Foreign Policy in Focus – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 26 Sep 2021 05:14:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Child Labor is Growing: Which Side Are Democracies On? Sat, 25 Sep 2021 04:04:34 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – This is the Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. What can democracies do to make this a reality? By | September 23, 2021

Two years ago, when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro favorably promoted the idea of labor for children as young as eight or nine, his minister for Human Rights, Family, and Women shot back: “Let us be clear that for children to work is a violation of their rights, something that cannot be allowed.” The Brazilian National Forum for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labour publicly expressed “its vehement repudiation of the statement of Mr. Jair Bolsonaro…The declaration reveals a total disregard for the 1988 Federal Constitution…which prohibits all forms of child labour under the age of 16.”

According to the International Labor Organization’s latest report last fall, despite years of declining rates worldwide, child labor is indeed on the rise again. And the increase began before COVID exacerbated the situation.

Shortly before Bolsonaro issued his statement, more than a dozen anti-child labor organizations from Central and South America came together in Costa Rica to take stock of the struggle and make plans for 2021, the UN-designated Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. One challenge had become clear: the surge in right-wing authoritarian governments across Latin America has threatened years of progress.

“This is particularly worrying,” said Kailash Satyarthi, founder of the Global March Against Child Labor, in 2019, “since Latin America has seen some of the most significant progress over the past decade to eliminate child labor.” Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his decades of rescuing tens of thousands of child laborers and advocating for the rights of children.

From the viciously anti-civil rights platform of Bolsonaro to the string of authoritarian governments coming to power in Central America, child labor activists in the region feel embattled and under pressure. The forum participants from Nicaragua said flatly they would not be able to hold such a meeting of child labor groups in the current atmosphere in their country. Fortunately, the government of Costa Rica remains committed to this process and aspires to be the first country in the world to eliminate child labor.

But this trend isn’t limited to the Americas. It’s been axiomatic that everywhere right-wing authoritarians have recently gained power they have attacked basic civil liberties including human and labor rights. And child labor is the canary in the coal-mine of all other labor rights violations.

This year’s focus on child labor by the UN affords organizations like the Global March important advocacy opportunities. Two that were discussed in advance of the UN General Assembly meeting in September, and one now on the agenda of the International Labor Organization, offer democratic countries the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the authoritarians and dictators.

The first of these, promoted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the trade union umbrella organization representing 200 million workers worldwide, is the Global Fund for Social Protection. This is an effort to institutionalize more defined social safety net investments by governments and help poorer countries to protect marginalized workers. “The time has come to extend social protection to the half of the world’s people who have none and to the almost 20 percent who only have only partial coverage,” says Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary. “Many governments are finally having to recognise the urgency of social protection—including unemployment protection for people who have lost their livelihoods, paid sickness benefits, and access to healthcare.”

The second campaign, led by Satyarthi and supported by child labor groups around the world including the Global March, is the call for a “Fair Share for Children.” Such provisions in the national budgets of all governments would address child rights, including child labor, and provide universal quality education for all.

The inequities and inequalities these initiatives were formulated to address were immensely important pre-COVID. Now with child labor again on the rise and the pandemic affecting hundreds of millions of workers and their families, the adoption of these policies is critical.

So, when it comes to child labor, this is an opportunity for democracies to demonstrate which side they are on. Although the challenge is steep for poorer countries, the issue here isn’t about rich countries versus poor countries—it’s about the values of liberal democracy and human rights versus totalitarian impulses in countries that may also be wealthy. Beyond the UN and the ILO, the G20 presents another challenge to address this issue. South Africa, the UK, Germany, and France are some of the democracies that presumably are taking these questions seriously. But the G20 also includes Brazil, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey where relative wealth has little to do with how repressive their regimes are.

With the new Biden administration bringing into the government many progressive voices on labor and human rights, it will be interesting to see which way the United States goes on these questions. The Department of Labor has demonstrated a long-term commitment to supporting organizations fighting child labor. But with these new policy options on the table, will democracies commit to practical, progressive alternatives or side with the authoritarians?

Timothy Ryan is the chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labour. His labor journalism has appeared in Thomson-Reuters, Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, and Harper’s.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

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CGTN America: “Child labor on the rise due to pandemic”

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September 11 and the Debacle of ‘Nation-Building’ in Iraq and Afghanistan Sat, 11 Sep 2021 04:10:55 +0000

Nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq was the resurrection of a doctrine that should have been buried after Vietnam.

By Walden Bello | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – In one of his interviews before the Taliban retook Afghanistan, John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, blamed the American failure in Afghanistan on a change in Washington’s mission from anti-terrorism to “nation building.” In his view, Washington should just have held strategic sites in the country to keep terrorists off balance and not engaged in an ambitious reconstruction of Afghan society.

Bolton, one of the hardline conservatives who served as a high level official in the George W. Bush administration that invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11, was engaging in what Americans call “Monday morning quarterbacking,” or declaiming in all-knowing fashion what “ought” to have been done. But it was all wishful thinking.

Like all other imperial powers, the US could not just wreck a society and engage in a purely military occupation of Afghanistan. Like all of them, it had to reconstruct a society, if only to reduce the costs of military occupation and give its venture a patina of legitimacy among both Afghans and Americans. And, like all, it could not help but attempt to reconstruct a society in its own image, even if the result was in reality a disfigured or distorted copy of itself.

In the case of the United States, reconstructing Afghanistan and later Iraq in its own image meant trying to create an avatar of American liberal democracy. The term for this process given by American policy makers was “nation-building.” However, a more accurate term to describe the American way of politically managing conquered societies is “liberal democratic reconstruction.”

The Philippines as Paradigm

A Cartoon Uncle Sam carrying weapons, books, and supplies strides toward the Philippines, circa 1900. (Wikimedia commons)

The American experiment in liberal democratic reconstruction dates back not to Vietnam in the mid-20th century but to the U.S. conquest of the Philippines in the last years of the 19th century. As in the case of Afghanistan, it was an afterthought following a brutal suppression of a nationalist movement, which in this case took the lives of an estimated 500,000 Filipinos.

Liberal democratic reconstruction had two objectives: 1) To justify to the people at home an operation that had been undertaken to expand American naval power and acquire a strategic archipelago off the Asian mainland in order to corner the China trade. And 2) to come up with a solution for how to manage a conquered people.

Ironically, to legitimize a colonial war of conquest, Washington came up with a rationale that reflected America’s origins in an anti-colonial, pro-democratic revolution: “to prepare Filipinos for democratic self-rule.” The contradiction was not lost on many Americans, including the writer Mark Twain, but they were overwhelmed by the outburst of nationalist mass hysteria celebrating the U.S. joining the ranks of colonial powers.

The U.S. succeeded in the liberal democratic reconstruction of the Philippines. But that success was predicated on two necessary conditions: total victory over the resistance and the cooptation and cooperation of credible local elites in the creation of the liberal democratic order.

The wholesale transplantation of formal political institutions began shortly after the conquest. American colonial authorities and Protestant missionaries served as instructors, and an indigenous upper class constituted a dutiful student body. By the time the country was granted formal independence in 1946, the Philippine political system was a mirror image of the American one, with a presidency balanced by an independent Congress and judiciary. A two-party system emerged in the next few years.

On the ground, however, reality belied democratic ideology. Formal democratic institutions became a convenient cloak for the continuing rule of feudal paternalism in the highly stratified agrarian society the Americans inherited from the Spanish empire.

Wealthy landowners, those whom the United States had detached from the national liberation struggle and formed into a ruling class, enthusiastically embraced electoral politics. But it was hardly a belief in representative government that turned the local elites into eager students. The reason they so easily adapted to the U.S. system of governance was that it allowed competition for power among themselves via elections at the same time that it united them as a ruling caste over the unorganized rural and urban lower classes.

Reconstructing Defeated Japan

A Springfield Union front page reports on the U.S. occupation of Japan, 1945. (World War II Museum)

The next U.S. experience in liberal democratic reconstruction took place in Japan in the aftermath of the latter’s total defeat in the Second World War.

In describing the American post-invasion effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, officials of the George W. Bush administration compared their political project to the post-World War II reconstruction of Japan by the United States under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur.

