Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…
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The “military-industrial complex” in power

24 August 2017

Fifty-six years ago, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a farewell address in which he warned about the threat to democracy in the United States posed by the growing convergence between military and corporate power.

The outgoing president cautioned against the expanding and “total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government” of the “military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower, himself a five-star general and commander of allied expeditionary forces in the Second World War, had firsthand knowledge of the operations of the military. But even at the height of the Cold War, the influence of the military over political life paled in comparison to what exists today. With each passing month, the military consolidates more power over civilian authority, while democratic forms of rule are increasingly hollowed out and rendered meaningless.

This was exemplified by Trump’s speech Monday announcing an open-ended expansion of the US war in Afghanistan. The setting itself was significant. Trump spoke at Fort Meyer Army Base in Virginia to an audience of troops decked out in combat fatigues. He made clear that the military leadership, without any civilian oversight or the fig-leaf of Congressional authorization, would determine how many additional troops would be sent to fight in Afghanistan, and how long they would stay there.

Over the past week, the Army and Marine officials in Trump’s cabinet—retired Gen. John Kelly, retired Gen. James Mattis and active duty Gen. H.R. McMaster—have used the crisis surrounding Trump’s endorsement of the neo-fascist rampage in Charlottesville, Virginia to strengthen the grip of the military over the government.

But these developments, which in any genuinely democratic society would be treated with profound apprehension, have been welcomed by the “opposition” Democratic Party and its media mouthpieces.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran a lead article, “Military leaders consolidate power in Trump administration,” which noted that Trump’s elevation of a “cadre of current and retired generals” is “a striking departure for a country that for generations has positioned civilian leaders above and apart from the military.”

The Post, owned by billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and speaking for a substantial section of the US political establishment, presents the growing power of the military in the Trump administration as a positive development. It calls the generals “voices for moderation,” and presents them as “moral authorities” working to “guide” Trump away from “moves that they fear could have catastrophic consequences.”

It cites uncritically a member of a leading conservative think tank who declares, “The only chance we have of trying to keep this thing from blowing apart is some military discipline… It’s not military rule or a military coup.”

Along the same lines, Wednesday’s New York Times carried a column by Roger Cohen declaring that the generals are acting as the “adults in the room,” serving to “tether” Trump and “curtail his wilder instincts.” The military, Cohen writes, provides “something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.”

These pronouncements by the Post and the Times represent the consensus view of the ruling elite, and most particularly that of the Democratic Party, which has opposed Trump almost entirely on issues of foreign policy, criticizing his insufficient deference to the military and intelligence apparatus and his unwillingness to carry out a military escalation against Russia.

McMaster, Kelly and Mattis “are standouts of dependability in the face of rash and impulsive conduct” on the part of Trump, Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told the Post. “There certainly has been a feeling among many of my colleagues that they are a steadying hand on the rudder.”

Another example of the convergence between the press and the military/intelligence establishment is an op-ed published Wednesday by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times ’ chief foreign policy columnist. Friedman boasts of having “spent eight days traveling with the Air Force to all of its key forward bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates,” including a trip to a “strike cell” carrying out airstrikes in Iraq.

Friedman describes US air strikes in an urban area with undisguised enthusiasm. “Quickly, the smoke cleared and the 30-foot-wide building was smoldering rubble—but the two buildings to the sides were totally intact, so any civilians inside should be unhurt,” exults the Times columnist, without pondering the fate of any civilians who were in the building that was vaporized.

“This is the war in Iraq today in a nutshell,” he writes, suggesting that the American military as a true liberator focuses its energies on preventing civilian casualties. This criminal lie is, of course, contradicted by the reality of millions killed, wounded and uprooted by more than a quarter century of US wars in Iraq and surrounding countries in the oil-rich Middle East, including the recent leveling of Mosul. Unfortunately for Friedman and the Times, this panegyric to the moral purity of the American military appeared two days after a US air strike in Syria killed more than 40 civilians.

Friedman’s whitewashing of the homicidal activities of the US Air Force exemplifies the role of the press, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, as shameless cheerleaders for US military intervention, together with the major TV networks, which routinely present retired military officials as authorities on all questions of policy.

The prostitution of the press to the military is just one expression of the massive political influence of the US armed forces. The United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined, and military spending soaks up more than half of discretionary spending by the federal government. There are some two million active and reserve military personnel, and millions more employed either directly or indirectly by the intelligence agencies.

