Middle East engulfed by war

Twelve years after Iraq invasion

300 Graphic novel

31 March 2015

With the launching of the US-backed military intervention in Yemen, virtually the entire Middle East is engulfed by military conflict, a state of affairs that has no precedent, with the possible exception of the two world wars fought in the 20th century.

Washington’s pursuit of policies from one conflict to the next that are seemingly at odds with one another has provoked mounting expressions of concern from major US think tanks and editorial boards—not to mention nominal allies in Europe—over “strategic incoherence.”

To describe as glaring the contradictions that riddle US foreign policy in the Middle East does not do them justice.

In Yemen, the Obama administration has announced its full backing, with the provision of logistical assistance, arms (including cluster bombs) and targeting intelligence, to an intervention spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, the other Sunni oil monarchies and the Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

This coalition of dictatorships and crowned tyrants is waging a war against the most impoverished country in the Arab world. Their aim in bombing cities and killing civilians is to contain the influence of Iran, which has provided support to the Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels who overthrew President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a puppet installed by Washington and Riyadh.

In Iraq, US warplanes have been bombing Tikrit, the hometown of the ousted and murdered Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, which is now controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This operation is providing air support to a besieging force comprised overwhelmingly of Shiite militias operating with Iranian support and advisors.

While the Pentagon had conditioned the air strikes on the withdrawal of these militias, some of which had resisted the eight-year US occupation of Iraq, it is widely acknowledged that this was strictly for the sake of appearances. The Shiite forces remain the principal fighting force on the ground.

Meanwhile, across the border in Syria, Washington is pursuing a policy seemingly at odds with itself, on the one hand pledging to arm and train militias seeking to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose closest ally is Iran, and, on the other, carrying out air strikes against both ISIS and the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, which together are the principal armed opponents of the Assad regime.

At the same time, negotiations led by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Switzerland are going down to the wire in a bid to secure an agreement with Iran that would curtail its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting (or partial lifting) of punishing economic sanctions imposed by Washington and its European allies. Failure to achieve such a deal could spell a turn toward more direct US military aggression against Iran. Success could well prove to be a tactical preparation for the same thing.

It is now 12 years since the Bush administration launched its war against Iraq. At the time, it claimed that its war of aggression was being waged to eliminate “weapons of mass destruction” and the threat posed by ties between the government of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Both claims were lies. There were neither weapons nor any connections, outside of mutual hostility, between the secular regime in Baghdad and the Islamist group.

At the same time, Bush portrayed the US intervention as a liberating mission that would bring “democracy” to Iraq and beyond. “The establishment of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution,” he proclaimed in the early stages of the US military occupation.

That the US invasion was a “watershed event” no one can deny. It ushered in a period of wholesale carnage that claimed over 1 million Iraqi lives, destroyed the country’s economic and social infrastructure, and provoked bitter sectarian struggles between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as part of a deliberate policy of divide and rule.

For Iraq, the war was a catastrophe. For the US, it proved to be a debacle. Costing the lives of 4,500 American soldiers, injuring tens of thousands more, and consuming trillions of dollars in military expenditures, it succeeded only in creating the social and political conditions for ISIS (an offshoot of Al Qaeda) to overrun more than one third of the country—a country that had had no serious Islamist presence prior to the 2003 invasion.

The war in Iraq profoundly destabilized the entire region, a process that was accelerated by Washington’s launching of proxy wars in both Libya and Syria, backing Islamist militias linked to Al Qaeda in an effort to bring down the secular regimes of Gaddafi and Assad and replace them with American puppets. These efforts likewise turned into bloody debacles, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and ravaging both societies.

There is nothing left of the pretexts used by the Bush administration to justify war 12 years ago. The Obama administration cannot credibly claim that its aggressive operations in the Middle East—linked as they are to Islamists and other sectarian militias, as well as to autocrats and military dictators—are part of a global “war on terrorism” or a crusade for democracy.

The White House makes little or no attempt to explain these operations to the American people, much less win their support for them. In the case of Washington’s backing for the war in Yemen, the sum total of its explanation consists of a “readout” of a phone conversation between Obama and King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, in which the US president affirmed his “strong friendship” with the despotic monarchy, his “support” for its intervention, and his “commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security.”

Behind the reckless, ad hoc and seemingly disconnected policies pursued by US imperialism in the Middle East, there remains one constant: the aggressive pursuit of US hegemony over the Middle East and its vast energy reserves.

The strategy elaborated from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 onward, that Washington could freely employ its unrivaled military power to pursue its global interests, has only become more entrenched as American capitalism’s relative economic weight and influence have continued to decline.

