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Total number of comments: 9 (since 2013-11-28 16:33:20)

Nick Reeves

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  • As Ukraine's President Flees in Overthrow, Lessons for Kyiv from the Arab Upheavals
    • You write:

      "In my view US aggressiveness in the past 23 years is part of the problem here. The US insisted on expanding NATO by absorbing former Warsaw Pact members and humiliating Russia. The rise of Putin is in part a reaction against that humiliation. Russia is reasserting itself as a great power, carving out spheres of influence in the old 19th century way. Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Syria are in those spheres of influence. In the 19th century, wars often were caused by one country not respecting another’s proclaimed spheres of influence."

      So it is aggressive to permit countries which have liberated themselves from several decades of brutal imperial rule to join the alliance of their choice because it would humiliate the former imperial oppressor.

      You might argue that as a matter of realpolitik it was unwise to allow eastern European countries to Join NATO, but the word "aggression" carries with it moral and legalistic connotations which suggest that you would consider that continued Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe would have constituted a morally justified state of affairs.

      To propose that it is justified that ex-colonial states should continue to be subjugated in significant regards to their former imperial masters would suggest that you subscribe to some of the basic tenets of imperialist ideology.

  • Aleppo Joins the Syrian Revolution: Are al-Assad's Days Numbered?
    • One wonders how well the peaceful opposition would fare if the regime were not having to divert very substantial resources to combatting the armed opposition.

      One thing is evident; given the chance, the regime would devote its full resources to crushing the peaceful opposition.

    • You state that "the rebels have repeatedly been annihilated when they have tried to stand their ground."

      I've been following events in Syria pretty closely for some time, and the only sources I see for such claims are the regime's, and it is well known that regime sources are not reliable.

  • Post-American Iraq by the Numbers
    • These statistics are appalling, but there are several things which we should bear in mind when reading them.

      Consider Saddam's track record:

      (i) The Anfal campaign against the Kurds - HRW estimate betwen 50,00-100,000 deaths. 2,000 villages were destroyed, as well as dozens of towns and administrative centres, including Qala Dizeh which had had 70,000 residents, use of chemical and nerve agents against civilians, the near- total destruction of Kurdish assets and infrastructure; and the abandonment of large numbers of vulnerable people.

      (ii) The Marsh Arabs: numbers of refugees outside Iraq estimated as 70,000-150,000

      (iii) Estimates as to the number killed in the crushing of the 1991 rebellion: 60,000 to 200,00

      (iv) Estimates as to the number of Iraqis executed by Saddam's regime vary from 300-500,000 to over 600,000

      (v) Estimates for the number of dead in the Iran-Iraq war range upwards from 300,000.

      No doubt a significant proportion of number of orphans and widows cited in the article is due not to the 2003 war and its aftermath, but to events orchestrated by Saddam.

      We should also ask what would have happened had Saddam remained in power. Of course this is conjecture, but had he continued as before then it would seem reasonable to suppose that the number of deaths would have run into the 100s of thousands, with corresponding numbers of widows, orphans and displaced people.

      Much of the violence post 2003 has been inflicted by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. It may be argued that Western intervention created the conditions in which these groups could conduct violent campaigns, but it is still not obvious why all the casualties they inflicted should be attributed to Western intervention.

      Regarding corruption. Was it the case that there was minimal corruption under Saddam? It might well be that the current corruption simply perpetuates a long term pattern and has little to do with Western intervention.

      Again, should the venality and incompetence of much of Iraq's governmental apparatus with its consequent impact all aspects of social development be blamed solely on the Americans. Do not the Iraqis themselves have some part in this?

      An obvious benefit of intervention is that the level of terror and violence inflicted by the present government on the Iraqi people is vastly less than that routinely inflicted by Saddam.

      A related point is that for the first time in many decades, however grudgingly and falteringly, different political groups in Iraq are tolerating each other's existence rather than engaging in brutal attempts to crush all opposition.

      That Western intervention failed to create a peaceful, prosperous, low-corruption democracy cannot be doubted, but that Western intervention created a situation worse than that which would have prevailed were Saddam to have remained in power is definitely open to question.

      Indeed, if we look to the future, we might ask which is worse, the prospects offered by the present situation, or a future in which a Saddam-Uday regime would either have continued along its brutal course or would have been violently overthrown.

  • An Open Letter to the Left on Libya
    • Bia - you refer to "Sham Democracy" but what is your alternative - would it be so unfair to call it "Fantasy Democracy"? Perhaps like Lenin you regard all existing forms of democracy as disposable in the pursuit of the final Utopia and as hopelessly flawed when compared with that Utopia. And perhaps like Lenin you would see nothing wrong in ruthlessly suppressing all opposition to the movement which is intended to culiminate in that Utopia.

    • Hi Bia

      I'm writing from around 4 miles from the City of London - hardly a centre of Socialism! I appreciate that in the USA words such as "socialism" and "liberalism" have a different meaning from over here - I think quite a few people on your side of the pond, would, had they looked carefully enough, have regarded Margaret Thatcher as a "socialist".