Local and state police across the country are being ever more tightly integrated with the military, in what Defense Department strategists call the “total army,” consisting of the military, police and intelligence forces. Police departments are being outfitted with military hardware and trained for urban warfare.

This “total army” has at its disposal the massive surveillance capabilities of the US intelligence apparatus, which can spy on nearly every phone call, text message or email all over the world.

The growth of the power of the military has been accompanied by its integration into the financial oligarchy, with hundreds of leading military figures receiving seven-figure incomes in the revolving door between the Pentagon, Wall Street and the defense industry.

The increasing power of the military over political life in the United States and its merging with the corporate/financial elite are the product of the protracted decay of American capitalism. A quarter century of unending war and decades of soaring social inequality have thoroughly eroded the social foundations of democratic forms of rule. Beyond the oligarchy itself, a privileged layer of the upper-middle class that forms the broader base of the Democratic Party has accrued significant wealth through the meteoric rise of stock prices, itself fueled by the destruction of working class living standards and imperialist aggression overseas.

America’s financial elite, increasingly unable to reconcile its domination of social life with democratic forms of government, feels that the ultimate backstop to its rule is military force. Despite the assurances of the Post, what is emerging is in fact direct rule by the military, allied with Wall Street and the CIA, with the civilian government functioning as a mere facade.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/24/pers-a24.html

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Photo by August Kelm | CC BY 2.0

Like too many nations, the United States likes to think of itself as a chosen nation and a chosen people.  Presidential inauguration statements are typically an exercise in proclaiming American exceptionalism, and this mentality has far too much influence in the United States.  It’s particularly regrettable when individuals who should no better indulge the kind of hubris and triumphalism associated with American exceptionalism.

An excellent example of our exceptionalism appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post in the form of an op-ed by Tom Malinowski, the former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in the Obama administration.  In a fatuous display of ignorance, Malinowski lambasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for stating that the United States frequently meddles in the politics and elections of other countries.  Malinowski argued that it is Russia that interferes in democratic elections, such as the U.S. presidential race in 2016, but that the United States consistently “promotes democracy in other countries.”

One of the reasons why the United States has so little credibility in making the case against Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election is the sordid record of the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency in conducting regime change and even political assassination to influence political conditions around the world.  In 1953, the United States and Great Britain conspired to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran; the following year, the Eisenhower administration backed a coup in Guatemala that led to the introduction of Central America’s most brutal regime in history.  Similarly, Eisenhower’s willingness to pursue the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo led to the installation of the worst tyrant in the history of Africa, Sese Seku Mobutu.

The Bay of Pigs is the “poster child” for American operational failure, and the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General put the blame squarely on what it described as “arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence” within the CIA.  Ten years later, however, another American administration and the CIA tried to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, a leftist, as president of Chile.  After Allende’s election, the CIA moved to subvert his government.  CIA director Richard Helms was given a two-year suspended prison sentence for lying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the operation in Chile.  But it was national security adviser Henry Kissinger who ordered the operation and explained that he couldn’t “see why the United States should stand by and let Chile go communist merely due to the stupidity of its own people.”

The revelation of assassination plots in Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam finally led to a ban on CIA political assassination in the mid-1970s.  Nevertheless, when Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi was killed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted that “we came, we saw, he died.”  In an incredible turn of events, the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, although it was a CIA-sponsored coup against Colonel Abdul Kassem that led to the emergence of Saddam Hussein in the first place.

Vladimir Putin is certainly aware of CIA intervention of behalf of the Solidarity movement in Poland to destabilize the communist government there in the early 1980s; to bolster the regime of former president Eduard Shevardnadze in the Republic of Georgia in the 1990s; and more recently to undermine the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

Putin’s intervention in Syria in 2015 was designed in part to make sure that the U.S. history of regime change didn’t included another chapter in the Middle East.

Before former U.S. officials such as Tom Malinowski decide to lambaste Putin for cynicism and treachery, it would be a good idea to become familiar with U.S. crimes and calumny. Forty years ago, former senator Frank Church said the United States “must never adopt the tactics of the enemy. Each time we do so, each time the means we use are wrong; our inner strength, the strength that makes us free, is lessened.” Malinowski should ponder William Faulkner’s admonition about the land of his birth: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. His latest book is A Whistleblower at the CIA. (City Lights Publishers, 2017).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/27/the-myth-of-american-exceptionalism/

Iraqi sources place real death toll in US-led siege of Mosul at 40,000

By Bill Van Auken
21 July 2017

According to intelligence reports from Iraq, the US-led massacre in Mosul has claimed a staggeringly higher toll of Iraqi civilian lives than had previously been reported.

