“If he can put a few dents…I’ll fucking take it”: Trump and imperial diplomacy

Trump attacks a union leader, foreshadowing his anti-union moves in the future
Trump attacks a union leader, who called out Trump on his lies about the Carrier deal, foreshadowing his anti-union moves in the future

Recently I read a post by Sassy Sourstein (@rancidsassy) about Trump’s diplomatic maneuvers as you could call them. To his credit, he writes that “I’m not ready to stop gloating about the loss of Hillary Clinton yet. When Trump is inaugurated I’ll turn the knives on his administration — for now, it’s still the Obama-Clinton administration and I’m still focusing on these cretins.” This article will go through his post and address it, arguing that it is best to not be as optimistic about “changes” under Trump but to rather recognize the general continuance and continue fighting.

Trump, Taiwan and China

There isn’t a lie but it is the broader implications that matter.

Liberals don’t even know there’s a forest, forget seeing it for the trees. This week in Facebook includes people horrified that Trump would even acknowledge the government of Taiwan, let alone congratulate its new president! This will enrage China, our largest trading partner! They even brought out the specter of WWIII, which they laughed at when it was said it would be Clinton who would start it. Thing is Clinton was going to start it by following through on a promise to bomb Russian troops in Syria.

There is no doubt that liberals have engaged in what can be accurately called fake outrage, which is when someone is “outraged” at something but doesn’t see the whole picture simply put. Sassy has a point that Clinton would likely have started WWIII with bombing Russian troops in Syria and that liberals exhibited this fake outrage on this issue.

However, Trump’s position is not something out of the blue. Apart from whether his criticism of China is correct, which it seems to is clearly not, he is tapping into the sentiment of angry American multinationals who don’t like “new rules,” “rattled” as state-owned enterprises take more of a role in the economy, and are reportedly leaving China for Mexico, as the country loses its “allure” supposedly. Even Ho-Fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University Sociology professor who seems to be in the liberal camp of critics of China’s government by supporting the Western-backed “democracy” movement in Hong Kong, described Trump’s call with Taiwan’s new President, Tsai Ing-wen, who is part of a Taiwanese nationalist bourgeois liberal party, as “signaling a deeper shift in Washington’s Asia policy rather than just an impulsive act.”

As it turns out, that sentiment is well-placed. The call was reportedly “an intentionally provocative move that establishes the incoming president as a break with the past” which was the product of preparations stretching before he even “became the Republican presidential nominee.” [1] Talking with Tsai Ing-wen reflects, according to the article, views of Trumps’ advisers “to take a tough opening line with China,” even as it is publicly portrayed as just a “routine congratulatory call” (and non-political) which removes the fact that “it appeared calculated to signal a new, robust approach to relations with China,” to make Taiwan a “more strategic ally in East Asia.”

All Trump did was talk to the leader of a country that the United States arms and is sworn to protect — from China. And hey, China knows this. If these morons think China is just concerned with being “dishonored” *gong sound, deep bow* they’re not just racist, they’re also so stupid as to be dangerous. Give felons back their vote and disenfranchise these criminals of common sense.

Once again, Sassy makes a good point that Trump did talk to the president of Taiwan, a country whom the US has generously armed over the years with thousands upon thousands of weapons, including almost $2 billion in armaments sold to them almost a year ago in December 2015, trying to prevent them from “burning.” [2] There is no doubt that China is not just concerned with being “dishonored” with the call, but that they recognize US relations with Taiwan, and that liberals should be mocked for their response. However, as always, there is something deeper here.

Apart from what was said before, Bob Dole was behind the scenes in setting up the call with Tsai Ing-wen. Dole works currently as “a foreign agent for the government of Taiwan,” working for six months secretly (praised $140,000) to establish “high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and President-elect Donald J. Trump’s staff,” is a lobbyist for the multi-million dollar law firm Alston & Bird, and was part of a “well-orchestrated plan by Taiwan to use the election of a new president to deepen its relationship with the United States” which was assisted by Dole. [3] It might be worth remembering that Dole voted against even moderate social safety net proposals that were part of the revolution-calming “Great Society” while in the US Senate, was much in favor of the Vietnam War, and became a spokesperson for many corporate interests after his political career ended with Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996.

Apart from the misplaced optimism of the Chinese government about Trump (like many governments across the world), liberals and the corporate media have, as Sassy was criticizing, went all up and arms about this phone call:

Some actually praised the action by Trump, a view promoted by William Arkin who helped found a branch of Human Rights Watch in the 1990s! In related news, the Taiwanese alleged that the Chinese circled the island a week before Trump’s call, but this is likely a lie. What isn’t a lie, however, is a statement by former Trump adviser, Stephen Moore, likely in line with the position of Trump and his advisers: “Taiwan is our ally. That is a country that we have backed because they believe in freedom. We oughta back our ally, and if China doesn’t like it, screw ’em.” [4]

Beyond this is the actual response of the Chinese government. There is no doubt that he call made the Chinese angry, but officials blamed Taiwan for setting it up rather than Trump and hardly criticized the call. [5] The Chinese know that the Taiwan Relations Act not only “ended US recognition of Taiwan but also made the US responsible for military intervention in the case of an attack or invasion from China.” However, the anger goes deeper than that and goes beyond asking the US to bar Taiwan’s president from traveling through the US.

The People’s Daily Overseas Edition, a paper of the Chinese Communist Party, took an interesting tone. [6] This article by a researcher from the China Institute of International Studies, Wang Hai Lou, notes that Trump has consistently criticized China and could become “the weathervane for US future policy toward China” especially based on the fact he is “surrounded by a group of neo-conservative thinking” which is not good. Hai Lou goes on to say that Trump has a “lack of diplomatic experience” and is “ignorant of China-US relations” especially when it comes to “the exchange rate, trade and the South China Sea,” that provoking “friction between China and the United States…will only be counterproductive.” He ended by saying that

“China is well aware of the dual nature of US policy toward China…China’s foreign policy in line with international trends, the United States no matter…the…foreign strategy, it is difficult to exclude cooperation with China…China should develop itself according to established goals, build up a circle of friends, build a favorable international environment by cooperation and win-win, and limit US hostile choice and willful choice…the transition of Sino-US relations requires a long-term and long-term strategic plan.”

Very strategic thinking, no doubt. More directly, the Chinese government lodged “solemn representations with the relevant party on the US side both in Beijing and Washington” and got its “message across to the world as a whole with regard to Taiwan-related issues,” with the Foreign Minstry’s spokesperson, Lu Kang, saying, not surprisingly, “we will not speculate on what motivates President-elect Trump and his team into taking certain moves. But we will surly make ourselves clear if what they say concerns China.” The comment of the other foreign ministry spokesperson on the issue was not much different. Differently, some of the readers on People’s Daily criticized Trump for his anti-China rhetoric. The strongest opinion was an op-ed by Curtis Stone in the same publication, with him arguing the following:

“The U.S. cannot (and should not) try to dictate the policy of another sovereign state. Sovereignty means that China…is not always going to do what the U.S. wants. Furthermore, China will never bow to U.S. pressure…China is an independent, sovereign state with its own national interests. As a sovereign state, China sets its own policy and can retaliate if necessary. Trump does not seem to understand what China is doing with its currency, because he has repeatedly accused China of devaluing its currency. Many U.S. economists and currency experts agree that China is not a currency manipulator, and Chinese leaders have long insisted that market forces determine the price of the yuan…China wants peace and stability in the South China Sea, not tension and conflict. No doubt, China is determined and willing to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, but the claim that China is militarizing the South China Sea is completely false…An irrational and hasty “get tough with China” policy would be detrimental to U.S. long-term interests…world peace and prosperity depend on the healthy develop of China-U.S. relations. Trump needs to get the China-U.S. relationship right.”

Other writers took a similar stand. In the Chinese state media publication, Global Times, editorials said that:

  • peace through strength will be an important diplomatic principle of Trump” with a likely increase in East Asia of the military presence
  • Trump “has zero diplomatic experience and is unaware of the repercussions of shaking up Sino-US relations…China should understand Trump has two faces…we need to be clear-minded”
  • the One-China policy is a widely acknowledged principle in international relations..there is no motive in the US or the world that can break the principle…If Trump wants to overstep the One-China principle, he will destroy Sino-US ties…The Chinese mainland is capable of punishing Tsai’s administration for any moves that crosses the red line…It is hoped that Trump will gradually understand the reality and shape his China policy based on it”
  • “…he stirred up troubles against China before he is sworn in, which contradicts his isolationism…it remains uncertain if someone egged him on to challenge China…Sino-US ties will witness more troubles in his early time in the White House than any other predecessor…We should stand firm and remain composed…Trump’s reckless remarks against a major power show his lack of experience in diplomacy…Trump’s China-bashing tweet is just a cover for his real intent, which is to treat China as a fat lamb and cut a piece of meat off it…We must confront Trump’s provocations head-on, and make sure he won’t take advantage of China at the beginning of his tenure.”
  • But does China need to make deals with Trump that only benefit the US for making peace with him? Apparently not. The negotiations between China and the US must be carried out on an equal footing with mutual benefits, and won’t come to any agreement under Trump’s coercion. What if someone tries to leverage China in negotiations in an unacceptable way and tries to create an arrogant atmosphere?
    In this case, the best China can do is to return an eye for an eye. China won’t pay into Trump’s protection racket. It should use the money to build more strategic nuclear arms and accelerate the deployment of the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile…We need to get better prepared militarily regarding the Taiwan question to ensure that those who advocate Taiwan’s independence will be punished, and take precautions in case of US provocations in the South China Sea.”

On a related note, in the English-language China Daily, they wrote that the leader of Taiwan “is desperate for support from the United States in her cross-Straits standoff with the Chinese mainland” and that Trump “values the island as a business partner,” and that the response from Beijing “indicates a strong desire for healthy China-US relations in the coming Trump era.” Just like other writers have noted, “Trump broke a decades-old bilateral diplomatic consensus and touched an ultra-sensitive diplomatic nerve” and that he should “stop acting like the diplomatic rookie he is…otherwise, he will make costly troubles for his country, and find himself trying to bluster his way through constant diplomatic conflagrations.” That actually is a good point that even Sassy didn’t bring up.

In comparison, other publications were more strident. In the Russian publication, pravada.ru, Lyuba Lulko (Stepushova) argued that “China resorted to tough rhetoric,” noting that the US welcomed Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui in 1995 which made Beijing mad, while noting that Trump’s position “could provoke not only a military, but also an economic confrontation with China that will not be easy to win” with China vetoing “other US initiatives in the UN Security Council, for example, a resolution against the proliferation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons or the sanctions policy against Iran” which could lead to a better position for Russia. In CounterPunch, writers noted that “today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons” with a coming war with China a possibility, with targeting of China’s core interests, and that there could be a war over Taiwan, with increased tensions as a likely possibility. This aligns with a recent poll where more Chinese than before are wary of the United States, which is nothing new.

Liberals and Fidel Castro

These same “pragmatic” types will nonetheless spend their time shitting on the legacy of Fidel Castro who despite lifting millions out of extreme poverty, did terrible things to innocent people that objectively pale in comparison to anything the US has done to its own minorities, but forget that. It’s about the morality — but just in that case.

Terrible things to innocent people? Who? Which innocent people? I do think Sassy makes a good point about liberal analysis of Fidel here. All I have to say is that Fidel was a great revolutionary (Evo Morales of Bolivia agrees not surprisingly) and those in Cuba have memorialized him rightly so:

Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Theresa May

That’s not all Trump “fucked up” on the foreign policy front. In less than a week he praised the “dictator” of Kazakhstan, said he’d — horrors!! — like to visit Pakistan, “a terrific country,” and treated the British Prime Minister as if she were the leader of any other of the world’s countries. That last “disaster” involved him calling Theresa May only after calling NINE probably non-white leaders.

At this point Sassy bunched together a number of different issues: meeting the leader of Kazakhstan, visiting Pakistan, and talking to Prime Minister Theresa May. Once again, the anger over this translates to fake outrage. However, it is still worth addressing each topic on its own merit.

Trump praised that Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s leader, and said that the country,  since its independence “achieved fantastic success that can be called a ‘miracle.’” [7] Now, that’s much more than just an ordinary phone call. It was enough for the Washington Post to write a thinkpiece about it and some scholars to say that Kazakhstan will fair well under Trump, possibly finding the supposed “key” to fighting the Islamic State. We must recognize that Kazakhstan is a country that is utterly open for business and relations with many countries, such as Russia, China (also see here), Qatar, other Gulf states, and South Korea, along with the United States of course. [8] This state, apart from being part of OPEC, is its strategic importance to the US, likely in part because of its “wonderful” economic transformation. [9]

Sassy put “dictator” in quotations like it was something not true, something trotted out by the Western media. I think there should be no doubt that the leader of the country is a bit self-absorbed to say the least. Apart from the arrests of Islamic State-supported citizens (which isn’t necessarily bad), the country had jailed activists for dissenting (also see here) and might have a “great firewall” like China. Considering that that could be twisted into propaganda, it is best to consult other articles. These articles show that the government seems repressive, supports an higher education system pushed by the World Bank (part 1, part 2, part 3), was praised by the Bushes as freedom-loving, is part of “Eurasian integration,” poured money into a Clinton Initiative project (also see here), and provides the US with logistical support in the Afghanistan imperial war. If that’s not enough, consider that apart from Kazakhstan as part of China’s New Silk Road (also see here) partially driven by oil resources in the country and part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (it also works with Russia), benefits Western oil companies, along with other companies, and such. Now, you can say that the Western media isn’t portraying the country fairly, with some thinking of Borat as the image of the country, but even the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which is disappointed with the country’s “progress,” says that there have been “large-scale privatizations” and that the economy is not in a great state. So, its not a country anyone should consider part of an anti-imperialist front, even as it has good relations with China and Russia, with thirteen US soldiers in the country according to the most recent data.

Now we get to Pakistan. Some media say that Trump called Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a “terrific guy,” others noted that Trump’s advisers claim he will will “solve” the problems in the Kashmir region, while others said that Pakistan was trying to “woo” Donald Trump. [10] There is no doubt that Pakistan is key to “fighting terrorism” in the region with their strong-armed approach, however, it is worth remembering that Pakistan helped in the past in funding the anti-Soviet Islamic reactionaries from 1979 to 1989 at least, but also has been angered by recent US efforts. The drone bombing, which is basically Obama’s project (Bush started it, but he didn’t engage in as many bombings), is part of war which spans seven countries: Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, along with the interventions in multiple African countries. So, Pakistan’s government, on the face, not very happy with US bombing, including outing at least three CIA station chiefs. In fact, the citizens of Pakistan have said they do not approve of the US’s mass surveillance, and a wide swath of the population since 2002 (ranging from 73-90% over the years) they declared that they have an unfavorable view of the United States and the US President (since 2005) while they have a much more positive view of China, reaching into the supermajority. In fact, the government is playing a double game. The Pakistanis have long ties to the imperial client state, Saudi Arabia, which is in an imperial interrelationship with the United States, and have a powerful military which, of course, served US interests for the most part and dominates the country’s politics.

Prime Minister Sharif, who Trump talked to, is not only one Pakistan’s most wealthy people, but he is very conservative, supported the 1991 invasion of Iraq, and pushed a direct privatization program, in his first term (1990-1993). In his second term of office (1997-1999), he expanded Pakistan’s nuclear program, had better relations with the Muslim world, and had good relations with the Pakistani military. In his third, and more recent term of office, he took a centrist stand on social policy, worked with the IMF to restructure Pakistan’s economy, engaged in privatization, strengthened Pakistan’s security establishment, seemed to have better relations with China than before along with good relations with Afghanistan and Russia, and the US claimed it was assisting Pakistan in fighting terrorism…by bombing the country! Not surprisingly, there was criticism of Sharif from the left and right, definitely more principled on the left of course.

