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Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4

Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at The Hampton Institute

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Part 1: Political Language and the ‘Mafia Principles’ of International Relations

Part 2: Barack Obama’s Global Terror Campaign

Part 3: America’s “Secret Wars” in Over 100 Countries Around the World

While the American Empire – and much of the policies being pursued – did not begin under President Obama, the focus of “Empire Under Obama” is to bring awareness about the nature of empire to those who may have – or continue – to support Barack Obama and who may believe in the empty promises of “hope” and “change.” Empire is institutional, not individual. My focus on the imperial structure during the Obama administration is not to suggest that it does not predate Obama, but rather, that Obama represents ‘continuity’ in imperialism, not “change.” This part examines the concept of ‘counterinsurgency’ as a war against the populations of Iraq, Afghanistan and spreading into Pakistan.

Continuity in the imperialistic policies of the United States is especially evident when it comes to the strategy of ‘counterinsurgency,’ notably in Afghanistan. As examined in Part 1 of this series, language plays a powerful role in the extension and justification of empire. George Orwell noted that political language was “largely the defense of the indefensible,” where horrific acts and policies – such as maintaining colonial domination, dropping atomic bombs on cities – can only be defended “by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” Thus, political language is employed, consisting “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” One specific example was provided by Orwell in his essay – Politics and the English Language – which holds particular relevance for the present essay: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” Virtually the same process or strategy is today employed using words like counterinsurgency or counterterrorism. These military strategies are frequently employed, and the words are carelessly thrown around by military officials, politicians, intellectuals and media talking heads, yet little – if any – discussion is given to what they actually mean.

Near the end of the Bush administration in 2008, General David Petraeus was appointed as the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), the Pentagon’s military command structure over the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the two major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, Obama had appointed Petraeus as commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and in 2011, he was appointed as CIA Director. Petraeus is a good starting point for the discussion on counterinsurgency.

Petraeus was previously commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, having quickly risen through the ranks to lead Bush’s “surge” in 2007. Prior to the surge, Petraeus was initially sent to Iraq in 2004 given the responsibility of training “a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency.” While in Iraq, Petraeus worked with a retired Colonel named Jim Steele, who was sent to Iraq as a personal envoy of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Steele acquired a name for himself in ‘counterinsurgency’ circles having led the U.S. Special Forces training of paramilitary units in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he turned them into efficient and highly effective death squads waging a massive terror war against the leftist insurgency and the population which supported them, resulting in the deaths of roughly 70,000 people.[1]

Jim Steele had to leave a promising military career after his involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal – trading arms to the Iranians for their war against Iraq to finance the death squads in Central America – and so he naturally turned to the private sector. But he had so impressed a Congressman named Dick Cheney, that when Cheney was Vice President, he and Rumsfeld maintained a cozy relationship with Steele who was then sent to Iraq in 2003 to help train the Iraqi paramilitary forces. Steele, working with David Petraeus and others, helped establish “a fearsome paramilitary force” which was designed to counter the Sunni insurgency which had developed in reaction to the U.S. invasion and occupation, running ruthless death squads which helped plunge the country into a deep civil war. Petraeus’ role in helping to create some of Iraq’s most feared death squads was revealed in a 2013 Guardian investigation.[2]

However, in 2005, the Pentagon had openly acknowledged that it was considering employing “the Salvador option” in Iraq in order “to take the offensive against the insurgents.” John Negroponte, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the U.S. was running death squads out of Honduras in Central America was, in 2005, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The Pentagon and the CIA were considering what roles they could play, possibly using U.S. Special Forces, to help train Iraqi “death squads” to hunt down and kill “insurgents.”[3]

Within the first three years of the Iraq war and occupation, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published research indicating that between 2003 and 2006, an estimated 650,000 – 940,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war.[4] A survey from 2008 indicated that there had been more than one million deaths in Iraq caused by the war.[5]

This is referred to as a “counterinsurgency” strategy. In 2006, General Petraeus wrote the foreward to the Department of the Army’s Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, in which he noted that, “all insurgencies, even today’s highly adaptable strains, remain wars amongst the people.”[6] A 1962 U.S. counterinsurgency guide for the U.S. war in Vietnam said it even more bluntly when it noted that, “The ultimate and decisive target is the people… Society itself is at war and the resources, motives, and targets of the struggle are found almost wholly within the local population.”[7]

At the risk of being redundant, let me put it even more simply: counterinsurgency implies a war against the population. An insurgency is an armed rebellion by a significant portion – or sector – of a population against an institutional authority or power structure (usually a state or imperial power). Thus, for the American Empire – adhering to its rigid ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations – an ‘insurgency’ is always a threat to imperial domination: if people are able to resist domestic power structures (say, a specific U.S. ally/client state), then other people around the world may try the same. The United States will seek to counter insurgencies for several reasons: to maintain the stability of their ally, to maintain the confidence of other allies, to maintain its reputation as the global hegemon, and to counter more direct threats to U.S./Western interests, such as the loss of access to resources or key strategic points, or in the case of U.S. military occupations, to crush any and all resistance.

