woensdag 4 november 2015

US ramps up pressure on Beijing over South China Sea

Guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen
(U.S. Navy photo by Information Systems Technician 1st Class Benjamin Wooldridge/Released)

By Peter Symonds

Following its provocative naval intervention last week against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Obama administration is engaged in an aggressive diplomatic offensive throughout Asia, seeking to ramp up the pressure on China over the explosive issue.

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, deliberately inflamed tensions yesterday during his trip to Beijing. He emphatically declared that the US military would “continue to fly, sail and operate whenever and wherever international law allows. The South China Sea is not—and will not—be an exception.”

For months Harris pressed for President Obama to give the green light for “freedom of navigation” operations within the 12-nautical mile territorial limit surrounding Chinese-controlled reefs. In March, the admiral implied that China’s land reclamation activities in the region posed a threat, describing it as creating “a great wall of sand.”

On October 27, the USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, intruded within the 12-mile limit surrounding at least one of the Chinese-administered islets in the Spratly Islands. It was the first such direct challenge to Beijing’s claims. Washington insists that under international law several of China’s reefs, before land reclamation, were submerged at high tide and therefore do not generate territorial waters. Significantly, however, the US has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that is the basis for this assertion.

Harris declared yesterday that the USS Lassen was simply engaged in a routine operation. “We’ve been conducting freedom of navigation operations all over the world for decades, so no one should be surprised by them,” he said.

In reality, the deliberate violation of Chinese claims has nothing to do with upholding international laws and norms. Rather it is a component of the Obama administration’s broader “pivot to Asia”—an all-encompassing diplomatic, economic and military strategy aimed at isolating China and subordinating it to US interests, by war if necessary.

Chinese officials rebuked Harris for his comments in Beijing. The People’s Liberation Army chief of general staff Fang Fenghui accused him of creating “a disharmonious atmosphere for our meeting.” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the US of “hypocrisy and hegemonism” for demanding that Beijing stop militarising the South China Sea, while sending warships into the region.

Harris attempted to play down the danger of conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers, saying: “Some pundits predict a coming clash between our nations. I do not ascribe to this pessimistic view.”

This remark, which implies that Washington expects Beijing to back down in the face of repeated provocations, actually highlights the dangers of conflict. China cannot relent indefinitely in such a strategically sensitive area. China’s Defence Minister Chang Wanquan warned his US counterpart Ashton Carter yesterday in Malaysia there was a “bottom line” for China in regard to US actions in the South China Sea.

An unnamed US defence official told Reuters yesterday that the Pentagon intended to repeat last week’s naval intrusion “about twice a quarter or a little more than that.” He said such a schedule would “make it regular but not a constant poke in the eye.” Nevertheless that is exactly what the US actions constitute—a constant humiliation that could goad China into responding.

US Defence Secretary Carter is in Kuala Lumpur to attend this week’s biennial meeting of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) defence ministers. In another deliberate affront to China, the US and Japan are both pressing for the South China Sea to be placed on the meeting’s agenda and included in the concluding statement.

Carter has been in Asia to marshal support for the US campaign. Before flying to Malaysia, he visited South Korea where Defence Minister Han Min-koo parroted the line from Washington, declaring that “it is our stance that freedom of navigation and freedom of flight should be ensured in this region.” Pointing to the pressure from Washington, John Delury, an associate professor at Yonsei University, told the Wall Street Journal: “The Americans are trying to get the Koreans to carry water on issues that are farther afield.”

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made no reference to the South China Sea in opening the ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting, but cautiously indicated some support for the US in a separate news conference. He said countries with a stake in the region should exercise their right to operate in “international waters.” He nevertheless ruled out any discussion of the issue, saying that it came under the purview of foreign, rather than defence, ministers.

Hishammuddin’s comments point to the nervousness among ASEAN members over the heightened tensions. While the Philippines and Vietnam fully support Washington’s aggressive stance, others such as Malaysia are concerned about the impact on their economic relations with China.

Japan, which is backing the US, is also exploiting the issue to establish its own relations in South East Asia. It delivered two more patrol boats to Vietnam yesterday as part of an agreement last year to boost the country’s coast guard to counter China. Tokyo recently reached a similar arrangement with the Philippines, which is aggressively pursuing its territorial disputes with China.

Washington’s deliberate inflaming of flashpoints in the South China Sea is not only aimed at China but cuts across the efforts of its European rivals to establish closer relations with Beijing. The visits by Carter and Admiral Harris to Asia followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Britain where he was royally feted and sealed major economic agreements between the two countries. The Dutch king Willem-Alexander, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande each visited Beijing over the past two weeks accompanied by corporate entourages.

None of this will have gone unnoticed in the US, which reacted bitterly earlier this year when Britain signed up to China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, despite US objections. Unable to secure its world domination by economic means, the US is increasingly resorting to risky military measures to undermine its rivals or potential rivals and disrupt their relations, heightening the dangers of war.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 4 November 2015, and was republished with permission.

vrijdag 4 september 2015

Migration, climate and security: the choice

Demonstration by immigrants in Treviso, Italy, 28 May 2005.
Photo: Gary Houston Ghouston - (Wikimedia Commons)

The forces driving people's movement into Europe were already apparent in a near forgotten incident of 1991.

