is immensely appealing to people who hate Jews. But there is another aspect of anti-Jewish bigotry which is more subtle and widespread. Perhaps it is ironic in a world where one may be accused of being a Nazi just for supporting Palestinian human rights, but a sort of anti-Jewish bigotry is widely accepted. One, it seems, can talk about individual or collective US Jews with the inextricable inference that they are supporters of Zionism and Israeli aggression and oppression. The discourse of the “Israel Lobby” over and over again references “Jewish backers”; “Jewish money” and “Jewish voters”. This is a form of prejudice generally known as bigotry. The weird thing is that US Jews are increasingly cool towards Israel, while Zionists (including non-Jewish Zionists) are very keen on suggesting that to be Jewish is to support Israel and to oppose Israel is to hate Jews.

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The last thing that causes people to love Walt and Mearsheimer so much is the thing that disturbs me the most. What seems to be a desire to avoid facing up to the reality of US genocides, a need to cling on to the myths of childhood. I’m not just talking here about a need to see the US as the Good Guys, I’m talking more than that about the need to see the cartoon villain behind genocide. Genocide needs to be committed by sadistic brutal twisted Nazis; fanatically inhuman communist Asians; or brutal bestial savage Africans. I honestly think that this need to find some sort of exogenous force to explain US brutality makes people very irrational.

Let us be very clear: the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis is that the US national interest was harmed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and that it happened because of the pernicious and powerful Israel lobby. Listen to these excerpts from the 2006 Working Paper:

Most recently, the Bush Administration’s attempt to transform the region into a community of democracies has helped produce a resilient insurgency in Iraq, a sharp rise in world oil prices, and terrorist bombings in Madrid, London, and Amman. With so much at stake for so many, all countries need to understand the forces that drive U.S. Middle East policy.

The U.S. national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy. For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering U.S. support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized U.S. security.

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…[T]the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the “Israel Lobby.” Other special interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.

So the US was trying to turn the Middle East into a “community of democracies” was it? Does that sound sensible to you guys? I don’t know whether I need to refute Walt and Mearsheimer or whether, in the cold light of day it is obvious to anyone listening or reading that they are talking utter crap. I also love the way they slipped in a racist swipe at the democracy hating Arabs and Muslims.

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The problem with the Walt/Mearsheimer paper is its depiction of the United States. Israel is described in realistic and accurately cynical terms, its myths debunked fearlessly, but the US is in no way analysed in such terms. The vision is instead of a Disney version of the US, benevolent not because it tries to be, but because it is inherently so. Doing bad things is abberrant, not natural to the US. Israeli apartheid is against US “core values” and so forth.

W&M actually use the term “tail wagging the dog” to explain US Middle East policy, but what do they think real US national interest is? In some matters, there’s room for debate that their simple-minded approach just does not acknowledge. So, for example, they decry the antagonism generated amongst the Arab populace when, in fact, an inimical “Arab street” is probably of more use to US empire than a friendly one. In other matters they just simply have it back-to-front. For example, they condemn US policies which drive up oil prices, but not only have these high oil prices brought about an extraordinary run of record profits for giant oil companies (in which Bush administration members had very strong interests) but the high prices and continued control of oil resources (including options for strategic denial) has maintained US dollar hegemony and ensured the continued interdependence of China with the US.

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So let me once more emphasise that “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” is not serious analysis. Call it silly, call it fatuous, call it fantasy – it is junk, just like junk science or junk economics. O.K. these guys probably weren’t paid to come up with this, but junk humanities like this are often paid for at the bookstand. This stuff belongs alongside Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations; or The Tragedy of the Commons; or Niall Fergusson; or Max Boot; or Thomas Friedman.