More than 40,000 men, women and children were killed in the grinding nine-month-long siege of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, according to a report published Thursday by the veteran Middle East correspondent for the British daily Independent Patrick Cockburn.

Cockburn’s source is the former finance and foreign minister of the Iraqi government, Hoshyar Zebari, an Iraqi Kurd with close ties to Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. The figure was supplied by Kurdish intelligence.

“The figure given by Mr Zebari for the number of civilians killed in the nine-month siege is far higher than those previously reported, but the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government has a reputation for being extremely accurate and well-informed,” reports Cockburn.

The sheer scale of the killing makes the siege of Mosul one of the greatest war crimes of the post-World War II era. While before the city fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June of 2014 it had a population of approximately 2 million, by the time the siege began, there were still at least 1.2 million civilians trapped in Mosul. This population was subjected to horrific violence.

Earlier, the UK-based monitoring group Airwars had provided an estimate of 5,805 civilians killed in airstrikes by the US-led “coalition” between February 19 and June 19. This figure excluded those killed in the four preceding months of the siege, as well as those who died in the last three weeks of the intensive bombardment that reduced western Mosul’s Old City to rubble.

In his interview with Cockburn, Zebari attributed a significant share of the carnage to the relentless artillery bombardment of western Mosul by Iraq’s militarized federal police, using weapons that are inaccurate and of use only in terms of demolishing entire neighborhoods rather than targeting fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The report issued earlier this month by Amnesty International, “At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul,” also pointed to the devastating effect of these bombardments, which were used to compensate for the lack of sufficient numbers of adequately trained Iraqi troops to throw into combat in the crowded streets and alleyways of Mosul’s Old City.

“Pro-government forces relied heavily upon explosive weapons with wide area effects such as IRAMs (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions),” Amnesty charged. “With their crude targeting abilities, these weapons wreaked havoc in densely populated west Mosul, where large groups of civilians were trapped in homes or makeshift shelters. Even in attacks that seem to have struck their intended military target, the use of unsuitable weapons or failure to take other necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian lives.”

The report described the artillery and rocket launchers employed by the Iraqi forces, working closely with US special forces “advisors,” as “indiscriminate weapons” that “must never be used in the vicinity of civilians.”

One indication of the scale of the killing has come, unintentionally, from the Iraqi government itself. Since proclaiming Mosul’s “liberation” on July 10, Iraqi officials have put out a statement claiming that its forces had “liquidated 16,467 terrorists.” When the siege began, US commanders estimated that there were somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 ISIS fighters in the city. An obvious explanation for this discrepancy is that any male Iraqi killed in the city, fighters and civilians alike, has been designated as a member of ISIS.

Despite the fanfare by the Baghdad government over Mosul’s “liberation” and victory over ISIS, fighting is still being reported within the city, with guerrilla bands carrying out lethal attacks on Iraqi government units.

At the same time, there have been multiple reports indicating that the government forces and allied militias have been engaged in savage acts of collective punishment against Mosul’s survivors, including mass summary executions and torture.

Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday that international observers had discovered an “execution site in west Mosul.” It recounted their testimony that they found inside an empty building “a row of 17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, surrounded by pools of blood. They said many appeared to have been blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their back.” The human rights group cited a large number of similar incidents along with “relentless reports, videos, and photographs of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi made it clear that the government will do nothing to halt these atrocities. He described them as “individual acts and not widespread.”

The US corporate media has all but blacked out the reports of massive civilian casualties and the war crimes carried out since the retaking of Mosul. The Iraqi government itself has sought to bar reporters from the city in order to conceal the scale of the bloodshed and continuing executions.

While largely dropping its coverage of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Mosul, the New York Times Thursday published a hypocritical editorial titled “Avoiding War With Iran,” which expressed some trepidation over the increasingly bellicose acts of the Trump administration aimed at provoking just such a conflict.