In August 1991, with the world’s media dominated by the chronic instability in Russia and the aftermath of the violent eviction of the Iraqi army from Kuwait earlier that year, a sequence of events in the Adriatic Sea provides an uncanny foretaste of the current surge of desperate people across the Mediterranean from north Africa, as well as overland from Syria through Turkey, Greece and beyond.

One consequence of the collapse of the Soviet bloc was the disintegration of the already weakened Albanian economy in the winter of 1990-91. The long-time leader Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985, had bequeathed a stagnant and unstable economy which, by the end of the decade, was ensuring increasing poverty in an already poor country. In the early months of 1991, many young Albanians were attempting to get across the Adriatic to a better life in Italy. They had little success.

Then, in August, the situation had become so desperate that merchant ships were hijacked by thousands of young people, especially in the port of Durrës, and the crews forced to set sail for Italy. At least 10,000 of them were on the 8,000-tonne merchant ship Vlora - some reports said twice that number - when it made the 200-kilometre crossing to the southern Italian port of Bari. Caught by surprise, the police there tried and failed to stop the refugees coming ashore; some even jumped overboard to swim towards land. The incident made news across Europe, at least for a couple of days, but then the media moved on.

Faced with this huge number of sudden arrivals, the police rounded them up and detained them in the only place in the city that could handle such a number securely, namely the local football stadium. There, they started the process of enforced repatriation to Albania. A few were allowed to stay; most were forced home. But the Italians did at least provide substantial financial aid to the faltering government in Tirana, and even arranged for Italian army units to distribute food within the country.

Within a few months, Albania began to make a slow and tortuous recovery. All that was left of the experience were images of desperate people jumping off a ship and trying to get ashore. Today, however, the resonance with people clambering ashore from flimsy dinghies onto Greek islands - or facing police in the centre of Budapest - is all too apparent.

The long-term view

Over the years since it began in 2001, this column has on occasion highlighted a prescient comment made in 1974 by the economic geographer Edwin Brooks. This warned of a dystopic world that had to be avoided: “a crowded glowering planet of massive inequalities of wealth buttressed by stark force yet endlessly threatened by desperate people in the global ghettoes” (see "The Implications of Ecological Limits to Growth in Terms of Expectations and Aspirations in Developed and Less Developed Countries", in Anthony Vann & Paul Rogers (eds), Human Ecology and World Development [Plenum Press, 1974]).

This is a forewarning of the experience of recent months: namely, desperate people fleeing the war-zones of Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan and the repression of Eritrea; but also of the millions more who face relative poverty and marginalisation, not least across sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been some humanitarian reaction in Europe to these forces. But the more general response has been the "securitisation" of the issue, whereby migrants are seen as threats. One head of government, the UK’s David Cameron, deliberately used the term “swarm” to describe the few thousand migrants who had got as far as Calais - though these actually form a tiny proportion of the hundreds of thousands of people desperate to get into Europe (see "Mediterranean dreams, climate realities", 23 April 2015).

It may be that over the coming months, humanitarian concern will prevail and European states will find ways to cooperate more effectively. But the prognosis is not good. And in the longer term, an extension of the securitising approach will be even more damaging as it is applied not just to the movement of people but to the closely related area of climate change.

A recent article by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes focuses on this issue (see "Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change", 28 August 2015). It points to the manner in which the future effects of climate change are being seen as threats to the wellbeing of comfortable peoples in the west, implying that what is needed is to put much more emphasis on maintaining security rather than preventing the excesses of climate disruption.

Where the two elements come together - current migration issues and future climate disruption - will actually be in Europe. Around the continent are large centres of population in the Middle East, south-west Asia, north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change, if not prevented, will lead to marked decreases in rainfall with declining food production and consequent social and economic hardship. The asymmetric nature of climate change as it is now being understood means that these large regions surrounding one of the richest parts of the world will have the greatest difficulties. As a result, they are likely to become drivers of migration to a far larger extent, with numbers measured not in the hundreds of thousands but in millions.

In these circumstances, the consequences of securitising these issues will be huge, far greater than anything yet experienced. For this reason alone, it is essential that the current crisis is handled primarily with humanitarian concern, rather than by trying to “close the castle gates” - which in any case is impossible in a globalised system. What happened to the Vlora nearly twenty-five years ago sharpens the choice over these possible futures.

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international-security editor, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on twitter at: @ProfPRogers

This article first appeared on openDemocracy September 3, 2015

maandag 10 augustus 2015

Conflict within US political establishment over Iran nuclear accord intensifies

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN in the Map Room of the White House, Aug. 6, 2015.
(Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

By Patrick Martin

In a television interview broadcast Sunday, President Barack Obama reiterated his warning that opponents of his nuclear agreement with Iran offer no alternative but a new American war in the Middle East.

Invited by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria to pull back from his comparison of Senate Republicans to the elements in Iran opposed to the deal, Obama instead repeated the charge, saying both the Republicans and the hardliners in Tehran opposed any easing of US-Iranian relations.