In Part 1 of this series, I briefly summarized some major strategic reports written by key U.S. imperial planners, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft. A 1988 National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy was co-chaired by Kissinger and Brzezinski, and directly acknowledged that most conflicts across the world were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” including “guerilla forces” and “armed subversives.” The report stated that the U.S. would have to intervene in these “low intensity conflicts” in which the “enemy” was “omnipresent” (or, in other words, in which the target was the population), because if the U.S. did not wage war against armed rebellions or uprisings around the world, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”

This is a key example of ‘Mafia Principles.’ The Mafia is able to expand its influence not simply through coercion, but through offering ‘protection.’ Thus, businessmen, politicians or other individuals who pay dues to the Mafia are in turn given protection by the Mafia. If they are confronted with a problem – competition, threats to their position, etc. – the Mafia will use threats or force in order to protect their patrons.

Take, for example, a corrupt politician (I know, how redundant!) who is in the pocket of the Mafia. A mob boss may ask for a favour – to pass (or block) a particular law – and in turn, the politician gets protection from the mob. Suddenly, an up-and-coming young politician gains in popularity in opposition to the corrupted political figure. The politician asks the mob for some help (after all, the mob doesn’t want to lose the person in their pocket for the one who appears to be a wild card), and so the mob attempts to bribe or makes some threats to the aspiring political figure. If the bribes and/or threats don’t work, then force may be used. Suddenly, the aspiring political figure was found washed ashore along the city’s riverbanks.

This has served several purposes: the politician is kept in the pocket of the Mafia (always easier than trying to find a new point man), the mob maintains its reputation as an organization not to be challenged or disobeyed (fear plays a essential part in maintaining power), and the politician is more indebted than ever to the mob. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.

An ‘insurgency’ in a client state or against a Western occupation poses such a threat to the local and international power structures of imperialism. Thus, the Empire must counter the insurgency in order to undermine the immediate threat to its forces (or those of its allies/clients), to maintain its reputation as what Obama recently referred to as “the anchor of global security,”[8] and thus, to maintain the confidence of other allies around the world, and to pose a powerful threatening force to other populations which may attempt resistance. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.

The notion that a counterinsurgency campaign is targeting a population resisting some form of authority – whether justified or not – and that such a strategy leads to enormous human tragedy, civilian casualties, suffering, chaos, destruction and human social devastation simply is of little significance to those who advocate for such doctrines. If the interest is in maintaining ‘power,’ the suffering of people is irrelevant. For the Empire, power and profit are what matters, people are incidental, and most often, in the way.

In the midst of the massive civil war in Iraq that Petraeus helped to bring about (with his ‘counterinsurgency’ operations of building death squads), Bush appointed Petraeus to head the planned “surge” of 20,000 U.S. troops into the country in 2007, which was hailed in the media and by the political class and their intellectual sycophants as a profound success.

By 2008, violence in Iraq was down, and this was of course interpreted as a success of the counterinsurgency/surge strategy. The reality was, as several commentators and analysts have pointed out, that the violence decreased because most of the ethnic cleansing in Iraq had taken place by then, and the Shia had won.[9] One academic study noted that just prior to the surge, there was a massive ethnic cleansing that took place within Iraq, and so by the time the surge began, noted one researcher, “many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country,” and that, “violence has declined in Baghdad because of inter-communal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning.” The effect of the surge was not to reduce violence, but rather, noted the report: “it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved.”[10]

Even General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO who led the NATO war against Yugoslavia in the 1990s, wrote in 2007 that as the surge was taking place, “vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops.”[11] Upon the disgraced resignation of Petraeus from the position of CIA Director (due to some insignificant political sex scandal) in 2012, the Washington Post reflected on the “surge” strategy back in 2007 which propelled Petraeus “to the top,” writing that the surge strategy was “about helping Iraqis.”[12] Naturally, such a notion – in the Western media – is a given ‘fact’ without the need for qualification: we did it, therefore it is ‘good’; we did it in Iraq, therefore it was for the benefit of Iraq; we did it to Iraqis, therefore it was for Iraqis.