Obviously I have a problem with the fact that W&M do not distinguish between national interest and imperial interest – which has been THE driving force in US foreign policy even before it was formalised when NSC-68 was adopted in 1950. More than that however, the problem is that they portray the Iraq invasion of 2003 as some sort of outgrowth of an aberrant Middle East policy – the result of the tail wagging the dog. But how abberant is it? Iraq is the third genocide committed by the US since World War II in which they have systematically killed civilians in the millions. Much of the death comes about through repeated systematic bevaviours extended over periods of years such that the orthodox denials of intentionality are simply ludicrous. In Korea, in Indochina and in Iraq the systematic mass murder of civilians has been a central policy of the US, and this is beyond dispute. (Iraq is problematic in that there was no self-evident systematic intense aerial bombardment specifically aimed at civilians, but along with the established fact of systematic killing though sanctions, mortality data from the occupation period indicate systematic, if atomised, killing by occupation forces induced to commit acts of murder by deliberately created situational, procedural, and psychological conditions). These are just the three most obvious and most deadly genocides by an imperial polity that is genocidal by inclination and whose interventions are usually somewhere along a genocidal spectrum even if the term “genocide” itself is reserved only for certain cases. Of its own accord, or through proxies, the US has an many occasions encompassed the deaths of thousands, tens of thousands or sometime hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is also a central actor in a global system of structural violence which has taken tens of millions of lives and which Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed argues is a system of “structural genocide”.

So here is my synthetic bit. I propose that the dog wags the tail. Israel is a strategic asset to US empire and that is why the “Israel lobby” is allowed so much influence domestically. More than that, the “Israel lobby” is a strategic asset to the empire complex within the US itself, as a means of disciplining legislators and countering democratic forces. Suitably, since democratic forces are so seldom a major driver of legislators’ actions, there is a far more important accompanying movement to silence dissent at the community level, in the media, within universities, and so forth.

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How then is Israel a strategic asset? There is more to this than just the MENA region, but that is as good a place to start as any. When the British first decided to give support to Zionism in Palestine, there was dissent and differences of opinion, but one of the most important strains – really a deciding one even as far back as 1916 – was the belief that a Jewish state surrounded by Arabs would be an inevitable dependency and a strategic asset against those Arabs. Remember that this came when the British had decided that they wanted to control all of the world’s oil. According to W&M Israel was of limited strategic utility during the Cold War, but now only fuels Middle East instability and Islamic extremism. But the US empire relies on Middle East instability and, for similar reasons, has quite a love affair with Islamic extremism. After all, it is getting a little difficult to sustain this line of Al Qaeda as the quintessential existential enemy when the US is so often aligned with or even providing material support for them and affiliate groups. They’ve inherited this love of fundamantalist Islam from the Brits, who used it to head off secular modernism and Islamic modernism in Egypt, first in the late nineteenth century, then in the twenties and thirties where their support was crucial in the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the same as Israel’s role in the formation of Hamas. Sure, these Islamists don’t make great clients, but they make much better enemies than secular nationalists and socialists. The US even helped steer the Iranian revolution into the hands of the theocrats, creating a fantastic enemy and one that totally hated the Soviet Union to boot. Quite a strategic coup really, and the US still reaps the benefits today.

Once again let me say that the US needs instability. It can’t intervene without instability and it can’t threaten to intervene. The US doesn’t spend loads of money “projecting power” into the region with air, naval and ground troop presences to prevent the Red Army from taking over, it does it to make sure that oil profits are spent on US military hardware or used to buy US treasury bonds or kept in Western financial institutions as US dollar reserves. Iraq, for example, is aiming to have 110 billion in US dollar reserves in 2013. Imagine that, a country torn by strife, riven by poverty and unemployment and they just put all of that money into the US treasury. Wow! I guess they learnt a lesson somewhere along the line.

