US, China & Mus­lim world

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Noam Chom­sky

CHI­NESE lead­ers un­der­stand very well that their coun­try’s mar­itime trade routes are ringed with hos­tile pow­ers from Ja­pan through the Malacca Straits and be­yond, backed by over­whelm­ing US mil­i­tary force. Ac­cord­ingly, China is pro­ceed­ing to ex­pand west­ward with ex­ten­sive in­vest­ments and care­ful moves to­ward in­te­gra­tion. In part, these de­vel­op­ments are within the frame­work of the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SCO), which in­cludes the cen­tral Asian states and Rus­sia, and soon In­dia and Pak­istan with Iran as one of the ob­servers – a sta­tus that was de­nied to the US, which was also called on to close all mil­i­tary bases in the re­gion. China is con­struct­ing a mod­ernised ver­sion of the old silk roads, with the in­tent not only of in­te­grat­ing the re­gion un­der Chi­nese in­flu­ence, but also of reach­ing Europe and the Mid­dle East­ern oil-pro­duc­ing re­gions. It is pour­ing huge sums into cre­at­ing an in­te­grated Asian en­ergy and com­mer­cial sys­tem, with ex­ten­sive high-speed rail lines and pipe­lines.

One el­e­ment of the pro­gramme is a high­way through some of the world’s tallest moun­tains to the new Chi­nese-de­vel­oped port of Gwadar in Pak­istan, which will pro­tect oil ship­ments from po­ten­tial US in­ter­fer­ence. The pro­gramme may also, China and Pak­istan hope, spur in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment in Pak­istan, which the United States has not un­der­taken de­spite mas­sive mil­i­tary aid, and might also pro­vide an in­cen­tive for Pak­istan to clamp down on do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism, a se­ri­ous is­sue for China in west­ern Xin­jiang prov­ince. Gwadar will be part of China’s “string of pearls”, bases be­ing con­structed in the In­dian Ocean for com­mer­cial pur­poses but po­ten­tially also for mil­i­tary use, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that China might some­day be able to project power as far as the Per­sian Gulf for the first time in the mod­ern era. All of these moves re­main im­mune to Wash­ing­ton’s over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary power, short of an­ni­hi­la­tion by nu­clear war, which would de­stroy the US as well. In 2015, China also es­tab­lished the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB), with it­self as the main share­holder. Fifty-six na­tions par­tic­i­pated in the open­ing in Beijing in June, in­clud­ing US al­lies Aus­tralia, Bri­tain and others which joined in de­fi­ance of Wash­ing­ton’s wishes. The US and Ja­pan were ab­sent. Some an­a­lysts be­lieve that the new bank might turn out to be a com­peti­tor to the Bret­ton Woods in­sti­tu­tions (the IMF and the World Bank), in which the United States holds veto power. There are also some ex­pec­ta­tions that the SCO might even­tu­ally be­come a coun­ter­part to Nato.

Let us turn to the Is­lamic world, also the scene of the global war on ter­ror (GWOT) that Ge­orge W Bush de­clared in 2001 af­ter the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tack. To be more ac­cu­rate, re­de­clared. The GWOT was de­clared by the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion when it took of­fice, with fevered rhetoric about a “plague spread by de­praved op­po­nents of civil­i­sa­tion it­self” (as Rea­gan put it) and a “re­turn to bar­barism in the mod­ern age” (the words of Ge­orge Shultz, his sec­re­tary of state). The orig­i­nal GWOT has been qui­etly re­moved from his­tory. It very quickly turned into a mur­der­ous and de­struc­tive ter­ror­ist war af­flict­ing Cen­tral Amer­ica, south­ern Africa, and the Mid­dle East, with grim reper­cus­sions to the present, even lead­ing to con­dem­na­tion of the United States by the World Court (which Wash­ing­ton dis­missed). In any event, it is not the right story for his­tory, so it is gone.

The suc­cess of the Bush-Obama ver­sion of GWOT can read­ily be eval­u­ated on di­rect in­spec­tion. When the war was de­clared, the ter­ror­ist tar­gets were con­fined to a small corner of tribal Afghanistan. They were pro­tected by Afghans, who mostly dis­liked or de­spised them, un­der the tribal code of hos­pi­tal­ity – which baf­fled Amer­i­cans when poor peas­ants re­fused “to turn over Osama bin Laden for the, to them, as­tro­nom­i­cal sum of $25m”. There are good rea­sons to be­lieve that a well-con­structed po­lice ac­tion, or even se­ri­ous diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tal­iban, might have placed those sus­pected of the 9/11 crimes in Amer­i­can hands for trial and sen­tenc­ing. But such op­tions were off the ta­ble. In­stead, the re­flex­ive choice was large-scale vi­o­lence – not with the goal of over­throw­ing the Tal­iban (that came later) but to make clear US con­tempt for ten­ta­tive Tal­iban of­fers of the pos­si­ble ex­tra­di­tion of bin Laden.

