Capitalism: A Ghost Story

by Arundhati Roy

Rockefeller to Mandela, Vedanta to Anna Hazare…. How long can the cardinals of corporate gospel buy up our protests?

CORBIS (FROM OUTLOOK, MARCH 26, 2012)

Antilla the Hun Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey home on Altamont Road. Its bright lights, say the neighbours, have stolen the night.

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked. Continue reading

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Syria: Heralding a Change in the International Strategic Situation?

Granma International English Edition
by Ernesto Gomez Abascal

Evidently the Cold War ended in the final decade of the 20th century with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries, but the U.S. plan of domination enshrined in the Project for the New American Century, drawn up by a group of neoconservative and Zionist strategists, remains in the minds of Washington politicians.

However, Democrat and Republican priorities on the imperial agenda remain. These are: control of the Near East given its energy resources and strategic position, the elimination of governments who stand up to or interfere with its interests, and to exclude the emergence of new rival powers.

While it is a fact that things have not been going well for the U.S. government in Afghanistan and Iraq, this has not resulted in a change of plans, but merely adjustments to the new conditions. Imperialism has many years of experience in methods of regime change, as we in Latin America know very well.

In Libya, included for years on the list of seven countries whose governments had to be changed, the United States was initially successful, having taken advantage of some inconsistencies on the part of Muammar Gaddafi, and certain lack of popularity for the leader. Then came an intensive media campaign, Arab League cover and backing, which facilitated a UN Security Council resolution, and subsequently, a large part of the country’s infrastructure was bombed by NATO aircraft, thousands of Libyans were killed, and a government subordinated to its interests was installed in Tripoli. Libya’s large oil reserves are now more accessible to U.S. and European corporations, although the chaos created in the country has created an uncertain future.

While this was taking place in Libya, the CIA and its allies in the NATO special services were working on the next country listed, Syria. It has been acknowledged that hundreds of Syrians were trained and armed in Turkey and other countries ill disposed toward the Damascus government, especially those of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and in areas of the Lebanon under the control the March 14 alliance (directed by the Hariri clan, pro‑Saudi and linked to the French government). These Syrians are predominantly Sunnis and members of the illegal and extremist Muslim Brotherhood, but include mercenaries from other Arab countries, and commandos trained for special operations. These have received a large supply of modern armaments, sophisticated communications equipment and information via NATO satellite networks.

The predominantly Alawite Damascus government, a strong ally of Iran and a supporter of the Lebanese patriotic forces headed by Hezbollah, which controls power in Beirut, had genuine problems – as do all countries in the region and a large part of the world, including the most developed countries. These include repression, lack of democracy, and corruption, and this has provoked malaise within the population, leading to demonstrations initially encouraged by those in other countries of the region, and which were repressed particularly where they originated, in the southern city of Daraa, right on the border with Jordan.

The media war machine was immediately activated against Syria, as was the case with Libya. In Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin America countries we have become experts on how this operates, having suffered it for many years, and we also know how to combat it, despite disadvantageous material conditions given the enormous propaganda resources possessed by the enemy. Even with the abovementioned defects, the Syrian government was practising a non-sectarian policy in the religious context and one of relative social justice, anti‑imperialist and anti‑Zionist. It has been an ally of progressive causes in the South and an obstacle to U.S. and Israeli plans in the region. Allegations intended to discredit it, to the effect that its policy of peace serves Israeli interests, have no serious foundation.

Installing a pro‑Western government in Damascus would propitiate a change of government in Lebanon and possibly another war there to eliminate the power of Hezbollah, an ally of Iran together with Syria, and viewed as enemies by the Sunni Gulf monarchies, who submit to Western policy in return for protection from an alleged Iranian threat, even though no war has been initiated by that country for centuries.

If the plan concerning Syria is consummated, the Western powers would move against Tehran and, along the way, crush the resistance of Palestine, obliging it to accept crumbs of territory and the minimum rights which Israeli Zionists would be disposed to concede to the people. The U.S. “Grand Middle East” would be completed with its extension to Central Asia, and the siege of Russia and China would be laid.

However, Syria is not Libya. Although its leaders have made undeniable errors and have acted slowly in response to the conspiracy and plans of its powerful enemies, thus losing a lot of time and ground, it would seem to have sufficient internal support and resources to stand up to its enemies and defeat them, albeit at a heavy price in terms of death and destruction.

Apparently, a clear perception of this reality prompted Russian and Chinese representatives to use their veto in the February 4 Security Council vote on a resolution which – regardless of its text, as was the case with Libya – would open the gates to foreign intervention in order to destroy the country and impose a regime change. The highest authorities in both countries have clearly declared a red line and they are not prepared to allow a military intervention in Syria.

The firm stand of Moscow and Beijing and the cooperation they are giving the Syrian government, appears to be starting to change the situation on the ground. The Lebanese army has been mobilized to the border in an attempt to prevent the entry of mercenaries and military supplies into the neighbouring area of Homs, center of the anti‑government uprising and whose capital city was intended to become the Benghazi of Syria. Syrian government forces have recently moved onto the offensive there.

The Baghdad government, now closer to Iran’s influence than to that of the United States, is also trying to prevent Sunni Islamic extremists – possibly linked to Al Qaeda and receiving funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar – from continuing to infiltrate into Syrian territory. Recent terrorist attacks on the Shiite population in various parts of Iraq would seem to be a message of protest from Saudi Arabia and the United States given the change in position in favour of Syria adopted by the Iraqi government.