Counterinsurgency strategy – or ‘COIN’ as it is referred to in military parlance – shares a great deal with terrorist strategy, namely that, “the target is the people.” The difference, however, is that one is employed by a massive state-military power structure while the other is used by small networks of individuals (often) operating outside of state structures. Both, however, are typically driven by relatively small groups of violent extremists.

Obama briefly appointed General Stanley McChrystal – former commander of the JSOC forces running secret wars around the world – as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, who was a strong advocate of “counterinsurgency tactics.”[13] In March of 2009, Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan as a dual ‘AfPak’ strategy, expanding the Afghan war theatre directly into Pakistan, a nation of some 180 million people and armed with nuclear weapons.[14]

The strategy in Afghanistan was expected to drive militants into neighboring Pakistan, likely destabilizing the country.[15] As the Obama administration began its “surge” into Afghanistan in March of 2009, under the leadership of General McChrystal, who formerly ran Cheney’s “executive assassination ring,” an additional 21,000 troops were sent to the country. The Pakistani military warned the Americans that they were worried that U.S. actions in Afghanistan would not only send an increased level of militants, including the Taliban, into Pakistan’s lawless areas, but that it could also “prompt an exodus of refugees from southern Afghanistan.” In May of 2009, under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the stateless North West Frontier Province (NWFP), displacing over 2 million people.[16]

This offensive was urged by State Department official Richard Holbrooke, as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus.[17] The Independent referred to the displacement which resulted as “an exodus that is beyond biblical,” creating roughly 2.4 million internal refugees within the span of a month. Across the world, only Sudan, Iraq and Colombia had larger internal refugee populations. The speed of the “displacement” reached up to 85,000 per day, matched only by the Rwandan genocide in 1994.[18] The refugee crisis had subsequently “inflamed murderous ethnic rivalries” across Pakistan, noted the Wall Street Journal.[19] However, by late August, Pakistan had returned roughly 1.3 million of the refugees to the areas from which they were displaced.[20]

In October, Obama sent an addition 13,000 troops to Afghanistan.[21] The Pakistani Prime Minister warned that this would “destabilize his country.”[22] In December, Obama announced an intention to send an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in the country to roughly 100,000.[23]

In a 2009 State Department cable from Pakistan, Anne Patterson reported that U.S. policy and actions in Pakistan “risks destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.” However, Patterson, seemingly without paradox, wrote that the U.S. strategy was “an important component of dealing with the overall threat” of terrorism.[24]

Further, noted Patterson, the U.S. strategy in relation to Afghanistan, which included supporting an increased role for India, Pakistan’s long-standing state-enemy, was pushing the Pakistanis “to embrace Taliban groups all the more closely,” and that U.S. arms deals with India “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them close to both Afghan and Kashmir-focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about U.S. intentions.”[25]

Another 2009 diplomatic cable from Patterson in Pakistan noted that nuclear proliferations was “a bigger threat than terrorism,” while Pakistan had been building nuclear weapons “at a faster rate than any other country in the world,” according to a U.S. national intelligence official in 2008. U.S. support for India’s nuclear program (which is not a signatory to the NPT), has continued to cause Pakistan to refuse to sign the NPT, and had encouraged Pakistan to instead develop more nuclear weapons. Patterson described the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. as one of “mutual distrust,” explaining that, “the relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support.”[26]

Patterson noted in a 2009 cable that most Pakistanis view America with “suspicion,” and that the Pakistani government was worried about the influx of militants and refugees from the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, and that they would prefer to implement a strategy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” (instead of military operations) in regards to the country’s own troubled regions which were becoming hot-beds for the growth of extremist groups. Patterson recommended that the U.S. government instruct the Pakistanis that, “it will be difficult for international donors to support a government that is not prepared to go all-out to defend its own territory.” In other words: if Pakistan wants military and economic aid and IMF ‘assistance,’ it will have to continue military operations.[27]

Fred Branfman, who examined in detail Wikileaks cables related to Pakistan, summarized their findings as thus: “A disastrously bungled U.S. policy toward Pakistan has led a majority of the Pakistani people to see the U.S. as their ‘enemy’ and strengthened jihadi forces in both the northwest territories and Punjab heartland and thus made it more likely that anti-American forces could obtain Pakistani nuclear materials.” As America continues its war in Afghanistan, it will “continue to destabilize the Pakistani state,” not to mention, so too will undertaking a ‘secret war’ inside Pakistan itself.[28]

Since General Petraeus had so much “success” with creating death squads in Iraq, plunging the country into a deeper civil war, supporting the massive ethnic cleansing and undertaking a war against the population (“counterinsurgency” campaign), he was naturally the right choice for Obama to appoint in 2010 when it came to leading the “counterinsurgency” and “surge” into Afghanistan, replacing General McChrystal.