The result of this policy can be seen in the involvement of virtually every country of the Middle East in one or another war and the palpable threat that these conflicts will coalesce into a region-wide conflagration that could, in turn, provoke World War III.

Bill Van Auken



The vendetta against Bowe Bergdahl


30 March 2015

The decision by the Pentagon to bring charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy against former Afghanistan prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl is vindictive and politically reactionary. Its purpose is to intimidate rank-and-file soldiers who, like Bergdahl, turn against the savagery of the wars American imperialism is waging in the Middle East and Central Asia, or who oppose future American wars around the world.

Bergdahl, a private first class near the beginning of a yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan, walked away from his unit in Paktika province in June 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and held as a prisoner, often under barbaric conditions, and forced to participate in propaganda videos. The Obama administration negotiated his release last May as part of a prisoner exchange in which five long-held Taliban prisoners were allowed to leave Guantanamo Bay.

While the American media and the ultra-right have long peddled myths about Vietnam War-era POWs in an effort to retrospectively justify that imperialist bloodbath, these same elements immediately launched a campaign of vilification against the sole Afghan War POW upon his return home from captivity. Former members of Bergdahl’s unit played a prominent role in these efforts.

There were claims—all later proven false—that Bergdahl had left his unit in order to join the Taliban and fight on their side, and that as many as a dozen American soldiers had been killed in the course of fruitless efforts to find and rescue him in the months after his disappearance. At the height of this campaign, the Wall Street Journal published a commentary suggesting that Bergdahl should face the death penalty for desertion under fire in wartime.

The real reason for the ferocity of the attack on Bergdahl was his public disaffection from the war in Afghanistan and, in particular, his caustic criticism of the conduct of the American military in that devastated country. In 2012,Rolling Stone magazine had published excerpts of emails from Bergdahl to his parents in Idaho in which he declared, “I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

“I am sorry for everything here,” he continued. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.” Referring to a particularly gruesome incident he had witnessed, he added, “We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks.”

In response to the right-wing campaign against Bergdahl, the machinery of the Pentagon began to grind out the mockery that passes for “military justice.” Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl interviewed Bergdahl and other members of his unit and filed a report with the top brass. Last week, Gen. Mark Milley, head of the Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, authorized charges against Bergdahl. A preliminary hearing is set for April 22 to determine whether to order a court-martial, accept a negotiated plea, or dismiss the charges.

Eugene Fidell, one of Bergdahl’s attorneys, said the Army report contains evidence that Bergdahl left his post not to desert, but to go to another military outpost to report on the conditions in his own unit. In a memorandum that he made public, Fidell wrote: “[T]he report basically concludes that Sgt. Bergdahl did not intend to remain away from the Army permanently, as classic ‘long’ desertion requires… It also concludes that his specific intent was to bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer.” This might have been a violation of military discipline, but it hardly warrants the charge of desertion.

Two military officials confirmed Fidell’s account of the secret report in interviews with CNN. “This was a kid who had leadership concerns on his mind,” one of the officials said. “He wasn’t fed up, he wasn’t planning to desert.”

The vendetta against Bergdahl reveals two interconnected political facts. First, the military brass is determined to make an example of the former POW because, in addition to popular opposition to the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, there is increasing turmoil within the ranks of the military itself, as the Afghanistan War approaches its fifteenth year and the war in Iraq is resumed twelve years after the US invasion of that country.

Second, the Obama administration, which initially hailed Bergdahl’s safe return as a diplomatic triumph, to be celebrated with photo ops with the POW’s parents in the White House Rose Garden, takes its lead from the Pentagon chiefs. It is the military-intelligence apparatus, not its nominal civilian “commander,” that calls the shots in Washington.

Behind the vendetta against Bergdahl is the fear of a Vietnam War-like growth of demoralization and opposition within the ranks, under conditions of a continuous escalation of US military operations, not only in the Middle East, but directed increasingly against major powers such as Russia and China.

Patrick Martin



The social and political context of the Germanwings disaster


By Peter Schwarz
28 March 2015

The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in France, which sent 150 people to their deaths, was, according to investigators, the result of the deliberate actions of the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz.

Following an evaluation of evidence from the voice recorder, specialists from the French Civil Aviation Authority (BEA) and the Marseille public prosecutor, Brice Robin, have come to the conclusion that after the pilot left the cockpit, the 27-year-old co-pilot manually reset the Airbus A320’s autopilot to take the plane from 38,000 feet to 96 feet, the lowest possible setting. Lubitz then refused to allow the pilot back into the cockpit and quietly remained at the controls until the plane crashed into the side of a mountain.