US military presence is also to ensure that oil is only sold for US dollars so that an other surplus producers also maintain dollar reserves. Having Israel there, a very well-armed military dependency constantly claiming to be existentially threatened by its neighbours, is a massive strategic boon to the US. It is a classic divide-and-rule strategy in a form not dissimilar to the manner in which the US chose Christian minorities as clients in Korea and Indochina and privileged landowners as clients in Latin America. Choosing a privileged minority to form a “comprador” class is a very old imperial tactic dating back at least as far as the Han and Roman empires. I’d be very surprised not to find evidence going as far back as the Assyrians who had the first empire as we would understand it. The British practised it as a matter of course, and while their alignment with the Sunni Arab world is an exception which I am not informed enough to explain, it is both noteworthy and fateful firstly that this choice would later allow the imposition of Sunni client monarchies in areas where Shi’i happened to inhabit the oilfields; and secondly that long before any thought of Zionism in Palestine the British acted to separate Jewish populations from the other peoples of the Middle East, notably in Baghdad.

This isn’t a secret either – this is enunciated doctrine. The Nixon Doctrine, which was a doctrine of informal imperialism, was translated by Melvin Laird in its applicability to the Middle East as support for “cops on the beat” explicitly there to discipline Arab populations. But Israel’s utility is also outside of the region. Israel is the tool which the US uses for dirty tricks in many parts of the world, parts in which Israel has no discernible interest at all. These include a history of providing support for apartheid South Africa and arms and support to authoritarian Latin American regimes when the US (and other Western nations) could not allow itself to provide direct support.

Now, I would like to remind people here that what I am discussing is the Israel Lobby’s influence on US foreign policy. The influence of bullying Zionists on the political discourse within the US is not something I would seek to deny or minimise. But let me now put the decision to invade Iraq into context. Let’s start with neoconservatives. Yes, neoconservatives are vehement supporters of Israel. Yes, disproportionate numbers are Jewish. But if you actually look at the history of the neoconservative movement, it is not just about Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol. The whole public intellectual side of neoconservatism has always been married to an institutional side, which predates it, dedicated to extending US influence into global domination. Most prominently it uses organisations like the Committee for the Present Danger or the Project for a New American Century to create the illusion of threats or idealistic goals as a means of justifying brutal imperialism. Using false pretexts, such as the defence of Israel, is bread and butter for these people. Now let us look at Richard Perle. This is a guy who is a born-and-bred Usaian, who has dedicated his political career to spreading US global dominance. So what is more striking – that whilst serving in the Bush administration he is actually formally giving policy advice to Israel or that he has dual citizenship and therefore might possibly be of dubious loyalty.

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But the neocons and the Israel lobby were not alone in supporting the invasion of Iraq. In fact, despite the ostentatious enthusiasm of the neocons, it is worth considering the other interests that stood to gain from the Iraq invasion and had obvious influence. Take the oil industry. The Bush administration was so tied to the oil industry it isn’t funny. In 2005 Exxon Mobil became the largest corporation by revenues on the planet and posted world record breaking annual profits 5 times. Then there is the military-industrial complex. The arms industry not only has capacious lobbying power, it has penetrated every single congressional district as an employer. It is not hard to see what effect that has on congressional voting behaviours. But that isn’t all, because really there is an empire complex bigger than the direct military-industrial aspect. During the war in Indochina, the US government inducted certain non-armaments industries into a war economy based not on the exploitation of conquest, but solely on funneling taxpayer monies to these corporations under the guise of prosecuting war. Prominent among these were Halliburton (which owned Brown and Root); Dow chemical; Monsanto; and Bechtel. Need I belabour the interconnection here with the US government in general, or the Bush administration in particular?

And then, there is the government itself. In the lovely little fantasy land that W&M infest, the US national interest is best guarded by robust, but fundamentally honourable means. Off course, sometimes you’ve got to break eggs to make an omelet, but on the whole, despite their hard-nosed pretensions, W&M are suckers for the US pretence of fundamental righteousness. Many within the bureaucratic state apparatus share that belief, but the actual tenor of US strategic behaviour is different, and it is not hard to perceive that difference. US imperial policy has quite aptly been compared to pre-WWII Japanese imperial policy. There is a putatively defensive purpose, but translated into unlimited aggression by a belief that only unchalleged dominance provides security. Global “Full Spectrum Dominance” is an official policy aim. Obama’s rhetorical shift towards multilateralism does nothing to change that underlying fact. Believing that the US can attempt to achieve “Full Spectrum Dominance” without committing genocidal mass murder is like believing that the Third Reich could achieve its desired Lebensraum without genocidal mass murder. So it is the people who are willing to take the steps which the vast majority would reject as morally unacceptable who dictate policy despite the qualms of their colleagues, and they do so by dissimulation (as with the neocon pretence of a fanatical desire to spread democracy).