Noted Japan scholars like John Dower and Chalmers Johnson dissented, however, pointing out that there were conditions in Japan that were not present in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Japan was more like the Philippines in terms of possessing the two necessary conditions for the success of liberal democratic reconstruction: total defeat of the subject nation in war and cooptation and cooperation of the ruling elite with the occupying power.

A summary of a major talk given by Dower at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005, two years after the invasion of Iraq, laid down these and other preconditions of liberal democratic reconstruction’s “success” in Japan that were not present in Baghdad:

— “Legitimacy of occupation. A formal war was followed by a decisive defeat and unconditional surrender. U.S. allies also saw the occupation as legitimate. Serious planning for the occupation of Japan began in 1942.

— “Consistency. Japan had an intact government. Emperor Hirohito declared war, surrendered, and continued as head of state until 1971.”

— “Cohesion. While politically diverse, Japan was socially cohesive, without…religious, ethnic, and cultural conflicts.”

— “Security. Japan, an island, faced no domestic security issues. The hardships were staggering. But there was no terror.”

– “Exhaustion. Japan was at war from 1931 to 1945, leaving 3 million dead, 10-15 million people homeless, rampant unemployment, malnutrition, and disease. Defeat brought liberation from death. Suddenly, the air raids stopped. They could start over.”

From Afterthought to Mission in Vietnam


Liberal democratic reconstruction’s successes in the Philippines and Japan, coupled with turning a blind eye to what made them unique — the total defeat of the resistance and the cooptation of credible local elites into the liberal democratic project — were probably what accounted for its elaboration from an afterthought to military conquest into a full blown missionary doctrine to counter communist-led national liberation movements during the Cold War.

Competition with communism led to a fateful modification of Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that “Our revolution and its consequences will ameliorate the condition of man over a great portion of the globe.” Jefferson was thinking of America as an example.

But as Frances Fitzgerald pointed out in her acclaimed book Fire in the Lake, Jefferson’s conviction was transformed in the 1950s and 1960s into the creed that “the mission of the United States was to build democracy around the world… Among certain circles it was more or less assumed that democracy, that is, electoral democracy combined with private ownership and civil liberties, was what the United States had to offer the Third World. Democracy provided not only the basis for opposition to Communism but the practical method to make sure that opposition worked.”

Liberal democratic reconstruction was turned from an afterthought to manage a conquered population into a universalistic ideology that sought to remake the developing world in America’s image.

Vietnam provided a rude shock to America’s ideology of missionary democracy. American empire builders learned the hard way the three conditions that made Vietnam different from the Philippines and Japan. One was a national liberation movement that could not be defeated politically and militarily. Two, the local elites the U.S. allied with to build liberal democracy, like Bao Dai Ngo Dinh Diem, were neither liberal nor democratic and had been discredited among the masses by their having supported or tolerated French colonialism. Three, the U.S. was seen by a people that had successfully expelled the French as stepping into the shoes of the latter.

The Republic of Vietnam was an ersatz state whose writ only extended to big cities like Saigon, while the countryside belonged to the communists. There was little doubt among the Americans that that state would collapse once the U.S. left. The unwritten goal of the 1973 Paris Peace Accord was to give the U.S. a decent interval for an “honorable exit” before the communists took over the whole country. The North Vietnamese were, in fact, generous, giving the Americans over two years to return home before undertaking their final offensive in mid-March 1975.

The debacle in Vietnam was so shattering that liberal democratic nation building should have been buried there and then. Despite the efforts of a few right-wing historians like Max Boot to rewrite history to show that the American model could have succeeded there had the U.S. persevered in devoting the resources to nation-building, the consensus is that the raw materials for a successful transplant of the U.S. model were simply not there.

A New Lease on Life: Nation Building in Iraq and Afghanistan

Village elders greet Afghanaid representatives in Nechem, Afghanistan, 2010. (Shutterstock)

The ideology of liberal democratic reconstruction had been merely shelved, not buried. It received a new lease on life in the early 2000s, after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. There were a number of factors that went into the invasions of both countries, including vengeance for 9/11, but both countries were essentially seen as providing Washington opportunities to reshape the global political environment after the Cold War.

The proponents of this strategy were the so-called “neoconservatives” that took over Washington with the triumph of George W. Bush in the 2000 elections, whose main personages were Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense. Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan provided the excuse for the invasion of that country, while the swaggering Saddam Hussein, whom Bush II was determined to link to September 11, presented the perfect reason for invading Iraq.

Afghanistan and Iraq were intended to be what the Romans called “exemplary wars” in the neoconservative playbook. They were the first step in a demarche that would eliminate so-called “rogue states,” compel greater loyalty from dependent governments or supplant them with more reliable allies, and put strategic competitors like China on notice that they should not even think of vying with the United States. The willingness to use force in Iraq and Afghanistan was designed to make future applications of force unnecessary owing to the fear they would engender in friend and foe alike. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s offered the neoconservatives the opportunity to make permanent a unipolar world and they were determined to take it.

The Vietnam debacle was forgotten and liberal democratic reconstruction was taken from the shelf and dusted off as the political project that would immediately follow the invasion. For the neocon Max Boot, U.S. leadership of the unipolar world was all about “imposing the rule of law, property rights, free speech and other guarantees, at gunpoint if need be.” Military power would go hand in hand with political reconstruction to achieve “democratic transformation,” said another neoconservative thinker, Philip Bobbitt. “Or it might be called ‘liberal imperialism.’ What is wrong with that idea?”

Despite the hoopla about liberal democratic reconstruction, it never got off the ground in Iraq. Following the invasion, the U.S. flew in Iraqi exiles from the West to lead the effort, only to find out that these long absent members of the political elite had no base within the country. Then followed a massive insurgency led by former members of Saddam’s army that dispelled any illusions that Iraq was a defeated society, a “clean slate” on which a liberal democratic regime could be built. Then, taking advantage of the ousting of Saddam by the Americans, the long-marginalized Shiite majority utilized the electoral processes Washington promoted to set up an illiberal sectarian government that made the formerly ruling Sunnis second-class citizens.

Unable to stop the insurgency, the Americans made a deal with Sunni clan chieftains in the rural areas for them to use blood ties to bring the insurgents under control. But the aim of this arrangement, dubbed “counterinsurgency” and associated with Gen David Petraeus, was to allow U.S. troops to depart with the fiction of having stabilized Iraq. The dream of a liberal democratic Iraq was in shambles, and the chaos, instability, and power vacuum created by the invasion provided the opening for the Islamic State or ISIS that was eventually to take over wide swathes of the country.

Liberal reconstruction was even more of a botched up job in Afghanistan. The Taliban were not defeated, a precondition for a successful reconstruction. They simply yielded the cities but remained in control of the countryside. Nor were there credible local elites that would serve as reliable partners of the liberal democratic project. The regime that Washington tried to pass off as a democracy was really a deal among discredited, drug-dealing warlords based in fortified cities that had no traction beyond the city gates.

According to Richard Clarke, the top anti-terrorism official of the G.W. Bush administration, Washington’s handpicked head of state, Hamid Karzai, didn’t really have authority outside Kabul and two or three other cities. The U.S. ended up with an unworkable arrangement uniting the weak central government it had set up in Kabul and powerful independent warlords who engaged in extortion and drug dealing. For the latter, “insecurity,” as then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan put it, was a “business” and extortion “a way of life.”

Despite U.S.-sponsored elections, Annan predicted as early as 2004 that, “without functional state institutions able to serve the basic needs of the population throughout the country, the authority and legitimacy of the government will be short-lived.” The U.S., in other words, substituted a failed state for a Taliban state that, for all its problems and sins in the eyes of the West, had worked.

As for the Taliban, they simply provided a parallel regime in much of the country that performed basic governmental functions such as dispensing justice. A leading women’s rights activist contrasted the effectiveness of Taliban rule with the U.S.-sponsored regime’s performance: “In the more remote provinces, in cases of theft or similar minor crimes, the Taliban’s justice system could act more effectively than the local police. While I am not supporting the Taliban’s practices, their so-called courts led by their elders would hold hearings to find the violator, and then force the thief to return the stolen goods, outcomes that were not possible with a corrupt local police force that was receptive to bribes because of poverty and other problems.”