How se­ri­ous these of­fers were we do not know, since the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­plor­ing them was never en­ter­tained. Or per­haps the US was just in­tent on “try­ing to show its mus­cle, score a vic­tory and scare every­one in the world. They don’t care about the suf­fer­ing of the Afghans or how many peo­ple we will lose”. That was the judg­ment of the highly re­spected an­tiTal­iban leader Ab­dul Haq, one of the many op­po­si­tion­ists who con­demned the Amer­i­can bombing cam­paign launched in Oc­to­ber 2001 as “a big set­back” for their ef­forts to over­throw the Tal­iban from within, a goal they con­sid­ered within their reach.

His judg­ment is con­firmed by Richard A Clarke, who was chair­man of the Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Se­cu­rity Group at the White House un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush when the plans to at­tack Afghanistan were made. As Clarke de­scribes the meet­ing, when in­formed that the at­tack would vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law, “the pres­i­dent yelled in the nar­row con­fer­ence room, ‘I don’t care what the in­ter­na­tional lawyers say, we are go­ing to kick some ass.’” The at­tack was also bit­terly op­posed by the ma­jor aid or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing in Afghanistan, who warned that mil­lions were on the verge of star­va­tion and that the con­se­quences might be hor­ren­dous. The con­se­quences for poor Afghanistan years later need hardly be re­viewed.

The next tar­get of the sledge­ham­mer was Iraq. The US-UK in­va­sion, ut­terly with­out cred­i­ble pre­text, is the ma­jor crime of the 21st cen­tury. The in­va­sion led to the death of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in a coun­try where the civil­ian so­ci­ety had al­ready been dev­as­tated by Amer­i­can and Bri­tish sanc­tions that were re­garded as “geno­ci­dal” by the two distin­guished in­ter­na­tional diplo­mats who ad­min­is­tered them, and re­signed in protest for this rea­son. The in­va­sion also gen­er­ated mil­lions of refugees, largely de­stroyed the coun­try, and in­sti­gated a sec­tar­ian con­flict that is now tear­ing apart Iraq and the en­tire re­gion. It is an as­ton­ish­ing fact about our in­tel­lec­tual and moral cul­ture that in in­formed and en­light­ened cir­cles it can be called, blandly, “the liberation of Iraq”. Pen­tagon and Bri­tish Min­istry of De­fence polls found that only 3% of Iraqis re­garded the US se­cu­rity role in their neigh­bour­hood as le­git­i­mate, less than 1% be­lieved that “coali­tion” (US-UK) forces were good for their se­cu­rity, 80% op­posed the pres­ence of coali­tion forces in the coun­try, and a ma­jor­ity sup­ported at­tacks on coali­tion troops. Afghanistan has been de­stroyed be­yond the pos­si­bil­ity of re­li­able polling, but there are in­di­ca­tions that some­thing sim­i­lar may be true there as well. Par­tic­u­larly in Iraq the United States suf­fered a se­vere de­feat, aban­don­ing its of­fi­cial war aims, and leav­ing the coun­try un­der the in­flu­ence of the sole vic­tor, Iran.

The sledge­ham­mer was also wielded else­where, no­tably in Libya, where the three tra­di­tional im­pe­rial pow­ers (Bri­tain, France and the US) pro­cured se­cu­rity coun­cil res­o­lu­tion 1973 and in­stantly vi­o­lated it, be­com­ing the air force of the rebels. The ef­fect was to un­der­cut the pos­si­bil­ity of a peace­ful, ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment; sharply in­crease ca­su­al­ties (by at least a fac­tor of 10, ac­cord­ing to po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Alan Ku­per­man); leave Libya in ru­ins, in the hands of war­ring mili­tias; and, more re­cently, to pro­vide the ISIS with a base that it can use to spread ter­ror be­yond.

Quite sen­si­ble diplo­matic pro­pos­als by the African Union, ac­cepted in prin­ci­ple by Libya’s Muam­mar Gaddafi, were ig­nored by the im­pe­rial tri­umvi­rate, as Africa spe­cial­ist Alex de Waal reviews. A huge flow of weapons and ji­hadis has spread ter­ror and vi­o­lence from west Africa (now the cham­pion for ter­ror­ist mur­ders) to the Le­vant, while the Nato at­tack also sent a flood of refugees from Africa to Europe. Yet an­other tri­umph of “hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion”, and, as the long and of­ten ghastly record re­veals, not an un­usual one, go­ing back to its mod­ern ori­gins four cen­turies ago. — Courtesy: The Guardian

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