The “newspaper of record” suggests that “It is useful to recall the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War arguably America’s biggest strategic blunder in modern times.” It criticizes the Bush administration for launching a war to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein “even though he had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and had no nuclear weapons.” It adds, “Mr. Bush decided to fight a pre-emptive war without a solid justification or strategy. Such a stumble into war could happen again.”

Conveniently forgotten in this cynical presentation is the fact that the Times as an institution played a major role in advocating and facilitating the Iraq war.

Its senior correspondent Judith Miller worked intimately with US officials to promote and embellish upon phony “intelligence” on non-existent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction.” Thomas Friedman, the paper’s chief foreign affairs columnist, churned out columns advocating what he openly acknowledged would be a “war of choice” against Iraq, justifying it in the name of democracy, human rights and oil.

The newspaper set the tone for the rest of the media in terms of propaganda that paved the way to a criminal war of aggression that claimed the lives of over one million Iraqis and continues to generate mass murder in Mosul.

Even more chilling was an editorial column on Mosul titled “The City Is the Battlefield of the Future,” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Thursday under the byline of one Maj. John Spencer, deputy director of the Modern War Institute at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York.

“The battle for Mosul represents the future of warfare,” Major Spencer argues, adding “U.S. commanders ought to imagine how they would handle a similar environment.”

Clearly, they have more than imagined it–in terms of Iraq–with US commanders directing much of the destruction rained down on the city.

Echoing what is now standard Pentagon doctrine, the major insists that the wars that the US military will confront will be fought in “cities — dense, often overpopulated and full of obstacles: labyrinthine apartment blocks, concealed tunnels, panicking civilians.”

His primary concern is that the Pentagon presently has no systematic training of its troops for urban combat, and that the word “siege”–the barbaric strategy employed against Mosul–does not appear in its training manuals.

He insists that US forces “need to be equipped to operate in large cities with new equipment, formations and doctrine.” He advances a modest proposal for meeting this need: “Major cities such as Detroit and the outer boroughs of New York have large abandoned areas that could be safely redeveloped as urban training sites.”

In other words, American troops are to be trained in the art of urban combat and siege warfare inside American cities. The proposal suggests that what the major is really urging Pentagon commanders to “imagine” is using the military to suppress revolutionary upheavals in the US itself.

WSWS

US forces accused of firing white phosphorus into Mosul and Raqqa

By James Cogan
12 June 2017

Videos published by the Amaq news agency show artillery exploding over Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria that analysts believe could be white phosphorus rounds. Amaq, which often publishes information provided by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sources, claims that the areas which are shown being bombarded are ISIS-held sectors of the cities still populated by large numbers of civilians.

One video was posted on June 4, showing a daytime barrage on what is said to be the Zanjiji district of western Mosul. An ISIS flag is flying at the top of one of some multistory buildings in the foreground of the area being bombarded. The artillery shells explode in the fashion of white phosphorus munitions, igniting fires.

A second video, dated June 8, shows several explosions, again consistent with white phosphorus shells, over the surrounded ISIS “capital” of Raqqa. The artillery also appears to immediately trigger intense fires.

Many militaries around the world still use white phosphorus munitions, ostensibly as a means of rapidly creating a dense smoke screen. It can, however, be used as an incendiary weapon. The “smoke” it produces sets alight combustible materials and causes horrific burns to human flesh. It was used extensively during World War II by US and allied forces to attack enemy troop concentrations and set areas ablaze. It was widely used during the American wars in Korea and Vietnam.

In 1980, the use of white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon to target civilians was ruled a war crime under international law.

It has continued, however, to be used to set ablaze urban areas and terrorize civilian populations. Documented or alleged cases include: the 1994 Russian assault on Grozny in Chechnya; the April and November 2004 US attacks on the Iraqi city of Fallujah; the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon; the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on the Palestinian city of Gaza; and by American forces in Afghanistan during the so-called “surge” ordered by the Obama administration in 2009.

There is overwhelming evidence that the US Marines—commanded by now secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis—used white phosphorus as an incendiary, not smoke-creating, weapon over civilian-populated areas of Fallujah. The Bush administration and Pentagon dismissed allegations of criminality, asserting that it was legitimate as American forces were seeking to force armed insurgents out of their defensive positions.

In a widely cited statement in November 2005, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable explained US military tactics regarding its use as an antipersonnel weapon: “When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on, and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke—and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground—will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.”