Now we get to Theresa May, the UK’s new Prime Minister, and Trump. The media says that Trump told May that he values the “special relationship” (while recognizing NATO’s importance) while May said that talking to Trump was “easy.” [11] Other media said that Trump also said that Nigel Farage should serve as the UK’s Ambassador to the US, who has been a long-time friend of Trump (and tied to the GOP) for some time now. [12] May is the second female Prime Minister of the UK, after arch-conservative (and war criminal) Margaret Thatcher, supported mass surveillance in the UK, gave police more powers to crack down on the citizenry, and said that immigration to the island should be reduced as Home Secretary. In her recent days as prime minister she has supported the horrendous Saudi bombing in Yemen backed by the US and seems favorable to Brexit. As for Farage, who is part of a basically fascist UK Independence Party (UKIP), he has spread Islamophobic opinions on Muslim immigrants, hates wind power and takes a conservative opinion on the economy even if he has “good” positions on the EU, funding “rebels” in Syria, Putin’s role in Europe, UK-Saudi relations, and so on.

Trump putting in a “few dents” in the imperial diplomatic system?

Anything that makes US diplomats “aghast” is fabulous by me. These slimebags deserve much worse for what they’ve done to the world’s people. They’re the ones who keep every country softened up for the plunder and just in case any objections arise, war…I’m not interested in whether or not Trump knows that what he’s doing is destructive to the diplomatic system. It’s irrelevant. I know that the outcome must be good if these enemies of all good people are upset by it. That tells me all I need to know. Diplomacy as a tool of empire predates the birth of Donald Trump and unfortunately will outlive him. If he can put a few dents, intentionally or not, in these fuckers’ Mercedes well I’ll fucking take it.

Now, we get to one of the “kickers” of Sassy’s piece: the argument that Trump shocking US diplomats is good, since diplomacy is “a tool of empire” and that “if he can put a few dents…in these fuckers’ Mercedes well I’ll fucking take it.” This viewpoint is the fundamental belief in his post and what is mentioned in the title of this post. That viewpoint makes sense in that Sassy is clearly optimistic. However, as I’ve laid out in this article, Trump’s diplomatic maneuvers are not this simple. Already, Trump will align with those who feel “anti-terror policies” are not adequate enough, stay the course with US participation in NATO (despite his comments during the election), say that “the large number of refugees leaving Iraq and Syria is especially worrisome,” and deal with domestic problems before addressing international issues as a poll in May of this year noted. There’s not really anything else I can say here other than that diplomats, like liberals are engaging in “fake outrage” of course but that Trump’s maneuvers are still important.

Trump, Boeing, and Air Force One

Trump tweeted that the new Air Force One planes being built by Boeing were too expensive and should be canceled. When the markets opened this morning the Boeing stock took a dive! Can you think of a more deserving corporation to take such a hit?

I completely understand Sassy’s optimism here. I also think that Boeing is a horrible company since they are a huge military contractor, making bombers, fighters, satellites, and numerous other military equipment. Sassy is not alone in this commentary, with some describing it as a “brilliant move.”

As always, there is a deeper explanation needed. One article in the Chicago Tribune said that Boeing likely cringes every time Trump “riffs on foreign policy, especially when it comes to dealing with China” with the possibility that Trump’s administration will “test the Boeing CEO’s statesmanship, especially when it comes to dealing with China.” It also says that since it seems “Trump is eager for a China confrontation,” this goes against the interest of Boeing, which doesn’t want “an international trade war that could raise tariffs or greatly disrupt long-standing, albeit imperfect, global agreements.” The article goes on to quote Boeing’s CEO who said that “one of the overarching themes [of the recent election] was apprehension about free and fair trade,” says that an influx of jet orders from China “means more work for Boeing’s thousands of U.S. workers” and that Trump should heed his (Boeing CEO’s) advice (which is very economically nationalist ironically enough: “If we do not lead when it comes to writing these rules, our competitors will write them for us.” The article then asks how nationalist trump’s will be, with a “lot of unanswered questions and concerns.”

Of course the Chicago Tribune piece is pro-business and takes the side of Boeing, there is still important insights there on the further implications of Trump’s remarks, which are worth recognizing, which Sassy doesn’t even address.

Concluding words

In the last sentence of Sassy’s piece, he declares facetiously “I’m loving the Trump presidency and it hasn’t even started.” I’m not sure that such optimism is warranted, even if a majority of Americans say Trump can keep his businesses, which isn’t arguably an “empire.” Already, Trump is trying to court the capitalist class, many of whom supported Killary for her more overtly pro-corporate policies, including those in the technology sector mainly based around Silicon/Sexist/Surveillance Valley. [14] At the same time, he may moderate his opinions on issues like the Affordable Care Corporatist Act (“Obamacare”) if he follows the lead of Republican leaders in the houses of Congress, follows a similar “political blueprint” to Obama,” and his expected energy policy which includes: (1) more oil & gas drilling, (2) approval of LNG terminals quicker, (3) reducing energy subsidies, and other destructive policies to the environment, going even farther than Obama’s destructive (and deceptive) nature on the environment. [15] Beyond this, with the “new” rules of the “Trump game,” the militarization of space will be quickly expedited, brinkmanship will be even more prominent with with Michael T. Flynn as National Security Adviser, the continuing privatization of public education, and billionaires will benefit, with a cabinet that reeks of cronyism, and lies about “great deals” for new jobs (see here, here, here, and here for example).

It is best to move beyond the “tweet shaming” that people claim Trump has done, the fake outrage (also see here), fake news, or that one guy who is a faithless elector. The same goes for Al Gore meeting with Trump, Obama handing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) off to Trump, and numerous other issues. [16] Not only has Trump said he will approve the pipeline, but his advisers have declared that “We should take tribal land away from public treatment [privatize it]…As long as we can do it without unintended consequences, I think we will have broad support around Indian country,” a move which is broadly opposed by indigenous peoples, represented by groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota, among others. [17] I think is valid to say that Trump will unleash neofascism (assisted by Obama continuing his harsh immigration measures), and that Trump is a showman, with governing style that makes Corporate America nervous. [18]

The most uneasy of all about Trump are the Iranians. The Western-backed moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently said, in a speech at Tehran University, after expressing anger that the U.S. would tear up the nuclear agreement (with cheers of “Death to America), “America cannot influence our determination, this nation’s resistance and its struggle. America is our enemy; we have no doubt about this. The Americans want to put as much pressure on us as they can.” [19] Beyond this, with this tone because of more pressure from “hard-liners,” some analysts in Iran said that Rouhani has proved that “trusting America is useless and a waste of time, energy and money” and should not be re-elected, but there is continued dedication to the nuclear agreement as some Iranian lawmakers “have proposed a boycott of American products…[and 88 others] have even suggested restarting nuclear activities and the enrichment of uranium.” The renewal of US sanctions on Iran for the next ten years has vindicated the “hardliners,” as some still try to bring in foreign companies to invest as the country’s leaders want the sanctions to expire. As I noted on this blog before, Iran is currently beset by the forces of Western imperialism, but this might be an opening to prevent more damage.

There really isn’t any more to say here, even about the optimistic comments of Putin about Trump (which despite his previous comments should be more wary), the Pentagon burying evidence of $125 billion in waste, the “Chinese dream,” and the widening income gap between the wealthy and the mass of the population. [21] Perhaps we should, other than recognizing the successes of socialism in the USSR, go farther than Sassy, who said, as I noted in the beginning of this post, “when Trump is inaugurated I’ll turn the knives on his administration,” and turn the knives on Trump NOW, instead of buying into delusions of optimism when it comes to Trump, his cabinet, and his policies which will most definitely benefit the bourgeoisie, even more than Obama, who the capitalist class liked very much.

Notes

[1] Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker, and Simon Denyer, “Trump’s Taiwan phone call was long planned, say people who were involved,” Washington Post, December 4, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016. Reportedly this was only one of many calls with foreign leaders that were planned after Trump’s election on November 8th. There was also a “tougher language about China” in the GOP platform this year than before, and a number of pieces in Foreign Policy (Trump transition advisers) and the Council of National Interest (Trump transition adviser) may give clues to his future moves forward.

[2] Obama administration authorizes $1.83 billion arms sale to Taiwan,” Reuters, December 16, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2016. This article says that “the Obama administration formally notified Congress on Wednesday of a $1.83 billion arms sale package for Taiwan, including two frigates, anti-tank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles and other equipment, drawing an angry response from China…Although Washington does not recognize Taiwan as a separate state from China, it is committed under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensuring Taipei can maintain a credible defense…”Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. China strongly opposes the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan,” Xinhua quoted Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang, who summoned Lee, as saying. Zheng said the sales went against international law and basic norms of international relations and “severely” harmed China’s sovereignty and security…the arms package included two Perry-class guided-missile frigates; $57 million of Javelin anti-tank missiles made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin; $268 million of TOW 2B anti-tank missiles and $217 million of Stinger surface-to-air missiles made by Raytheon, and $375 million of AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles.”

[3] Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Eric Lipton, “Bob Dole Worked Behind the Scenes on Trump-Taiwan Call,” New York Times, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016. Dole also pushed for the plank in the GOP Party Platform which took a harder line on China than previously.

[4] Other articles I don’t feel like relating here are: (1) an apparent US-China-Japan space race, with Japan wanting to send explorers to Mercury and Venus instead of Mars like the US and China, connected with growth of the “space industry,” along with related tweets and (2) rejection of a China-linked semiconductor, displaying the fanatical economic nationalism at play.

[5] Associated Press, “Trump speaks directly with Taiwan’s leader, irking China,” Mercury News, December 3, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016; Damian Paletta, Carol E. Lee and Jeremy Page, “Donald Trump’s Message Sparks Anger in China,” Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.

[6] Ting Shi and Taylor Hall, “China Seeks ‘Strategic Composure’ in Trump Era of Diplomacy,” Bloomberg News, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.

[7] Louis Nelson, “Trump praises Kazakhstan ‘miracle’ in call with president,” Politico, December 1, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016; Reena Flores, “Kazakhstan: Trump praised “miracle” achieved under our president,” CBS News, December 2, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.

[8] Theodore Karasik, “Kazakhstan: At the Crossroads of Security,” U.S. News and World Report, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.

[9] “Kazakhstan to join talks with OPEC, undecided on output cut,” Reuters, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.

[10] Seema Guha, “Donald Trump may play hardball on Kashmir, but India is no pushover,” First Post, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Rama Lakshmi, “Trump can resolve Kashmir impasse with ‘dealmaking skills,’ his running mate claims. It won’t be easy,” Washington Post, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Carlos Munoz, “Pakistani aide sees opening for better ties with Trump administration,” Washington Times, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Denis Slatery and Cameron Joseph, “Donald Trump speaks to Taiwan, Philippines and Pakistan leaders over the phone — signaling a major U.S. foreign policy shift,” New York Daily News, December 3, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Joshua Berlinger and Sophia Saifi, “Donald Trump reportedly praises Pakistan’s ‘terrific’ PM,” CNN, December 2, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Damien Paletta and Saeed Shah, “Pakistan Says Donald Trump Called Its Leader ‘Terrific Guy’,” Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Shashank Bengali and Aoun Sahi, “In phone call with leader, Trump lavishes praise on Pakistan, ‘fantastic place of fantastic people,”” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Jackie Northam, “Trump Gushes About Pakistan In Call With Its Prime Minister,” NPR, December 1, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Jeff Nesbit, “Donald Trump’s Call With Pakistan Was a Hypocritical Mess,” Time, December 1, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Matt Bearak, “Pakistan’s surprisingly candid readout of Trump’s phone call with prime minister,” Washington Post, November 30, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Steve Benen, “Trump has ‘bizarre’ conversation with Pakistani leader,” MSNBC, December 1, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Charles Tiefer, “Trump’s Ignorant Call To Pakistan’s Sharif May Send India An Unwelcome Message,” Forbes, November 30, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[11] Joe Watts, “Theresa May praises ‘easy to talk to’ Donald Trump despite previous criticism,” The Independent, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; “Donald Trump values special relationship with UK and is ‘easy to talk to’, says Theresa May,” The Telegraph, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Robert Nisbet, “Theresa May: Talking to Donald Trump is ‘very easy’,” Sky News, December 7, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; “Theresa May calls Donald Trump to discuss ties, transition and NATO,” Sky News, November 29, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Ian Silvera,”Donald Trump and Theresa May agree on Nato importance in second phone call,” International Business Times, November 29, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Peter Walker, “Concerns over ‘special relationship’ allayed as Trump calls May,” The Guardian, November 10, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[12] Martin Pengelly, “Nigel Farage is willing to serve Donald Trump ‘formally or informally’,” The Guardian, December 3, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; “Nigel Farage meets with top Republicans raising fresh questions for Theresa May,” The Telegraph, December 3, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Feliz Solomon, “Donald Trump Says ‘Many People’ Want Nigel Farage to Become Britain’s Ambassador to the U.S.,” Time, November 21, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Rowena Mason, “Nigel Farage: I share concerns with Donald Trump,” The Guardian, July 15, 2015. Accessed December 8, 2016; Karla Adam, “Nigel Farage: Trump is ‘a very loyal man’,” Washington Post, November 22, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[13] Robert Reed, “Boeing CEO waits for Trump’s trade play,” Chicago Tribune, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[14] David Streitfield, “Donald Trump Summons Tech Leaders to a Round-Table Meeting,” New York Times, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[15] Burgess Everett and Jennifer Haberkorn, “GOP still splintered over Obamacare after Pence meeting,” Politco, December 7, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Rachel Bade and Burgess Everett, “GOP may delay Obamacare replacement for years,” Politico, December 1, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016; Rich Lowry, Trump Follows Obama’s Blueprint, Politico, December 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[16] See Michael Rosenburg’s article in the New York Times titled “Trump Adviser Has Pushed Clinton Conspiracy Theories,” December 5, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016. Other articles of note from Russia Today (about US role in the arms trade), Mint Press News (US tolerance of war crimes), Military Times (returning Okinawa to Japan), New York Times (“House G.O.P. Signals Break With Trump Over Tariff Threat,” by Jennifer Steinhauer), Slate (Trump congratulated Duerte on his anti-drug crackdown), Raw Story (KKK membership increasing after Trump’s election), PressTV (huge military budget passed by the US house), LeftVoice (inadequate criticism of Sanders’s opinion on the Carrier deal), Reuters (Dustin Voltz, “FBI to gain expanded hacking powers as Senate effort to block fails,” December 1, 2015, accessed December 8, 2016), Twitter (Cordelier’s thread), Guardian (what Trump means for Africa), CNN (Trump’s conflicts of interest), Forbes (Trump may not propose a budget in 2017), The Hill (Union leader at Carrier plant mad at Trump, saying he lied), and Pakistan Observer (Trump claiming he will mediate the conflict in Kashmir).

[17] , “Trump advisors aim to privatize oil-rich Indian reservations,” Reuters, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[18] Drew Harwell and Rosalind D. Harman, “Trump’s unpredictable style unnerves corporate America,” Washington Post, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[19] Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran’s President Says Donald Trump Can’t Tear Up Nuclear Pact,” December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[20] Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward, “Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste,” Washington Post, December 5, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

[21] Patricia Cohen, “A Bigger Economic Pie, but a Smaller Slice for Half of the U.S.,” New York Times, December 6, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2016.

Where does Cuba stand now?

A quote from Fidel at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party in April 2016.
A quote from Fidel’s speech at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party in April 2016.