Life for women was certainly better in the cities, but promotion of women’s rights suffered from the same problem as the rest of the paraphernalia of liberal democracy: To many Afghans it had the stigma of being associated with the invasion. As Rafia Zakaria pointed out, “both within and outside the U.S. government, the white feminists decided that war and occupation were essential to freeing Afghan women…The enduring logic was that if they thought military intervention was a good thing, then Afghan women would too.” The problem was “Afghan feminists never asked for Meryl Streep’s help — let alone U.S. air strikes.”

To a lot of people, the Taliban, for all their hostility to liberal democratic rights and practices, represented rough justice and security for life, limb, and property; the Kabul government, in contrast, stood for hopeless corruption. So with their prestige and firepower, the Taliban knew it was just a question of biding their time. And they could afford to play the long game while Washington could not, owing to the unpopularity of the so-called called “forever wars” in the United States. Like the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the peace deal to withdraw all U.S. troops by May 1, 2021, signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban, was designed to provide a figleaf of a decent interval for the U.S. to leave “with honor” before the Taliban took over the country.

What probably surprised even the Taliban was the swiftness with which the ersatz regime simply gave up as the U.S. withdrawal got going in earnest. Contrary to the western press’ image of a “brutal offensive,” the Talibans’ retaking of the big cities was largely a peaceful walkover with just a handful of casualties on both sides.

The amazingly rapid collapse of the government Washington had propped up for 20 years created precisely the image the Trump-Taliban deal had been designed to avoid: that of Americans frantically hightailing it from the country, leaving hundreds of thousands of their Afghan allies and their families behind. It was not the Taliban but the U.S.-sponsored failed state that did not give the Americans the decent interval that would allow them to leave with honor.

End of the Line?

Nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq was the resurrection of a doctrine that had been discredited in Vietnam.

It should have remained buried, but it was dredged up to provide a justification for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and serve as a handbook for reconstituting the state following military victory in the Bush administration’s drive to reshape the global political environment in a unipolar direction. But lacking the preconditions for success present in the Philippines and Japan, the venture collapsed in Iraq and Afghanistan in much the same way it did in Vietnam.

Hopefully, this time around, nation-building or liberal democratic reconstruction will be buried once and for all.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Walden Bello is senior analyst at Focus on the Global South and International Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton and the author or co-author of 25 books, including Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Washington Post: “How presidents and military leaders misled Americans about the war in Afghanistan”

Will the End of the Afghanistan War provoke Reconsideration of American Militarism? Fri, 03 Sep 2021 04:04:41 +0000

The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan should force a reckoning with a long history of military intervention.

By David Bacon | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – Many in the U.S. media continue to credit the good intentions of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, while belaboring its failure over 20 years to achieve any of them. But to say that the United States wanted a progressive, liberal democratic, and secular government in Afghanistan can only be believed by those who refuse to remember what Washington did when Kabul actually had one.

In the days following the attacks on September 11, the United States was called on to declare war against an enemy those in Congress who voted for it couldn’t even name. Policymakers asked American citizens to sacrifice civil liberties for security and give the military money that was so desperately needed to solve the country’s social problems.

Congress did those things with only one dissenting vote: Barbara Lee’s. Now it’s time to look at historical truth, to understand how the United States got this 20-year war, with its ignominious end at the Kabul airport, and how the overarching framework of U.S. policy was responsible for creating it.

Other countries facing similar traumatic changes wrenching them from the past have pioneered a way to examine their own history. El Salvador, Guatemala, South Africa, and elsewhere established truth commissions to probe into and acknowledge each country’s real history. Such public acknowledgement is a necessary step towards change.

The United States is no stranger to this process. After the end of the Vietnam War (or the American War, as the Vietnamese call it), Senator Frank Church held watershed hearings that brought some of the Cold War’s ghosts to public attention. But the process was cut short, the policies responsible for Cold War atrocities never fully questioned, and as a result, the ghosts were never laid to rest. Those ghosts still haunt the United States, and in Afghanistan hundreds of thousands died for them.

The massive social upheaval at home following the Vietnam War— and the deaths of over a million Vietnamese and 40,000 US soldiers—forced Senator Church’s examination. Before the people of this and other countries pay a similar price in yet another war, the United States need to reexamine that history.

The roots of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington lie in the Cold War. Without truly ending it and untangling its consequences, there will be no security for us.

The groups accused of responsibility for the attacks of September, which set off the most recent Afghan war, have roots in the forces assembled in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. That much, at least, has become openly discussed. But why did Washington seek to bring these forces together, including Osama bin Laden, then an upper-class Saudi youth?

In the 1970s, a moderately reformist government came to power in Afghanistan, a leftwing populist movement seeking to democratize Afghan society. It mounted literacy campaigns and built schools and clinics in rural areas. It sought to end restrictions on women in education and employment, and discouraged the use of the purdah, a practice that separated men from women and veiled the latter. It talked, although often little more than that, about land reform.

That was enough to earn it the enmity of traditional elements of Afghan society, which began organizing armed attacks on government officials, literacy workers, and people associated with the values the government promoted. Perhaps in another era, Afghans themselves might have resolved those internal conflicts. The forces of right-wing religious extremism might not have come out the better for it.

But Afghanistan’s common border and friendly relationship with the Soviet Union made it an attractive target for Cold War destabilization. British and U.S. intelligence agencies funneled money through the Pakistani intelligence service to groups opposing the government. When real civil conflict broke out, the Afghan government appealed for Soviet military help, and the war was on.

From that point forward, the United States spent more money building training camps for the fundamentalist forces and supplying them guns and missiles than it spent in the contra war in Nicaragua and the counterinsurgency in El Salvador combined. U.S. intelligence services dreamed of extending that war into Soviet Central Asia itself. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the conflict did in fact spread north.

Those who wanted a secular Afghanistan, social progress, and justice for its citizens were murdered or driven into exile or silence. Meanwhile, military leaders bent on using Soviet troops to pursue their side of the civil war replaced reformers.

U.S. aid fueled a philosophical movement that combined conservative religious doctrine with nationalism. Having defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, this movement eventually turned against the United States, as people that U.S. intelligence agencies previously considered “assets” began using weapons originally supplied by the U.S. government. This effort was fueled by the huge U.S. military presence in the Mideast and the oil interests it protects, its support for Israel, and the sanctions and subsequent war against Iraq.

What questions, then, would a truth commission ask, arising from the current tragedy of Afghanistan?

Was a policy bent on destabilizing the Soviet Union sufficient justification for the U.S. decision to support a war against a government that shared more professed U.S. values than the mujahideen that Washington financed? Will the national security advisors who made that decision now answer for its consequences?

In a supposedly post-Cold War world, the military interventions that characterized Cold War policy are far from over. This policy was basically unchanged in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, Korea, Colombia and elsewhere.

And behind the soldiers and the guns, whose interests are being defended? Are we supporting those in other countries seeking social equality and social justice, or those fighting against them?

For the countries which have served as battlegrounds, like El Salvador, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan itself, what must be done to repair the damage of those decades and help create stable societies that function for the benefit of the vast majority of their citizens?

The United States could help to rebuild Afghanistan, after having bombed the country back to the stone age (to use the old Cold War idiom). Instead, it is now washing its hands of the situation and leaving. Similarly, Washington could end support for free-market policies that impose poverty on millions of people. But it shows no signs of shifting course. As such, both Democratic and Republican governments are set to continue the Cold War’s history of military intervention, with all the destruction and economic inequality that they entail.

David Bacon is author of Illegal People—How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), and The Right to Stay Home (2013), both from Beacon Press. His latest book is In the Fields of the North / En los campos del norte, University of California Press, Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017. This article is based on a presentation given to a webinar organized by Global Exchange and the California Trade Justice Coalition, an affiliate of the Citizens Trade Campaign.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Vox: “How the US created a disaster in Afghanistan”

Biden wants to end America’s 20-Year War on the Middle East: But Can He? Sat, 12 Jun 2021 04:02:00 +0000

Biden has promised an end to the endless wars. But such promises are not easy to keep.

By Walden Bello | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – Next September, when the last C-130 cargo aircraft and Chinook transport helicopters take off from the infamous Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan that has doubled as a CIA torture center for suspected jihadists, they will not only be leaving behind the site of a military defeat. Their departure will also mark the dismal end of a strategy of direct military engagement to drastically reshape the Middle East that resulted instead in upending the global strategic balance.