      Anyway my point is that all the succesful democracies on this side of the pond have strong and thriving capitalist sectors which provide the tax base for European state welfare systems.

    • It seems to me that the west's best option to stabilize jittery oil markets would have been to have allowed Gadaffi to get on with obliterating the opposition - quick, brutal and cost-effective, and it would have sent a clear message to Arab governments in other oil-rich states (and a clear warning to would-be revolutionaries), that they would be given a free hand to crush any inconvenient protests - and that also would have tended to calm the markets.

    • Jeff

      You write:
      "This sad state of events exposes a glaring problem that has characterized a significant segment of the US and Western Left going back to the days of Stalin, and that is its tendency to see everything in black and white terms.

      To this segment, which has been out in full force on this issue, the only criteria that is necessary to judge a dictatorship or a dictatorial central committee is where it stands in respect to US and Western imperialism."

      I fully agree with this. There is, however, something I would like to add here, which in a way forms a postscript to my earlier comment.

      In that comment I asked why many on the left seem so oblivious to the crimes of dictators who are not in some way affiliated to the west, while they are intensely alert to all crimes which can be attributed to the west.

      It occurred to me that for these leftists the crimes of the anti-western dictators are in a certain sense, irrelevant, they are detours from, distractions from, the main flow of history, the central struggle of our times, namely that of the left against capitalist democracy (and I'm sure some on the left would consider that to be an oxymoron).

      These same leftists also consider themselves to be combating imperialism. In passing one might note here that many dictatorships implement what, in its structure, might be said to be a form of "imperialism in one country". But that is not the point which I emphasize here.

      In drawing attention to the criteria much of the left use to judge dictatorships, namely whether they pro or anti western imperialism, you are drawing attention towards something which tends to get missed in these kinds of discussion.

      For the left the 200 year struggle between the left and capitalism is the central historical conflict of our times. For the much of the left everything which happens in the third world is evaluated through the lens of this conflict.

      But, if we change our point of view somewhat, we might see the struggle between the left and capitalism as an internal conflict within the west, part of the western political tradition. From this perspective to view third world events primarilly through the lens of this tradition is to impose a western viewpoint on those events.

      I am not saying here that people in the third world may not come to identify with this struggle, but rather that to insistently impose this perspective tends to blind the left to anything which does not fit the template of this struggle.

      Even worse it encourages a view in which people in the third world are seen largely as active or passive actors in this struggle, so, for example, the victims of state crimes are evaluated in terms of whether or not they are victims of capitalist imperialism.

      This discource, without consciously intending it, tends to reduce the people of the third world into the raw materials of ideological combat - this victim was tortured by the west - so a good victim for our purposes - this victim was tortured on the orders of Kim Jong Il - so not much use for us.

      I would contest that the discourse of much of the left retains a fundamentally imperialist structure. This, is of course, unsurprising. The discourse of the left is the child of western political discourse, and as the left considers itself to be resolutely anti-imperialist it is unsurprising that it should fail to look at itself to see whether it might have inherited something of the imperialist structure of thought so prevalent in the west during the left's own formative period.

    • If I remember my history correctly, the Sunni Ottomans, during their wars with the Iranians, once proclaimed that it was better to kill 1 Shiite than 10 Christians.

      It occurs to me that this apparently curious logic is reproduced in much of the left's thinking regarding intervention against the likes of Gadaffi and Saddam. People who are clearly intelligent and well-informed (no gum chewing problem here) seem highly alert to the human rights abuses commited by the west and at the same time curiously oblivious to the abuses committed by what may in a very general sense be characterised as anti-western dictatorships. It is, to take one example, as if torture only began in Abu Ghraib with the onset of the American occupation.

      Having said that, the same dictatorial abuses may be awarded much more prominence if an argument can be produced to blame them on the west. This argument often takes the form of "the dictator is/was a puppet of the west".

      This observational bias has long puzzled me, but when I think of the Ottoman injunction regarding the relative worth of killing Shiites and Christians things seem to become clearer. The struggle of the left is a struggle not so much against the west but within the west. The enemy is not Gadaffi, or even Kim Jong Il, but the capitalist democracy which is perceived as blocking the road to a better future. This capitalist democracy is not alien in the sense of a third world dicatator involved in the specific power struggles of his country, rather it is part of a culture, a tradition of argument to which the western left also wholely belongs.

      It seems to me that once this is taken on board, then the strange blindness of much of the left to the crimes of third world dictators becomes much easier to comprehend. The abuses of Gadaffi, Saddam and Kim Jong Il are tangential to the course of history as understood by much of the left, they are, as it were, sideshows, blind-alleys, distractions from what really counts, namely the struggle of the left against capitalism - and what is that but the great 200 year domestic quarrel of the west, just as the Sunni/Shiite division has been the great domestic quarrel of Islam.

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