This post is more in-depth analysis about Cuba’s predicament than my previous post which focused on Fidel’s recent death. I could note the health programs in Cuba, the visit of the Vietnamese president to Cuba even as that country has thoroughly surrendered itself to “the market,” education programs on the island, or other aspects. But, I’d like to instead focus on the recent “normalization” in Cuba since 2014.

Recent articles have noted the possible (and likely) change of tone when it comes to Cuba. Bloomberg declared that Trump will need to “balance his pro-growth economic plans and allegiance to business with the hard-line campaign pledges” which connect with his promise to “reverse the improved U.S. relations with Cuba forged by President Barack Obama,” unless the nation accepts bourgeois freedoms, the former which is at odds with those corporations who are “hoping for a foothold there” such as those in the “wheat, corn…soymeal…raw sugar and energy product” industries, assumedly. [1] Some say that by taking a hardline position he will be at odds with the “U.S. business community” (and Jeff Flake), such as the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, but supported by Republicans Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Other articles note that if Trump reverses the “normalization” it will hurt companies like Best Buy, WalMart, JetBlue, Starwood, Carnival, American Airlines, and Airbnb, who want to expand their markets in Cuba, costing them, apparently, “hundreds of millions of dollars” as possible tourism (mainly from the US) would dissipate. [2] Some writers even thought that Trump would embolden the “hardliners” in Cuba (presumably more critical of involvement with the US), according to supposed “Cuba experts,” apart from Raul Castro who has instituted some market-related measures on the island.

In order to go forward, it is important to consider three viewpoints on the situation. One of these is by RancidSassy (also called “ that, while ignoring criticisms of the Cuban revolution (since they are an anarchist), Obama’s “mild normalization of relations with the Cuban state” is not that existing. They worry about the “vicious plan to complete the domination of Cuba, probably ending in its total recolonization by financial capital” which was “more like a declaration of war,” writing that this “imperial scheming” (or diplomacy as it is often called) needs to be interrupted like Chelsea Manning did. Sassy goes further to talk about the failed assassination plots, the USAID program (and fake Twitter), and that US embassies are “basically just CIA offices.” He worried about Raul Castro praise Obama and the Pope, noting how “liberals dressed as radicals,” like CodePink’s Medea Benjamin, Mother Jones’s David Corn, self-indulgent journalist Jeremy Scahill, writer Max Blumenthal, and advocate Yosef Munayyer, praised this rhetoric. He went on to talk about Cuban exiles in Miami, propaganda aimed at Cuba coupled with the blockade which was “loose” enough to allow US agribusiness to trade stable foods to the Cuban government, how Israel is “useful to the empire as a giant spaceship of white capitalism in a typically resistant Middle East,” and said liberals (and others on the left) aren’t worrying about “an empire that has spent the last century or more systematically binding the peoples of the world to its political and financial will.”

Before moving onto the next piece, I think Sassy has a good point. Already the naval base in Guantanamo, the US embassy in Havana, and US overt (ex: USAID) and covert (ex: CIA) are projecting imperialism onto Cuba. If this one agrees with this argument, then well-meaning radicals should resist the “normalization” of relations, since a “fair” compromise with the empire is likely impossible. If there are “hardliners” in Cuba, like in Iran, as one could call them, then these forces should be encouraged under an approach to a Trump presidency. This presidency, managing the murderous empire, which seems poised to reverse the “vicious plan to complete the domination of Cuba” as Sassy put it, and would allow for these “hardliners” to have more room to breathe and grow, leading a possibly stronger counter against US imperialism. This could be especially the case after 2018 when Raul Castro will step down as President.

remedy the embarrassing situation that their country had wound up isolating itself during its attempts to isolate Cuba,” noting that groups like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) popped up, that were opposed to the US, and that the Cubans for many years did not “undo their own revolution and surrender to the US under the worst possible terms, as was expected,” leading the country to become “a major powerhouse in healthcare and biotechnology” and building of the country’s “middle class.” The article goes on to say that the decision to reestablish relations with the island dates back to 2007 when a major law firm, Alston & Bird, which represents “financial service, healthcare, energy, and telecommunication companies,” had such a strong interest that they worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to challenge “the Florida ban on travel to Cuba,” with Obama, by engaging in the action benefiting his financial backers. Still, the article notes that reestablishing diplomatic relations was done simultaneously with the release of the Cuban Five, and later with removal of Cuba from “the list of countries that sponsor terrorism,” with the Cuban government having a “tough negotiating stance with US business.” Like Saddy, this writer notes that “the rollback of the US sanctions has been quite limited in terms of the restrictions on trade and investment” and that Cuba “remains dissatisfied and wary of the US,” with a continued push to close the illegal base at Guantanamo Bay, as negotiations continue, and that in exchange for opening its market to the US, “Cuba wants equal access to the US market,” selling those in the US biotech and computer software products, while expanding their tourism industry. The writer concludes that

“Cuba has had enough experience with the Monroe Doctrine to know that the US goal will always be to turn it into a colony…the new wave of colonists…think that their work to undermine the Cuban Revolution will become easier after Cuba’s great hero Fidel Castro dies. This is partly the result of a US belief in its own propaganda…the US intention is clearly a Bay of Pigs invasion with a smile. The Cuban Revolution has enormous symbolic importance for people throughout the world who are fighting US domination, and the undoing of this revolution would be major psychological blow. The US is already hinting that it wants popular elections that it can manipulate…As ever, the Cuban revolution thrives while under attack; one can only hope that it will never imagine it is not.”

Chery, like Sassy, makes good points. I personally think that “popular elections” are what corrupted leftist parties in Angola and Mozambique, in part, to adopt more market-based approaches and slowly accept the capitalist model. One-party elections are vital if the Cuban Revolution is to be preserved. I will say that I do not think the normalization is “a Bay of Pigs invasion with a smile” as that would mean that it is covert and secret, along with including Cuban exiles. That isn’t true in this case, as the initiative is being led by the hunger of US business to obtain new markets and push down “unfair” barriers, along with being assisted by Obama.

The last viewpoint examined here is that of James Early, who sits on the board of The Real News, an independent news organization which is better than Democracy Now! by far but is still within the “progressive” camp broadly. Early notes the history of Cuba, specifically describing it as having, before 1959, an economy owned 75% by the US, a “narco state…with Meyer Lansky and the US mafia dominating that as a playground with rampant prostitution, deep racism, and exploitation” and saying that while they “did repress” it was to uphold “certain virtues and to repress those things that go against the common good” and that we should recognize the “sometimes egregious failures” of the Cuban Revolution, none of which he names. He goes on to say that many left “because they feared communism…[or] wanted to take an opportunity to get out of the country and to increase their economic circumstances,” with many of these people as “Euro Cubans. Not people of color Cubans.” Early then talked about Cuban exiles, the “propaganda machine of the United States” distorting the reality in Cuba, the US State Department’s imperial role, and the horrible “wet foot, dry foot policy” which gives preferential treatment to Cuban exiles coming to the US. He adds that by criticizing those who have “dogmatic ideological perspectives [which] are ultra leftist” which reject any criticism (which he never expands on) of the Cuban Revolution, noting that “Cuba has made its own self critiques” while acknowledging the accomplishments, with great debate going on within the Communist Party, including “debating freedom of press and within Granma, the official news organ” and allowing criticism of the Communist Party in Cuba, with owning “up to errors” and that a personality like Fidel will not emerge in the future but that “we will see the same kind of humanistic policies…sharp debate on how to calibrate that…[and] draw[ing] a very hard straight line against monopoly, against excessive wealth…[and] maintain[ing] a socialist orientation.” He closes with words that are worth keeping in mind:

“…big capital in the United States…already made its peace with the failed policy overthrow the Cuban socialist revolution in a way that it has gone on for the last half century. They now feel that the flooding of the country with money and goods and consumer attitudes, they will be able to undermine and overturn that revolution. But in the process they want to make money. The Cubans have always preferred to fight and this new context within the protocols of nations, not having the United States outside as a rogue nation…I think we’ll see a mediation of that. I can envision that that US capital will be pressing the Donald Trump regime to not overturn the fundamental issues that Barack Obama stepped forward…it’s going to be tough…I think we see the change in policies brought forth under the administration of Raul Castro.”

Early, like Sassy and Chery, makes a valid point. However, I think he is hard on solidarity efforts with Cuba and a bit too optimistic in many respects. But, perhaps that is not wrong to be optimistic about a socialist Cuba, but at minimum he is almost downplaying the threat going forward.

My final thoughts

A poster designed by Mahmud Dawirji for the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) in circa 1980.
A poster designed by Mahmud Dawirji for the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) in circa 1980.

I think Cuba, like Iran, is at a crossroads. If Trump reverses the “normalization” the Obama administration has put in place in regards to Iran and Cuba, there will be undoubtedly new political developments, with the reported “hardliners” or more accurately those more wary and critical of imperial influence economically and otherwise, not in favor of such “normalization,” gaining more power. This could be good as it would be a needed setback from the Western-backed moderate reformists in Iran who are basically just footsoldiers for the murderous empire.

As for Cuba, there is a real danger that it would be pulled into the neocolonial ring. Under no circumstances can those on the left, who are anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, accept (or allow to best circumstances possible), a Cuba which is wholly occupied by a foreign power, embodied by the deceitful Teller Amendment, Platt Amendment, and deceptive “support” of the cause of “Cuba Libre” pushed by the anti-Spanish and anti-imperialist rebels. [3] Cuba has had a hold on the American imagination for many years, with brutal slaveowner Thomas Jefferson even declaring that Cuba should be part of the United States in 1809! Like in the past, there are some policymakers who believe that we have to stop “oppression at our very doors,” as President McKinley declared in justifying the Spanish-American War (and invasion of Spanish-controlled Cuba), and that we need to defend “Cuban rights” which translates to rights for multinational corporations to exploit and re-establish themselves, as Fidel put it in his speech on January 2, 1959, “masters of the country.” [4] Like in the past, the empire will not accept Cuba (and its democratic nationalism) due to its challenge to US influence including support of governments like those in Grenada. [5]

In order to recognize the challenges ahead, it is worth reflecting on the slave society in Cuba in the past. From the 1760s to the late 1830s, Cuba became a “community of large sugar and coffee plantations,” from an agrarian lifestyle with less population, and became valuable to the Spanish empire as the Cuban economy grew. [6] With new strife caused by the presence of thousands of enslaved blacks, with more than 400,000 imported into the island by one estimate, and dominance (and superiority) of the white (and somewhat restless Creole) plantation class, the US became a new market for Cuban sugar. [7] The number of enslaved blacks would increase from 38,900 in 1775 to 436,495 persons, in the “faithful colony,” a term which refers to planter dependence on Spain. [8] By the 1860s, Cuban sugar dominated the world market, with the island as the largest producer of sugar, buttressed by an illegal slave trade. [9] Slavery was abolished on the island in 1886 not because of an “internal collapse” of the system but acceleration of emancipation on the island, the Ten Year War in Cuba (1868-1878) led by small planters and insurgents who declared freedom of enslaved blacks under their control, and pressure from Cuban (and Spanish) abolitionists as plantation slavery became more “multicultural” (enslaved blacks, indentured Asians, black, white, and mixed race wage workers were part of the plantation work force). [10] Of course, the exploitation would continue under the form of wage labor and under the imperialist control of Cuba up until the Cuban Revolution’s success in gaining power in 1959.

If multinational corporations again gain a strong foothold in Cuba and exert their dominance, this would not only be part of the imperialist octopus, which would be bringing its tentacles to its “former mistress,” but it would increase the exploitation of the population. There is no doubt that the Mafia and prostitution would come in full force to the island, but there would be the full force of racism and sexism making its imprint on society, along with more full-fledged sexual violence. Having US tourists on the island would also not lead to something positive, as it would be followed by the popular culture, Hollywood, and elements of US culture.

While one should remain critical, there is one element that those who see themselves (correctly) as anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist in mind: solidarity. Building off what I said on Twitter, it is worth quoting the eighth term of admission into the Communist International in 1920:

“Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its “own” country, must support—in deed, not merely in word—every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.”

While it has been 96 years since this was declared, the principles still apply. As I said on twitter, this could, most expansively be applied to Iran, Syria, DPRK, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Belarus, Philippines (maybe), Bulgaria (I suppose), and Moldova (maybe), while recognizing the roles of China and Russia. In this current time, one would have to commit themselves, if they lived in North America, to opposing US imperialism in its form of colonialism in Puerto Rico and other “territories” (U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, United States Minor Outlying Islands, and Northern Marina Islands), neocolonialism in associated states (Micronesia, Palau, and Marshall Islands), and neocolonialism manifested in the 500+ bases the US has across the world. [11] If they lived in Europe, for example, they would have to, under this logic, commit themselves to opposing imperialism of France and Britain, along with the United States, in the African continent, just to give an example. Obviously putting into action “systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples” and supporting colonial (and anti-imperialist) liberation movements would require organization. This means that the aims would go beyond just opposing the imperialism to actively working to stop it. But at minimum, this would comprise of solidarity with oppressed nations, which are listed above, and likely others, and opposing future US interventions, the “notion of American empire.” Other than this, the rest is up to all of you. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Notes

[1] Benjamin Bain and Christine Jenkins, “Trump Walks Business-Politics Tightrope on Cuba After Castro,” Bloomberg Politics, November 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2016.

[2] Damien Cave, Azam Ahmed, and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Donald Trump’s Threat to Close Door Reopens Old Wounds in Cuba,” New York Times, November 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2016; “U.S. Companies Hope Trump Won’t Block Their Million-Dollar Cuba Deals,” Reuters, November 29, 2016. Republished by NBCNews. Accessed November 30, 2016; David Jackson, “Trump ponders Cabinet appointments, threatens Cuba deal,” USA Today, November 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2016.

[3] Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Time Books, 2006), 31-32, 37-44, 46, 48, 63.

[4] Kinzer, 83, 87-91

[5] Kinzer, 90-91, 135, 139, 154, 174, 205, 220, 226-227, 236.

[6] Franklin Knight, “The Transformation of Cuban Agriculture 1763-1838,” Caribbean Slave Society and Economy (ed. Dr. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, New York: The New Press, 1991), 69, 73.

[7] Knight, 70-72, 74-77

[8] Knight, 77-78.

[9] Rebecca Scott, “Explaining Abolition: Contradiction, Adaptation and Challenge in Cuban Slave Slave Society 1860-1886,” Caribbean Slave Society and Economy (ed. Dr. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, New York: The New Press, 1991), 454-455.

[10] Scott, 456-458, 460, 463. Scott says that about 114,000 enslaved blacks were emancipated from slavery from 1881-1886, a major factor in abolition.

[11] The “BASE STRUCTURE REPORT- FISCAL YEAR 2015 BASELINE” notes that the US military is “one of the Federal government’s larger holders of real estate managing a global real property portfolio that consists of nearly 562,000 facilities (buildings, structures, and linear structures), located on over 4,800 sites worldwide and covering over 24.9 million acres” (p. DOD 2). It also notes that there are 513 “active installations” of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and WHS (Washington Headquarters Services) (p. DOD 4). However, the total number of military sites, minus the over 4,100 in the United States, numbers 701 if one considers those in “territories” (really colonies) and overseas (not in the US or its colonies) (p. DOD 6, p. DOD 18). It also worth noting that the military “uses over 178,000 structures throughout the world, valued at over $131 billion,” along with “107,000 linear structures throughout the world, valued at over $163 billion,” and managing “24.9 million acres of land worldwide,” which one could consider as aspects of the empire itself (p. DOD 10, DOD 12, DOD 14). If that isn’t enough, there are also 42 Army National Guard Sites in US colonies, which when combined with the 701 military sites noted earlier, comes up to 743 military sites (p. DOD 16).