US Marine artillery batteries, fielding 155mm howitzers and equipped with white phosphorus rounds, are participating in the assaults on both Mosul and Raqqa. An estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped in the ISIS-held areas of both cities.

Upon taking office in January, the new administration of President Donald Trump signaled that it had ordered the lifting of “restrictions” on American forces fighting ISIS that were purportedly limiting civilian casualties. Over the months since, the number and intensity of US air strikes on Mosul and Raqqa have dramatically increased, along with the toll of civilian deaths and injuries.

Secretary of Defense Mattis has stated on several occasions that the US and its local Iraqi and Syrian proxies are now implementing “annihilation tactics” against ISIS.

Prior to the allegations of war crimes relating to the use of white phosphorus, evidence had already emerged in Mosul of the torture and extrajudicial murder of alleged ISIS fighters by US-backed forces.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/12/wpho-j12.html

Understanding the geopolitics of terrorism

8 June 2017

The latest in a long series of bloody terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unfolded in Iran early Wednesday with coordinated armed assaults on the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and the mausoleum of the late supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed and 43 wounded.

The reactions of the US government and the Western media to the attacks in Tehran stand in stark contrast to their response to the May 22 bombing that killed 22 people at the Manchester Arena and the London Bridge attacks that claimed nine lives last Saturday.

The Trump White House released a vicious statement that effectively justified the killings in Iran, declaring, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” an attitude that found its reflection in the relative indifference of the media to the loss of Iranian lives. It is clearly understood that terrorism against Iran serves definite political aims that are in sync with those of US imperialism and its regional allies.

For its part, Tehran’s reaction to the attacks was unambiguous. It laid the responsibility at the door of the US and its principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia. “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement, published by Iranian media. The attack was understood in Tehran as a political act carried out in conjunction with identifiable state actors and aimed at furthering definite geostrategic objectives.

The same can be said of the earlier acts of terrorism carried out in Manchester and London, as well as those in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere before them.

The Western media routinely treats each of these atrocities as isolated manifestations of “evil” or religious hatred, irrational acts carried out by madmen. In reality, they are part of an internationally coordinated campaign in pursuit of definite political objectives.

Underlying the violence on the streets of Europe is the far greater violence inflicted upon the Middle East by US, British and French imperialism, working in conjunction with right-wing bourgeois regimes and the Islamist forces they promote, finance and arm.

ISIS is itself the direct product of a series of imperialist wars, emerging as a split-off from Al Qaeda, which got its start in the CIA-orchestrated war by Islamist fundamentalists against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. It was forged in the US war of aggression against Iraq that killed close to a million Iraqis, and then utilized in the 2011 war to topple Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fighters and arms were then funneled with the aid of the CIA into the war for regime change in Syria.

The latest round of terror has its source in growing dissatisfaction among Washington’s Middle Eastern allies and its Islamist proxy forces over the slow pace of the US intervention in Syria and Washington’s failure to bring the six-year war for regime change to a victorious conclusion.

The people giving the orders for these attacks live in upper-class neighborhoods in London, Paris and elsewhere, enjoying close connections with intelligence agencies and government officials. Far from being unknown, they will be found among the top ministers and government officials in Damascus if the US-backed war in Syria achieves its objectives.

Those who carry out the terrorist atrocities are expendable assets, foot soldiers who are easily replaced from among the broad layers enraged by the slaughter carried out by imperialism in the Middle East.

The mass media always presents the failure to prevent these attacks as a matter of the security forces failing to “connect the dots,” a phrase that should by now be permanently banned. In virtually every case, those involved are well known to the authorities.

In the latest attacks in the UK, the connections are astonishing, even given the similar facts that have emerged in previous terrorist actions. One of the attackers in the London Bridge killings, Yousseff Zaghba, was stopped at an Italian airport while attempting to travel to Syria, freely admitting that he “wanted to be a terrorist” and carrying ISIS literature. Another was featured in a British television documentary that chronicled his confrontation with and detention by police after he unfurled an ISIS flag in Regent’s Park.

The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was likewise well known to British authorities. His parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who were allowed to return to Libya in 2011 to participate in the US-NATO regime-change operation against Muammar Gaddafi. He himself met with Libyan Islamic State operatives in Libya, veterans of the Syrian civil war, and maintained close connections with them while in Manchester.

What has become clear after 16 years of the so-called “war on terrorism”—going all the way back to the hijackers of 9/11—is that these elements move in and out of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself not only without hindrance, but under what amounts to state protection.