So how does the Israel lobby stack up against these forces? It doesn’t. It is puny in comparison. What makes the W&M hypothesis even sillier is that they themselves claim that Israel doesn’t benefit from the the policies dictated by the Israel lobby. I’m not kidding. For Jeff Blankfort (and I should say here that despite disagreeing vehemently on this issue, I have as much respect for Blankfort as I have disdain for Walt and Mearsheimer), for Blankfort the fact that Israel does not benefit from US foreign policy supposedly dictated by the Israel Lobby justifies the label “the Jewish Lobby”. Why is that acceptable? Because the backers and lobbyists are Jewish, so forget Jewish people because only the rich scumbags actually count? If that’s the “Jewish Lobby” imagine what the “Caucasian Lobby” must be like!

So here is my synthetic contribution: the Israel Lobby is as powerful as it is because it is a dependant subsidiary of the Empire Lobby, which is the enforcement arm of the Empire Complex, the part used to ensure that any vestigial remnants of democratic governance are fully suppressed. It is not entirely an original idea. Norman Finkelstein incidentally but unavoidably showed the historical evolution of the Israel Lobby as subservient to US imperialism. He documents this in his book The Holocaust Industry which can be downloaded for free, so I suggest actually reading it rather than dismissing Finkelstein because of his wrongheadedness over the BDS movement and the idea of a one-state solution in Palestine.

This brings me to my final point, more an addendum than a conclusion. I am taking a stance which puts me in some unfortunate company. It is not that I have anything against Norman Finkelstein as a whole, he has done some fantastic work. But his BDS stance is silly. Likewise Chomsky, who is still astute on most issues at 84, sounds like he is completely senile and out of touch every time I have heard him discuss Palestine in the last few years (not least because he devotes more attention to what activists should be doing than what Israel and the US should be doing). I think that maybe they fear that a bottom-up movement will cause a sudden collapse of the Zionist apartheid state which will cause chaos and suffering. I too fear that that might be the case, but I know that the continued push for a so-called “two-state solution” through the “peace process” is nothing but camouflage for slow cruel genocide. It is a risk, but we must bet that the better aspects of human nature will win through if we empower the people, because the institutions that are currently empowered are inhuman by nature.

Then there is my closest ally on the subject of the Israel Lobby, Stephen Zunes. OK, so I’ll begin with what I think is wrong with Zunes. I’m not sure when I read his book Tinderbox but, naturally, I didn’t have a problem with him pointing to Zionism as the driving force behind US policy in the ME as being a red herring. But he had his own red herrings. He kept on about how much of a policy mistake it was to alienate the Arab Street and how they inadvertantly or through short-sighted amoral expedience keep accidently promoting Islamist terrorists. OK, I have already mentioned this stuff, but let me be quite clear – from what I think is a more rigorous theoretical position the US empire benefits from a hostile Arab mass (preferably alienated from an elite who are dependent on US support to maintain their dominance – another common imperial practice perfected by the US which you can read about at the blog if you so desire) and the US empire gains a great deal from the existence of credible Islamist terrorist organisations whose efficacy is greatly exaggerated to justify attacks on peoples in Muslim dominated countries. You can argue that my theory reads too much into US intentions and that (and this is often reported by insiders) things are much less co-ordinated and much more myopic in the actual halls of power. I would counter this by saying that my theory actually coincides with real observed events – you cannot explain decades upon decades of consistent systematic repetition as being a series of errors.