The legacy of Fidel Castro and brutal US imperialism

My thoughts on those who dislike Fidel Castro, with the
My thoughts on those who dislike Fidel Castro, with the “kids” representing liberals or “left” people who dislike him. This comes from the recent Simpson episode “Havana Wild Weekend” which is mildly funny.

I’ve written about Cuba on this blog before, but I find it necessary to talk about the legacy of Fidel Castro (called Fidel in the rest of this post) and its relation to the machinations of US imperialism. There is no doubt that Cuba, like a small band of other countries (mainly Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Syria, Belarus, and the DPRK) are part of an anti-imperialist front, as I’ve called it. As for socialist island nation, Cuba has a deep revolutionary history, which informs its anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle, which must be protected so that an “imagined scenario,” like one I envisoned, which involves capitalist destruction and exploitation of the island, does not come to pass. Most of the content in this post comes from two storifies I put together specifically on Fidel, and another which is just a collection of recent tweets.

World leaders and revolutionaries have rightly praised Fidel, who was 90 years old, surviving hundreds upon hundreds of CIA attempts to kill him. Bashar Al-Assad, the president of the secular and socially democratic Syrian Arab Republic, calling Cuba an example of struggle for liberation, will continue to be a model of resisting imperialism, and praised Fidel for fighting US-imposed sanctions on the island. The foreign minister of the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif, described Fidel as “a prominent figure in fighting against colonialism and exploitation (of oppressed people); he was a symbol of independence seeking struggles of the oppressed” (also see here). Nicholas Maduro, the President of the embattled socialist Venezuela, honored Fidel, recalled the close relationship between Cuba and Venezuela from 1999-2013 (when Chavez died) and beyond. Robert Mugabe, president of the revolutionary state of Zimbabwe, declared that “your loss is our loss…farewell revolutionary…We shall always remember you as our own in the same way as Cubans will do so and that is the spirit that brings me and my delegation here…our hearts are full of courage, and his life that he has bequeathed us, a lot of revolutionary goodness.” The Government of Eritrea sent its condolences on Fidel’s death, just like Kim Jong Un of the DPRK on the front page of one of the country’s major newspapers. Gloria La Riva of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL) wrote on twitter that “I can’t begin to express the sorrow I feel about one of the greatest Revolutionaries who ever lived.” Monica Moorhead of the Worker’s Worker Party also honored Fidel and remembered when she met him in the past. The National Black United Front declared that “we salute a true Soldier in the liberation movement, . He’s provided us with the resources that we need to accomplish our goals.” Other groups that praised Castro included the Revolutionary Communist Group, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Even the UN General Assembly observed a moment of silence.

The newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma, named after the ship that Fidel, Che Guevara and others came on, in the “invasion” of Cuba which started the revolution, described Fidel as a revolutionary leader, who led Cuba to support the struggle of Angolan independence, said that Cuba was “no one’s satellite,” and “carried out a socialist revolution only 90 miles from the United States.” The obituary went on to say that “the Cuban Revolution and Fidel’s [humanist] ideas have inspired all those searching for a different world…Cuban weapons and resources supported guerillas fighting against dictatorships across our continent” and noted the praise from figures such as Hugo Chavez, in 2005, before his death. In contrast, Trotskyists like WSWS (World Socialist Web Site) and “human rights” advocate Ken Roth served the interest of US imperialism by condemning Fidel, with the latter calling him a “dictator” and the former decrying supposed “bourgeois nationalism.” Clearly, neither one of these sources should be listened to, as should others on the right-wing, like Darrell Issa, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, the woman-hater, or President-elect Donald Trump, the fascist. I’m not even going to talk about the response in the “mainstream” bourgeois media like the New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times. The same goes for duplicitous people like Bernie, the “nice imperialist,” Sanders or Zizek.

While some misinformed people will say Fidel was disliked in Cuba, this clearly isn’t true. On November 28, nine days of mourning began on the island, with numerous residents calling the death a “sad moment” and were distressed by the news, including those at the University of Havana, where Fidel went to school, and young Cubans. A few days ago there was a mass tribute at the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana for Fidel. This was coupled by mourning outside the Cuban embassy in Argentina, with all celebrating his achievements. The Iranian government also said that a delegation from Iran will take part in the funeral ceremony for Fidel. The Venezuelan government declared three days of mourning. The government of the DPRK did the same. He was, to put it simply, eulogized in memorial services in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Vietnam, and South Africa, as noted by PressTV.

Out of the news about Fidel’s death came some interesting stories. Louis Allday, currently a PhD candidate at SOAS, shared that Cuba sent troops to support Algeria, then ruled by socialist soldier and President Ben Bella, in the “Sand War” against a US-backed Morocco, in 1963. He also wrote about how BBC, an imperial news outlet, praised Cuba’s healthcare but refused to use the word communist and Fidel noting how black and Latino people were used as cannon fodder by the US military. Other twitter users noted how Fidel took responsibility (and blame) for the gay persecution in the country in the 1960s (also see here) even as the country decriminalized homosexuality before the US by over twenty years. In 1973 Fidel sent an armored brigade to Syria, which fought in the war against Israel that year. Elsewhere on twitter it was noted that Cuba sent aid during Hurricane Katrina, that Cuba supported the Socialist Republic in “South Yemen” (before its sad demise), pictures of Fidel with Yasser Arafat, along with Kim II Sung, Gaddafi, Thomas Sankara, Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Nelson Mandela. One South African publication wrote that Fidel and Cuba engaged in interventions in Africa without consulting Soviet leadership, disproving they were a “satellite” of the Soviet Union, relying on Piero Gleijeses‘s works on Cuba, an academic who likely is not radical. The publication also said that Fidel had a “revolutionary zeal that played a critical role in assisting African liberation movements…from Angola to Namibia, Algeria to Guinea Bissau” and a commitment to fight US influence in Africa after Cuba’s numerous forays to the US in 196os were rejected. Other publications that noted Fidel’s achievements included China Daily, Guangming Online, Liberation School (PSL publication), and Workers World.

This post is almost like a stream of consciousness, so a more substantive one is coming shortly.

The US-Saudi imperial interrelationship

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While the society of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is corrupted, there is another dimension to mention: the US-Saudi imperial interrelationship and where it currently stands. It seems that this relationship is good straits, but could easily bounce back as the masters of war of the murderous empire smile with glee. [1] The plan to “mold” opinion proposed in 1950 has not worked:

“…if the President and the Government and the Department of State…felt there was a menace to the interests of the United States, American public opinion could be molded, if not for the sake of Ibn Saud, for the sake of the interests of the United States and Saudi Arabia”

The KSA was founded in 1932, the year that Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) won the presidential election against “discredited” Republican Herbert Hoover. For years, the Saud family had been hiding in Kuwait, a protectorate of the British Empire, while the Ottomans controlled much of the Mideast. After the collapse of Ottoman Empire in 1923, the Saud family sprung into action. They began establishing the foundation of what would become the KSA. By 1932, when the state was declared to the world, few countries recognized it as there were no resources “of importance” and the country was composed mainly of nomads, delineated into varying ethnic groupings. Later that year, the fortunes changed for the Saud family, which was experiencing an “economic crisis,” when black gold was found. With the oil wealth, the Saud family became the Royals, and their brutal monarchy was cemented. With that, the teachings by Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab on the Arabian Peninsula, originally part of am “18th-century revival and reform movement,” often called Wahhabism in the West, received state sanction. This form of Islam, which insists on a “literal interpretation of the Koran” and declares that those who don’t practice it are “heathens and enemies,” would be promoted for years to come even as it was used by all sorts of Islamic reactionaries.

As years passed, the US, along with many other countries, swooped in and recognized the KSA as a state, and Western oil corporations, like Standard Oil, established their roots in the country. Later a camp was established for foreign oil workers, creating a sort of bubble of security, at least in theory. Years later, some argued that Saudi Arabia and the Islamic movement were part of an anti-imperial front. Canadian socialist Paul Saba, wrote in 1980 that colonialists tried to suppress Islam, which made it stronger and part of anti-colonial struggle, meaning that many Muslim groups often played a “progressive role in supporting national liberation.” He also said that because sentencing in the Islamic world is “far less than severe than the torture and murder which existed under the Shah,” that it is fine, a position which should be unacceptable to any reasonable person. Saba also said that the Islamic movement wanted development and progress apart from “imperialist control,” with the US as a key target for hatred and defiance due to, as he put it, “historical plunder and domination of the Middle East and its backing for Israeli Zionism and the Shah of Iran.” While he makes valid points about countries such as Iran, which is currently at a crossroads geopolitically, he does not recognize that many of these countries are religiously conservative and as a result, do not have true liberation, especially for women, homosexuals, and non-Muslims.

In the 1940s, the equation changed once again. While the US sent engineers to work on Saudi roads, financial loans to the KSA were nixed by the US government because of British support for the Kingdom. [2] Even as veteran diplomat Alexander Comstock Kirk agreed with this assessment, he rejected the idea of “a division of hemispheres of influence” in which the British would take a leading role instead of the United States. US diplomats even debated sending agricultural and technical assistance to the KSA based on what was done on reservations of the remaining indigenous nations in the United States. [3] At the same time, certain policymakers turned their attention to the Kingdom where a “massive oilfield has been discovered in 1938,” and strengthened a relationship with the country, trying to cultivate it as a friend.

All of this happened even as the Kingdom had established diplomatic relations with the Nazis and Italian fascists, both of whom tried to bring the Saudis to their side, sometimes by promising to send armaments. [4] Even so, the US was successful in bribing the Saudis to switch sides and declare war on the Nazis by 1945, even inviting them to a UN conference, a proposal which was roundly rejected by the Soviets.

As time passed, relations changed. Not only did FDR’s meeting with Ibn Saud (known in the Arab world as Abdulaziz), in Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, reinforce the US-Saudi relationship, but the US began sending the oil-rich country military aid. [5] The US began seeing protection of the KSA as vital to the security of the empire. This was a time that the US saw the Kingdom as “a bulwark to peace in the Near Eastern world” supported the extension of a 15 million dollar Export-Import Bank loan to the country to develop its railroads, highways and generally its transportation system. [6]

This relationship was helped because the Saudis were staunchly anti-communist. Millions of dollars of US investments in the country were considered as an “effective weapon against the advance of Communism.” In exchange for such investment, the Saudis allowed their airfield of Dharan to hold US warplanes and US commercial flights by the early 1950s. Afterword, the US sent military advisers to “protect” the Kingdom and reassert US military rights in the country. In later years, during the 1972 border conflict between North Yemen (backed by Jordan, KSA, the US, UK, Taiwan, and West Germany) and South Yemen, also called the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and Libya), and after, the Saudis saw South Yemen as a threat. The country was even praised by the World Bank for satisfying basic needs of the population, raising education standards, and more. The government of South Yemen also engaged in campaigns to eradicate illiteracy, emancipate women, develop a safe drinking water system, and engage in agriculture collectivization. Eventually, the imperial and capitalistic forces got their way, uniting the North and South Yemen behind Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former leader of North Yemen, in 1990, who would be predictably US-friendly until his ousting in 2012. However, in 1994 there was a civil war between the pro-Western northerners and socialist southerners, which was launched by North Yemen, which again led to reunification and purging of the left from Yemeni society. Even since 2013, people resisted Yemeni occupation of the southern part of the country “through the division of labor and through popular committees” which is mainly expressed through peaceful protest as the last secretary general of the Yemeni Socialist Party, Ali Salim al-Beidh, noted in a 2013 interview.

While the Saudis became anxious for not receiving military assistance, they were likely glad that the US negotiated an agreement between them and ARAMCO (Arab-American Oil Company). [7] At the same time, the US had the appearance as a “neutral mediator” in disputes, mainly between the British and Saudis, handled in arbitration sessions. These disputes were over oil field claims near Farsi island, Qatar, the town of Buraimi, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and other border areas. Those involved in the disputes, which had been festering since the late 1940s, included Aramco and British oil companies such as Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Ultimately, the Saudis found the British, who were exploring oil drilling in a disputed zone, to be impolite and were angry at them, which the British found disconcerting.

In subsequent years, as the formal British Empire weakened, which would become, at least for the Saudis, “hostile,” the US would pledge to protect them and their oil from those they perceived as the “aggressors”: the Soviets. Still, in 1952, the Join Chiefs of Staff believed that “from a military point of view, grant aid to Saudi Arabia and certain other Middle East countries is not justified,” even though they agreed that the Kingdom had unique position in the Mideast.The US pledge for support was noted in a summary of a March 1950 conversation, between the US, Britain, and the KSA:

“the United States has an extremely strong interest in the American investment in petroleum in Saudi Arabia. This is an interest which is vitally important to the security of the United States and to the world…it is necessary that the United States render assistance to nations who find themselves threatened by aggression or subversion from the north…The United States feels that the only important long-range security menace that faces the world is the obviously aggressive designs of the USSR…if at any time it [Saudi Arabia] is menaced by aggressive action or subversive activities from any neighboring power, the United States Government will take most definite action…The United States on its side is gratified that American investors, both oilmen and others, have chosen to come here to work with the Saudi Arabian Government”

However the relationship between the United States and the KSA developed a hiccup in the form of the state of Israel.

In 1947, after years of Zionist efforts to establish a state, Israel was established in the Holy Land of Palestine. The area was already torn by strife between Jews and Arabs, which the British imperialists saw as a dilemma to quickly extricate themselves from. While the state of Israel was founded on violence and religious ideals like the KSA, it was different in the fact that it was founded on the genocide of the Palestinians. The Saudis were strongly opposed to this new state and seemed to favor the Palestinians. Ibn Saud, from 1947 to his death in 1953, was strongly anti-Zionist and warned the US of consequences if they supported Israel. [8] Even as FDR has reassured Ibn Saud that the US would not change its policy on Palestine, “without consulting the Arabs,” this was disregarded. Ibn Saud stayed outspoken on Zionism, even canceling an Aramco concession, alarming the military and foreign policy establishment. Eventually, Saud found he could distinguish between US foreign policy elsewhere in the Mideast and ARAMCO, arguing that oil royalties could allow Arab states to resist “Jewish pretensions,” and staying formally hostile to Zionism. Whether it was to curry Jewish votes in the upcoming election (1948) or to establish more of a foothold in the Middle East, the US supported Israel, although not as strongly until the 1960s and 1970s.

Despite this, the US-Saudi relationship persisted. Presidents, whether from the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties, have tried to favor the KSA in whatever way they can, whether that is through arms deals or accepting ceremonial gifts. The US even sent a medical team, led by President Truman’s personal physician, to the Kingdom to make sure that Ibn Saud was healthy before his death! In 1957, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” said that the US would, within constitutional means, oppose “overt armed aggression” in the Kingdom and the Middle East by Soviet and Soviet-aligned agents. Years later, John F. Kennedy, still lauded by conservatives and liberals alike, ordered that a squadron of fighters be sent to the country to protect it from Egyptian air assaults. Years later, the US was grateful for the Saudi effort to avoid a “serious shortfall in oil supplies,” stabilize the world oil market, and the Saudi decision to increase production due to the Iranian revolution in 1979.