America’s 20-year-long war in the Middle East contributed decisively not only to degrading U.S. imperial power but also to the domestic polarization savaging the American political process at present and to the emergence of China as the new center of global capital accumulation. Ending the Afghanistan commitment, liberals and progressives hope, will provide the conditions for a fundamental reset of US foreign policy

But even now, many are skeptical that the United States has really learned its lesson and that Joe Biden will not find another excuse to maintain a military contingent in Afghanistan.

In a United States that has gone through the trauma of COVID-19, followed by the January 6 insurrection and a pandemic of almost weekly mass shootings, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, 9/11, and the War on Terror might seem to be historical footnotes that pale before the country’s present troubles. But these now seemingly distant personalities and events had a decisive role in shaping the present.

Osama’s Vision, Bush’s Opportunity

As I wrote in the aftermath of 9/11, Osama bin Laden operated with something like Che Guevara’s “foco theory.” Guevara believed that direct engagement of the enemy was necessary to show peasants that guerrillas could defeat the military and encourage them to join the revolution. Bin Laden, operating on a global stage, saw the September 11 events as an act that would expose the vulnerability of the Great Satan and inspire Muslims to join his jihad against it.

It did not quite work out that way. Instead of being inspired, most Muslims were horrified and distanced themselves from the terrible deed. Still bin Laden lucked out, thanks to George W. Bush and the neoconservatives that had come to power with him in Washington in 2001. For them, Osama’s attack was a god-given opportunity to teach both America’s enemies and friends that the empire was omnipotent. Ostensibly waged to go after the “roots of terror,” the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were in fact what the Romans called “exemplary wars,” and their aim was to reshape the global strategic environment to fit Washington’s so-called “unipolar” status following the demise of the Soviet Union.

Disappointed with his father’s reluctance to finish off Saddam Hussein during the 1990-91 Gulf War, George W. Bush initiated these invasions as the first steps in a demarche that would eliminate the so-called rogue states, compel greater loyalty from dependent states or supplant them with stronger allies, and put strategic competitors like China on notice that they should not even think of vying with the United States.

Disregarding the lessons of Vietnam and the British and Soviet debacles in Afghanistan, the Bush administration drove the United States into two unwinnable wars against highly motivated insurgents in the Middle East as bin Laden watched with satisfaction, living unperturbed under the protection of an American ally, the Pakistani military, in the peaceful garrison town of Abbottabad in Pakistan. It was not exactly the scenario he had envisaged, but he was not about to quibble if the Bush administration, owing to its drive for unipolar hegemony, placed the United States on the road to overextension, which was, after all, his strategic aim.

Prolonged occupation demanded boots on the ground, and as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage saw it, “The Army, in particular, [is] stretched too thin…fighting three wars—Afghanistan still, Iraq, and the global war on terrorism.” At the height of the Iraq War, defense analyst James Fallows wrote, it was “only a slight exaggeration to say that today the entire U.S. military is either in Iraq, returning from Iraq, or getting ready to go.” Most of the Army’s maneuverable brigades were overseas, and those left in the United States were too few to maintain the contingency reserve or the training base necessary. Even the famed Special Forces were degraded, with their actual numbers in the field coming to hundreds at the most. Lack of human resources led the high command to call on the Reserves and the National Guard. As might be expected, morale plummeted, especially as tours of duty were extended and casualties mounted in lands to which these part-time soldiers had never expected to be assigned.

And as the prospect of prevailing in the battlefield became more and more distant, public support for the Iraq and Afghanistan expeditions, which was very limited right from the start, went up in smoke.

Obama Extends Bush II’s Wars

Barack Obama came to power in 2009 promising an end to the Middle East wars. In Iraq, the bulk of U.S. forces were withdrawn during his first term, but thousands of marines and Special Forces personnel were reintroduced to fight against the Islamic State whose growth had been provoked by the U.S. presence in the Middle East. Even as this was happening, what had been a key U.S. objective in Iraq—a stable non-sectarian pro-U.S. state–collapsed as the Iraqi Shiite government aligned itself with Iran, against whom the United States was colluding with the Israelis in a high-tech effort to sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program.

Obama also began an open-ended intervention in the Syrian Civil War, deploying Special Forces and airstrikes that eventually enmeshed the United States in a multi-cornered confrontation with the Islamic State and other jihadists, Syrian forces, and Russian troops. The Democratic president, ironically a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, in fact expanded the U.S. military reach to North Africa during the Arab Spring in 2011, unilaterally enforcing with its NATO allies a “no fly zone” featuring attacks on Libyan defenses that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and massive air support of the ground campaigns of anti-Qaddafi rebels. The intervention left Libya with no centralized government, and the country lapsed into an anarchy that persists until the present.

In Afghanistan, Obama added 33,000 troops to the 68,000 already in the country when he came to office, thinking this “surge” would cripple the Taliban. This surge failed, but he maintained 8,400 troops in the country. In fact, Obama expanded the war to Pakistan, using drones to target Taliban leaders and jihadists operating from bases near the border with Afghanistan; this computer-managed war took the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians that the military termed “collateral damage.” He also sent Special Forces on raids deep into Pakistan, the most prominent example being the one to Abbotabad that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

In contrast to Bush II, who preferred “boots on the ground,” Obama, as the New York Times’ David Sanger, put it, embraced “hard, covert power, “alluding to the necessity of a “‘light footprint’ that enables [the United States] to fight its wars stealthily, execute its operations with the speed of the bin Laden raid, and then avoid lengthy entanglements.” Like Bush II, who had never experienced war firsthand, Obama brought to his brand of war-making an “aggressiveness” that people around him found “surprising.”

Obama, though, did appreciate the fact that being bogged down in the Middle East was sapping U.S. power by provoking disaffection at home and alienation from America abroad. Fighting so-called “asymmetric warfare” with irregulars like the Taliban and the jihadists could go on forever, and Obama wanted to shift the global U.S. military strategy to one that was more congenial to its perceived strength in conventional warfare instead of counterinsurgency. The grand new design was the “Pivot to Asia” that involved the deployment of the bulk of the U.S. naval strength to the Indo-Pacific area to contain China. Reorientation was easier said than done, however, as extrication from the Middle East morass was made impossible by the strength of interests that made up the War on Terror/Counterinsurgency lobby.

Obama’s Wars Become Trump’s

Donald Trump rode to power partly on the strength of anti-war sentiment, continually reminding people during his campaign for the presidency in 2015 and 2016 that his rival Hillary Clinton had voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when she was a senator. In office, however, he ended up destabilizing the Middle East even more. There was, first of all, his unqualified support for Israel, which led him to a major move that infuriated Arabs: the transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Then he reversed the one tension-lessening achievement of Obama when he took the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal that had put effective checks on Tehran’s development of weapons-grade uranium in return for a relaxation of economic sanctions. Finally, he gave a blank check for weapons purchases to Saudi Arabia, enabling the benighted kingdom to wage its cruel intervention in the civil war in Yemen.

Trump occasionally remembered, however, that eliminating boots on the ground was one of his major campaign promises, so that the country could focus on “America First.” But, as in the case of Bush II and Obama, both of whom had an inferiority complex when dealing with generals owing to their lack of combat experience, draft dodger Trump also deferred to the military. After he decided to end the Obama-era intervention in Syria by withdrawing 1,000 U.S. troops in early October 2019, he caved in to the military’s pushback. Over a month later, the head of the U.S. Central Command stated there was no “end date” on Washington’s intervention in Syria and the presence of 2,500 American troops in neighboring Iraq.

Like Obama, Trump was passive-aggressive, eager to show the generals that he could be as macho as they are. The most notorious display of this behavior was when he flagrantly disregarded international law and ordered the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, at Baghdad International Airport in January 2020, against the advice of the top brass and the intelligence elite.

Faced with passive resistance on the part of the generals, Trump ended up keeping thousands of troops in Afghanistan during his term in office, but, mindful of the consequences of not keeping his promise by the 2020 elections, he directed the military in February 2020 to withdraw all troops by November 2020. Again, the military procrastinated, with the support of the War on Terror lobby, the deadline passed, and Joe Biden inherited some 3,500 troops and Special Forces personnel still in the country when he took office in January 2021.

Will Trump’s Wars Becomes Biden’s Wars?