Investigators say this could not have been an accident. From the quiet breathing of the co-pilot, who can be heard on the recording, they conclude that he was fully conscious until the impact.

No sooner had this highly troubling analysis been made known than the media, assorted politicians and the Lufthansa management sought to present the disaster as an incomprehensible event without deeper social significance.

The crash was a tragic fluke that the best security procedures and psychological safeguards could not have prevented, said Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr. In his “worst nightmare” he could “not have imagined that such a thing could happen one day.”

On the web site of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, editor Mathias Müller von Blumencron wrote, “This accident has to be explained, as that is the only way we can come to terms with it.” But he sought the explanation exclusively in the individual psyche of the culprit, declaring: “At the heart of the explanation is one person, more precisely, his head, his possibly misguided brain… It is the psyche of Andreas Lubitz that caused the incomprehensible. On the basis of the present state of things, the solution can be found only in the person of the co-pilot.”


Of course, one has to establish what motives, personal issues or psychological problems drove Lubitz to do this terrible deed. But the psychological background alone cannot explain a disaster of this magnitude. Lubitz acted within a particular social environment. To understand his actions, one must understand not only his individual malady, but also the society in which he lived.

What immense social pressures are required to drive a young man—described by all of his acquaintances as unobtrusive, quiet, pleasant and easy to deal with—to murder 149 people? Why had no one seen the warning signs of the coming disaster?

To probe these questions inevitably necessitates going beyond the “possibly misguided brain” of the culprit and considering a social context that is characterized by increasing occupational stress, economic insecurity, public anxiety, social tensions, state violence and militarism.

The Düsseldorf Public Prosecutor’s Office raided Lubitz’s apartments in Montabaur and in Düsseldorf but found neither a letter of confession nor evidence of a political or religious motive. But they discovered evidence of possible mental distress. They found a torn doctor’s note recommending time off from work, including the day of the crash, and concluded that “the deceased had concealed his illness from his employer and professional colleagues.”

Why did Lubitz go to work despite having a sick note? Did he fear losing his job, which was apparently his dream job? He had joined the local glider club as a 15-year-old and was trained by Lufthansa as a pilot after leaving high school in Bremen. However, he interrupted his training for six months due, according to unconfirmed reports, to depression.

Was Lubitz unable to cope with the increasing work pressure, which is constantly growing, especially at Lufthansa and its low-cost subsidiary Eurowings? This issue has been the source of a year-long industrial dispute by pilots.

Work-related stress and associated mental disorders have increased tremendously, not only in the aviation industry, but throughout society. According to a study by the World Health Organization, 5 percent of the German population of working age, or 3.1 million people, suffer from a major depressive illness. The number of days of sick leave due to mental illness has increased in recent years—18-fold, according to health insurance companies. In 2012 alone it increased by 10 percent.

Lubitz must have felt himself under enormous pressure to commit such a monstrous act. Even experienced psychologists cannot recall a similarly extreme case.

While there is the phenomenon of extended suicide, where a suicide victim kills others in addition to himself, the other victims are usually relatives or people with whom the perpetrator has a personal relationship. Lubitz’s actions can only partially be compared to killing sprees such as the Columbine High School massacre in America or the bloodletting at Erfurt Gutenberg Gymnasium in Germany.

In such events, the victims usually come from the perpetrator’s social milieu and are targeted because of some perceived offence. In the Germanwings disaster, however, 149 people whom Lubitz in all probability did not know were randomly sent to their deaths simply because they happened to be aboard the airplane.

One would expect that even a mentally ill and depressed person would have inhibitions against committing such a massacre. That these were apparently not present should be seen against the backdrop of a general devaluing of human life.

Andreas Lubitz was 11 years old when the Bundeswehr went into Yugoslavia in the first foreign operation of the post-World War II German military. Thereafter, he lived through one war after another in which American and German troops killed thousands and officials publicly boasted of the number of alleged terrorists “taken out.”

In the Mediterranean, thousands of refugees drown each year while the European Union erects new barriers to prevent them from reaching the continent. The austerity cuts demanded by the German government push millions into poverty in Greece and drive unknown numbers of people to suicide.

The explanation for the Germanwings disaster cannot be found simply in the mind and psyche of Andreas Lubitz. Rather, one must place his sickness within its real context—that of a dysfunctional and diseased social order.

At the same time, the wave of sympathy, human solidarity and eagerness to help with which the population reacted in the crash area, throughout France and in the home countries of the victims brought something different to light—a deep yearning for a truly humane society.