(A quick aside here to say that theoretical approaches positing some systemic cause for a systematic but unintentional and counterproductive sequence of actions and policies are completely untenable. Without directed and knowledgeable human intent, such systems would be destroyed or derailed very quickly by changing circumstances. In my honours thesis, which you can read at the On Genocide blog, I demonstrate this with regard to such theories when applied to the US genocides in Indochina. Like a Law of Large Numbers, you can be certain that within any large polity with complex power structures, someone with influence intends that an action taken have the foreseeable outcome which follows. Thus, systemic theories should explain how structures reliably empower certain agents over others, not seek to say that structures themselves cause events. That sounds obvious when I say it, but believe me it is a point that escapes political scientists regularly, and I think that this is driven by the psychological imperative to avoid at all costs the realisation that our own peers commit the inexcusable acts that we like to ascribe only to those whom we dehumanise and demonise).

So that was my problem with Zunes’s Tinderbox. It had the same sort of built in apologism as Walt and Mearsheimer (albeit to a lesser extent) because instead of acknowledging full US culpability for its most heinous and bloody acts it is constantly portraying them as errors. This isn’t a minor point, either. The idea of blundering (whether the motive is idealism, venality, or amoral realism) is THE central prop of US public diplomacy. Look at any insider exposé that criticises US policy but which does not result in the author being hounded, prosecuted, persecuted, exiled and/or bumped off. You will not find a single one of these that does not frame everything as a series of mistakes, and in most cases (to ensure the point is taken) these books are even given titles that tells the reader that without even having to open the book.

Stephen Gowans has also levelled criticisms at Zunes with which I concur. Zunes promotes US imperial interests by critiqueing Third World enemies of Western Imperialism and supporting so-called “democracy-promotion” efforts which are aimed at destabilisation and regime change. Previously, when discussing Amensty International, I dealt with the tendency of some supposed critics of US foreign policy who so bend over backwards to demonstrate an even-handed ability to critique enemies of the US that they actually become vicious interventionists promoting war crimes. The regimes targetted are not necessarily the most pleasant, but in 1939 Poland had an oppressive authoritarian government and supporting German effort to destabilise it would not have been morally justifiable. No Third World regime is so bad that the Balkanised, destabilised, neoliberal, neocolonial fake democracy that the West seeks to impose would not be far, far worse. Look at Iraq. Saddam Hussein was one of the most horrible murderous dictators of the era, yet his crimes against Iraqis pale in comparison to those committed by the US and UK. This applies to Syria and Libya, where Western inflicted suffering has only just begun. This applies to Sudan, now split into two countries with two sets of civil wars. As Gowans points out, Zunes is involved in organisations which are controlled and funded by proven scumbag imperialists.

Where Gowans goes wrong is in overegging the case. In a 2008 article he made wildly exaggerated claims which portrayed Zunes as being “tightly connected to Western governments and ruling class activist foundations” and as a systematic promoter of Western imperialism. I would invite listeners and readers to check out Zunes’s work and see whether they think that this is feasible. Listen to the recent interview on KPFA’s Flashpoints and ask yourself – is this really an imperialist?

No. Sorry. The idea is stupid. And because of the wrongheadedness of Gowans’s over-reach, Zunes wrote a very robust rebuttal of Gowans’s 2008 article, and didn’t even have to deal with the crux issue of aiding US imperialism by supporting the destabilisation of US enemies. Now Gowans, and others of a similar inclination are convinced that Zunes is “the enemy” though his stupidity or worse, and that they can respond to his contentions with ad hominem dismissals. That’s just crap. Get a grip people, and a sense of perspective. Zunes is clearly a cogent and effective critic of US imperialism, whatever mistakes he might make. Likewise, anyone who has a profile dominated by persuasive anti-imperial influence cannot be treated as being a crypto-imperialist. We all make mistakes, and most people are actually at least a little compromised by institutional affiliation, but Gowans’s attitude towards Zunes is a bit like those who claim that Noam Chomsky is actually in the pay of the Pentagon (a rumour Chomsky inadvertantly started many years ago by highlighting the irony that he worked from a building built and furnished with Defense Department money).