Biden’s early rhetoric was reminiscent of both Obama’s and Trump’s initial seeming decisiveness about ending American’s Middle East engagements. Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” has been resurrected, identifying China more explicitly as a U.S. strategic rival. As the Defense Department puts it, China is the “DOD’s No. 1 pacing challenge, and it will develop operational concepts, capabilities and plans to bolster deterrence and maintain its competitive advantage. The approach toward China will be coordinated and synchronized across the enterprise to advance DOD’s priorities—integrated into domestic and foreign policy—in a whole-of-government strategy, strengthened by DOD’s alliances and partnerships and supported on a bipartisan basis in Congress.“

But that a continuing commitment to the Middle East is built into the Pentagon’s perspective is seen in the fact that after listing containment of China as its prime concern, it then lists as a priority the “disruption of transnational and non-state actor threats from violent extremist organizations—such as those operating in the Middle East, Africa and South and Central Asia.”

Indeed, that difficulty of ending these debilitating commitments was shown by the fact that Biden’s first act of war took place—guess where?—in Syria, where U.S. planes attacked Syrian militias slightly over a month after the new administration took office, on February 25.

Who Lost Afghanistan?

If a sideshow like Syria is so difficult to wind up, it will be that much more difficult to end a major commitment like Afghanistan. As Biden’s self-imposed September deadline approaches, the War on Terror military/civilian lobby is going into overdrive to keep a U.S. presence there. The congressionally chartered Afghan Study Group, co-chaired by retired Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned that “a precipitous withdrawal could lead to a reconstitution of the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland within eighteen months to three years.” Biden’s people must be anticipating with dread the blood curdling cry of “Who Lost Afghanistan?” that the opportunistic far right would raise in advance of the 2022 mid-term elections.

One characteristic of overextension is that it is infernally difficult to shed old priorities so that everything becomes a priority. Few have been the empires that have been able to unclench their fists and let go of self-destructive commitments. This is the reason why, despite Biden’s rhetoric of withdrawal, one cannot fault skeptics who predict that Biden, never known as a steely fellow but well known as a compromiser, will ultimately not have the stomach to defy the entrenched interests that are hell-bent on keeping a heavy American footprint in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

FPIF commentator Walden Bello is the co-chairperson of the Board of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and the International Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. This is the first of two articles on the legacy of Osama bin Laden.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

How the UN Can Help End Israeli Apartheid and Persecution Sun, 30 May 2021 04:02:22 +0000

The years-long focus on the “peace process” has led governments to overlook the unbearable status quo in Israel-Palestine. That has to stop.

By Louis Charbonneau | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – The latest outbreak of violence in Gaza is depressingly familiar. Scores of civilians, including children, were killed and injured. As usual, Israeli airstrikes in heavily populated areas of Gaza claimed the most victims, although Hamas rockets launched into Israel also killed and injured civilians.

As we try to grapple with a new cycle of bloodshed and apparent war crimes by Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups, it’s worth recalling what sparked the latest violence: a dispute over the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.

The plan is to replace these Arab Palestinian residents with Israeli Jews. Such evictions are all too familiar — they’re part of the discriminatory oppression that the Israeli government imposes throughout the Occupied Territories.

Human Rights Watch issued a 213-page report in April that helps put the recent bloodshed in its proper context. It details the crimes against humanity of persecution and apartheid that Israeli authorities are committing against millions of Palestinians.

The report’s publication whipped up a storm of reactions. But we weren’t the first to make this determination — and we aren’t likely to be the last. The growing recognition that apartheid is a reality today should push the international community to question the assumptions that have long underlined the conversation about Israel and Palestine.

Defining ‘Apartheid’

The years-long focus on ceasefires and the “Middle East peace process” has led governments to overlook or minimize the unbearable status quo on the ground. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have pursued policies aimed at ensuring the continued domination of one group over another. There’s nothing to suggest that Israel’s government views its 54-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as temporary.

International law, as codified in two treaties, defines the crime of apartheid. It was initially inspired by the South African experience, but it’s been abstracted to capture other severe and structural examples of discrimination intended to favor one group at the expense of another.

The crime requires three elements: an intention to maintain a system of domination, systematic oppression, and inhumane acts committed as part of that project.

Human Rights Watch found that Israeli authorities have demonstrated an intent to maintain a system of domination across all the territory they control and carried out systematic oppression and inhumane acts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The related crime of persecution involves the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights by reason of the identity of the group and requires discriminatory intent.

Israel has legitimate security concerns. However, Human Rights Watch has documented a range of inhumane acts that had nothing to do with security but instead reflected solely a desire to control land and demography. Others had a security basis but authorities had failed any reasonable test to address those concerns in a focused manner that balanced them against the human rights of the population harmed.

For decades, there have been unrelenting land grabs, unchecked expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, regular home demolitions, and confinement of many Palestinians to under-resourced and overpopulated enclaves. In a stark illustration of entrenched discrimination, Israel vaccinated all of its Jewish and Palestinian citizens. But in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, it vaccinated Jewish settlers while denying responsibility for vaccinating most Palestinians.

What Can the United Nations Do?

The United Nations played a central role in undoing South Africa’s system of apartheid. It should do that again with the crimes of apartheid and persecution, globally and in Israel-Palestine.

But how?

The first thing UN member states should do is to mandate an international commission of inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.

Given its history of involvement in the South Africa case — and the fact that none of the 193 UN member states has a veto — the General Assembly is well placed to take this up. And it is arguably the closest thing we have to a world parliament. The UN Human Rights Council could also create a commission of inquiry, as it has with other cases of widespread human rights abuses.

Another option is the Security Council, although it has long been deadlocked due to the U.S. government’s use of its veto power to shield Israel from criticism. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could also appoint a commission of inquiry, but he has consistently refused to use his authority to establish international investigations on a number of topics — such as the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi or the use of chemical weapons in Syria — that involve powerful member states or their close allies.

Taking a Global Approach

We’re also calling for the appointment of a global UN envoy for the crimes of persecution and apartheid with a mandate to push for the end of these crimes wherever they occur.

For instance, Human Rights Watch recently found that the Myanmar authorities are committing the crimes of persecution and apartheid against hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims. Myanmar authorities’ system of discriminatory laws and policies that make the Rohingya in Rakhine State a permanent underclass because of their ethnicity and religion amounts to apartheid in violation of international law. Human Rights Watch has said that Myanmar officials responsible for these policies should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

A global UN envoy could draw attention with regular public reports to UN member countries on other countries where the crimes of apartheid and persecution are either in full swing or on the verge of being committed.

Apartheid and persecution have become the forgotten crimes against humanity, as a colleague of mine wrote recently. A UN global envoy could help end that neglect by pushing for greater awareness of where and how those crimes are being carried out and identifying avenues for accountability.

The UN can also offer a forum for discussing these crimes. Various UN bodies and committees around the world organize hundreds of meetings on a wide range of topics every year, including Israel and Palestine. Those meetings offer an excellent opportunity to regularly raise these issues and push the international community to acknowledge the reality on the ground — a first step to changing it.

UN member states can mobilize the UN system to pressure Israeli authorities to end these abuses. The world should stop pretending that these crimes aren’t happening. It should also not tolerate depriving millions of Palestinians of their fundamental rights in order to preserve the possibility of a peace deal that isn’t coming anytime soon.

We need to end the abuses and crimes against humanity now. And the United Nations can help the world do it.

Louis Charbonneau is the UN director at Human Rights Watch.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Why is Israel called an ‘apartheid’ state?”

Fascism’s Global Spread is Real — As Real as the Spread of COVID-19 Sat, 08 May 2021 04:01:47 +0000 By Walden Bello | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – In the world’s largest democracies, far-right movements that embrace violence, reject democracy, and target the vulnerable are on the rise. By | May 5, 2021

The global spread of fascism is real, as real as the spread of COVID-19, and you better believe it.

For purposes of academic analysis, it might be legitimate to distinguish between a “fascist-leaning” movement and a truly fascist one, or a far-right regime and fascist regime, or an authoritarian populist and a fascist. But I am a former member of the Philippine parliament and a street activist. While I have great respect for academics, those of us who operate in the realm of practical politics cannot afford to act as academics.