The politicians who commemorate the victims will not fulfil this need. They return from the memorial ceremonies to pursue their policies of welfare cuts, labour market “reforms,” ever expanding police powers at home and increasingly bloody wars abroad.



Juncker’s call for an EU army is an affront to democracy

By Joseph Lacey On March 24, 2015

Post image for Juncker’s call for an EU army is an affront to democracyThere is nothing constructive about the creeping manner in which EU integration proceeds. Juncker’s recent comments are an affront to democratic process.

Screaming from The Guardian’s front page recently was a headline about comments from European Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker, concerning the need for a European army. The Guardian was not just trying to sell papers by leading with this story — its editors clearly realize that these seemingly armchair remarks made to a German Sunday newspaper (Welt am Sonntag) should not be taken lightly.

Taking Junker seriously

Why is that? Largely forgotten now, but one of the many hot issues surrounding ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007-’08 was the fact that its Preamble and Article 42 explicitly provides for the creation of a “common defense” at the member states’ will.

The prospect of a European army was already a strong possibility in post-war Europe, and would have likely become a reality had the French Parliament not narrowly rejected the proposal in 1954.

The Lisbon Treaty made the idea of a European military very much active once again. Junker, meanwhile, has signaled his intention to make advances on it both through his comments and the publication of his ten point 2014-’19 agendalast October.

Another reason to take these comments seriously is that Commission President is by no means a nominal position. Just as with any prominent leadership role, its incumbents are concerned about legacy and the legacy of a Commission President is measured by just how much integration he or she manages to achieve when in office.

Jacques Delors stands out as the shining ideal — his charismatic integration activism being seen as indispensable in putting together the Single European Act in 1986 (helping to complete the single market) and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (setting out a rigorous plan for monetary union).

Part of Junker’s desired legacy is undoubtedly deeper military integration.

Integration by stealth

Remarkably, as is characteristic of European integration history, these Treaty-based feats of international coordination followed a methodology of “integration by stealth” against the background of a “permissive consensus”. In other words, national and European elites were generally happy to commit Europeans to a supranational project without much by way of public debates and the citizens of most member states were largely content to let these elites be at their work.

Only in three countries holding referendums on Treaty ratification – Denmark and Ireland (Single European Act); Denmark, France, Ireland (Maastricht Treaty) – was there an engaged public debate on these Treaties that have shaped Europe’s collective future.

Since that time, the EU has become a somewhat more visible and contested actor. The politicisation that came with the failure of the Constitutional Treaty in 2004 and the controversial ratification of the Lisbon Treaty thereafter, along with the prominent role of European institutions during the Euro-crisis, has finally made clear to the popular imagination just how powerful and important the EU has become.

Despite this politicisation, through which many citizens appear no longer willing to grant the integration trajectory a permissive consensus, the methodology of integration by stealth does not seem to have been adjusted.

For some time the EU has had a Common Security and Defence policy, which received a shot in the arm by the Lisbon Treaty, not only by including provisions for the formation of a European army as above but also by creating an External Action Service and High Representative for Foreign affairs (also a member of the Commission).

As the Euro-crisis unfolded, consuming all EU-related media attention, these newly established actors have been quietly paving the way for deeper integration in defence and security.

A European army would differ from existing international military cooperation (e.g. NATO) in that it will form an integrated singular military force, not just coordination between national armies. This move would empower the Commission, the closest thing the EU has to an executive arm, responsible as it is for initiating legislation and coordinating policy areas among the many hands through which legislation passes and is implemented.

Democratic deficit

Whatever the merits and demerits of a European army, its very real prospect raises serious concerns for democracy and the future of Europe. The idea of a European military has not been debated by nor found support among the peoples of Europe. This is an especially black mark on the supposedly improved democratic credentials of the Commission.

Junker’s appointment to his present position in 2014 was the first time the office of Commission President was directly linked to the outcome of elections to the European Parliament. He was the nominated electoral candidate of the European People’s Party, which won the largest share of seats in the most recent elections.

Boldly, Junker claimed a mandate from the European people, despite the fact that most people had not even heard of him. In the European People’s Party electoral manifesto consisting of four pages we find some short paragraphs which, at a stretch, could be interpreted as gesturing towards a European army.

Vague language about an EU that “tackles the big issues together” and boosting Europe’s “Foreign, Security and Defense capabilities” is the most we get. That such a policy platform provides a mandate for anything specific, let alone the pursuit of such a massive integration step as a common military force, is unconvincing to say the least.