In later years, the relationship between the KSA and the US strengthened. A senior fellow at the elite Council on Foreign Relations, Rachel Bronson, wrote in 2004 that the “close, cozy relationship” between the two countries began with Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush, with the relationship cemented in efforts to counter claimed “Soviet aggression.” She continues, saying that the Saudis had their own reasons for fighting the Soviets including their fear that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan would “threaten” their Kingdom. Bronson goes on to say that the Saudis also played a role in funding the contras in Nicaragua, Reagan’s “freedom fighters” for capitalism, along with funding opposition to Ethiopia’s Soviet-aligned government and horrid rebel leader Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA to fight the Marxist government in Angola. She then claims that current attention to Bush family “misses the longer history of the American and Saudi Arabian contemporary relationship.” However, by saying this, she is whitewashing the Bush family’s history with the Saud family.

In 1990, former CIA director and then-President George H.W. Bush brought troops into the Kingdom during the Persian Gulf quest for oil, declaring that the US would “assist the Saudi Arabian government in the defense of its homeland.” This was not a surprise as then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney personally flew to the oil kingdom to ask King Fahd to allow the US to “station thousands of troops there,” saying to the US Senate that the US was coming to their aid because of the agreement between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud all those years ago. [9] Not long after, he subsequently supported the war against Iraq. Years later, George W. Bush would declare the country was “expanding the role of its people in determining their future” even as they remained an authoritarian, brutal state.

Still, there have been disagreements and snipes over the years. Even disgraced war criminal Hillary Killary Clinton, in excerpts of speeches, released by Wikileaks and organized later by the National Security Archive, to bankers and well-off constituencies, criticized the Saudis. She said that they (and the Emiratis) feared “organized efforts for political Islam,” saw the Muslim Brotherhood as threatening, and were against missile defense in the Mideast. She also said that the Saudis did not have a stable government (perhaps indicated by the killing a Saudi royal by head chopping recently), that the Saudis have backed the Sunni fighters in Syria with large amounts of arms, and that the “Saudis have exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years.” [10] This statement aligns with earlier Wikileaks cables saying that the country was “the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups,” with the government not even trying to stop the flow of money, and recent releases saying that the Kingdom and Qatar “fund ISIS.”

As for Clinton, while she may have angered top policymakers when she spoke her mind about Israeli and Saudi actions, she also stated the obvious. She said that that as a result of the so-called “Arab Spring,” Israel and the KSA are “more closely aligned in their foreign policy…[on] Iran…Egypt…Syria and…a lot of other things.” [11] This is was also clear when the late King Abdullah said that the US should “cut off the head of the snake” and bomb Iran before it was too late. [12] More recently, the Saudis even allowed Israeli newspapers to be viewed in the country.

Apart from the powerful (but currently weakened) Saudi lobby, there is the bourgeois media. When King Abdullah died in January of last year, this media could not let down on its praise, calling him “something of an advocate for women” (The Telegraph), “a reformer at home” (BBC), a “reformer and often came up against the more hard-line clerics” (CNN), “accepted limited change” (The Guardian), “pushed cautious changes” (Reuters), “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer…[and] became, in some ways, a force of moderation” (New York Times), “to his supporters, [he]…was a benign and…progressive monarch” (Wall Street Journal), “was seen by many as a gentle reformer” (The Independent), and “was considered a savvy and plainspoken modernizer, if not a reformer” (The New Yorker). [13] While BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and The Independent were more reserved in their praise, they were still part of the general trend.

Apart from crap infotainment sites like BuzzFeed claiming that King Abdullah’s “legacy” was important to care about, President Obama declared that the Saudi king was “always candid and had the courage of his convictions” and corporatist Secretary of State John Kerry, in a bubble of misunderstanding and confusion, said that the US “lost a friend…the world has lost a revered leadera man of wisdom and vision…a brave partner in fighting violent extremism.” To top this off is the State Department-connected and bourgeois Human Rights Watch declaring that King Abdullah’s reign has “brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens,” which basically offering of praise.

Some criticized such praise at the time. One of these people was Jacob Mchangama, the director of the Justia think tank, on the conservative website of Forbes. He wrote that the reactions to the death of the Saudi king “has been a rude awakening.” He criticized the responses of leaders including John Kerry, former UK prime minister David Cameron, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, saying that “acknowledging the victims of King Abdullah rather than singing false praises would be a good start” in the right direction. His tepid criticism doesn’t go far enough: the bourgeois media and Western capitalist leaders are supporting the imperialist US-Saudi relationship by whitewashing the crimes of the authoritarian Kingdom. If anything, people should be celebrating the death of a tyrant like King Abdullah, not praising him as a reformer, and should be recognizing that Saudi society is still violent, like that of the United States, but also in a very different way, with routine executions of “subversives.”

The Iranian leaders clearly agree with Clinton on this point. In a recent speech to the UN General Assembly, the moderate reformist President, backed by the Western capitalists, Hassan Rouhani, argued that if the Saudis are serious about development and regional security they must stop their “divisive policies, spread of hate ideology and trampling upon the rights of neighbors.” He further criticized the US government for not following on the Iran deal, along with the Supreme Court decision earlier this year, to which only chief justice John Roberts and associate justice Sonia Sotamayor dissenting, to seize Iranian assets because they “committed terrorism.” He also said that Iran had a good relationship with the people of the United States, and that their “problem is with the American government, not companies, people and universities.”

Apart from the internal dynamics and land grabs, there are obvious realities which should be pointed out. For one, the Saudis are backing the religiously reactionary opposition in the Syrian Arab Republic, which was not “moderate” but are basically Al Qaeda type-organizations, like Al Nusra. They even offered Russia an oil deal secretly if they withdrew backing of the Syrian government, which they refused, and they provided chemical weapons to Syrian “rebels.” The goal of the Saudis interconnect directly with US imperial interests, which entail the displacing the secular, nationalist, socially democratic government headed by Bashar Al-Assad and replacing him (and the government) with one that benefits imperial power and allows Western investments to flow. The Kingdom is, as as result, an arm of US imperial foreign policy. The KSA even allied with the US-supported authoritarian state of Kazakhstan, and the US, which has a drone base in the Kingdom, has propped up the brutal autocratic state and its leaders. All of this isn’t a surprise since in 2011, the US Senate Intelligence Committee found a list of direct members of the Saudi royal family who were connected with 9/11, a discovery which connects to the fact the Kingdom arguably divided into fiefdoms, with specific princes having their own interests which may have had a “severe impact on 9/11.”

Recently, the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United States has been decisively shaken. On September 28th, the US Congress roundly overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a law which allows families of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for involvement in the attacks, which makes sense since 15 of the 19 hijackers came from the country. [14] Scholar Binoy Kampmark argued that the law was a “very American formula, one born in the court room and litigation process,” that any avenue of legal action “against an ally was tantamount to a confession,” and noting that the Saudi foreign minister said that their assets could be seized due to the law. He also argued that this bill’s passage meant that “various imperial efforts of the US would be compromised,” with US imperial engagements and actions, along with those of US allies, suddenly facing “the prospect of legal targeting,” with the law serving as one the most overt challenges to “assumptions of sovereign immunity.”

Those for the law include president-elect (and fascist) Donald Trump, Killary, Nancy Pelosi, John Cornyn, and a majority of Congress. The main force behind the law, other than feelings of jingoism conjured up even by mention of the September 11 attacks, was a New Jersey group named 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, which is pro-military but critical of the Saudis. The group’s chair, Terry Strada, a former director of J.P. Morgan Chase’s Human Resources department, joined the group in 2002 and became chair in 2012. [15] One of their lawyers, James P. Kreindler, declared that “Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to see this continue in the media or court…we are going to prevail. We are going to win. Either the Saudis will come to the table or we’ll go to court and win there.”

The groups against the law are varied. They include the Saudi government, President Obama, who warned it would lead countries to sue the US in foreign courts for war crimes, CIA director John Brennan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Gulf Cooperation Council, a bipartisan group of former executive officials saying that the law would harm US interests and undercut security of the empire. [16] The Saudi foreign ministry declared that the law would lead to “serious unintended repercussions” such as threats to sovereign immunity. Some have said that the law, coupled with other measures, is a setback for the Saudis, whose influence on Capital Hill is waning, and that “anti-Saudi activity” on the Hill is the strongest it has been in decades. [17] These “concerns” were as bad as an ABC News fluff piece about the law, with their hand-picked experts saying that the law cold lead to “potentially any nation” sued, could make the US “much more vulnerable,” is “very dangerous…a huge mistake,” undermining counter-terrorism, and hilariously that “some countries would be interested in saying our military aid to Israel is aiding and abetting things that they would allege are sometimes war crimes against the Palestinians” which “we” need immunity from.

A Yale-educated individual formerly in the military establishment, named Michael Rubin, went the furthest of all. He said that without oil, the KSA “would be a very different place” and that oil money led the country into “modernity.” After saying that JASTA would shake “Saudi financial stability,” he declared that the Kingdom would become “bankrupt” because of the law, saying that this is not “good for America” since “what happens in Riyadh doesn’t stay in Riyadh.” Then, almost like a giddy neo-con, he worried that political instability in the country would not be “good” because decades of “Islamist education and indoctrination” would lead unemployed Saudi youth to not embrace “liberalism and tolerance if suddenly put in desperate straits.” Basically, this means that the country would not be a bastion of imperialism and could become, hypothetically, anti-imperialist and antagonistic to the US, which he sees as “dangerous.” Reasoned people should welcome such a change in Saudi Arabia if it is pushed by those who want to challenge imperial control, apart from the Islamic reactionaries.

Congressional criticism and efforts to curtail the Saudis only goes so far. In late September, the US Senate passed a law, by a supermajority, to approve the sale of Abrams tanks and other armaments to the KSA, with bigwig Senators like John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Mitch McConnell in support. Those that objected were led by libertarian-Republican Senator Rand Paul and liberal-Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. While Paul opposed giving the KSA more arms because Congress hadn’t discussed the Saudi bombing of Yemen, which has killed over 3,800 civilians and resulted in much turmoil, Murphy had other reasons. He argued that there is “an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen,” a statement proved by the fact that that the KSA is using US-supplied white phosphorous in Yemen. He also said that the KSA was not “immune from criticism” and that the US should not dictate what “form of Islam wins out around the world.” However, he said that the US should still have a strong relationship with the KSA, which he considered vital, that allows “for one party to object to the behavior of the other when it’s not in the party’s mutual national security interests” and that the relationship can survive US challenges. Despite these reservations, criticism of the Saudis in Congress, and generally, is a good sign of things to come. Bourgeois left-liberals have their answer to these problems in (and relating to) Saudi Arabia embodied by veteran peace activist Medea Benjamin. She argues in her new book that the current US-Saudi relationship is destructive and that the US State Department should use its existing policies to sanction the KSA. [18] While this may be satisfying to some, this article will go further be recognizing how the relationship is connected to the capitalist system, imperialism, and the murderous US empire.

On the other hand, the imperial interrelationship with Saudi Arabia could be in trouble. For one, during the continuing US-backed Saudi destructive war in Yemen, some top government officials, especially in the State Department were worried. They said in emails, from mid-last year to earlier this year, that they were concerned about legal blowback from US participation in the Saudi bombing. These officials believed that the US could be “implicated in war crimes” and that the Saudis would kill civilians due to their “lack of…experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles” coupled with weak intelligence, even as they attempted to maintain the US-Saudi relationship. Further emails showed that the Saudis disregarded a list prepared by senior officials to prevent destruction of “critical infrastructure” and reduce casualties, bombing a bridge to the Yemeni capital of Sanaa which was a major rout for humanitarian food aid. Even former military prosecutor and California liberal senator Ted Lieu declared, that due to the assistance in the horrid bombing, the Obama administration is “now in an untenable situation.” This situation is complicated by the fact that risks to US military personnel, the footsoldiers of empire, even those on Navy destroyers, is increasing due to Saudi airstrikes on Yemeni civilians. [19]

Still, there is no doubt that the murderous empire had purposely turned looked away from the abuses of women, non-Muslims, foreign workers, and many others in the Kingdom, as previously noted. Not only is the country a murderous state, but it is effectively a client state of the empire, since without US support it could not destabilize the region whether it is backing horrid “rebels” in Syria or decimating the small country of Yemen. This is not a surprise since diplomats, even in 1946, declared that the US should provide “such assistance as may be necessary and feasible to strengthen and maintain that country as a sovereign state free of internal and external disturbances which might threaten its stability.” But the empire is not the only one that is defending the Kingdom.

As it should be obvious, supporting a relationship, even a “bilateral partnership,” with a tyrannical government like the KSA is against the principles of democracy, freedom, and justice the US supposedly stands for. Some policymakers might speak of the “reforms” in the country such as “expanding rights of women in Saudi Arabia,” but they will never gut the relationship. The fact that the NSA partnered with brutal Saudi state police and that the country’s currency is directly tied to the US dollar, showing that the relationship is entrenched. Even Bernie Sanders, the professed progressive and “antiwar” candidate in the capitalist Democratic Party, believed that rich authoritarian Arab states, such as the Kingdom, should fight against ISIS. Such an approach is not anti-interventionist since it means that the US-backed imperial proxies would be fighting against it, which does not, in any way, shape, or form undermine US imperialism. It also provides the potential for Saudi aggression to expand beyond Syria to the whole Mideast, causing more reactionary responses.

Readers may be looking for a “call to action” after reading this piece. I’m not going to follow the pattern of so many liberal documentaries which say you should go to a website and sign a petition. However, it is my hope that this article helps people start to challenge not only the accepted narrative about Saudi Arabia in the West but informs criticisms of bourgeois liberals. Much of the criticism of the US-Saudi relationship, and the Kingdom itself, mainly focuses on violations of “human rights,” as flawed a concept as that is, and stays within the bounds of accepted discourse in our capitalist society. There needs to be an analysis of Saudi Arabia and US imperial power which recognizes the interconnected nature of imperialism, capitalism, and other systems of oppression. This includes even criticizing states, even those one may be inclined to support, which have relationships with Saudi Arabia. While this article does not have all the answers and is only a first stab at this subject, but hopefully it opens the door for more discussion.

Notes

[1] Under the Obama administration, there was biggest arms deal in US history, at the time, with up to $60 billion dollars of military equipment bought for the Saudis, which was largely ignored by the corporate media.

[2] Wallace Murray, “Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray),” May 29, 1941, 890F.51/21, Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Alexander Comstock Kirk, “The Minister in Egypt Kirk to the Secretary of State,” June 26, 1941, 890F.21/23: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Cordell Hull, “The Secretary to the Minister in Egypt (Kirk),” August 22, 1941, 890F.51/29: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Alexander Comstock Kirk, “The Minister in Egypt (Kirk) to the Secretary of State,” August 30, 1941, 890F.51/30: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Cordell Hull, “The Secretary to the Minister in Egypt (Kirk),” September 10, 1941, 890F.51/30: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Alexander Comstock Kirk, “Minister in Egypt (Kirk) to the Secretary of State,” September 23, 1941, 890F.51/39: Telegram; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Sumner Welles, “Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Welles) to the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray),” September 26, 1941, 890F.515/1⅓, Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016. Even the US was not on board with a Saudi request for 2 million in gold pieces in 1946.

[3] Harold I. Ickes, “The Secretary of Interior (Ickes) to the Secretary of State,” May 21, 1941, 102.64/100; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016; Gordon P. Merriam, “Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Gordon P. Merriam of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs,” September 19, 1941, 800F.00/67; Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1941, The British Commonwealth; The Near East and Africa, Vol. III, Accessed October 14, 2016.

[4] Francis R. Nicosia, Nazi Germany and the Arab World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 43, 76, 88, 110-114, 124-125, 126-127, 130-132. Reportedly, late Saudi King Abdullah treasured the dagger Hitler gave the Saudis in 1939.