For me a movement or person must be regarded as fascist when they fuse the following five features: 1) they show a disdain or hatred for democratic principles and procedures; 2) they tolerate or promote violence; 3) they have a heated mass base that supports their anti-democratic thinking and behavior; 4) they scapegoat and support the persecution of certain social groups; and 5) they are led by a charismatic individual who exhibits and normalizes all of the above.

Belittling the Threat

When Mussolini and Hitler were still upstarts fighting to barge into the political mainstream in Italy and Germany, politicians of the left, center, and traditional right dismissed them as oddities who would either disappear or be absorbed into the parliamentary democratic system.

When Donald Trump got elected president of the United States in November 2016, opinion makers — with the exception of a handful, like the progressive filmmaker Michael Moore — were taken by surprise. But most predicted that the office would transform the unpredictable star of reality television into a proper president, one respectful of the customs and traditions of the world’s oldest democracy.

In the Philippines, after warning before our own 2016 elections that Rodrigo Duterte would be “another Marcos,” I wrote two months into Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency that he was a “fascist original.” I was criticized by many opinion-makers, academics, and even progressives for using the “f” word.

How wrong the pundits were in dismissing these personalities as flukes, as they were when it came to others, like Victor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India, and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Academics are scornful of what they put down as “loaded terms,” but the consequences of underestimating the threat posed to democracy by fascists are not academic. It would be superfluous to be reminded now of Trump’s almost successful effort to prevent a peaceful transfer of power in the United States by systematically spreading the lie that he lost the elections and instigating a violent insurrection.

But for those who have not followed the career of other persons of interest as closely, let me acquaint you with the highlights of their respective reigns: Five years and over 20,000 extra-judicial executions later, the “f” word is one of the milder terms used for Rodrigo Duterte, with many preferring “mass murderer” or “serial killer.” Modi has made the secular and diverse India of Gandhi and Nehru a thing of the past with his Hindu nationalist project. And Orban and his Fidesz Party have almost completed their neutering of democracy in Hungary.

Democracies in Peril

The United States, India, Brazil, and the Philippines were four of the seven biggest democracies in the world just nine years ago. Today, three of them are led by fascists who are determined to complete their transformation into non-liberal democratic systems. The other barely survived a fascist’s determined effort to hold on to power.

With 11 million more Americans voting for Trump in 2020 than in 2016, 70 percent of the Republican Party believing against all evidence that he won the election, white supremacy emerging as the guiding ideology of the Republican Party, and a coalition of angry extremists open to violent means of seizing power emerging as the party’s driving force, who can deny that American democracy is in intensive care, despite the passage of the presidency to Joe Biden?

I would like to stress three things at this juncture.

First, the features of fascism come together in unique ways. If we are waiting for the ideal-type fascist to make his appearance, meaning a spitting image of Adolf, then we will be waiting forever.

Second, the key features of fascism do not become prominent all at once. They may, in fact, be institutionalized only late in the day, such as Mussolini’s eliminationist policy towards Jews, which he only made law in 1938, 16 years after he came to power.

Trump’s true willingness to openly overthrow the cornerstone of democracy — the peaceful succession of power via majority decision of the electorate — was not on full display until he lost the November 2020 elections. Modi and the BJP’s incendiary views of Muslims were dismissed by many as simply rhetorical excesses until the BJP came to power in 2014. Then began the lynching of Muslims falsely accused of being cattle traders, followed by mob attacks on Muslim ghettos, and the legalization of the social subordination of Muslims.

The third point is that the closer fascists come to power, the more some of them feel they must put on a pretense of respecting democratic processes and values to lull the electorate into believing they’re really not as bad as the liberal and progressive press make them out to be and evince horror at being branded as fascists.

Leaders of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany have been trying hard to cultivate the image of responsible politicians who can be trusted to behave in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Party, the country’s main traditional conservative party. Fortunately, just when they think they’ve succeeded, someone from their ranks lets the cat out of the bag — like Christian Lueth, formerly the press spokesperson of AfD, who recently slipped and publicly assured a right wing blogger on the question of migrants, “We can always shoot them later, that’s not an issue. Or gas them, as you wish. It doesn’t matter to me.”

How can one deny that there is a fascist resurgence if one were to do even just a brief survey of today’s Western and Central Europe, which birthed fascism in the first half of the 20th century and has again become its fertile soil in the second decade of the 21st century?

From having no radical right-wing regime in the 2000s, except occasionally and briefly as junior partners in unstable governing coalitions as in Austria, the region now has two solidly in power — one in Hungary, the Orban government, and one in Poland, the Peace and Justice Party. The region has four more countries where a party of the far right is the main opposition party. And it has seven where the far right has become a major presence both in parliament and in the streets.

Seeding the Ground for Political Success

It would be myopic to judge fascism’s resurgence only in terms of its political success. The spread of fascist ideas is much faster than the pace of its electoral successes and, indeed, seeds the ground for its eventual political success. Racism, white supremacy, promotion of violence, conspiracy theories — such as Muslims seducing Hindu girls “in love jihads” to change the demographic balance in India — all spread fast online, become normalized in the echo chambers of the internet, and eventually are legitimized.

Especially alarming for people in the West who think liberal democratic beliefs are too solidly entrenched in their polities to be eroded should be the fact that holocaust denial is now more widespread in Europe than three decades ago, and that in the United States, surveys suggest broad ignorance about the Holocaust among millennial and Gen-Z respondents . These inroads in eroding the collective memory of 20th century fascism’s most diabolical crime must surely count as one of 21st century fascism’s biggest successes.

If you think I am exaggerating, listen to the German authorities, who report that anti-Semitic incidents in Germany in 2020 rose to 2,275, the highest since they started collecting data on politically motivated criminality in 2001. Listen to Charlotte Knobloch, former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who tells us, “Anti-Semitism has become socially acceptable again.” Talk to the German domestic intelligence agency BfV, which has made the unprecedented request to the judiciary to place the AfD, Germany’s biggest opposition party, a hotbed of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, under scrutiny as a suspected fascist organization.

Why Fascists Target Migrants First

Especially targeted by fascists today are non-white migrants. Now, just because an individual is anti-migrant does not mean he or she is a committed fascist. The problem is anti-migrant attitudes today are bound up with support for repressive moves against them, like drastically limiting asylum to political refugees, deporting large numbers of them as “criminals” or “national security risks,” physically breaking up their communities under the pretext of “assimilation,” and denying them fundamental human rights, like the right of parents and children to stay together, which the Trump administration violated in the case of Central American and Mexican migrants.

The most vulnerable groups, like migrants, are the first targets of fascists, but you can be sure they won’t stop with them. As Pastor Niemoller’s celebrated poem reminds us, you only think you’re safe until they come for you and “there won’t be anyone left to speak” for you.

The beast is struggling against its chains in Germany. It has bared its fangs in Washington, D.C. It has shed blood in the Philippines and India. Let us not repeat the mistake of the democracies of the early 20th century of hesitating to call that beast by its name.

FPIF commentator Walden Bello is co-founder of Focus on the Global South and a professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton. This article is adapted from the author’s opening speech at the Cambridge Union debate on the resurgence of fascism on April 29.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Chatham House: “World order in the 21st century: Illiberal orders, a concert of power, or a Western revival?”

Trump put the US on a War footing Iran: Biden must Reverse that Immediately Sat, 27 Mar 2021 04:02:14 +0000 By Manon Dark | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – The current controversy over Iran’s nuclear program is one of Trump’s lingering foreign policy legacies that has proved particularly difficult for President Joe Biden to resolve. The U.S. withdrawal in May 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, and Iran’s gradual reversal of its nuclear commitments in retaliation for the Trump administration’s re-imposition of draconian economic sanctions has created a foreign policy conundrum for the Biden administration. How the two parties should go about reviving the nuclear agreement and what realistic strategy the Biden administration should adopt toward nuclear talks with Iran are among the key questions driving policy debates on this issue.

The following interview tackles these very questions. Abolghasem Bayyenat is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs where he conducts research on Iran’s nuclear policy. His doctoral dissertation at Syracuse University was on the political dynamics of Iran’s nuclear policy-making from 2003 to 2015. Prior to this doctoral studies, he worked for several years as an international trade expert for Iran’s Ministry of Commerce, where he was involved in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations between Iran and its trade partners. He has published widely on Iran’s foreign and nuclear policy developments and its foreign trade, some of which can be accessed on his website at .