The interview came only days after New York Senator Charles Schumer responded to Obama’s August 5 speech warning that the alternative to the nuclear deal was a war that could extend well beyond Iran and the Middle East by announcing he would vote against the agreement. Schumer is expected to succeed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid as the top Democrat in the upper chamber of the US Congress next year.

The ultimate fate of the agreement, which includes Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany and is backed by the United Nations, remains unclear. The US Congress is expected to vote on the deal after it returns from its summer recess on September 8.

Virtually the entire Republican caucus in both chambers is set to disapprove of the agreement, along with a significant faction of Democrats. The White House is scrambling to secure sufficient votes among Democrats to prevent the House and Senate from overriding a presidential veto of a bill blocking US implementation of the accord.

The conflict within the American state presents the spectacle of a large majority in Congress, speaking for powerful forces within the ruling elite and the intelligence and military apparatus, pushing for imminent war against Iran and risking a breakup of the US-Europe alliance and the outbreak of a Third World War. Obama gives the impression of a “commander in chief” who is losing control over a drive to war far greater than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He seeks to present himself as an advocate of peace, despite boasting in his August 5 speech of having sent American forces into combat in seven countries since he took office in 2009. Both factions in the conflict that has erupted over the Iran deal are committed to the defense of American imperialist interests around the world and to the use of massive violence when deemed expedient.

The differences have arisen, in part, because the previous interventions by the Bush and Obama administrations have produced debacles for US imperialism in the Middle East. Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, to name only the most obvious, have disintegrated into bloody civil war as a consequence of US military operations and political subversion.

The Obama administration is seeking to carry out a tactical shift, testing whether the Iranian bourgeois regime headed by President Hassan Rouhani can be induced, through a combination of economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and the threat of war, to align itself more directly with Washington.

It sees the nuclear deal as the potential precursor to Iranian assistance to US-backed forces in Iraq, Iranian backing for the removal of the Assad regime in Syria and a reorientation of Iranian economic ties from Russia and China to the Western imperialist powers.

In his interview broadcast Sunday, Obama said he had been “encouraged… that the Russians are now more interested in discussions around what a political transition—or at least framework for talks—would look like inside of Syria.” He continued, “And presumably, Iran is seeing some of the same trends that are not good for them.”

The US Congress will take up the Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its August recess, with votes set in both the House and Senate on resolutions to disapprove the deal and block any lifting of US economic sanctions on Iran. A resolution backed by the Republican leadership is certain to pass the Republican-controlled House, but requires 60 votes—meaning at least six Democrats—to overcome a Senate filibuster.

If Congress adopts the resolution of disapproval, Obama will veto it and his opponents will seek to override the veto through a two-thirds vote of each house. Assuming every Republican supports it, the veto override would need the support of 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 Democrats in House.

Reacting to Senator Schumer’s statement opposing the nuclear deal, White House spokesman Josh Earnest commented that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Senate Democrats took Schumer’s dissent into account in the leadership vote set for the end of 2016.

Referring to the New York Democrat’s vote for the 2002 authorization of the war in Iraq, Earnest said, “There’s no denying that this difference of opinion that emerged overnight is one that has existed between Senator Schumer and President Obama for over a decade.”

“Senator Schumer is advocating an approach to foreign policy that minimizes the likelihood of success in diplomacy and relies far too much on the ability of the United States to unilaterally impose our will through force,” Earnest continued.

The comment raises obvious questions, since Schumer was far from the only leading Democrat to vote for the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton, now the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the Iran deal, also voted for the war resolution.

In his final question to Obama in the CNN interview broadcast Sunday about the dangers that would follow a congressional rejection of the deal with Iran, Zakaria concluded as follows: “[A]re you worried that you would confront, within your remaining term, the strong possibility that you might have to use nuclearthat you might have to use military force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?”

The apparent Freudian slip was a reference to the possible use by Washington of nuclear weapons against Iran. Obama turned the question aside, saying he preferred “not to anticipate failure” in getting the Iran deal ratified. But the fact remains: a US war against Iran would not be limited to air strikes against nuclear energy production sites and might not be limited to the use of conventional weapons.

The aim of such a war would be the military conquest of Iran and installation of a puppet government. To accomplish this against a country of 80 million people, four times the size of Iraq, would require an American occupation force in the hundreds of thousands, or the use of nuclear weapons, or both.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 10 August 2015, and was republished with permission.

dinsdag 21 juli 2015

The Iran nuclear pact and US imperialism’s drive for global hegemony

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on July 13, 2014,
before they begin a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear program. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

By Keith Jones

After 20 months of negotiations, the Obama administration last week reached agreement with Iran, China, France, Russia, the UK and Germany on a 15-year accord to “normalize” Iran’s civil nuclear program. Should this agreement survive the opposition of sections of the US ruling elite, it will constitute a significant tactical shift on the part of US imperialism, one with potentially far-reaching implications.

Since the 1979 Iranian revolution toppled the Shah’s bloody US-backed dictatorship, implacable opposition to Iran has been a constant in US foreign policy. During the past 12 years, Washington dramatically intensified its campaign of bullying and threats. Having ordered the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively Iran’s eastern and western neighbors, George W. Bush twice came close to launching war against Iran.