[5] Adam Taylor, “The first time a US president met a Saudi King,” Washington Post, January 27, 2015. Accessed October 14, 2016; Rudy Abramson, “1945 Meeting of FDR and Saudi King Was Pivotal for Relations,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1990. Accessed October 14, 2016; G. Jefferson Price III, “Saudis remember FDR’s broken promise,” Baltimore Sun, September 1, 2002. Accessed October 14, 2016.

[6] “Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Villard) to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Clayton),” September 27, 1946, 890F.51/9–2746, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, The Near East and Africa, Volume VII. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Hare) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Thorp),” June 30, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula Affairs (Awalt),” July 28, 1950, 866A.10/7-2850, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Editorial Note,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016.

[7] “Editorial Note,” 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “Editorial Note,” 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; Fred H. Awalt, “Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Fred H. Awalt of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs,” October 5, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V, Accessed October 14, 2016; “The Chief of Staff of the United States Army to the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, 786A.5/4–350: Telegram, April 3, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; Raymond A. Hare, “The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Hare) to the Secretary of Defense (Johnson),” March 8, 1950, 711.56386A/2–1350, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, Vol. V. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1441: Memorandum of Conversation, by Robert Sturgill of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs,” August 19, 1952, 786A.5 MSP/8–1952, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1432: Memorandum of Conversation, by Robert Sturgill of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs,” January 21, 1952, 711.5886A/1–2152, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1451: Memorandum by the President to the Director for Mutual Security (Stassen),” March 14, 1953, 786A.5 MSP/3–1453, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1453: The Under Secretary of State (Smith) to the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister (Faisal),” 786A.5 MSP/3–2653, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1510: Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula–Iraq Affairs (Fritzlan),” April 1, 1953, 780.022/4–153, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1448: The Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula–Iraq Affairs (Fritzlan) to the Ambassador in Saudi Arabia (Hare),” January 16, 1953, 786A.5 MSP/1-653, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; “No. 1454: Editorial Note,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016; Walter B. Smith, “No. 1450: The Under Secretary of State (Smith) to the Director for Mutual Security (Stassen),” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954. The Near and Middle East (in two parts): Volume IX, Part 2. Accessed October 14, 2016.

[8] He was also reportedly anti-Semitic. As Tariq Ali writes in his review of Gilbert Archar’s book about Arabs and the Holocaust, he writes that Archar didn’t add that “the late Ibn Saud…was in the habit of presenting visiting Western leaders with copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a virulently anti-Semitic book. Other sources such as an article by Anthony Sampson in the Observer Review titled “Desert Diary” on March 9, 1975 partially confirms this.

[9] Additionally, it is worth noting that Osama Bin Laden used the fact of US troops in the country as a rallying cry to bring support to his cause. He argued that he hated the US also for US sanctions against Iraq and “American policies toward Israel and the occupied territories,” also noting he was infuriated by US troops stationed in the country as he told journalist Robert Frisk.

[10] Clinton also asserted that the Iranians were behind the planned murder of a Saudi ambassador, which was proven false. Investigative journalist Gareth Porter argued, convincingly, that the US government’s narrative on the assassination plot was an an elaborate set up to implicate Iran as part of a campaign against the country and possibly lead to war.

[11] Perhaps this is also why Erdogan thanked Saudi Arabia for its post-coup solidarity as he tries to make Turkey and the Saudis have a common cause.

[12] Wikileaks cables, from the 2010 release with documents gathered by Chelsea Manning, also suggested deals for jetliners given to heads of states and airline executives in multiple Mideast countries, that the Kingdom proposed energy ties with China if Beijing backed sanctions against Iran, and that the country is a major source of financing of Islamic reactionary groups.

[13] “King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud – obituary,” The Telegraph, January 22, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz dies,” BBC, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Anas Hamdan, Catherine E. Shoichet, and Dana Ford, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘reformer’ King Abdullah dies,” CNN, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Ian Black, “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah dies at 90,” The Guardian, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Angus McDowell, “Saudi King Abdullah dies, new ruler is Salman,” Reuters, January 22, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Douglas Martin and Ben Hubbard, “King Abdullah, Shrewd Force Who Reshaped Saudi Arabia, dies at 90,” New York Times, January 22, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Ellen Knickmeyer and Ahmed Al Omran, “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Dies,” Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Helen Nianias, “King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz dead: What did he do for Saudi Arabia?,” The Independent, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016; Robin Wright, “Postscript: King Abdullah, 1924-2015,” The New Yorker, January 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016.

[14] CBS News, “Obama vetoes bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia”, Sept. 23, 2016. Accessed October 10, 2016; Associated Press, “Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill aimed at Saudi Arabia sets up standoff with Congress,” September 23, 2016. Reprinted in The Guardian. Also see articles in NBC News and Politico.

[15] For more information, also see Strada’s posts on Huffington Post and her appearance on C-Span. Also of note is the response of their lawyers. I would add all of the press releases of Strada’s group here, but there are so many that the links would take up too much space.

[16] See articles in Al Arabiya, Slate, Al Jazeera, ABC (Australian), BBC, DW, and ABC (American).

[17] Karoun Demirjian, Washington Post, “Saudi Arabia is facing unprecedented scrutiny from Congress,” Sept. 21. Accessed October 12, 2016; Steven T. Dennis and Roxana Toxon, Bloomberg, Sept. 21, 2016, “Saudi Arabia’s Clout in Washington Isn’t What It Used to Be.” Also see an article in Euro News.

[18] This is mild compared to the absurd, silly, downright dumb approach of Charles Davis, called Chuckles by many critical radicals on the twittersphere, instituting a no-fly-zone over Saudi Arabia to stop their war.

[19] Articles in Fortune, Bloomberg, and Foreign Policy claimed when the war began that oil prices were negatively effected. However, a CNBC piece quoted a high-level Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Francisco Blanch, who argued that “I don’t think that Yemen had a lot of importance for the oil market…I’m not very worried about physical supply disruptions coming out of Yemen…The main issue…is whether the airstrikes…end up being a proxy war…a proxy war in the Middle East is always a risky event for oil market; there’s no question about it.” Some even claimed that the war in Yemen was a “proxy battlefield” between Iran-backed Houthis and US allies (Yemen and Saudi Arabia). Recently, the Saudis intercepted a missile from the Houthis which they claimed was headed to Mecca, but they could be twisting the truth.

A bastion of imperialism: the corrupted nature of Saudi society

A shopping mall in Saudi Arabia (2011)
A shopping mall in Saudi Arabia (2011)

Editor’s note: Reading this again, I see it as wholly underdeveloped in structure and content. I think it necessary to keep on here, but it is not one of my better pieces. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself, but I’m a bit embarrassed to have a piece like this on such a site like this where I engage in better, more thoughtful analysis. Still, I think this is a necessary part of understanding Saudi Arabia. As always, I’m open to comments and criticism.

Every day, more of a black gooey substance, black gold as some call it, is pumped out of the ground in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Like the socially democratic state of Venezuela, which is struggling for dear life against US-backed neoliberal opposition, “oil is the economy of Saudi Arabia,” meaning that depletion of oil will undoubtedly weaken their economy. The Saudi economy is so dependent on the substance, despite some efforts to purportedly diversify their economy in recent days, that officials overstated their country’s crude oil reserves by about 40 percent and owe billions of dollars to contractors which they did not pay because of an “oil slump.” As it stands now, the oil Kingdom is a client state of the murderous US empire, a bastion of imperialism with feudal shiekhdoms in place, in no way representing Arab nationalism of the past. This Persian Gulf protectorate is not only authoritarian, but it uses its “oil weapon” to push its agenda. This article is the first in a series about Saudi Arabia, focusing on the corrupted nature of Saudi society as it currently stands.

At the current time, there is the possibility of political instability in the country. The KSA is backed by the imperial juggernaut. Its leaders can easily placate the Saudi citizenry with decisions like slashing the salaries of government ministers, even as they ask ordinary families to cut back their salaries. Another method to maintain control could be the acquisition of millions of acres of prime farmland, mostly in the Senegal River Valley. One of the corporations participating in the land grab is owned by the father of now-deceased Osama Bin Laden: the Bin Laden Group. These land grabs were fully supported by the Saudi state, headed by late King Abdullah, with an idea of acquiring cropland abroad, growing corn, wheat, and soybeans, to feed those in the homeland. In Ethiopia, 1,000 locals every day load, pick, and pack hundreds of tons of fresh produce into waiting trucks, with the food going through the country, one of the “hungriest places on the planet,” and back to those living in the Kingdom. The Saudis are not the only ones engaging in such land grabs, with other states taking land in order to feed those living in their respective homelands. This practice, which leads to exploitation of the poorer, “underdeveloped” countries by ones that are much more wealthy, a form of imperialism which is inherent in the dynamics of capitalism itself.

At the same time, the Sauds can also stir nationalism in an effort to gain territory , such as two islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir, handed over by Egypt’s authoritarian (and US-backed) government to the Saudis. This was in exchange for Saudi aid to the Egyptians, to boost their ailing economy, a deal which was recently greenlighted by a court in Cairo. The Saudis could exploit this incident to cull nationalistic feelings in their own country.

The class dynamics of Saudi society are important to recognize in order see its true nature. For one, in imperial client states such as Bahrain, KSA, Qatar, and other monarchies, there has been a large rallying cry against US presence in the country by Islamic reactionaries and by a “significant layer of Saudi society” which see foreign troops, partially, as an affront to national pride. However, an armed uprising in the country could be unlikely due to oil wealth since “Saudi citizens enjoyed a high standard of living” if they stayed quiet and didn’t engage in democratic debate. At the same time, tensions are rising because new migrant workers plus unemployment among young Saudis is creating much resentment, with the creation of a “native Saudi working class.” This could lead to a possible social basis for Saudi social movements and resistance from the working class.

The thousands of migrant workers in the country are also part of the dynamics of the Saudi class society. Due to few opportunities in their home countries in Southeast Asia and the horn of Africa, “millions of poor, desperate men and women” annually immigrate, and are vulnerable at home and abroad. Many are abused, killed, and enslaved through the kafala sponsorship system which ties the status of migrant workers to their employers. This system means that employers control any ability for the eight million workers, comprising one-third of the Saudi population, to leave the country. Additionally, there are excessive working hours, wages withheld, and numerous forms of personal abuse and horrific events, such as sexual violence.

Adding to the misery of workers in KSA, racism is spread across the country’s society. Migrant workers are tarred as “black” and Ethiopians are placed at the bottom of this racist hierarchy. This is reinforced by the fact that all religions, but Islam, are banned inside the country and access to translators is denied to migrants. Some migrants are deported (“repatriated”), in theory, to help native Saudis, but this actually hurts them  since the crackdown on migrants weakens the fabric of society in and of itself even as many Saudis are caught up in anti-migrant sentiment. Some have argued that unless root causes of “poverty, poor education and lack of opportunities…extreme social and economic inequality” are not addressed than many immigrants will “migrate elsewhere…placing themselves at risk of further exploitation, abuse and even death.” Recently, a building bust has trapped thousands of starving (South Asian) Indian workers in Saudi Arabia who are stranded in the desert leading to a “food crisis” and direct action by workers.

The class and racial elements of Saudi society are addressed in the recent Hollywood Hollyweird comedic drama named A Hologram for the King which bombed at the box office. Usually movies about Arabs are utterly horrible. Jack G. Shaheen, an authority on media images and stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs, argues in his tome which reviews 900 Hollyweird films, says that the vast majority of them distort Arabs of all ages and genders, saying that from 1896 to the present, “Hollywood’s caricature of the Arab has prowled the silver screen…[staying] as repulsive and unrepresentative as ever…[with] Arabs are brute murderers, sleazy rapists, religious fanatics, and abusers of women,” treated as the other. [1] The problem with this, of course, is while Arabs can be villains in movies, “almost all Hollywood depictions of Arabs are bad ones” with repetitive and duplicitous images going across generations.

This movie was a bit different in that there were no heroes, no villains, just star actor Tom Hanks playing a businessperson, Alan Clay, who is trying to find his way in a culture foreign to him. Without getting into the movie too much, in one instance, one character, a Saudi cab driver, Yousef (a white actor named Alexander James Black who acts as a person of color, yet again, ugh), asks Clay “so if I start a democratic revolution here, you would support me?,” to which Clay says that he would personally fight for a revolution, but that the US would not send troops, air support, or other assistance. The conversation, of course, is just brushed off, but is telling since it seems to indicate the tensions in society itself. At another point, Clay says when looking at workers working on the roads of a future “desert city” that “I’m guessing these aren’t union men.” Yousef responds “Oh, we don’t have unions here. We have Filipinos.” This is also not addressed any further and is passed by, but is worth noting regardless.

Later, there is a scene when Clay talks to a nearby Saudi who asks “You work for CIA or something?” after seeing him take a lot of picture, with him joking “Just a little freelance work. Nothing full-time.” Of course, the Saudi takes this joke seriously and Hanks tells his cab drive to head off what he deems is a “ludicrous question” by telling the Saudi “if I was from the CIA, I wouldn’t tell the first person who asked me” and shakes his hand. You could say this makes Saudis look dumb for asking about the CIA, but at the same time it is treated as normal and expected as Saudis, like many in the “Third World,” know to watch out for the CIA based on what they’ve done. Also, it pokes at Hanks’s character (and by extension all Americans) are naive about the actions of the CIA. All Hollyweird movies have problems, but this one seemed more positive about Arabs and Saudis than other movies, so that is a good thing. To be clear, I’m not trying to promote this movie, I’m just trying to bring in something I thought was relevant to the subject of this article. If you wish to watch or not watch this movie, that’s up to you.

Back to Saudi society, apart from the racist and class elements, there is a sexist dimension. A recent article on Time’s website described the country as having a private society “rooted in a conservative strand of Islam” that requires adult women to have male guardians, which some call “gender apartheid.” The article further noted that men have more power in relationships since they are allowed to unilaterally divorce their wives while women cannot do the same thing. When men do divorce their wives, mediators and judges are typically conservative men, and the husband remains the guardian of the wife. The article describes specific cases and says that there are consequences for women who engage in legal challenges to male authority, with many women have struggling with “being a women in Saudi” showing that none of them are passive.

The horrid nature of the kingdom is evident. Any dissent or perceived challenge to the absolute monarchy of the Saudi Royals is crushed either by brutal force, concessions, or is outright banned (like unions and labor strikes). The Saudi state includes an internal security agency, the Ministry of the Interior, which has used its power and unlimited budget to train their forces, purchase cameras and surveillance technology in an effort to put in enforce social control. During the so-called “Arab Spring,” the Saudi religious establishment declared that peaceful demonstrations were “a sin against God,” and $36 million in monies was given to the general population with promises of housing and employment. [2] While Pakistan helped suppress dissent in the country, the late King Abdullah granted “reforms” such as the ability of women to participate in local elections in 2015 and the ability to be members of the Consultative Assembly, a formal advisory body, in an effort to blunt protest.

After reading all of this, no one of the right mind should support a relationship with this country. If one considers themselves a feminist or defender of gay rights, they should oppose this country for demeaning women and homosexuals. This can reflexively apply to the United States, which would require challenging existing norms in society. While I am not talking about the US-Saudi imperial interrelationship, these aspects are covered in the next article in this series. This article, for any of those critics out there, is just meant as a brief overview to start a conversation, not to say everything that is possible to say about Saudi society, which would fill a large book easily.

Notes

[1] Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001), 1-2, 6-8, 11, 13, 21-22, 28.