So that is why I don’t accept ad hominem attacks on Zunes (because they mischaracterise him) but I should remind you that ad hominem arguments are widely considered invalid in any respect. If someone is right, they are right. Stephen Zunes writings on the Israel lobby are analytically sound and have an empirical backing (in that he actually tests W&M’s contentions by looking at campaign contributions, congressional voting records, and electoral circumstances). If anyone knows of any actual contending analysis – not gainsaying Zunes on ad hominem or baseless theoretical grounds – let me know and I will read it.

There I will have to leave it.

First Lecture

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So anyway, some time ago I recorded a first bumper sized audioblog/podcast/lecture thingy. I used Audacity, a free open-source audio editor. This was the first time I’d used the software, my net previous experience being a little bit of mucking around with SoundForge about 15 years ago. I recorded the lecture. It took quite a while, but I only got it into a fairly raw form. I planned to do more, but I kept having technical difficulties. Nearly 90 minutes of multi-track high bit-rate audio turned out to be a bit much for my poor wee laptop to handle. A month later I was just about to trash the whole thing, and maybe start again another time. Then I thought, bugger it, I’ve done this much, I might as well put it out there so here it is.

Yes, it is imperfect. No, I am not a fluent or eloquent lecturer, but I hope to improve. Yes, it may be difficult to understand what I’m getting at, however I’m not sure that that is even a flaw. If it was simple to follow what I was saying it would indicate that my words are already familiar in some sense, and that I was conveying nothing truly unknown to the listener. This is a long lecture, full of all sorts of stuff that may be interesting or moving. My ultimate intent is to convey an analytical idiom which will render transparent the strategies behind the most fateful and monstrous acts of our time, but it is enough at this point to understand the context of suffering, of duplicity, of callousness, of humanity, and that thing which ironically we refer to as ‘inhumanity’.

BEFORE YOU START

As yet, I don’t have a projected structure for a lecture series, however I do want these ‘podcasts’, or whatever, to have a lecturish feel and to be a way of moving towards a structured series with a central thesis. To this end I have decided to have a ‘set text’ for each lecture. I am not, of course, suggesting that you should ‘read’ a text, canonical or otherwise, and then I will explain how you should interpret it. Rather, I think that having a text which is ‘read’ in advance of a lecture immediately activates the engagement of the listener. You can’t ‘read’ a text without some implicit analysis. One makes judgements on meaning and significance. If the text is relevant to the lecture, then you enter into a heightened level of engagement wherein the lecturer’s contentions are not merely passively accepted or rejected but become subjected to the faceted multivalent impressionistic judgements which our brains are so good at, and which partially compensate the limits of language.

The text, a moving speech by S. Brian Willson, is one I chose to set a tone. It is the first 15 minutes that concern this lecture most of all – an eyewitness account of the just how bad US actions in South Vietnam could be; the consequences and the callous cruelty that lay behind them. I feel I must emphasis that there is no violent obsenity that Westerners are somehow unable or even less likely to do than other peoples. Again and again I come across instances where those who witness Western brutality, even first-hand, still must construct in their minds some sense in which the brutality is essentially un-Western. Yes we are civilised, but civilised people are just as capable of dashing a baby’s brains out against a wall as barbarians are – you may not believe that at this point, but it is true. In Vietnam a veteran of the Korean War told Philip Caputo: ‘I saw men sight their rifles in by shooting at Korean farmers. Before you leave here, sir, you’re going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy.’i It is impossible to proceed properly while clinging on to old delusions. Even our treasured ‘liberal values’, on proper examination, incorporate: advocacy of mass murder; authoritarianism [yes I do mean that there is a ‘liberal authoritarianism’]; racial and ethnic hatred; and rabid fanaticism.

THE SET TEXT:  Brian Willson’s speech

THE LECTURE ITSELF: Soundcloud or A-Infos Radio Project

In this lecture I introduce mself and introduce the thesis that major US interventions in Korea, Indochina and Iraq are best considered as genocide. Leaving aside, for this lecture, a precise (or even imprecise) definition of genocide, I use, as an expedience, the deliberate systematic mass killing of civilians as being consonant with the concept of genocide. I discuss the systematic mass-killing of civilians by the US in the Phillippines; Korea; Indochina; and, perhaps most surprisingly to some, in the latter stages of World War II.