The fact that deeper integration is still very much at the forefront of elite EU minds indicates just how far out of touch (or unconcerned with) they are with popular attitudes that have developed in the last couple of years.

How the Eurozone debt crisis was managed, undermining national democratic and economic sovereignty in Greece, Italy and Ireland (among others), has provoked a number of resentments that should be enough to put any prospects of deeper integration on hold until the issues motivating this bad blood are resolved.

These resentments can be summed up as a) dissatisfaction with the technocratic nature of European democracy; b) the clear emergence of Germany as the real decision-maker in Europe; and c) the mutual resentment of debtor and creditor states towards one another, both feeling unsatisfied with what each expects of the other.

Legitimate questions arise from this situation. If Europeans do not have the solidarity to cope with crises arising from current levels of integration, on what basis can we say that integration on such a sensitive area as defense would fare much better?

Would a European military not just become an extension of the German will, at least in times of crisis, much like the European Central Bank and even the Commission itself appears to have become during the ongoing Euro crisis?

The disintegration of Europe

Ironically, Junker’s words about military integration run the risk of having disintegrative effects. Such talk only helps to fuel the rhetoric of political parties that may be seen as belonging to the darker side of democratic life. The right-wing populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), for example, have had a field day with Junker’s comments.

For a citizenry like we find in the UK — already sensitive to the loss of sovereignty necessitated by European integration and edging towards the exit door as its Prime Minister David Cameron tries to negotiate a less integrated Europe before a proposed “in/out” referendum in 2017 — the idea of a European military is a non-starter.

Standing against UK membership of the EU, UKIP have been able to consistently use the EU’s lack of democratic legitimacy as a narrative construction in pursuing an illiberal policy platform. As the narrative goes, “the unelected technocrats of Europe are opening the door to criminals and unwanted migrants from within and beyond the EU. And the only way of taking back our borders is to take back our democracy. This means Brexit.”

To this narrative add the idea of a prospective European military and the sympathies of any UK citizen even remotely responsive to UKIP rhetoric will surely deepen in this direction.

Abolishing the permissive consensus

There is nothing constructive about Junker’s comments and the silent manner in which European integration proceeds, in the area of defence and security and beyond, is an affront to any conception of good democratic practice.

The only legitimate way forward for the EU is its democratization. And it is this that should be the European peoples’ non-negotiable condition for the prospect of any further integration projects.

The permissive consensus, which has surely been damaged in recent times, has not been destroyed. What remains of it is not serving Europeans well and must be eliminated entirely.

It is not the outcome of a genuine international democratic debate that should concerns us for the moment — for/against a European army, for/against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and so on — but guaranteeing that such a debate is had in the first place.

As it stands, Europeans will not have a choice about these or many other subjects.

Joseph Lacey is a PhD researcher at the European University Institute.



Behind the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu


24 March 2015

One week after the Israeli election victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv remain at a level unseen in decades.

President Barack Obama on Sunday gave a videotaped interview to theHuffington Post in which he recounted a mealymouthed rebuke that he said he had delivered to Netanyahu over his 11th-hour appeals to the most reactionary and racist sections of the Israeli electorate to win the seats needed to secure his reelection.

On the eve of the vote, the Israeli prime minister issued a clear statement that as long as he remained in office, there would be no Palestinian state. Netanyahu declared that giving up Israeli-occupied territories would amount to “simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel.” Asked whether that meant there would be no Palestinian state as long as he remained Israel’s premier, he replied, “Indeed.”

On election day itself, in an openly racist appeal for right-wing Zionists to vote for Likud, Netanyahu warned: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”

In his interview, Obama said he had told the Israeli prime minister in a telephone conversation the day before: “…we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic. And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”

The US president’s problem is that in his desperate bid for a fourth term in office, Netanyahu clearly proclaimed the real policies of his government and the entire ruling Zionist establishment in Israel, exposing the so-called “peace process” brokered by Washington as a cynical fraud.

For over two decades, since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Washington, Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank town of Ramallah have all promoted the notion that a “two-state solution” could be achieved at the negotiating table. During this period, the Israeli regime has steadily created new “facts on the ground,” doubling the number of Zionist settlers in the occupied West Bank to over 300,000, while leaving 2.7 million Palestinians trapped in bits of discontiguous territory divided one from the other by Israeli settlements, checkpoints, military outposts, walls and security roads.

Another 1.7 million are imprisoned within the Gaza Strip, blockaded by both Israel and Egypt and subjected to continuous military assaults such as the criminal Israeli siege of last summer that claimed the lives of over 2,300 men, women and children.