When they arrive at passport control, their names come up with definite instructions that they are not to be stopped. “Welcome home, sir, enjoy your vacation in Libya?” “Bit of tourism in Syria?”

Why have they enjoyed this carte blanche? Because they are auxiliaries of US and European intelligence, necessary proxies in wars for regime change from Libya to Syria and beyond that are being waged to further imperialist interests.

If from time to time these elements turn against their sponsors, with innocent civilians paying with their lives, that is part of the price of doing business.

In the aftermath of terrorist actions, governments respond with stepped-up measures of repression and surveillance. Troops are deployed in the streets, democratic rights are suspended, and, as in France, a state of emergency is made the overriding law of the land. All of these measures are useless in terms of preventing future attacks, but serve very well to control the domestic population and suppress social unrest.

If the mass media refuses to state what has become obvious after more than a decade and a half of these incidents, it is a measure of how fully the linkage between terrorism, the Western intelligence agencies and the unending wars in the Middle East has become institutionalized.

Innocent men, women and children, whether in London, Manchester, Paris, Tehran, Baghdad or Kabul, are paying the terrible price for these imperialist operations, which leave a trail of blood and destruction everywhere.

Putting a stop to terrorist attacks begins with a fight to put an end to the so-called “war on terrorism,” the fraudulent pretext for predatory wars in which Al Qaeda and its offshoots are employed as proxy ground forces, operating in intimate collaboration with imperialist intelligence services and military commands.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/08/pers-j08.html

The Great Unraveling: The crisis of the post-war geopolitical order

2 June 2017

Less than a week after US President Donald Trump returned to the United States from his overseas tour of the Middle East and Europe, it is clear that a shift in world politics with vast implications is underway. Global relationships and institutions that for decades set the framework for international economy and public life are rapidly unraveling.

The rising threat of trade war and the resurgence of the military ambitions of all the imperialist powers are signs of the advanced state of collapse of the international institutions created after the United States emerged from World War II as the dominant imperialist power.

This collapse is the product of processes that have matured over decades. In 1991, when the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union deprived the NATO alliance of a common enemy, tensions between the imperialist powers were already surging. As US strategists declared a “unipolar moment,” in which the disappearance of the Soviet Union eliminated any immediate military rival, they aimed to use this military advantage to counterbalance the declining economic position of the United States.

A 1992 Pentagon strategy paper asserted that Washington had to convince “potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture,” and to “discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.”

A quarter century later, this policy has failed. It led to a series of imperialist wars and interventions by the NATO powers, led by the United States, that shattered Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and other countries. While costing millions of lives, destroying entire societies, and creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, these acts of militarism have produced debacles and failed to reverse US imperialism’s fortunes. Now, a new stage of the crisis has been reached: The United States’ imperialist rivals are preparing direct, far-reaching challenges to US imperialism’s global primacy.

Trump’s attempts at the G7 and NATO summits to secure better economic terms for the United States from Europe have backfired. He had blamed the Europeans for “not paying what they should be paying” for military spending in the NATO alliance, and denounced Germany as “terrible,” adding, “We will stop” German car exports to the US. Europe’s response was not sympathy and financial aid, however, but a series of actions indicating that the continental European powers are preparing for a political and military break with America.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a Munich beer tent rally Sunday, referred to both Trump’s performance at the summits and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union (EU): “The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over—I experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” Going forward, she added, “we have to fight for our own future ourselves.”

Events in Europe over the past week confirmed that Merkel’s statement reflected a deep crisis in the NATO military alliance founded in 1949 between America and Europe. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that under Trump, Washington had cast itself outside the “Western community of values.” He added that this signaled “a shift in global power relations.”

Then newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, a close ally of Berlin, invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to a high-profile summit at Versailles. Standing next to Putin in a joint press conference, Macron criticized all the main US-EU foreign interventions in recent years. He called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine provoked by the 2014 US- and German-backed coup in Kiev, called for closer economic and intelligence cooperation with Russia and even floated the possibility of re-opening France’s embassy in Damascus, Syria.

Also this week, a new EU military headquarters in Brussels went into operation. Britain, which had blocked it in line with US fears that the EU would become a rival to NATO, could no longer veto it due to its exit from the EU.