Manon Dark: When Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, how did this impact relations between the United States and Iran?

Abolghasem Bayyenat: Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA was received as a stab in the back in Iran and left a deep sense of betrayal among many Iranians. It reinforced the conservative politicians’ long-held conviction that the United States is not a reliable and trustworthy partner and that any engagement with the United States will be short-lived. If implemented in good faith, the JCPOA had the potential to put the Iran-U.S. relationship on a new path and open new avenues for cooperation between the two countries by serving as proof that the two parties are able to keep their end of the deal. However, the U.S. withdrawal and the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran undermined the position of moderates in Iran in advocating for a conciliatory foreign policy and bolstered the hardliners ‘ narrative that only resistance and defiance against the United States can secure Iran’s national interests.

Manon Dark: Iran has said the United States should return to the nuclear agreement unconditionally as it was the one who left. Do you think that the United States and Iran are likely to settle on an agreement that pleases both sides?

Abolghasem Bayyenat: The experience of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA has made Iran overly cautious about re-engagement with the United States. Iranians are “once bitten twice shy” about it. They don’t want to give up their nuclear leverage first and come back into full compliance with the deal before the United States effectively lifts the sanctions. Given the nature of Iran’s nuclear commitments, which require concrete measures on the ground, once they give up this leverage, it would take them many months or years to rebuild it. This is unlike the U.S. commitments, which can be reversed at the stroke of a pen. To overcome this deadlock, the parties would have to define a modality that would sequence their reciprocal measures for coming back into full compliance. This process should take no more that 3-4 months. This seems to be the only conceivable formula that could satisfy both parties.

Manon Dark: Is Joe Biden likely to lift sanctions on Iran to kickstart nuclear deal talks?

Abolghasem Bayyenat: Biden is under domestic pressure not to give any sanctions relief to Iran before the country returns to full compliance with its JCPOA obligations. But he is also cognizant that time is no longer on the U.S. side as Iran has started a more substantial rollback of its JCPOA commitments and domestic political developments in Iran may make it even harder to reach agreement on a mutually-acceptable return to the deal. So, he may be more inclined to consent to a confidence-building measure that does not require the lifting of sanctions prior to Iran’s return to full compliance with the deal. Such a show of goodwill in the form of a confidence-building gesture, like a partial release of Iran’s frozen funds in South Korea and Iraq or the approval of Iran’s application for an IMF loan that may not require the formal lifting of the sanctions, might be in the offing. Such a gesture would also calm domestic opposition in Iran to talks with the United States. But nothing can be taken for granted yet, and things may go in different directions.

Manon Dark: Recent reports have claimed that both Republicans and Democrats in the United States are urging Biden to address other security issues within deal negotiations, some of which Iran has already rejected. Could this be a main sticking point during talks around a deal?

Abolghasem Bayyenat: Adding any new items to the agenda of the talks for returning to the nuclear deal is not a wise choice at this stage and would be a non-starter for Iran. The political climate in Iran is simply not favorable to talks over any new issues, given the poor record of the United States over the past five years in living up to its JCPOA commitments. The U.S. government needs to build the right foundation for engagement with Iran over other issues of concern by first implementing its JCPOA commitments in good faith for at least several years. This would build a minimum level of trust in the United States and create domestic political support for further engagement. The problem with American administrations has been that they have often viewed engagement with Iran as one-time or single-iteration game, rather than using it as a building block for a more lasting relationship with Tehran.

Manon Dark

Manon Dark is a journalist writing for Daily Express in the United Kingdom.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

PBS:”Iranians hopeful diplomacy with Washington could stem soaring inflation, unrest”

Republican Leaders are de Facto Justifying Fascist Violence: Don’t let them off the Hook Fri, 29 Jan 2021 05:04:38 +0000 By David Ost | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – The problem with our public discussion of fascism is that we trot out the term every time the right turns to violence, and then we withdraw the term when the violence ends. We keep it in reserve, as if the force of the term is so immense that it can be used only sparingly.

Most recently, when right-wing mobs attacked the Capitol on January 6, once again people shouted “fascism!” Then, when the immediate threat died down, they prayed that perhaps this time, now that Joe Biden is president, things will go back to normal.

Normal? Such a reaction misses the major political development of the time: the normalization of fascism. For years now, the political right has been doing everything to make fascism unexceptional, imaginable, and part of everyday life.

The Tactics of the Right

Most of the time the right does not resort to violence. But neither did classic fascism. Fascists always turned on and off the violence. They won support and introduced their system not just through violence, which most of the population opposed, but by boasting loudly of their nationalism and patriotism and by taking steps, symbolic and real, to make things better, or at least make things feel better, for “real” Germans, Italians, Hungarians or Americans.

Before fascism can win power, it has to win support, which it seeks to do by polarizing politics to the point where only fascists represent the “true” nation. One way of doing so is to treat political opponents not as opponents but as enemies. Fascists denounce the free press also as enemies, and insist on the indisputable truth of their fantasies. They reject the legitimacy of any governmental administrations they do not control. They try to turn professional civil servants into partisan warriors. And they say they do all this in order to restore the power and dignity of some nebulous and mystical “Nation.” Although they interpret this notion in different ways, depending on the specific country and its history, their concept of “the Nation” always excludes large numbers of people actually living in the country, people who don’t share the racial or cultural identity of what fascists claim is the nation’s dominant essence. Fascists use this concept to build a “small solidarity” with those accepted as legitimate parts of the Nation and against all those others now considered a threat.

Violence follows from this. After all, if opponents really are enemies, if these enemies gain power, if they use that power against the interests of “the Nation,” then why shouldn’t patriots use violence? But violence isn’t necessary to spread these new authoritarian norms. The right does that without violence, by its rhetoric and practices. Nor is violence the thing that undoes democracy. Democracy breaks when its institutions are delegitimated and undermined, when a minority passing itself off as the “true” representative of the Nation claims its unique right to govern—just as the Republican Party, Hungary’s Fidesz Party, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party have been doing for years.

This is not “right-wing populism.” It is a fascist revival. We all seem to recognize this when they suddenly turn violent. But we need to be able to speak about fascism without waiting for the manifestation of violence.

One way to do that is this: with the new right normalizing fascism, we need to normalize it back.

Not Populists

Normalizing back means not shouting that there is a fascist threat the moment the right commits violence, but simply noting that this is what much of the political right has become. Make them take responsibility for what they represent. Make them defend themselves as fascists, as opponents of democracy who wish to smash the left. Don’t allow them to claim to be mere “populists.” “Populism” has connotations of representing everyone. Fascists do not represent everyone, and no far-right leader ever claims to do so. They are not “for the people.” They have an ideology, a longing for an authoritarian system that properly deals with the Nation’s enemies. This is what they are fighting for even when they are not committing violence.

Imagine that in 10-15 years those on the farthest corners of the right realize their authoritarian visions. Domestic troubles, perhaps triggered by a wave of climate refugees, allow some new Trump or Orban to impose martial law. Certain minorities are mercilessly harassed, their supporters targeted as aiding rebels. Imagine, in other words, that some version of a regime deemed “fascist” does in fact come to pass. (Given the recent insurrection waged on the flimsiest of grounds, with top Republicans urging election results to be simply thrown out, such a future can no longer be seen as impossible.) If it does, future historians will easily be able to show how such a development had its roots in the ideas and discourse the right is pushing today. Just as classic fascism had its ideological precursors in the anti-liberal and “irrationalist” theorists of the early 1900s, so the precursors of a future fascism are clearly the “right-wing populists” of today.

That is what it means to “normalize fascism back.” If they’re going to “normalize” fascism by insisting that lies are truth and liberalism is tyranny and that only their leaders are legitimate ones, we must normalize it back—not by shouting “fascism” as an epithet following moments of violence but by noting that these actors are promoting fascism through their everyday actions. We must not let them deny it any time they are not committing violence.

For two generations after World War II, no one could claim to promote openly racist and authoritarian ideas and hope to stay in politics for long. That is no longer the case. Fascist ideas are reemerging in the United States and in much of Europe. But the right tries to get off the hook by saying that it too opposes “fascism.” Fascism, after all, is associated with Hitler, and if they’re not acting like Hitler, then they can say—and many might even believe—that they cannot be fascists. This is why we must understand fascism not as constant violence and repression but as the mobilization of dominant-essence non-elites against minorities. Fascists seek popular support for a fight both against democracy and against the minorities democratic leaders allegedly protect.