These predations have underscored the reactionary, antidemocratic character of any so-called Palestinian “state” that might emerge under the aegis of US imperialism, the Zionist ruling elite and the Palestinian bourgeoisie, should that ever come to pass. It would be an impoverished, discontinuous, demilitarized entity, essentially a prison for the Palestinian masses.

Under these conditions, the pretense that the so-called “peace talks” provided a way out for the Palestinian people was not merely a fiction, but an obscenity. Yet the pretense served a useful purpose for all those involved.

For Israel, it provided a mask for the predatory policies it pursued in effectively annexing ever-greater portions of the territories it seized in the 1967 war. For the Palestinian Authority, it served as a rationale for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s transformation into a client regime of US imperialism and an auxiliary police force for the Israeli occupation, securing in the bargain foreign aid and loans that flowed into the pockets of the corrupt leadership around PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

For Washington, the “peace process” allowed it to posture as a neutral party attempting to secure a just settlement for both Israel and the Palestinians, a lie seen as essential to its attempt to secure the collaboration of Arab states in US imperialism’s unending wars of aggression in the region.

Everyone—most of all the Palestinians—knew that the process was a fraud, but those directly involved were not supposed to say so publicly. In his explicit rejection of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu has cut across US interests in the region.

This comes on top of his March 3 anti-Iranian tirade to the US Congress, which was organized in league with the Republican Party leadership in an attempt to sabotage any negotiated agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. The Israeli regime remains intent on using the spurious claims of a nuclear threat from Iran to draw the US into a war for regime change in order to further Israel’s own strategy of exercising unassailable dominance over the countries of the region.

This runs counter to the current policy pursued by the Obama administration, which aims at reaching at least a temporary accommodation with Tehran as Washington prepares for new military confrontations around the globe.

While Obama vowed that, his disagreements with Netanyahu notwithstanding, “our military and intelligence cooperation to keep the Israeli people safe continues,” the recent clashes underscore the crises gripping both US imperialism and its obstreperous Zionist client state. Both seek a way out of their respective crises by military means, but their immediate timetables and agendas are significantly at odds.

For both the Palestinian and Israeli working class, the reelection of Netanyahu on a platform of unconcealed Zionist aggression and reaction only underscores the absence of any way forward based on the program of nationalism.

For Jewish workers in Israel, Zionism is a trap, subordinating their interests to those of a narrow oligarchy of capitalist billionaires and multimillionaires, while the ruling establishment seeks to divert the immense tensions generated by poverty, rising prices, austerity cutbacks and record inequality into ever more dangerous military provocations against the Palestinian people, the surrounding Arab countries and beyond.

For Palestinians, the protracted fraud of the “peace process” has laid bare the dead end of Palestinian nationalism and all of its variants, from Fatah to Hamas, all of which articulate the interests not of the working masses, but of rival sections of the Arab bourgeoisie.

Nowhere is the necessity for the international unity of the working class posed more sharply than in the Middle East. There is no way out of the present impasse and the threat of ever bloodier catastrophes outside of Arab and Jewish workers uniting against imperialism and its Zionist and Arab bourgeois agents.

Bill Van Auken



Chappie: Is the sum greater than the parts?

By Christine Schofelt
21 March 2015

South African-Canadian director Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie is set in a 2016 Johannesburg plagued by violent street crime. Through the deployment of battalions of robotic police, crime rates are cut dramatically and orders for scores more robots are placed with weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, which produces the machines.


When the young scientist who developed the robots, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), brings company president Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) a program that will render the robots sentient, giving them the ability to think independently and, among other examples he excitedly cites, appreciate art, she flatly refuses to allow him to upload the program or even experiment with it. Bradley declares with barely disguised amusement that he must realize he has entered the office of a “publicly traded” military equipment company proposing to create a robot that writes poetry.

Undaunted, Deon steals a robot that had been slated for the scrap heap. On his way home he is kidnapped by Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo), Ninja and Yolandi (Ninja and Yo-landi Visser of rap group Die Antwoord [“The Answer” in Afrikaans], for whom Blomkamp developed the roles), small-time criminals who need the clichéd “one big heist” to clear themselves of debt and get out of crime for good.

The somewhat hackneyed question in all stories involving artificial intelligence (AI) boils down to: Can a robot have a soul? Chappie treats the question as having been answered, and that answer being “yes,” but not in a religious sense. It goes further in its trans-humanistic outlook in stating that this is the next evolutionary step. Life, in whatever form, metal or flesh, is important. What is “inside” must be preserved.