Turkey and Jordan, two other countries to have adopted belligerent positions against the Damascus government, are beginning to make more moderate statements. There are even signs of concern in Western capitals at the possibility of extremist Islamic forces linked to Al Qaeda coming to power in Syria in the case of the current executive being defeated.

The situation is highly fluid and extremely complex, but if Syria succeeds in resisting this imperialist, and Zionist counterrevolutionary aggression, and if Russia and China remain firm, there could be a defeat of strategic magnitude. Iran would emerge strengthened and new alliances could be established to oppose imperialist plans of domination. The countries of the BRICS group, the newly independent countries of Latin America, especially the strong core members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), are in agreement with the principals of a foreign policy opposed to aggression, and would favour the negotiated solution to conflicts. They also defend justice, sovereignty and non‑intervention, all of which could initiate the beginnings of a newmultipolar balance in the world.

The grave economic crisis affecting the major capitalist powers and the debilitation this implies, in conjunction with the indignados movement, could significantly contribute to this potential panorama.

(Ernesto Abascal was the Cuban ambassador to Iraq.)

*note: Granma is the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. You can visit their International English website here. The original article is here.

End Game Looms Nearer in Afghanistan

People’s Voice, Vancouver Bureau

For years, Canadians have been told that “the Taliban are on the back foot” and that victory is near in Afghanistan. Most of us never believed it. Opinion surveys have consistently shown that the majority of Canadians want our troops brought home from this unwinnable war.

The latest news from Kabul confirms that the US-led occupation forces have utterly lost the battle for popular support. Contingents of NATO troops are being pulled out ahead of schedule, with the notable exception of Canada.

The spark for this development was lit when U.S. troops on clean-up duty tossed Korans into a burning pit at Bagram Air Base. Afghan workers rescued some singed pages, and before long, massive protests and riots shook the country. A swift round of apologies and promises by U.S. officials has done nothing to change the mood of an increasingly resentful Afghan public.

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A decade after taking on the “colonial burden”, the U.S. and its allies are paying the political price for an endless string of abuses, torture and killings committed in the name of “freedom”. Before long, the remaining occupation troops may be inside their giant fortified bases, chowing down on expensive western-style fast food. As in Iraq, they may be replaced by western “civilians”, but the signs of imperialist retreat are everywhere.

About 300 U.S. and other NATO advisors were withdrawn from Afghan ministries around Kabul in late February, as fears mounted for their safety. At the same time, the German military decided to speed up plans to abandon a 50-soldier outpost in the north of the country.

The French are also eager to get out since four of their troops were killed (and 16 wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, just weeks after three others were shot by another Afghan in uniform. Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions.

As Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse wrote in the Tom Dispatch blog on Feb. 28, “Eleven years in, if your forces are still burning Korans in a deeply religious Muslim country, it’s way too late and you should go.” Instead, General John R. Allen, the war commander in Afghanistan, has directed that all U.S. military personnel undergo ten days of sensitivity training in the proper handling of religious materials.

Sensitivity, as Engelhardt and Turse point out, has not been an American strong suit. They point to revelations about the 12-soldier “kill team” that murdered Afghan civilians “for sport,” and then posed for photos with the corpses. Four U.S. Marines videotaped themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans. A U.S. sniper unit proudly sported a Nazi SS banner in another incident, and a U.S. combat outpost was named “Aryan.” British soldiers were filmed abusing children. Eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, were recently slaughtered in a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province in northern Afghanistan. Afghans have endured years of night raids by special operations forces that break into their homes, violating cultural boundaries and often killing civilians.

These actions have been protested by President Hamid Karzai, who has little power over his own country. And now, more than 30 protesters have been killed in demonstrations against the burning of the Korans.

The New York Times now reports that Afghanistan is “a religious country fed up with foreigners”. Laura King of the Los Angeles Times writes about the “visceral distaste for Western behaviour and values” among significant numbers of Afghans.

Engelhardt and Turse provide details of the blowback against the NATO forces. In a heavily guarded room of the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul, the bodies of a U.S. lieutenant colonel and major were recently found, each executed with a shot in the back of the head while at work.

Two other U.S. troops died outside a small American base in Nangarhar Province in the midst of a demonstration in which two protestors were also killed. An Afghan soldier gunned the Americans down and then escaped into the crowd.

In fact, Afghans in police and army uniforms have repeatedly attacked their “allies”. At least 36 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed this way in the past year, far beyond the level of “isolated incidents.” This includes the April 2011 case in which an Afghan air force colonel murdered nine U.S. trainers in a heavily guarded area of Kabul International Airport. His funeral was attended by 1,500 mourners.

The time for “apologies” by the U.S. occupation forces has long passed. Many Afghans are demanding local trials and the death penalty for the Koran burners.

Engelhardt and Turse conclude, “despite its massive firepower and staggering base structure in Afghanistan, actual power is visibly slipping away from the United States. American officials are already talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air). And in an election year, with the Obama administration’s options desperately limited and what goals it had fast disappearing, it can only brace itself and hope to limp through until November 2012.

“The end game in Afghanistan has, it seems, come into view, and after all these fruitless, bloody years, it couldn’t be sadder. Saddest of all, so much of the blood spilled has been for purposes, if they ever made any sense, that have long since disappeared into the fog of history.”

For Canadians, this terrible tragedy includes 158 deaths among our own troops. When Afghanistan inevitably bids goodbye to NATO, our politicians will be asked: what was it all for? And there is no good answer.

*note: the above article is from the March 16-31, 2012, issue of People’s Voice, Canada’s leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers – $45 US per year; other overseas readers – $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People’s Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.