[2] Saudi forces also suppressed protest in the nearby kingdom of Bahrain, with a huge military base, after they were asked by the government for assistance

“The bumbling empire?”: the murderous US empire trudges on

beginning quote

Recently, President Obama extended the imperial war and occupation in Afghanistan beyond his time in office, leaving more troops “than planned” as bourgeois CNN declared on their website a few days ago. This, if one follows events of the last few years, is not a surprise. Still, some may say that the murderous empire is falling down/“bumbling” (like Jeremy Scahill) or on the road to collapse. This view is widespread across bourgeois “Left” circles: famed journalist Chris Hedges talks about the “failures and discontents” of the US empire, that democracy and imperialism are “incompatible,” and that the empire has been “declining” since the end of the Vietnam War; political theorist Sheldon Wolin says that “American imperium” can be rethought; former CIA analyst Chalmers Johnson says that not dismantling the empire will lead to “likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union” and that “decline and fall [of the empire] is foreordained.” [1] This article aims to point out why these approaches and perspectives are flawed, while looking at what the actual nature of the murderous empire.

Regardless of what some think, the empire seems as strong as ever. Sure, there is a growing US debt from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the US is still the “neighborhood bully” of the world neighborhood, and it still carries a big stick. Perhaps this is possible because of the lack of domestic opposition to the adventures of empire. Some Gallup polls show opposition to the Afghan and Iraq wars due to war-wariness caused by the cost and length of those wars but there is no firm public opposition to war, at the current time, since such opposition can easily be softened by imperialist propaganda projected by the military establishment and bourgeois media. The imperialist ideals can become ingrained in people’s minds, but likely not as much as in 1961. The US public is currently politically demobilized which means, as one recent paper argues, which I cannot fully vouch for here, that “there is a disorganized, disbanded populace that can be easily manipulated through public relations efforts by corporate entities or the government in service of war” (or other aspects assuredly) and that this populace is “generally distrustful and dismissive of politics, rejects political participation, and isn’t active in social movements of any kind.” As for the peace movement in the United States, it is basically a joke. There are few groups like CodePink, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, the War Resisters League, and others but for the most part these groups are bourgeois in nature. The only groups of radical stature that are engaging in agitation for peace, as it could be called, are the Answer Coalition, tied to the Workers World Party (WWP), and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Unlike these groups, other groups generally do not build alliances with those in other countries to create an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist front to oppose the murderous empire.

As comrade Emma Quaragel (EQ), who was doxed and exposed by imperial agents mainly centering around Molly Crabapple, argued in a recent post, the US government “acts as the hired guns of a global class of jet-setting billionaires, imprisons 2.3 million of its own people,” that the Black Panther Party was arguably “the highwater mark for American revolution in the 20th century,” and that in the United States, a revolutionary movement can “only exist when there is praxis that recognizes the relationship between oppression in the US and imperialism.” EQ goes on to argue that today there can’t be an “antiwar movement…because we live in a media environment that seeks to destroy it in its nascence,” that since it is hard to find reliable figures on US empire, it opens the door for propagandists to deride/discredit “any remaining “Left” antiwar sentiment in the US,” meaning that building “an anti-imperialist antiwar movement will remain an uphill battle,” even among those small groups that currently exist. This argument is definitely valid and should be listened but this article does not wish to tread on the same ground and instead goes a different direction.

Some may see the continuing actions of empire with dismay. After all, with the US-backed coups in Ukraine (2014), Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012), Maldives (2012), and Brazil (2016), coupled with drone strikes across the Muslim world from secretive drone bases, shadowy attack teams (JSOC, CIA, and so on), private mercenaries-for-hire, and authoritarian imperial proxy states such as Saudi Arabia, one may begin to lose hope. The murderous empire does not exist in a vacuum. However, without a country like the Soviet Union, there is no force, with organized (and equal) strength, to oppose this continuous empire. Yes, there are countries dubbed as “enemies” of empire such as Bolivia, Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Syria, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), China, and Russia. Of these countries, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Cuba, Syria, Belarus, and the DPRK are under fierce overt and covert imperial assault coupled with imperial destabilization efforts. Saying this does not mean that Russia and China are not experiencing the same assault, but that these two countries have more resources to stand up to the imperialist monster.

It must be acknowledged that that Russia and China cannot be fully depended on to form part of the anti-imperialist front. Russia may have low approval of US leadership, be opposed to NATO’s movement near its borders, and thwart actions of empire but it is a capitalist state and has a bourgeoisie which is often called “the oligarchs.” These bourgeoisie are content to work with US bourgeoisie on certain issues such as anti-terrorism actions and the Syrian conflict, meaning that Russia is not fundamentally opposed to US empire. As for China, it has removed itself from its communist roots. It has a market economy with a great degree of state control and has retained some socialist principles. Still, since since the Nixon visit to China in 1973 and Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese government has been willing to work with the United States, which, during the Cold War, used China as a wedge to undermine the Soviet Union. There are only a few countries which can truly be described to be part of an anti-imperialist front and stick to anti-capitalist principles. These countries are Cuba and the DPRK, which have been dedicated to these principles since the 1950s. I don’t know enough about Belarus or Bolivia to say if this is true in those countries, but it is clear that Zimbabwe and Syria are committed to revolutionary ideals (Iran is sort of but also not) even if their anti-capitalist ideals have faded in their respective states. Venezuela arguably is also dedicated to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist principles but is under threat from imperial forces overtly (ex: public support to the opposition by NED and State Department for example) and covertly (ex: CIA agents pushing for a coup) which is exacerbating and contributing violent situation within the country. While Venezuela would fall into the same category as Cuba and the DPRK, it has been, basically compromised as the government, which one could call socially democratic, is hanging on by a thread. Perhaps I do not know as much about Venezuela as I should but to me the current situation could have been mitigated, if not prevented, if the bourgeoisie had been expropriated. Obviously this action, which is not as simple as flicking on a light switch, could have changed the current predicament since the expropriation would have weakened the bourgeoisie in Venezuela, making it harder for the “opposition” backed by NED, USAID, and other imperial organs to gain a foothold and destabilize the country, like has been done in other countries dubbed “enemies.”

As it currently stands, there is no vote in the US presidential contest against the murderous empire. Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary, who should accurately be called Killary, Clinton is a “hawkish” imperialist who contributed to the destruction of Libya after the 2011 imperialist war and turned the State Department into an arm of the war machine as even Ralph Nader noted. Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump is sought by some as a “lesser evil” or “corrective” to the elitism (and warmongering) of Clinton, but he is an unpredictable, bigoted, and fascist monster. Still, Clinton is no better than Trump as both are basically egoists and megalomaniacs. From the edges of “acceptable debate” one may be shouting: “What about Bernie!” As it turns out, like Trump and Clinton, Bernie is also an imperialist, even if he is of a “moderating” or “dovish” flavor. Sanders, as the record shows, supports the continuation of the Afghanistan War, drone strikes of a “selective” quantity, and pushed for a policy to defeat ISIS via imperial proxies. To some it may have seemed that only person talking about “peace” was former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee even though his rhetoric clearly was wrapped in jingoism. Even in the October debate where one mayd think he was farther “Left” than Sanders on war, he just talked about the Iraq war, ending “perpetual wars,” was against arming Syrian “rebels,” and then talked about imperial “failures” along with repairing “American credibility,” finally casting himself as a “proven peacemaker.” He was almost like Dennis Kucinich who seemed very “pro-peace” but comfortably situated himself within the bourgeois Democratic Party, meaning that he cannot be relied upon to be part of an anti-imperialist front. There is some hope in alternative party candidates of the Green Party (Jill Stein), Socialist Party USA (Mimi Soltysik), WWP (Monica Moorehead), and PSL (Gloria Rivera). The Green Party is the most successful alternative party to the bourgeois Democratic and Republican Parties, which can be classified correctly as one capitalist party with “right” and “left” wings. However, the Green Party has tried to court the Sanders campaign and has reflected the campaign’s rhetoric, especially the laughable call for “political revolution” which was, as it turned out, just code for increasing voter turnout for his campaign and not at all revolutionary.

George Padmore asked pointedly in 1939, on the eve of World War II, “how is it possible to maintain an empire without imperialist methods?” This question is important to keep in mind considering that old established and informal national security “wise man” Zbigniew Brzezinski used “language of imperial power” to advocate for US-coalition building in order to “incorporate and subordinate potential rivals.” Sure, one could define imperialism as forming and maintaining an empire, sometimes by conquest, in order to control world markets and raw materials or as the policy and practice of “seeking to dominate the economic and political affairs of underdeveloped…or weaker states.” [2] However, this definition could easily pop up in the column of some bourgeois “radical” writer as it is divorced from capitalism and ignores how imperialism is an activity for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. In his classic work, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Vladimir Lenin writes about the concentration of production in bigger enterprises, rise of monopolies (and cartels) and centralization of production as essential parts of capitalism, and that imperialism is the highest stage of development (and the monopoly stage), historically, of capitalism. [3] Many years before those bourgeois writers, like Matt Taibbi or Glenn Greenwald, would balk about corporate concentration in society, Lenin wrote that monopoly had become a fact, that capital and banking were becoming concentrated, that competition had been “transformed into monopoly,” and that a “handful of monopolists control all operations…of the…capitalist society.” [4] To any informed observer this sounds familiar to the same types of calls today, to some degree. On the topic of imperialism, Lenin argued that capitalists divide the world not due to greediness but because they are forced to by concentration of forces within capitalism and such concentration occurs in the powers of “monopolist capitalist combines” which place a few wealthy countries in a “monopolist position” in the world market, which was created by capitalism. [5] Lenin went even further and said that capitalism itself had grown into a “world system of colonial oppression and financial strong violation” of much of the world’s people by a small group of so-called “advanced” states which involve the world “in their war over sharing of their booty.” [6] Beyond his comment that imperialism is “striving for annexations” and that the world is divided between usrer states and debtor states, Lenin proposed five essential features of imperialism. [7] These features are as follows [8]:

  1. “concentration of production and capital”
  2. “the merging of bank capital with industrial capital”
  3. “export of capital”
  4. “formation of international capitalist monopolies”
  5. “territorial division of the whole world among the greater capitalist powers”

There is no doubt that at the current time, a society, like in the early 20th century as Lenin put it, “for the benefit of monopolies,” still exists as does these essential aspects of imperialism. [9] The Americanized form of imperialism is not the same as European imperialisms before, during, and after the Berlin Conference. The United States certainly has colonies like the “empires of old” manifested in its inhabited territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa (supposedly “self-governing” since 1967), Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [10] However, the mainstay of the murderous empire comes in the hundreds of military bases, numbering 500 at minimum (most of which the military calls “installations” [11]), scattered across the world. Some cry about “Russian imperialism” or “Chinese imperialism” but neither of these countries has colonies or ways to project their own “spheres of influence” that matches, in any way, shape or form, the murderous imperial monster. For those people out there that claim that Crimea is a colony of Russia (I know someone will say this) it is important to remember that they voted by referendum to become part of Russia, they were not seized by Russia in a military maneuver or anything along those lines. As for this monster, the US imperial monster, it is building upon the colonial policy of capitalist states that Lenin described as completing the seizure of unoccupied territories, or those territories that do not belong to any state, on the planet. [12] US military bases, in foreign states that are not formally territories/colonies, states that are politically independent, can serve the same purpose of “old” imperialism: they enmesh such states so they are financially and diplomatically dependent on the United States. [13] The best example of this at the current time is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The country is formally independent but its economy, and the state itself, its dependent on foreign aid from Western capitalist powers as even “mainstream” sources admit. [14] While none of those in bourgeois circles will say it, at least not openly, there is no doubt that such dependence means that Afghanistan is effectively a colony of Western capitalist powers, mainly of the United States, despite those resisting this imposition.

Taking this into account, along with what was said earlier, it is important to chart a way forward or at least provide some thoughts. In 1939, Padmore argued that it was time for the British working class to change the British colonial system by helping to liquidate capitalist imperialism, showing they stand in a “different camp from imperialist robbers” and said that imperial exploitation of South African natives is worse than the tragic condition of Jews under Nazi oppression and that such natives can easily sympathize with victims of Nazi oppression such as Jewish people. Years earlier, MN Roy had argued that the British empire was tottering, in a “state of decay,” and that it must be broken up and replaced with a “union on a socialist basis” that frees the “present industrial organism” from capitalist ownership and transforms the empire into a “voluntary economic commonwealth.” Commonwealths of that nature were created by the French and British after their respective formal empires fell with the wave of anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia from the 1940s to the 1960s, and these commonwealths have basically become a form of neo-colonialism. So, Roy’s conception does not seem to be a workable solution. Since the imperialist monster of the United States is a unique beast in many ways, different approaches will have to be tried. But, at minimum, the United States would need to close down all “foreign” (overseas and in colonies) military bases and free its colonies, formally called “territories,” from subjugation. The size of the military would need to drastically reduced, possibly turned into a defense force, as would the number of “domestic” military bases situated within the United States. The latter would require an economic re-orienting of communities dependent on the military and such. Of course, these aspects will not happen on their own. We can’t wait for the empire to fall on its own or hope that it will. Such waiting would be like boiling spaghetti without water and hoping it cooks: it isn’t going to happen unless you add water.

Sure, the ideas I floated could easily be construed as reforms and limited in their scope. That is a valid criticism. After all, the empire is more than colonies and military bases, and is more complicated, basically acting almost like a living being. Like the British empire, the US empire is “indeed in danger” but is not a “self-contained economic unit” unaffected or not threatened by “economic and industrial conditions of other countries.” An anti-imperialist front against the murderous empire is only possible if it is not only anti-capitalist but interlinks with other movements in the United States and those standing against imperial presence in other parts of the world. Specifically such anti-imperialism could easily interlink with Black Lives Matter, regardless of what some could categorize as  a diffused and sometimes bourgeois nature, or anti-racist actions since people of color are killed by the murderous empire, an empire that is inherently ingrained with white supremacy. Additionally, with the spread of “excess” military equipment, the military and “local” police are interlinked, bringing together different struggles for justice. Many groups in the past, including the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, and the Red Guard, engaged in such interlinking, so this idea is not a new one in the slightest.

They way forward isn’t even possible by looking at definitions or word origins. As noted earlier, an empire is much more than a state that unites “many territories and peoples under a single sovereign power” but it is a stage and part of capitalism itself. [15] Even defining war was an open-ended hostility, conflict, armed conflict, or prolonged fighting does not go far enough either as such a definition is absent in mentioning of capitalism or even class. [16] Still, the origins of the word empire (and imperialism) derive from a Latin word meaning “command” which implies authority, a helpful reminder that empire and imperialism are dominating and authoritarian structures. [17] Beyond all of this, those that care about bringing the empire to its knees should participate in trying to make connections of imperialism to race, class, and whatnot. At the same time, an important component is critically supporting those peoples and countries standing up to imperialism such as Zimbabwe, Syria, the DPRK, and Cuba while countering those on the “Left” that scoff about “human rights” and refuse to stand in solidarity with active anti-imperialists.

Notes

[1] Chalmers Johnson. Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 184, 190; Chris Hedges. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. New York: Nation Books, 2010. p. 103, 147-148, 150-151.

[2] Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, ed. Michael Agnes). Cleveland, OH: Wiley Publishing, 2007. p. 715

[3] Vladimir Lenin. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. New York: International Publishers, 1972. Reprint from 1939. p. 13, 16, 20, 22, 34, 59, 88.

[4] Lenin, Imperialism, p. 20, 25, 32, 25, 37.

[5] Ibid, 62, 68, 75, 82.

[6] Ibid, 10-11.

[7] Ibid, 91, 101.

[8] Ibid, 89.

[9] Ibid, 53.