The world the criminals inhabit is brutal. Miserably poor, despite being surrounded by stolen equipment of great value, the group lives in an abandoned industrial complex in Soweto. Ninja is a desperate, angry man, and models this behavior for the resistant, but eager-to-fit-in robot-child, Chappie (Sharlto Copley). Ninja’s coming to grips with a different way of communicating—the robot is frightened off by violence and refuses to commit crimes, due to a promise he’d made to Deon—and his development of a sense of remorse regarding his actions toward Chappie are realistically drawn. The relationship develops unevenly, with setbacks that seem natural and gains that are honestly arrived at.

Yolandi treats the robot as if it were her child. At one point reading it a book, explaining what a black sheep is—how the outside of a person doesn’t matter—and telling the robot she loves it. She is a bright young woman trapped in horrible circumstances, and one gets the sense of someone who belongs to a lost generation, mired in poverty and crime.


There is an unexpected innocence to the interactions between these characters, all of whom are well drawn, and the rest of the world. Blomkamp, in several interviews, has stated that the idea of “What if Die Antwoord were criminals raising a robot” provided the genesis for the film, so this is to be expected. Given free artistic reign, though sticking to the script, the group members act with a surprising naïveté, and are in many ways little more than children themselves. These are people who are doing everything they can to survive in a sector of society that has completely broken down. Their loyalty is to each other, but anything beyond that is questionable.

On the other hand, we have Tetravaal and the people who work for it. Here the characters are very clear-cut—to the point of being stereotypes. Deon, the good scientist dreaming of a better future, has an enemy in Vincent Moore (an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman).

In an interview, Blomkamp notes that he and Jackman wanted to make the character an outrageous parody of a certain type of Australian, yet—stylistic flourishes aside—the ex-SAS killer turned contractor, hyper-Christian bully is of a social type that could find a comfortable home in many countries. His combination of militaristic bloodthirstiness and reactionary religious horror regarding the advance in AI Deon has achieved is unnerving to watch at times. Weaver’s Michelle Bradley is simply a bottom-line businesswoman primarily concerned with the company’s shareholders.

This is typical of Blomkamp, as we saw in Elysium, in which Jodie Foster’s scheming, fascistic Delacourt was likewise simplistically drawn. In the face of such characters, we are given leave to shake our heads and tsk-tsk, but little light is shed on the conditions and social relationships that give rise to these anti-human elements. To explain “bad” actions through “bad” people is a tautology that explains little.

After Vincent creates a crisis to provoke the deployment of his own rejected killing machine, The Moose, we are treated to scenes of utter mayhem in the streets of Johannesburg. Here there is an element of cynicism—the rapidity with which the criminal element forms a rioting mob on word that the police robots have been taken offline is questionable at best.


While it is clear from the portrayal of Tetravaal and its CEO that Blomkamp bears no love for the military industrial complex, far from it, what does he make of the majority of the South African population?

And what is the filmmaker’s attitude toward the massive police deployment—human or otherwise—apparently needed to quell a situation described more than once as the “city eating itself”?

One is struck by the wasted opportunities, or only half-developed themes and material, in Blomkamp’s works. The subject matter chosen for his three major films— Elysium, involving issues of social inequality; District 9, with its themes of immigrants and poverty; and now Chappie with severe poverty, crime and a militarized police force—is obviously serious, but it begs for more profound and critical treatment.

Science fiction is entirely capable of exploring and exposing social problems. When Blomkamp dismisses in interviews the notion that his films have any socio-political intentions or significance and when he takes artistic shortcuts in character and plot development, he devalues his own work, ultimately offering the equivalent of a dismissive and self-deprecating “just kidding.”



Israeli settlers, soldiers attack Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Nablus


By Patrick Martin
21 March 2015

Armed Israeli settlers staged attacks on Palestinians Wednesday in East Jerusalem and on Thursday in the West Bank city of Nablus. The actions signal a new offensive by settlers and other ultra-rightists encouraged by the election victory March 17 of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.

Little information has yet been made public about the Nablus incident. The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that dozens of settlers stormed the monument of Sheikh Yousef Dweikat, a local Muslim religious figure, which the settlers claim is where the biblical patriarch Joseph is buried. The settlers came in buses escorted by Israeli troops, who fired tear gas at local Palestinians when they offered resistance to the settler rampage.

Far more has been published in both the Israeli and Palestinian media about the seizure of a residential building in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, just south of the Old City, but the US and international media have been virtually silent on the events there.