In 2009, the Obama administration sought to bring about regime-change in Tehran via a “Green Revolution” fomented through unsubstantiated claims of a stolen election. Two years later, Washington cajoled its European allies to join the US in imposing the most punishing economic sanctions ever deployed outside a war.

Now, in exchange for sweeping concessions from Iran, Washington has agreed to suspend the economic sanctions and provide Tehran a 15-year path to “normalize” its civil nuclear program.

Obama has stipulated that last week’s agreement with Tehran is limited to the constraints on its civil nuclear program. Yet Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other leading US officials have also made clear that they view the agreement as exploratory, a means to test Iran’s intentions. Their policy of “engagement” with Iran is a strategic bet that through a combination of continuing pressure and inducements, including an influx of Western investment, US imperialism will be able to harness Tehran to its predatory agenda.

The Republican Party leadership, the Wall Street Journal and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are publicly opposing this shift. They are demanding that Obama extract iron-clad guarantees of Tehran’s submission and warning against sidelining the US’s traditional Mideast client states, above all Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The public bluster of the Republicans, however, is not necessarily an indication of the real intentions of the main decision-makers in the Republican Party. To some extent, the Republicans’ opposition can prove useful to Obama in prying further concessions from Tehran. That said, it is far from certain the Iran nuclear accord will be implemented, let alone endure.

The nuclear accord and the fractious ruling class debate over it are a reflection of the mounting problems that US imperialism faces as it seeks through aggression and war to offset the erosion of its relative economic power and to confront multiplying challenges to its global hegemony.

There is deep dissatisfaction within the US ruling class over the outcome of the three major wars the US has waged in the broader Middle East over the past decade-and-a-half. In Ukraine, Washington has thus far been stymied, with the sanctions imposed on Russia failing to produce the desired results. To the Obama administration’s dismay, many of its closest allies, led by Britain, defied the US and signed up as founding members of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Development Bank earlier this year.

All of this has left the Obama administration and the US ruling class groping for an effective, integrated plan of attack.

Certain things can be said concerning the trajectory of US imperialism, the strategic calculations that underlie the proposed shift in US relations with Iran, and the implications of this shift:

* Obama and the entire US ruling elite are determined to maintain US global hegemony through military force.

There is something decidedly ominous about the president’s repeated proclamations over the past week that the failure of his diplomatic turn to Iran would result in war. These comments underscore that Washington is far from renouncing violence and point to the explosive character of global relations.

* Central to American imperialism’s global strategy is dominance over Eurasia, the vast land mass that is home to almost two-thirds of the world’s population.

In pursuit of this aim, Washington has long viewed Iran as an especially significant prize. The country stands at the intersection of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa), commands the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s exported oil flows, straddles two of the world’s most energy-rich regions (Central Asia and the Middle East), and itself possesses the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest oil reserves.

* Washington’s trumped-up conflict with Iran over its nuclear program was never just about Iranian-US relations. Nor was it solely about control of the Middle East. It always involved the broader question of US relations with the world’s major powers.

Even as US dependence on Mideast oil has declined, Washington has stepped up its efforts to maintain control over the Middle East so as to ensure domination over a region that supplies many of its principal competitors in Europe and Asia, including China and Japan, with much of their oil.

* When Obama claims, as he has repeatedly done, that for US imperialism war is the only alternative to a nuclear deal with Iran that realizes many but not all of Washington’s objectives, he is, for once, not lying.

Had the sanctions regime started to unravel, Washington would have faced a demonstrable challenge to its pretensions to world leadership, one that it could not walk away from without suffering a major geo-political defeat. In response, it would have been obliged to extend the sanctions--in other words, retaliate against the “sanctions-busters” by freezing their overseas assets and denying Iran access to the US-European controlled world banking system. Or, in order to avoid such action, which could quickly spiral into a military confrontation with China or Russia, the US would have been compelled to render the issue moot by abandoning the sanctions in favor of all-out war.

The Pentagon has long been planning and gaming such a war. And while the American people know nothing of these plans, in various think tank reports it is openly admitted that a war with Iran—a country four times the size of Iraq and with nearly three times the population, and which has significant state and foreign militia allies—would quickly envelop the entire Middle East. It would further inflame the US-stoked Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict and, at the very least, tie down much of the US military for a protracted period. Last, but not least, such a war would incite rising popular opposition in the US, where class tensions are already fraught after decades of social reaction.

Obama is arguing that US imperialism has a cheaper, more prudent alternative. One, moreover, that, as Defence Secretary Ashton Carter boasted Sunday, “does nothing to prevent the military option” in the future.

* The agreement with Iran has been designed to give the US the maximum leverage over Iran and the maximum strategic flexibility. Should Tehran prove insufficiently pliant or should circumstances change, the US can initiate procedures to automatically “snap back” the sanctions and pivot back to confrontation with Iran.

Moreover, all of Obama’s arguments in favor of the nuclear accord—his assertion that it is better to “test” Iran’s intentions than immediately embark on a war that could prove hugely damaging to US imperialism’s strategic interests—are predicated on Washington’s supposed right to wage pre-emptive war against Iran.

* The Obama administration sees Western engagement with Iran as a means of preventing Tehran from being drawn into closer partnership with China and Russia. China is already Iran’s biggest trading partner and Russia its most important military-strategic partner.

A further US priority is to see if it can enlist Iranian support in stabilizing the Middle East under Washington’s leadership. The US and Iran are already at least tacitly allied in supporting the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish militia in opposing ISIS in Iraq.

The Obama administration has also served notice that it intends to use the nuclear agreement to pressure Iran to assist it in reaching a political agreement in Syria that would see Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime replaced by one more amenable to US interests. Reversing previous US policy, Obama announced last week that Tehran should “be part of the conversation” in resolving the Syrian conflict.

* Longer term, the supporters of Obama’s Iran gambit aim to “turn” Iran, transforming it into an advance post of US imperialism in the Middle East and all Eurasia. That means to return the country to the type of neo-colonial subjugation that existed under the Shah’s regime.

Toward this end, Washington plans to probe and exploit the deep fissures within Iran’s bourgeois-clerical regime. It is keenly aware that the reins of Iran’s government are now in the hands of a faction (led by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani and his protégé, the current president, Hassan Rouhani) that has argued since at least 1989 for a rapprochement with Washington and has longstanding close ties to European capital.

* The Iran nuclear accord only intensifies the contradictions in US foreign policy, laying the basis for future shocks.

While exploring engagement with Iran, Washington is seeking to placate its traditional regional allies by showering them with offers of new weapons systems and increased military and intelligence cooperation. These actions threaten Tehran, which—notwithstanding the relentless US media campaign aimed at depicting it as an aggressor—already faces a massive military technology gap, not just with Israel, but with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

Nor can the US afford to stand idly by as the European powers scramble to get back into Iran. On Sunday, Germany’s Vice-Chancellor and SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Iran at the head of a German business delegation. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said he will soon follow.

To secure support from the US ruling elite, Obama is stressing that he has only agreed to lift the latest round of US sanctions on Iran. Other sanctions imposed in the name of opposing terrorism remain, meaning US corporations continue to be effectively barred from doing business in Iran.

If the US is not to lose out in the race to secure Iranian assets, it must either move forward with rapprochement—over the strenuous opposition of Washington’s current Mideast allies--or revert back to confrontation and demand the Europeans and others follow suit.

* Other strategic calculations, many of a pragmatic and short-term character, also appear to be bound up with the Obama administration’s decision to consummate a deal with Iran now. One cannot make firm judgments about these calculations, as events are moving rapidly and Washington’s policies are fraught with contradictions.

However, it was striking that in the lengthy interview Obama gave to the New York Times last week, the US president praised President Vladimir Putin, saying the agreement with Tehran could not have been reached without Russia’s strong support. He added that he had been “encouraged” by a recent phone call Putin made to talk about Syria. “That,” declared Obama, “offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.”

Is it possible that Obama is considering responding positively to Putin’s pleas for a ratcheting down of tensions over Ukraine in exchange for Moscow’s abandonment of Syria’s Assad? Could this be bound up not just with the crisis of US policy in the Middle East, but also with growing tensions between Washington and Berlin? Could this be intended as a shot-across-the-bow to Germany?

The US ruling elite has reacted with dismay to Germany’s cavalier role in the recent negotiations between the EU and Greece—not out of any concern for the Greek masses, but because of Berlin’s bald assertion of its new role as Europe’s disciplinarian.

Should the US ruling elite ultimately opt to move forward with the Iran deal, it will be from the standpoint of better positioning itself to withstand challenges to its dominance, including through military means, from its more formidable opponents, not only Russia and China, but also Germany, Japan and the other imperialist powers.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 21 July 2015, and was republished with permission.

dinsdag 30 juni 2015

Steunbetuiging van Podemos aan Syriza

Wij staan zij aan zij met het Griekse volk.” Dat zegt de Spaanse politieke partij Podemos in een Engelstalige mededeling, die wij hieronder integraal overnemen.

In view of the situation in Greece, and following the breakdown in the negotiations by the Eurogroup, Podemos wishes to communicate the following:

1.- Last Monday, the Greek government presented a proposal to the Eurogroup which included important concessions and was unanimously welcomed by the lenders as being reasonable and viable. In the following days, however, the international creditors led by the IMF did not accept the Greek government’s proposal to tax the wealthiest sectors of society, restructure the debt and launch an investment plan to revive the economy. Instead, they demanded to raise VAT on basic services and food and required further cuts on pensions and wages. In their effort to demonstrate that there is no alternative to austerity, the creditors only seem to accept the money of the poor, and insist on imposing the same logic and measures that led the country into a humanitarian disaster. The Greek economy is asphyxiated. To keep strangling it is the precise opposite of what must be done.

2.- Facing such blackmail and extortion, the Greek government has reacted to the ultimatum in an exemplary manner: by calling on the people to decide their own future in a democratic and sovereign way. Unlike the Spanish governments of 2011 and 2012, the Greek government has refused to violate the popular mandate derived from the January election. All the attempts at coercing, intimidating and influencing this vote by unelected powers, especially by the European Central Bank -which is willing to suffocate the Greek financial system to influence the outcome of the referendum-, constitute a flagrant and unacceptable violation of the democratic principle. We say that Europe without democracy is not Europe: all democrats should join their voices in denouncing these intolerable interferences and pressures. Democracy is incompatible with letting unelected powers govern and decide for us. It is democracy what is at stake.

3- With their intransigence, the creditors have demonstrated that they have no interest at all in solving the Greek debt crisis; their aim is rather to subject and overthrow a democratically elected government so as to prove that there is no alternative to the politics of austerity. Their blindness is such that they are willing to put at risk the integrity and the stability of the financial system and the European project itself, exposing them to speculative attacks whose price will ultimately be paid also by the citizens of other countries. We will say it once and again: they will be the ones to blame, they will be responsible for the consequences of this disaster.

4- Syriza did not create the tremendous economic crisis that affects Greece. It was the governments of New Democracy and PASOK, the friends of our PP and PSOE, who falsified data and accounts, surrendered the sovereignty of the country to the Troika, and handed Syriza an economic and social catastrophe that is necessary and urgent to reverse.

5.- Many international actors have already distanced themselves from the dogmatism of the creditors. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have expressed their solidarity with the Greek people in their defense of the democratic principle. We demand that the Spanish Government and the European institutions respect the sovereignty and dignity of the Greek people, and that they consequently guarantee that the referendum takes place in conditions of freedom and complete normality. The democratic will and the fundamental rights of the Greek people, which have been systematically attacked during the long years of austerity, must be respected.

There are two contradictory fields in Europe: austerity and democracy, the government of the people or the government of the market and its unelected powers. We stand firm on the side of democracy. We stand firm with the Greek people.

vrijdag 12 juni 2015

US officials consider nuclear strikes against Russia

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, talks at a press conference July 31, 2014, Gaziantep, Turkey.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski/Released)

By Niles Williamson

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is meeting today at the headquarters of the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany with two dozen US military commanders and European diplomats to discuss how to escalate their economic and military campaign against Russia. They will assess the impact of current economic sanctions, as well as NATO’s strategy of exploiting the crisis in eastern Ukraine to deploy ever-greater numbers of troops and military equipment to Eastern Europe, threatening Russia with war.

A US defense official told Reuters that the main purpose of the meeting was to “assess and strategize on how the United States and key allies should think about heightened tensions with Russia over the past year.” The official also said Carter was open to providing the Ukrainian regime with lethal weapons, a proposal which had been put forward earlier in the year.

Most provocatively, a report published by the Associated Press yesterday reports that the Pentagon has been actively considering the use of nuclear missiles against military targets inside Russia, in response to what it alleges are violations of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. Russia denies US claims that it has violated the INF by flight-testing ground-launched cruise missiles with a prohibited range.

Three options being considered by the Pentagon are the placement of anti-missile defenses in Europe aimed at shooting Russian missiles out of the sky; a “counterforce” option that would involve pre-emptive non-nuclear strikes on Russia military sites; and finally, “countervailing strike capabilities,” involving the pre-emptive deployment of nuclear missiles against targets inside Russia.

The AP states: “The options go so far as one implied—but not stated explicitly—that would improve the ability of US nuclear weapons to destroy military targets on Russian territory.” In other words, the US is actively preparing nuclear war against Russia.

Robert Scher, one of Carter’s nuclear policy aides, told Congress in April that the deployment of “counterforce” measures would mean “we could go about and actually attack that missile where it is in Russia.”

According to other Pentagon officials, this option would entail the deployment of ground-launched cruise missiles throughout Europe.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Skewers told AP, “All the options under consideration are designed to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from their violation.”

The criminality and recklessness of the foreign policy of Washington and its NATO allies is staggering. A pre-emptive nuclear strike against Russian forces, many of them near populated areas, could claim millions of lives in seconds and lead to a nuclear war that would obliterate humanity. Even assuming that the US officials threatening Russia do not actually want such an outcome, however, and that they are only trying to intimidate Moscow, there is a sinister objective logic to such threats.

Nuclear warmongering by US officials immensely heightens the danger of all-out war erupting accidentally, amid escalating military tensions and strategic uncertainty. NATO forces are deploying for military exercises all around Russia, from the Arctic and Baltic Seas to Eastern Europe and the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Regional militaries are all on hair-trigger alerts.

US officials threatening Russia cannot know how the Kremlin will react to such threats. With Moscow concerned about the danger of a sudden NATO strike, Russia is ever more likely to respond to perceived signs of NATO military action by launching its missiles, fearing that otherwise the missiles will be destroyed on the ground. The danger of miscalculations and miscommunications leading to all-out war is immensely heightened.

The statements of Scher and Carter confirm warnings made last year by the WSWS, that NATO’s decision to back a fascist-led putsch in Kiev in February, and to blame Russia without any evidence for shooting down flight MH17, posed the risk of war. “Are you ready for war—including possibly nuclear war—between the United States, Europe, and Russia? That is the question that everyone should be asking him- or herself in light of the developments since the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17,” the WSWS wrote .

In March, Putin stated that he had placed Russian forces, including its nuclear forces, on alert in the aftermath of the Kiev putsch, fearing a NATO attack on Russia. Now the threat of war arising from US policy has been confirmed directly by statements of the US military.

These threats have developed largely behind the backs of the world working class. Workers in the United States, Europe and worldwide have time and again shown their hostility to US wars in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Yet nearly 15 years after these wars began, the world stands on the brink of an even bloodier and more devastating conflict, and the media and ruling elites the world over are hiding the risk of nuclear war.

US President Barack Obama is expected to escalate pressure on Russia at the G7 summit this weekend, pressing European leaders to maintain economic sanctions put in place in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year. The latest outbreak in violence in Ukraine this week, which the US blames on Russia, is to serve as a pretext for continuing the sanctions.

Speaking to Parliament on Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned of a “colossal threat of the resumption of large-scale hostilities by Russian and terrorist forces.” He claimed without proof that 9,000 Russian soldiers are deployed in rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military should be ready for a new offensive by the enemy, as well as a full-scale invasion along the entire border with the Russian Federation,” Poroshenko said. “We must be really prepared for this.” He said the Ukrainian army had at least 50,000 soldiers stationed in the east, prepared to defend the country.

Poroshenko’s remarks came a day after renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kiev forces and Russian-backed separatists resulted in dozens of casualties. This week’s fighting marked the largest breach to date of the cease-fire signed in February.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that Russia believed the previous day’s hostilities had been provoked by Kiev to influence upcoming discussions at the G7 summit this weekend and the EU summit in Brussels at the end of the month. “These provocative actions are organized by Ukraine’s military forces, and we are concerned with that,” he stated.

Each side blamed the other for initiating fighting in Marinka, approximately nine miles west of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. Yuriy Biryukov, an adviser to Poroshenko, reported on Thursday that five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the fighting, and another 39 wounded. Eduard Basurin, deputy defense minister and spokesman for the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), told Interfax that 16 rebel fighters and five civilians had been killed.

Ukrainian forces also fired artillery at the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Wednesday. Shells landed in the southwest districts of Kirovsky and Petrovsky, killing 6 people and wounding at least 90 others. The city’s Sokol market was severely damaged, with several rows of shops burned to the ground.

Responding to Wednesday’s developments, members of the fascistic Right Sector militia have been called to mobilize for battle. Andrey Stempitsky, commander of the militia’s paramilitary battalion, posted a message on Facebook calling on those who went home during the cease-fire to “return to their combat units.” He warned that the Right Sector would “wage war, ignoring the truce devotees.”

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 5 June 2015, and was republished with permission.

maandag 18 mei 2015

Aalsmeer: vastgeroest in een monistische politieke cultuur?

 Bloemenveiling FloraHolland. Foto: Mediabank I amsterdam

Vandaag trad waarnemend burgemeester Jeroen Nobel (PvdA) aan in de ruim 30.000 inwoners tellende Nederlandse gemeente Aalsmeer. De gemeente verwierf wereldbekendheid door de bloementeelt en vooral de bloemenveiling, de grootste ter wereld. Recent was burgemeester Jobke Vonk-Veder (CDA), die de gemeente als onbestuurbaar had bestempeld, voortijdig afgetreden. Waarnemend burgemeester Nobel kreeg van Commissaris van de Koning Johan Remkes (VVD) een opdracht mee die kort samengevat luidt: onderzoek hoe de huidige [verziekte] Aalsmeerse bestuurscultuur kon ontstaan, en initieer een traject gericht op verbetering.

Wie het woord 'bestuurscultuur' googelt krijgt snel in de gaten dat er in meer Nederlandse gemeenten wat schort. Om er maar enkele te noemen: Amsterdam, Maasdriel, Zoetermeer, Den Bosch, Den Haag, Zutphen, Roermond, Leiden, Oldenzaal, Utrecht, … Nu de landelijke overheid de afgelopen jaren steeds meer overheidstaken heeft gedecentraliseerd moeten burgers meer dan ooit kunnen rekenen op een volwassen lokaal bestuur dat zijn opdracht op een kwalitatief goed niveau kan vervullen, met sterke bestuurders en een zelfbewuste gemeenteraad die op hoofdlijnen aanstuurt en scherp controleert.

Leidt de wet Dualisering van 2002 tot instabiliteit?

Waarom rommelt het binnen veel Nederlandse gemeenten? Heeft dualisering wat te maken met de politieke instabiliteit in gemeenteland? De wet Dualisering Gemeentebestuur van 2002 veranderde de verhouding tussen gemeenteraad en college. De raad moest kaders stellen voor het beleid, het college kreeg als taak dat beleid uit te voeren en het was aan de raad om daar toezicht op te houden. Wethouders waren niet langer lid van de gemeenteraad. Raadsleden zouden minder moeten vergaderen, meer tijd krijgen voor volksvertegenwoordigende taken, en konden beschikken over instrumenten als enquêterecht, fractieondersteuning en ambtelijke ondersteuning.

Het proces van dualisering verloopt in veel gemeenten blijkbaar erg moeizaam, en de wet heeft tot veel kritiek geleid. Maar uit een uitgebreid evaluatieonderzoek van bestuurskundige Merel de Groot van de Universiteit Twente blijkt dat die kritiek onterecht is. Om de dualisering te evalueren is het van belang te kijken naar het feitelijk verloop van gemeentelijke besluitvormingsprocessen en het feitelijk gedrag van raadsleden en wethouders. Tijdens een symposium op 11 april 2012 dat ter gelegenheid van de 10e verjaardag van de wet werd georganiseerd door het Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties werden daar een aantal behartenswaardige uitspraken over gedaan.

Minder dominante wethouders, maar veel colleges blijven de baas spelen

Volgens prof. mr. J.W.M. Engels van de Universiteit Leiden heeft de dualisering geleid tot minder dominantie van wethouders op het politieke gebeuren. Vooral hun greep op de eigen fractie is verminderd. Voor de dualisering hadden wethouders volop ruimte voor gecontroleerde coalitiepolitiek door besluiten voor te koken en de burgemeester politiek buitenspel te zetten. Sommige colleges opereren nog te defensief richting raad en focussen te sterk op de competentieverdeling. De raad wordt bijvoorbeeld overvoerd met leesvoer en zoetgehouden met nutteloze informatiebijeenkomsten, foute cursussen en ceremoniële werkbezoeken, terwijl de wezenlijke informatie vaak te lang of zelfs volledig wordt achtergehouden. Blijkbaar is de ambitie van veel colleges nog gericht op het behouden van de politieke leiding, aldus Engels.

In het kader van de dualisering moet de raad het meeregeren loslaten, sturen op hoofdlijnen (en het begrip 'kaderstellen' vermijden), zich in de controle maximaal laten bijstaan door rekenkamer, accountant en extern onderzoek, en als volksvertegenwoordiging meer in samenspraak met de burgers de politieke agenda bepalen. Voor Engels is het nog onderontwikkelde gevoel voor de nieuwe werkelijkheid op het gebied van integriteit een zorgpunt. Het omgaan met (de schijn van) belangenverstrengeling, vooringenomenheid, geheimhouding en vertrouwelijkheid blijkt nog teveel te steunen op klassieke, of - erger nog - eigen opvattingen over de normativiteiten die daarin van belang zijn, aldus de professor.

Afspiegelingscollege in Leiden, breed college in Maasdriel

Het Leidse D66-raadslid Jeffrey van Haaster liet in de discussie weten dat Leiden in 2010 resoluut afstapte van de monistische wethouderscultuur en een afspiegelingscollege vormde met een uit slechts 16 punten op twee A4-tjes bestaand coalitieakkoord. Buiten de 16 punten zijn de coalitiepartijen vrij, zodat het debat niet in eigen fractie wordt gevoerd maar in de raad, met meer ruimte voor inbreng van de burger. Nu niets tevoren is dichtgetimmerd kunnen coalitie- en oppositieraadsleden schitteren in hun controlerende en volksvertegenwoordigende rol, aldus Van Haaster. Waarnemend burgemeester Dick de Cloe van Maasdriel herkende de punten van Van Haaster en liet weten dat Maasdriel vandaag een breed college kent dat steeds naar meerderheden zoekt.

In Aalsmeer, waar de coalitie steunt op 12 zetels tegen 11, is er - net als in een aantal andere Nederlandse probleemgemeenten - van dualisering nog weinig terecht gekomen. De website van de gemeente Aalsmeer zegt wel dat “de gemeenteraad het beleid bepaalt en controle uitoefent op de uitvoering” en het college het beleid uitvoert, de realiteit is dat B&W van Aalsmeer zowel coalitie als oppositie in hun greep hebben. De CDA-bestuurdersvereniging zegt ijskoud dat de aanwezigheid van de wethouder in de fractievergaderingen belangrijke voordelen heeft, maar als de fractie meeregeert “de Trias Politica gewond” is en “machtsmisbruik op de loer” ligt.

Lokale CDA-voorzitter bepleit suprematie van “de integere elite”

Voor CDA-Aalsmeer voorzitter Hermen de Graaf die Elsevier citeert, is “het duale stelsel” mislukt. Versterking van “de authentiteit van het leiderschap,” terug naar “acceptatie van leiderschap,” weg van “de vetocratie die ons nu terroriseert” en “luisteren naar de integere elite die het beste met de mensheid voor heeft”, dat zijn de griezelige zaken die De Graaf bepleit.

In Aalsmeer wordt het beleid nog altijd bepaald door het college. De wethouders formuleren samen met de coalitiefracties het collegeprogramma. Aalsmeer heeft geen boodschap aan de wet Dualisering. De raad mag vragen stellen, zelfs moties indienen, maar het coalitieakkoord wordt uitgevoerd. De raad mag meepraten over de programmabegroting en de voorjaarsnota, maar het beleid ligt vast en wordt te vuur en te zwaard verdedigd door de coalitiefracties.

Ziedaar de Aalsmeerse bestuurscultuur. Vastgeroest in een achterhaald monistische politiek model.

*)  In Nederland wordt de burgemeester aanbevolen door de gemeenteraad, voorgedragen door de minister van binnenlandse zaken en benoemd door de regering
**) Elsevier is een uiterst rechts ogeoriënteerd opinieblad, en zowat de spreekbuis van de PVV van Geert Wilders