Other Links:

Brian Willson’s webpage.

Brian Willson’s autobiography: Blood on the Tracks.

Mountaineater (opening music): Soundcloud;  Facebook; MySpace.  “If you thought HDU were capable of wreaking sonic destruction, this trio will leave you gasping” Real Groove

David Rovics (“Who Would Jesus Bomb”): davidrovics.com; lastFM; MySpace; Soundcloud. “If the great Phil Ochs were to rise from the dead today, he would probably be hailed as the new David Rovics.” Andy Kershaw, BBC; “David Rovics is the musical version of Democracy Now!” Amy Goodman, Pacifica.

FEEDBACK RULES

I welcome feedback. I need feedback. But allow me to clear on thing up right now:

characterising US interventions as genocide is not a political stance and is not something I just made up on a whim.

Yes, I do have political leanings and they do influence my judgement, and I would be grateful to anyone who indicated to me any instance where my political or moral stance had caused partiality in intellectual judgement by, for instance, not giving enough credence or weight to claims made by those whose politics I dislike. Politically, morally and ethically I am opposed to imperialism and military aggression and that interest was what led me first to employ genocide as an analytical characterisation (as is explained in the introductory lecture). If, however, I was writing or speaking purely in the interests of my political beliefs I would address all sorts of things, but probably just avoid the issue of genocide the way most anti-imperialists do.

I apply the term genocide because it is the appropriate term… the appropriate term… for US interventions in Korea, Iraq, and Indochina (no doubt there are other instances, such as Afghanistan, but I cannot comment with authority). If you want to disagree you had better be prepared with a knowledge of the nature of those interventions, a knowledge of the concept of genocide, and a knowledge of other instances of genocide. If you are going to deny US genocides please do not do so in exactly the same terms which others use to deny the Holocaust or other genocides. Likewise, even if you have a PhD, even if you have tenure, do not assume that you have superior knowledge on a subject you have never studied. I realise that in some people’s worldview I must be wrong a priori because my claim is so wildly opposed to the broad accepted consensus view among the intellectual classes. It is a point which makes me somewhat bitter so I will simply confine myself to stating that a trust in orthodoxy is what transforms some of the most potentially useful and incisive intellects into the greatest pack of useless idiots on the face of the planet.

iPhilip Caputo, A Rumour of War, London: Arrow, 1978, p 137.

Intro of Intros – The scope of topics discussed

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Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.
The following illustration will suffice. The confiscation of property of nationals of an occupied area on the ground that they have left the country may be considered simply as a deprivation of their individual property rights. However, if the confiscations are ordered against individuals solely because they are Poles, Jews, or Czechs, then the same confiscations tend in effect to weaken the national entities of which those persons are members.
Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals. – Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, p 79.

That is how the inventor of the term ‘genocide’ introduced the concept.  There is a certain problem in that the ‘destruction of the national pattern’ cannot be taken as an absolute, but I will save that for another post.  Instead I will use Lemkin’s image of genocide as  ‘a composite of different acts of persecution or destruction’ (Axis Rule, p 92) as an entrée into the wide range of topics which pertain to the subject of genocide.

To start with there are the elements of genocide enumerated by Lemkin himself: Economic, social, physical, biological, cultural, political, religious, and moral.  Each of these is a separate topic in its own right, but in genocide a number work in synergistic union in a ‘coordinated plan’.  Popular imagination for understandable reasons gives primacy to the physical aspect of destruction – the acts of mass murder.  For me also, and within this blog, it is the systematic killing of civilians that is of salient importance.*  That said, however, it should be recognised that, taking a dispassionate view, the central aspect of genocide is economic destruction (known in and of itself as econocide).  Economic destruction is the only single aspect listed by Lemkin that can be realistically utilised to effect all others, including physical destruction (notwithstanding that all of these things are inter-related such that any social destruction, for example, may have an economic effect).  A later post will discuss econocide and contentions that it alone may constitute genocide (‘economic genocide’) and the contention that ongoing structural violence against the peoples of poorer states is a form of genocide (‘structural genocide’).