Among US foreign policy strategists, it is widely acknowledged that these events mark a historic setback for Washington. “Every American administration since 1945 has tried to work closely with Germany and NATO,” Jacob Heilbrunn wrote in The National Interest, but America under Trump is “pushing Merkel to create a German superpower.”

Heilbrunn added, “Now that France has elected Emanuel Macron president, Merkel is moving to fashion a Franco-German axis that will pursue a common economic and military path. This will signal a significant diminution in American prestige and influence abroad. Imagine, for example, that Merkel decided to defy Trump’s push for sanctions and isolating Iran by establishing trade ties with North Korea, including selling it weapons.”

These tensions are not simply the product of the extreme nationalist policies of the current occupant of the White House, however. Indeed, as the Democratic Party relentlessly demonizes Russia and accuses it of subverting American democracy, it is ever clearer that a victory of Hillary Clinton in last year’s US presidential election would not have resolved the conflicts with Europe. Rather, the tensions are rooted in deep contradictions between the interests of the major imperialist powers, which twice in the last century led to world war.

This is underscored by the escalating rivalries between the imperialist powers in Asia. Last month, as China inaugurated its so-called Belt and Road Initiative—designed to build a web of energy and transport infrastructure integrating China, the Middle East, and Europe—Washington was reduced to a role on the sidelines, as China and the EU developed their ties. The response of Japan and India, Washington’s allies in its “pivot to Asia” aimed at isolating China, is not, however, fundamentally friendlier to US imperialist interests than that of the EU powers.

Last week, Tokyo and New Delhi released a “vision document” for an “Asia Africa Growth Corridor,” aiming to present an alternative to China’s Belt and Road that would develop India as a production-chain hub and military counterweight to China. The goal of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters in the ultra-nationalist Nippon Kaigi organization is not only to outstrip China, but also to rearm Japan and supplant America as Asia’s dominant power.

Abe, whose government is pushing aggressively for the elimination of the constitutional ban on Japanese overseas wars imposed after its defeat in World War II, has repeatedly declared that an Indo-Japanese alliance has “the most potential” of any “in the world.”

The events surrounding Trump’s trip to Europe reflect a crisis not only of American imperialism, but of the entire world capitalist system. None of Washington’s rivals—neither the EU, despised at home for its austerity policies, nor the economically moribund, right-wing regime in Japan, nor the post-Maoist capitalist oligarchy in China—offer a progressive alternative.

Anyone who asserted that a coalition of these powers will emerge to stabilize world capitalism, and block the emergence of large-scale trade war and military conflict, would be placing heavy bets against history. As Trump demands trade war against Germany, Berlin and Tokyo re-militarize their foreign policy, and a new French president comes to power who supports restoring the draft, everything indicates that the ruling elites are tobogganing eyes closed towards a new global conflagration on the same—or an even greater—scale as the world wars of the last century.

The force that will emerge as the alternative to the collapse of bourgeois politics is the international working class. It is being driven into action by intolerable conditions of life, mass unemployment, and social misery after decades of austerity and war. And as corporations like Amazon and Apple, with vast workforces spread over dozens of countries, predominate in a globalized world economy, the working class is increasingly conscious of its character as an international class, whose interests are fundamentally separate and opposed to those of the financial aristocracies that rule in every country.

The collapse of international capitalist relations goes hand in hand with the discrediting of the various social democratic and liberal parties and trade union bureaucracies that emerged to contain the class struggle in the post-World War II era. The surprise vote for Brexit, the election of Trump and the disintegration of France’s two-party system in the recent presidential election testify to the collapse of the old ruling establishments. A global eruption of the class struggle is being prepared.

The crisis that has emerged has vindicated the International Committee of the Fourth International’s (ICFI) insistence that the Stalinists’ dissolution of the Soviet Union did not signify the end of the struggle of the international working class for socialism. Capitalism had not overcome the fundamental conflicts identified by the great Marxists of the 20th century—the contradictions between global economy and the nation-state system, and between socialized economic production and the private appropriation of profit—that led to war and to social revolution.

The way forward for the working class is revolutionary struggle on an internationalist and socialist program in the tradition of the October Revolution a century ago. Workers cannot support the militarist policies of any of the contending imperialist powers. The necessary response to the deepening crisis of global capitalism is the unification of the working class in struggle against imperialism through the building of a world socialist anti-war movement.

Alex Lantier

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/02/pers-j02.html