Settlers affiliated with the right-wing Elad-City of David Foundation entered a small four-unit apartment building and seized three apartments belonging to an extended Palestinian family. The takeover came while several of the adult residents were at the local police station responding to a summons to report for questioning. WAFA reported that they were not actually questioned, but during the time they were in the station the settlers invaded the apartment building, removed furniture and belongings from three of the four units and changed the locks. The whole operation was evidently coordinated between the settlers’ organization and the police.

The Palestinian residents of the apartment building, known as the al-Malhi building for the extended family that lived in all four apartments, assembled inside and outside the fourth apartment unit, which remained under their control, and a running battle ensued with police and settlers.

Police opened fire with teargas grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets. They also seized several Palestinian youth and took them away, one as young as 11, but later released them. Eventually the Israeli attackers took over the entire building.

The al-Malhi family have been fighting the theft of their homes for nearly two decades, as settler groups have steadily invaded the Silwan neighborhood. The area lies just outside the southern wall of the Old City and only a few yards from the Al Aqsa mosque, one of the principal religious sites in Islam.

The “sale” of the apartment building was apparently engineered as a scam by the Israeli group, using a forged document deeding the property to Yad Yafah, a nonprofit organization associated with the settlers. Israeli courts have repeatedly held up this document as genuine.

A member of the family has reportedly been induced by the Zionists to act as their agent, and he came to the building Wednesday backed by police, security guards and armed settlers, to give a fig leaf of legitimacy to the mass eviction.

At the same time, other Israeli settlers seized control of two open pieces of land elsewhere in Wadi Hilweh: 500 square meters used by Palestinian children as a playground and 1,200 square meters belonging to the al-Abbasi family. The settlers placed mobile homes on both properties as the first stage in establishing another Jewish outpost in the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighborhood.

Separately, Israeli police tried unsuccessfully to enforce an eviction order, issued Monday against the Sab Laban family, residents of the Old City, who have been renting a property as “protected tenants” under a law that gives them certain rights. The Ateret Cohanim Settlement Organization, a well-funded Zionist group promoting Judaization of the entire Old City, claims the family home is vacant.

Eight members of the family have locked themselves inside the house, defying the court order. They have lived the house since 1953, when they first rented it from the Jordanian authorities, who then ruled East Jerusalem.

Israeli police arrested seven Palestinian teenagers Wednesday night in Jerusalem, as tensions mounted in the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops raided the city of Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp in the northern West Bank, and homes in Ya‘bad and al-Zababda towns and in Sinjil, northeast of Ramallah. A total of three men were arrested in the raid.

Other repressive measures were taken in the northern Jordan Valley villages of Makhoul and al-Hadidiya, where Israeli military bulldozers demolished dozens of homes and livestock barns, and in Palestinian olive farms outside Nablus, where military bulldozers uprooted 300 olive trees and razed 5,000 meters of stone walls, clearing an area adjacent to an Israeli settlement. No warning was given to the residents or the farmers before their homes and property were destroyed.

The settlers and other Zionist fanatics are undoubtedly encouraged by the reelection victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is allied with the settler and ultra-right parties in forming a new government. But these attacks represent less an escalation than a continuation of the Zionist settler rampage against Palestinians in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.

Another right-wing fanatic attacked Israeli author Yehonatan Gefen at his home in Beit Yitzhak, near Netanya on the central Mediterranean coast. The assailant knocked on the writer’s front door, and when he answered, punched him in the face and threw eggs, screaming that he was a “leftist traitor.” Gefen, a poet and songwriter, appeared at a Tel Aviv theater after Netanyahu’s victory and declared, “The nation has once again chosen someone whose rule is based on frightening the people. It chose a racist who on Election Day said that Arabs were descending on the voting booths. What would you say if in Germany there were people who say that Jews are streaming toward the voting booths?”

Joining the settlers and semi-fascist fanatics in celebration of the Netanyahu victory were several leaders of US-backed Syrian “rebel” groups, who sent congratulatory messages through an Israeli Druse official who has acted as their conduit to the Israeli government. The messages were reported by the right-wing Jerusalem Post, a fervent supporter of the prime minister, which evidently regarded them as a feather in Netanyahu’s cap.

One Syrian “rebel”, identified as Musa Al-Nabhan, wrote, “We hope that your government will continue to provide the necessary support to the Syrian people, which are fond of you and looking to build the best of relations on all levels.” A letter from the Revolutionary Assembly for the Future of Syria, addressed to Netanyahu, said, “We received with great hope and joy the news of your victory…and hope that you will continue … to support the Syrian revolution.”

The Post reported that similar messages were received from several high-ranking officers in the Free Syrian Army, a group which has more supporters in Washington DC—and apparently in Jerusalem—than in Syria.