[10] The US also controls a number of uninhabited territories all acquired before 1900: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island (claimed by Haiti), Palmyra Atoll (partially owned by The Nature Conservancy), and Wake Island. Additionally, the Guantanamo Naval Base is an illegal outpost of “extraterritorial jurisdiction” in Cuba and the US exercises a high degree of control in three countries, almost treating them like colonies: Palau, Marshall Islands, and Federated States of Micronesia. There are also two territories administered by Columbia but claimed by the United States: Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo Bank. Magical Ben Norton thought he would have a short and silly post about the “5 US colonies” in which he talked about the Insular Cases, along with colonial exploitation briefly, piggybacking off what bourgeois liberal John Oliver said, and claiming that colonies can become independent by voting to do so which assumes that the vote would be honored by the United States and discounts revolts against the colonial status by assuming the approach for independence needs to be nonviolent. This is utterly ridiculous. It also seems that Norton does not understand how capitalism and imperialism are interlinked, not even mentioning the world in his silly little article.

[11] On page five of the PDF it says that the military counts 513 “active installations” worldwide but on page 7 of the PDF the number of “DOD sites” worldwide (not inside the United States) is 704, a number that combines such sites “overseas” and in “territories.” This number apparently does not include the 42 Army National Guard Sites, noted on page 17 of the pdf, which brings the number up to 746. Now, this number is completely different from what is noted on page 19 of the PDF: that there are overseas and in US territories: 24 large military sites, 16 medium military sites, 561 small military sites, and 101 other military sites, which combine to a grand total of 701 military sites worldwide!

[12] Lenin, Imperialism, 76.

[13] Ibid, 85.

[14] Sources include: “Afghanistan’s Addiction to Foreign Aid” in The Diplomat, “Money Pit: The Monstrous Failure of US Aid to Afghanistan” in World Affairs Journal, “Afghanistan at the Crossroads” in The Diplomat, “A decade of Western aid in Afghanistan: mission unsustainable?” in Reuters, “A Blessing or a Curse? Aid Rentierism and State-building in Afghanistan” in E-International Relations, “Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy,” report by Congressional Research Service, CIA World Factbook entry on Afghanistan which says under economy heading: “…Afghanistan will remain dependent on international donor support over the next several years,” “Afghanistan’s Dependence on Foreign Aid,” Council on Foreign Relations, “The Limits of U.S. Aid in Afghanistan” in Foreign Policy, “The Hand that Feeds” in The Economist, “The Afghanistan Mess: Fed Report Says We’ll Pay Up The Nose Long After Troops Return” in New York Daily News,Fiscal Sustainability and Dwindling Foreign Aid” in Outlook Afghanistan, “After 10 years of Karzai’s rule, has life improved in Afghanistan?” in NBC News and Allissa J. Rubin’s article in the New York Times titled “World Bank Issues Alert on Afghanistan Economy” (Nov. 22, 2011).

[15] Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, ed. Michael Agnes). Cleveland, OH: Wiley Publishing, 2007. p. 465

[16] Ibid, p. 1611; Roget’s II The New Thesaurus (Expanded Edition, ed. Anne H. Soukhanov). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988. p. 1164-1165; Marc McClutcheon. Roget’s Super Thesaurus. Cincinnati, OH: Writers Digest Books, 1998. p. 643-644.

[16] John Ayto. Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990. p. 200. The word “war” derives ultimately from a German prehistoric word meaning “strife” (p. 566) but this origin does not enhance the understanding of the word war in a meaningful way to be used in anti-imperialist struggle.

Snowden, the CIA, and conspiracies

edwardsnowden

Almost a month ago I wrote about celebrity whistleblower Edward Snowden. Some corners of twitter criticized me for my post, basically saying that I didn’t go far enough. Some claimed that Snowden was “concocted” by the CIA and was a personality just like Mickey House (see here and here) while others claimed I had contempt for people who didn’t agree with me. There’s much more than that in terms of criticism, but I think I addressed it adequately on twitter so it seems silly to address it here. However, in this post, which I promised in the past, aims to look at Snowden’s connection to the CIA and some conspiracy theories, to put it rightly, about Snowden floating around the web.

Snowden’s story with the CIA

There is no doubt, even if you are skeptical of Snowden’s story, that he worked for the CIA He admitted this himself in a primetime interview with NBC over two years ago:

 “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word — in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine. Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, oh, well, you know, he’s a low-level analyst…I’ve worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, undercover, overseas. I’ve worked for the National Security Agency, undercover, overseas. And I’ve worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.”

In the same interview he also said that he basically, as noted above and summarized by BBC, “worked for the CIA and NSA undercover, overseas, and lectured at the Defense Intelligence Agency.” He also claimed that he was a “technical specialist…[and] a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top,” possibly even working at a CIA overseas station.

One may ask what he did when he worked at the CIA. One website summarizes the story, saying that in 2007 Snowden is sent to Geneva as part of IT, and is put “in charge of maintaining computer-network security for the CIA and US diplomats” with one incident souring Snowden, but he still “leaves the CIA and goes to work in the private sector” in 2009, then claims that the CIA experts may have accessed NSA documents and “handed them to Snowden” over time, perhaps, since Snowden “worked for the CIA in Geneva, in a high-level position, overseeing computer-systems security.” Wired and the New York Times don’t have the same viewpoint. Wired says that Snowden was offered a position at the CIA, “after attending a job fair focused on intelligence agencies,” with Snowden assigned to “the global communications division, the organization that deals with computer issues” at CIA headquarters at Langley. The story continues by noting that Snowden was sent to the “CIA’s secret school for technology specialists,” living in a hotel for six months and then traveling to  “Geneva, Switzerland, where the CIA was seeking information about the banking industry” in 2007, then “assigned to the US Mission to the United Nations.” The story goes on to say that in Geneva, Snowden saw “firsthand some of the moral compromises CIA agents made in the field” and goes on. The New York Times, in a June 9, 2013 article titled “Ex-Worker at C.I.A. Says He Leaked Data on Surveillance,” by Mark Mazzetti and Michael E. Schmidt, tells a different story. It described Snowden as a “29-year-old former C.I.A. computer technician” who feared that the “C.I.A. might try to spirit him out of China, and speculating that it might even hire Asian gangs to go after him” and that he was “later hired by the C.I.A. to work on information technology security, serving in Geneva.”

Some have openly questioned if Snowden is a spy. Former CIA officer, Robert Baer, scoffed at the notion that Snowden could be considered a spy. He not only implied, laughably, that Snowden was working with the Russian government since 2007, which he couldn’t prove, basing it mainly on “his landing of Moscow” which made him “very suspicious.” If there was anything valid in what he said, it was when he declared that Snowden was “a systems administrator…[and] communicator” for the CIA in Geneva, sitting in “an office and relays messages” and then claimed that “the NSA doesn’t have spies overseas. It’s got technicians who sit in American embassies. They are not even analysts.” A much better article was by Dan Murphy, staff writer for Christian Science Monitor, who said that just because someone works for a spy agency doesn’t make them a spy and that it is “standard practice” for CIA employees overseas to get cover identities. The article continues by saying that not only is “building computer systems” not spying but that if Snowden did “have a lot of high-level spy training, it would appear that either the training stinks or he was an exceptionally poor student, judging by his actions,” including making “arrangements for his flight after he’d blown his own cover” and that there may be some intersecting of Snowden’s interests and those of the Russian government.

You can easily dismiss what these posts say and push them away, but the response to Snowden, Greenwald & co. later on is not disputable. These include that a “secret US government jet – previously employed in CIA “rendition” flights on which terror suspects disappeared into invisible “black” imprisonment – flew into Europe in a bid to spirit him back to America” but failed to make it fully to Moscow, only setting down and waiting at Copenhagen Airport apparently. William Blum, a premier foreign policy analyst of US empire, said that “Edward Snowden had something inside him shaped like a conscience, just waiting for a cause” and then talked about the trials and tribulations of Philip Agee when he ran away from the CIA. Then there was former CIA director James Woolsey claiming, despite the CIA’s record as a handmaiden of imperial destruction, that Snowden had “blood on his hands” because his leaks would supposedly help “terrorists,” and CIA director John Brennan declaring that “any unauthorized disclosures that are made by individuals who have dishonored the oath of office that they raised their hand and attested to undermines this country’s security.”

Some may wonder how Snowden, assuming that the CIA did not assist him in a  covert manner, was able to get away with such leaking. Stories came out that showed that years before the leaking the CIA was suspicous of Snowden. One story said that CIA superiors of Snowden suspected in 2009 that he was “trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access,” and so they decided to “decided to send him home” from his job in Geneva, but that didn’t stop him for doing something that some claimed was “wrong”: gathering documents of misdeeds, mostly of the NSA. All of these stories derive from an article in the New York Times by Eric Schmitt (October 10, 2013) titled “C.I.A. Warning on Snowden in ’09 Said to Slip Through the Cracks.” The article said that before Snowden was about to leave Geneva in 2009, his “supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.” The article then claimed that “the red flags went unheeded” and the “supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors.” The Times also said that in mid-2006 Snowden got an “information technology job at the C.I.A” and that despite formal credentials, “he gained a top-secret clearance and a choice job under State Department cover in Geneva.” Later on, of course, the Justice Department sued a private company, US Investigation Services,  which “provides background checks of the staff being recruited by the US state agencies.”

Another part of this story doesn’t involve Greenwald’s heroic casting of Snowden, like in this opinion piece, Snowden’s claim about the CIA keeping documents away from Congress or the angry CIA veteran who hates Snowden’s guts. This part of the story is the supposed “hilarious” CIA review of Glenn Greenwald’s book on the whole Snowden story, as you can call it, which developed since 2013. The review, by Hayden Peake, in Studies in Intelligence covers many books, including three about Snowden.

Despite what some said about the review, the FIRST SENTENCE of the review praises the book as “the most complete, though far from the most objective account of the Snowden affair to date.” That doesn’t sound like they don’t like the book. The review goes in to talk about the view point of “lawyer-journalist Glenn Greenwald” with the book focusing on the relationship between Snowden and Greenwald, with a “quasi-clandestine meeting in Hong Kong.” The review, of course, goes on to claim that “intelligence issues” led to the adoption of mass surveillance by the NSA, that Snowden should have followed “official whistle-blower procedures” and supposedly ignoring “other interpretations regarding the legality of the NSA’s collection programs.” Peake then claims to be be “surprised” that Greenwald harshly “attacks selected members of the media” for their efforts to  discredit him and that Greenwald criticizes “the Bush and Obama administrations and various private individuals,” along with calling numerous other journalists “dutiful spokespeople for political officials.” Even if you accept that Greenwald is adversarial, it is clear that with statements like this he is boosting his own ego and acting like he is more independent that he is in reality. The review closes by saying that Greenwald says Snowden’s actions are justified and that “journalists have the absolute right to be the final arbiters of what to publish.” Peake, as part of the establishment, doesn’t like the latter, and claims that Greenwald has an “often bitter ad hominem rationale for this” but there is no doubt he is correct that this book is “unlikely to be the last word on the subject.” All in all, I actually think the review is MUCH more positive toward Greenwald that many websites are claiming, even though it obviously tries to cut him down in certain ways. This review is also telling because it shows that Greenwald is not as opposed to the establishment and adversarial then he claims.

The theories, the theories

Now it is time to move onto the conspiracy theories as they should be accurately called. Before that, it is important to make two points. For one, there is no theory that Snowden didn’t read all the documents, since he, as he admitted to liberal blowhard John Oliver, that he didn’t read them all. Secondly, despite some (see here and here) reposting a “story” about Snowden as a “lethal operative” and “lethal killer,” it turns out that the website of that “story” is a satire site.

The first conspiracy theory comes from a site called “Veterans Today” which holds viewpoints in one could call the “Alex Jones camp” in the conspiracy theory world. In the article, Webster Tarpley argues that Snowden is likely “a limited hangout operation, in which carefully selected and falsified documents and other materials are deliberately revealed by an insider who pretends to be a fugitive.” The article also claims that Snowden’s relations have benefited the CIA, that “Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers” along with “the case of Assange and Wikileaks” being limited hangout operations. Tarpley then goes on the say that “limited hangouts have been around for a very long time” and goes on to claim that these operations cats someone as “the darling of the controlled corporate media.” Tarpley goes into wacko land by claiming that Ellsberg’s Pentagon papers were “doctored”  and claims that those really in opposition to the establishment are “kidnapped, renditioned or liquidated,” which pushes away the obvious response by such establishment of ignoring critics. Tarpley goes on and on about Cass Sunstein involved in “creating” Wikileaks in his view,claims that Norman Solomon is a “former State Department public diplomacy asset”and that limited hangouts say little. He goes on to claim that “Assange’s Wikileaks document dump” did little to seriously damage “one US, British, or Israeli covert operation or politician,” that Assange “had a hand in preparing one of the largest destabilization campaigns mounted by Anglo-American intelligence since 1968” and much more. In sum, even if Tarpley’s view has some merit, it is hard to take him seriously as he has only ONE quote in the whole article, has no links to other sources, and seems to just be writing a lot without verification. While I say all this, I am aware that Ellsburg, Assange, and Snowden should be criticized, but to call them intelligence operations seems far-fetched and just putting oneself down a rabbit hole with no escape.

In the same realm, could be this discussion, but is more likely this post which builds off Tarpley. The writer, a certain”Jay,” claims that there is a charade around Snowden,a bogus narrative around people such as Assange, goes as far as to claim that the Chinese Communist Party and Mao were created by the OSS and CIA, forgetting the change over time which he brought China to be more sympathetic with the West, and that there is a “Snowden Psy Op.” Where is no do doubt that Assange and Snowden are likely not in as much danger as supporters claim, to claim they are intelligence assets and other wacky things like the Chinese Communist Party created by certain U.S. covert elements is something that is so ridiculous that it isn’t worth taking anything that this “Jay” says seriously at all.

The final post addresses a supposed division between the CIA and NSA. In the post,  anonymous intelligence community sources claimed to the Wayne Madsen Report that Snowden got “access to and released tens of thousands of classified NSA documents” because a CIA faction “was growing increasingly alarmed over the massive surveillance system controlled by NSA” and that “highly compartmented CIA covert operations abroad were made known to NSA” which did not make them happy. The article then goes on to claim that “a group of active and retired CIA officers, in addition to CIA contractors, set out to expose the NSA’s massive surveillance operations” and that Snowden “was chosen by the CIA faction as the person best positioned to collect NSA documents and leak them to the media.” It is also claimed that a civilian “who worked at the NSA Regional Security Operations Center in Kunia, Hawaii” worked with Snowden and that “the CIA faction helped arrange, through its own back channels, safe passage for Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.” The site where the article is reposted then claims that there is no way of confirming ” whether NSA is actually being brought down by CIA or not” but that “Snowden’s transition from zero to immaculate spy was managed by Booz Allen and CIA” and that even if this is partly true, the war “between CIA and NSA…is representative of a collapse of the elite police force.”

The last post actually seems to be the most plausible of all the theories while the others have problems of verification or are just so off-the-wall as to not be taken seriously. One can easily dismiss all of these theories as hogwash. I am almost tempted do this myself. Still, it is should always be the case that people should think outside the box and challenge themselves.

Closing

I could look more into this and bring in some posts by Douglas Valentine, whose book on the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Strength of the Wolf) I liked very much. I could look into statements by Snowden under his username of “Truehooha” but I feel that has already been done. While I could have written as a piggyback off Fivek’s post about the problems of the peace movement in the United States, that is for another day. In the future I am to use some of the science fiction books I have read on the way to work to write posts on numerous subjects, including but not limited to, animal rights, possibly in relation to the incident on the Cincinnati Zoo, and a criticism of capitalism, of course. As I continue in my new job, which is a temp job, I won’t have much time to write posts such as this, but I may even write some narrative posts. We’ll see what happens. Anyway, I look forward to all of your comments as always.