Economics, therefore, will be central to much of the the writing within this blog.  They are a key aspect of the perpetration of genocide, and no exception need be made here for the Holocaust or the Shoah, and there is often an economic strategic consideration which provides a central motive in the perpetration of genocide.  Of particular interest, something which will be recurrent in posts, is the adoption of an antidevelopmental approach which may come in the form of econocide, but which may also be an impelling strategic factor motivating genocide itself.

Imperialism is linked to both an antidevelopmental paradigm of domination (dating back to the early modern period) and to genocide itself.  Lemkin explicitly linked genocide to colonialism (meaning ‘settler colonialism’) but in practice it is almost as intrinsic to imperial hegemony as it is to colonialism.  One may see that this is implicitly hinted at in the third paragraph quoted above, although one must expand and elaborate on ‘the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.’

War and the military provide another set of topics.  Most genocides** involve military personnel as the main direct perpetrators of mass murder.  Moreover, most genocides** are characterised by perpetrators as a form of warfare.  The creation of a perpetrator of genocide begins with whatever chauvinist or other enabling ideologies are abroad in civilian life, continues with military indoctrination and training, and is brought to fruition by the situational*** elements generated in alleged wars.

This brings me to ideology.  Ideology is of crucial importance, but it is not, as it is so often portrayed, the driving force behind genocides.  Every indication is that genocide is not prompted by a particular hatred, but rather that a pre-existing ideology of hatred is an element that is less motive than enabling.  Further, it is clear that those who would undertake genocide deliberately stoke the flames of hatred, while genocide itself fans those very flames among perpetrators.  I aim to demonstrate that the seeming ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem posed by the role of ideology can be resolved in favour of regarding ideology as distinctly subservient to strategic considerations among planners of genocide.

Ideology is also distinctly subservient in a arena of international relations, but nevertheless may be of some import if it, for example, facilitates inadmissable independent development and economic sovereignty.  More relevant concerns are geostrategic in nature.  More to the point are those strategic concerns which are affected by populations – thus, for example, an oil rich state with a small population does not present the same challenges to US imperial hegemony that an oil rich state with a large population does.  The religious, cultural, ideological, political and social nature of these populations also has a bearing.  ‘Geostrategy’ doesn’t really convey the full sense of this aspect, indeed it really refers to distinct matter, so I am forced to coin the phrase ‘demostrategy’.****

I could continue, but I bet this sort of generalised and abstract exposition is pretty boring to read.  The point I wanted to make is that genocide relates directly to a very wide variety of topics.  Economics, imperialism, military matters, ideology, geostrategy and demostrategy are not exhaustive by any means.  And as the reader will find, if they read further, there is also a great deal to be added on the subject of the misuse of the term genocide.

* I will be posting on the issue of systematic mass murder in contrast to extermination or intended extermination at some point, hopefully soon.

** Strictly speaking I should not claim to be writing of ‘most genocides’ without explaining why I exclude those sets of acts which fit the definition of genocide but which do not involve mass murder.  Arguably such ‘genocides’ are greater in number than those involving mass murder, but I am arbitrarily excluding from my considerations all putative genocides which do not bring about mortalities of 100,000 or more.  That is very crude and baseless, I do understand, but there is a method in my madness which will be elucidated upon at a later date.

*** A jargon word meaning ‘circumstantial’, presumably adopted because of the confusing connotations given to the term ‘circumstantial’ by literature, film and television dealing with issues of criminal justice.

**** I don’t like the academic tendency to coin terms at the drop of a hat, so when this one sprung from my head like some scholarly demon-spawn, dripping the ichor of tautology, I recoiled.  Unfortunately the beast insinuated itself into my thoughts because it just such a useful catch-all for the sort of strategic factors which I consider to be paramount in motivating genocide.