Undermining Support for Fascism

Radical right leaders won’t change their views, but we might be able to reach some of their adherents who don’t like or want fascism, but who now don’t know they are supporting anything like that. Yelling “Fascism!” won’t reach them. They will simply line up behind their leaders who say “There the left goes, discrediting us.” If we calmly acknowledge that this is fascism -— that it has, alas, become normal again, with legitimate and thus mainstream political actors espousing such views—then they might be able to listen. The point is to make the right defend its neo-fascism, and not let it deny all connection on the grounds that it is not being violent.

As it happens, some right-wingers won’t mind. Soon after Poland’s Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, a left-leaning journalist on a Polish television show pointed out some of the similarities of Law and Justice’s rhetoric to that of classic fascism. His right-wing interlocutor first squirmed, and then replied, “The problem is that Hitler gave fascism a bad name.” In other words, he recognized, honestly, that his program had much in common with fascism. He lamented, simply, that by declaring war on the world, and then losing, Hitler did much to discredit fascism. Pushed by a calm insistence that his favored party must admire fascism, the right-wing interlocutor confessed that it did.

It’s important to push these right-wing leaders and parties to acknowledge their fascist connections even as we acknowledge that they are not behaving like Hitler. By not being satisfied with seizing power only in Germany but embarking also on world conquest and a campaign of genocide, Hitler did give fascism “a bad name.” How else to account for the fact that a movement that had galvanized tens of millions suddenly counted virtually no open supporters after 1945? This is why those seeking to revive fascism today do not openly endorse violence: they know it deters potential supporters. (Violence was less of an impediment for fascist parties in the interwar period when citizens had just emerged from the full-scale militarization and pervasive violence of World War I and its trenches.)

Today, Trump-supporting talk radio hosts excuse the Capitol insurrection as being provoked by liberal refusal to “acknowledge” electoral corruption. But even they repeat ritually that “we do not support violence.” They, too, understand that Hitler gave fascism a bad name. They are comfortable with their neo-fascist efforts to overturn an election and hand power to their hero who lost. They just don’t want their neo-fascism to have a bad name.

Today’s fascists are not embarrassed by their attacks on democracy. They apologize for nothing, ever. They are only embarrassed by the label of “fascist.” Today, “fascism” is still a bad-enough name. Let’s insist they own the label, even at those times when they’re not inflicting violence. It might be the best way to impede their growth.

David Ost is currently a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, working on a book project titled “Workers, The Fascist Allure, and the Transformation of the Left.” Normally he teaches politics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York. He has written widely on eastern Europe, with a focus on labor, class, democracy, and the new right. His books include Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics, Workers After Workers’ States, The Defeat of Solidarity, and a special-issue edited collection titled “Class After Communism.” His articles have appeared in Politics and Society, Eastern European Politics and Society, Constellations, European Journal of Social Theory, Comparative Politics, Theory and Society, Perspectives on Politics, European Journal of Industrial Relations, The Nation, Dissent, Telos, and Tikkun.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Thom Hartmann Program: “Democracy Teeters On the Edge!”

The Left must Seize the Initiative: Biden’s Centrist Instincts could be Disastrous Sun, 13 Dec 2020 05:02:44 +0000 By Walden Bello | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – Donald Trump embarked on an unorthodox course in economic policy that combined tax cuts for the rich with a protectionist trade policy that was ostensibly aimed at saving the U.S. industrial base and preventing the export of American jobs.

The question is not whether the incoming Biden administration will follow, in reaction, a more centrist, orthodox course. It will. The question is, will such a course be successful?

There seems little doubt that, especially with so many neoliberals and neoconservatives deserting Trump and the Republican Party and supporting Biden, and with the people surrounding Biden coming mainly from the Clinton-Obama wing of the Democratic Party, a Biden presidency will instinctually hew to the center in its political-economic approach.

After Trump’s offensive on free trade, the Biden team will push to recharge globalization, but cautiously — calling off the trade war with China but refraining from pushing new trade agreements, being sensitive to the deindustrialized Midwestern states that had deserted Hillary Clinton in 2016 and barely supported Biden this time around.

There will be no more tax cutting for the rich, but bringing back the pre-Reagan era marginal tax rates on the highest incomes won’t happen. Social policy will focus mainly on expanding safety nets for the middle and lower classes rather than pushing for higher wages for workers via significantly higher minimum wages and political support for more aggressive union organizing. Improvements in social safety nets will, of course, largely depend on what level of tax increases the rich backers of the Democratic Party and centrists under pressure from the party’s left will agree on.

While Biden’s pick as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, has received criticism from progressives for her previous support for social security cuts, former Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen got far less flak from the left when Biden named her as his Treasury Secretary.

Yet it is Yellen who is the more consequential — and possibly more worrisome — appointment. That the Dow and the S&P rallied at the announcement is not surprising since as Fed Chair, she continued Ben Bernanke’s policies of quantitative easing, or buying the big banks’ toxic assets both to keep them afloat and use them to infuse money into the economy in order to ward off a recession.

Fox News said “Wall Street Loves Janet Yellen” since she represents “easy money” for the banks, with one commentator saying, “It’s a sign there won’t be anything extreme.” For both High Finance and Big Tech, having Yellen instead of Elizabeth Warren is a sign that Biden is unlikely to regulate them beyond the weak Obama-era Dodd-Frank legislation.

In sum, a centrist economic policy will soften the hard edges of neoliberalism largely via Keynesian monetary manipulation, but not dissipate the overriding neoliberal policy orientation carried by the Democratic Party establishment. Maintaining the profitability of U.S. capitalism will be a central concern of Biden’s economic pragmatists, owing partly to the influence of Big Tech and Wall Street on the Democratic Party establishment.

Convergence of Elites

But beyond the question of influence of special interests on the Democratic Party, however, is a deeper phenomenon of convergence of interests and ideology between what Thomas Piketty, borrowing from the Indian caste system, calls the highly educated “Brahmin Left” and the “Merchant Right.” It is worth quoting Piketty in full in this regard:

“The Clinton and Obama administrations basically validated and perpetuated the basic thrust of policy under Reagan. This may be because both Democratic presidents… were partly convinced by the Reagan narrative. But it may also be that acceptance of the new fiscal and social agenda was partly due the transformation of the Democratic electorate and to a political and strategic choice to rely more heavily on the party’s new and highly educated supporters, who may have found the turn toward less redistributive policies personally advantageous.”

In other words, the Brahmin Left, which is what Democratic Party had become by the period 1990-2020, basically shares common interests with the Merchant Right, to use Piketty’s terms. The latter had ruled via the Republican Party from Reagan to George W. Bush but key sectors of it have become increasingly disenchanted with Trump’s Wall Street-hating nationalist mass base to which he has assiduously pandered in word if not deed.

Trump attributing his defeat to Big Tech and Wall Street was a wild conspiracy theory, but there was a grain of truth in his ravings: The Democratic candidate and his party have enjoyed significant support, both material and ideological, from the highly educated Silicon Valley elite, the highly educated Wall Street elite, and the technocratic professional classes as a whole. This was one force that allowed Biden to leave Trump in the dust in terms of fundraising throughout the campaign.

An Unstable Center

As Marx said, history first occurs as tragedy, then as farce.

Owing to the erosion of the credibility of globalization and neoliberalism, the return to an anachronistic orthodox centrism is not likely to hold. It will serve at best as an extremely unstable, short-lived interregnum amidst deepening polarization between left and right.

In this struggle, the far right — under the leadership of a charismatic personality who, while he lost the elections, will continue to be the dominant figure in Republican Party politics in the Biden era — is currently far more united politically and ideologically than the left. Trump’s heated mass base and traditional Republican conservatives will combine to make even pallid technocratic centrist initiatives, like Bernanke and Yellen’s quantitative easing, very difficult to push through. The coming Biden era may well be a mere interregnum in a political trajectory of the far right’s rise to power.

Or it can be the antechamber to a new era in progressive politics, an outcome that will depend on whether the left can mobilize the Democratic Party’s base of workers, progressives, and minorities to seize the initiative from a center that is devoid of both ideas and courage to break with the past.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Walden Bello is the co-founder of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and an International Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus