Newsnotes 2006 04

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

China ignores the USA.

Iran – casting trouble on oily waters

Thou shalt sell sex, but pretend otherwise

Allah Wants You (no one else does)

Hat-Trick in Former Yugoslavia


China ignores the USA.

The Iraq war was intended to intimidate the world and to show off the USA’s gigantic strength. The NeoCon vision was a wave of successful interventions, beginning with Iraq, proceeding to Iran and North Korea and then intimidating China, possibly even invading Tibet to restore the Dalai Lama. The entire world would be convinced that ‘Freedom’ meant only freedom to SubAmericanise.

They have managed to show the opposite – that the USA easily gets bogged down and cannot create functional new politics.

The NeoCons core are ex-Trotskyists; I figured out before the war that this meant that they’d screw up. Stalin followed through the logic of the original Leninist seizure of power, which Trotsky had supported and Stalin had felt doubtful about. Trotsky spent much of his life protesting at the foreseeable results of his own actions: not a viewpoint that could ever be translated into serious politics. Trotskyism damaged the left wherever it operated: I expected that it would make just as much a mess of the US Republicans, and indeed it has.

We are getting more and more now about the errors the US made. (Paul Bremmer’s My Year in Iraq should have been called Don’t Blame Me, I’m Only The Man In Charge.) Rebuilding Iraq was always going to be difficult, but what was done was simply stupid. People were not going to like or trust a system that gave them less than Saddam managed all through the destructive era of sanctions. Lying about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and abusing the UN has brought the whole system into contempt. Made a farce of something that could have been a decent ‘velvet glove’ for the USA’s iron fist. Even Tony Benn is looking at the world in a new way:

“What Bush has done — I don’t think you realize it — that make the case for the spread of nuclear weapons, because I tell you this, if Iran had nuclear weapons now, he would not dare to attack it. So, actually, Bush is encouraging the spread, and when he went to India the other day, which isn’t a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he signed an agreement.” [1]

With hindsight, I’d figure that Saddam ‘got their number’ over Kuwait, when he had the original discussion with the US ambassador before invading. He knew that the USA was not prepared to make the sort of sacrifices necessary to remove him and replace him with something coherent. His mistake was not to realise that they were vain and foolish and would destroy the secular pro-Western Baathist state in the belief that they could easily rebuild a better brighter model.

Invasion of Iran gets discussed, but doesn’t sound very credible. If they do it, they get further bogged down and are taken even less seriously by China. Having come close to accepting Western values in 1989, most Chinese now feel their own ways are vindicated by the chaos and poverty that hit the former Soviet Union. Grass-roots opinion may be firmer than the central government; expressing itself in such things as the giant Mao statue being erected in Tibet. “The 7.5m (24½ft) figure, weighing 35 tonnes, is a gift to the small Tibetan town just south of the regional capital, Lhasa, from the central Chinese city of Changsha, where Mao was born.” [2]. Meantime a major world Buddhist gathering has been held in China, without the Dalai Lama, obviously.

Globally, Maoism still shows vigour: not just in Nepal, it is a serious force in the Republic of India [3]. In Latin America, a mix of nationalism and left-wing sentiment is asserting itself against the USA, a power that throws away its own rule-book and still can’t win.

(Regarding NeoCons and their peculiar roots, I’m working on a review of Fukuyama’s recent book. I find it significant that their main non-Jewish thinker was a Japanese-American who chooses to say nothing about how his family arrived in the US or how they faired during the bitter anti-Japanese mood of World War Two.)


Iran – casting trouble on oily waters

April 14th saw the price of crude oil go over $70 for the first time ever [4]. If the US really did invade Iran, a price of $100 would be more likely. Some people are speculating on it.

Some people don’t need to speculate, of course. White House insiders would know in advance what would or would not happen. They could make a pretty good guess at how the oil price might go up or down, dependent on how the US used its rhetoric. Not that they could legally make use of this knowledge, of course. But these are the same people who brought you Enron, and many other matters now entangled in the USA’s slow money-based legal system.


Thou shalt sell sex, but pretend otherwise

Sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll are seen as necessary as lures for the Western lifestyle. This cannot be openly admitted, but the USA’s ‘conservatives’ seem well aware of it. They use a great variety of excuses, but the net effect is to prevent effective filtering of the internet.

“A plan for a new internet “domain” for pornography has once again been shelved, dealing another blow to the US-backed addressing system that acts as the glue holding together the unified global internet…

“Pressure from conservative Christian groups in the US, which has a veto over the internet addressing system, led the organisation last year to put off introducing a new “.xxx” domain for pornography on the internet. That drew international complaints that the US exercised too much power over the internet and added to a European-backed movement to shift control of the online medium to an international group.” [5]

It’s part of a much older pattern, reaching back to the Yellow Journalism of the 19th century, revived as the Murdoch package of soft-core titillation plus right-wing politics. Explicit sex belongs on the xxx domain. Let people watch it there, if the laws of the land allow. Let news be done seriously.

This won’t happen while the USA dominates world politics, obviously. A mix of sex and New Right politics helped bring down the Soviet Bloc and is their hope for re-capturing China, Iran etc. But they have been fairly self-destructive during their quarter-century of domination. Reagan and Thatcher favoured a dysfunctional conservatism that has strikingly failed to preserve the ‘family values’ that were the nominal cause


Allah Wants You (no one else does)

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

That was Karl Marx’s view from 1844, though mostly just the last seven words are quoted.

The British Empire was run on a mix of cynicism and narrow religion. Neither were sufficient to draw in and remould large numbers of imperial subjects. An Empire that dominated the world in 1844 was almost dead in another 100 years, leaving behind the language but a very uncertain cultural influence. The USA is heir to that power, but is an offshoot of British culture and lacks an internal life that can satisfy intelligent or sensitive people. Most original ideas come from outside, or from unassimilated minorities. The US still has efficient business people, most notably Bill Gates. But writers, thinkers and scientists come from outside of the WASP core.

In the 1950s, the Arab world was modernising under authoritarian regimes with a generally radical and protectionist outlook. Very much the formula that had worked in Europe and the USA, but in the Cold War context this was seen as a threat. Islamic extremism was encouraged as an alternative, the radical regimes tamed, humiliated or overthrown. Left with just their religion, Muslims were supposed also to let it be mocked.

“Yet mainstream and fundamentalist Muslims alike have the right to point to the inconsistency of the large western claims made on behalf of freedom of expression, when measured against the reality of legal practice in Europe and America. In the Netherlands, for instance, ‘scornful’ abuse of the Christian deity is an offence. German law prohibits disturbing the peace through the ridicule of religion. In Canada, ‘blasphemous libel’ carries a maximum prison sentence of two years. In the US, the first amendment coexists uncertainly with the many state laws which defend Christianity. Finland, Italy, Spain and Britain all restrict blasphemy in one way or another, and when defendants appeal to the European court of human rights, the original judgement is often upheld.

“The law books typically defend specifically Christian sensibilities. There are exceptions… Yet there is an overall inequality which is felt as a desperate injustice in the ghettos, where the honour of the Prophet is the source of so much self-worth.” (A Sense Of Awe, Prospect March 2006, [6]).

Stalemating global US power is also another source of self-worth. The more the USA goes on about Islamic terrorism, the more it becomes an attractive option.


Hat-Trick in Former Yugoslavia

The death of Milosevic completes a strange run of ‘bad luck’ for the leaders involved in the break-up of Yugoslavia, the people best places to report what was going on behind the scenes. Tudjman of Croatia died in 1999. Bosnian-Muslim leader Izetbegovic died in 2003. Those deaths ended the risk of war-crimes trials for pro-Western leaders. The accusations were never tested.

As for Milosevic, they had hoped to make him an example, but it wasn’t working. Blaming him for crimes in the Bosnian civil war would be like blaming Lady Thatcher for the misdeeds of Ulster paramilitaries. (One can’t help wondering what a truly impartial global court might turn up – but one might as well wish for benevolent outer-space people to land and enforce it, because it certainly won’t happen otherwise).

The trial of Milosevic should have been a propaganda triumph. Someone may have thought ‘Nuremberg’, conveniently forgetting that Serbs in those days were Western allies, while non-Communist Croats and Bosnian Muslims were largely pro-Nazi. Regardless, the trial wasn’t working. A defence would have been interesting, a conviction might have been attacked in detail. But Milosevic too dies, and was officially proclaimed guilty-but-dead by the Western media. After which the topic dropped out of world news.


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