As revealed by Bob Woodward in 2010, under the Obama administration, the CIA was “running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas,” likely working “in close tandem” with U.S. Special Forces undertaking “kill-or-capture” missions, all of which is approved by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.[29]

The Afghan “surge” of the Obama administration was a profound failure. Following the first year of the surge, 2010 was recorded as the “deadliest year” for Afghan civilians since the war and occupation began in 2001, with over 2,700 civilians killed, up 15% from the previous year, according to the UN.[30] In 2011, the death toll reached another record high, with more than 3,000 civilians killed, according to the UN, an 8% increase from the previous year, and the number of deaths caused by suicide bombings increased by 80% from the previous year.[31]

The U.S. troops presence was to be reduced significantly following the formal “withdrawal” in 2014, after which time Obama pledged to keep a “small troops presence” in the country.[32] The remaining force would largely be geared toward “counterterrorism” operations in the country.[33] In June of 2013, the “formal” handing over of security operations from U.S.-NATO forces to Afghan forces was initiated, with a 350,000-strong military and police force trained by NATO and the US to manage internal ‘security’ against the continued ‘insurgency’ in the country.[34]

In other words, nearly thirteen years after a U.S.-NATO war and occupation began in Afghanistan, the war will continue indefinitely, and the “target” will remain as the population. In our media, we hear about deaths of “militants” or “Taliban” as if these are easily confirmed card-carrying or uniform-wearing groups and individuals (just as we report in regards to Obama’s global drone bombing terror campaign). Yet, these reports often go unquestioned, much like during the massive counterinsurgency war the U.S. waged in Vietnam, where the majority of the population was largely opposed to the imperial presence of the United States, and where those whom the U.S. killed were given the all-encompassing label of ‘Viet Cong’ – the “enemy.” So long as those who we murder in our foreign occupations are given the correct ‘label’ (whether Viet Cong, Taliban, al-Qaeda, or the ever-bland ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’), our continued slaughtering is continuously justified.

Few comments are made about the notion of the right of populations to resist foreign military occupations. Regardless as to whether or not we – as individuals – approve of particular militant groups in places like Afghanistan or Pakistan, we do not have the ‘right’ to dictate who rules those nations. And, in fact, our presence strengthens the more extremist, militant, violent and deplorable groups precisely because they are those which are best equipped to resist another – far more – violent, extremist, militant and deplorable group: namely, Western military occupation forces.

Here is a hypothetical: imagine you live in the United States, and the government collapses amid disarray and disagreement (I know, I’m being redundant again!), but then, China suddenly decides to send in its army of 2.2 million forces to occupy the United States in order to act as an “anchor of security” for the world. Imagine Chinese forces installed a puppet government, maintained an occupation for over a decade, and ultimately ruled the country by force. Surely, in the United States, armed resistance would emerge. Yet, who – in the U.S. – are those most likely to resort to armed resistance?

Chances are, such groups would emerge among the militant right-wing Christian groups spread out across much of the country, holding extremist ideologies which much of the population finds deplorable, but also being among the best armed members of the domestic American population. Other gangs and criminal groups would likely flourish, war lords and drug lords would rise to high places (as they have in Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia), and then the Chinese would resort to a ‘counterinsurgency’ strategy, in which the whole population is punished. This would ultimately increase support for the domestic militants, despite their deplorable ideologies, and a subsequent cycle of violence and destruction would likely ensue.

Surely, such a scenario is not desired – at least not by the many Americans I know and consider friends and family – but such is the scenario we impose upon countries and people all across the planet. This insanity must stop. There must be – in the West and most especially within the United States itself – the development of an anti-imperial/anti-empire social movement. It is not only a requirement out of some uncomfortable argument about the ‘economic costs’ of extending an empire around the world, but it is a moral necessity. As Obama himself stated in September of 2013, “for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security.”[35] That is seven decades of American imperialism on a truly global scale, for which the populations of the West must now make amends, and that can only be done by ending the empire. Nothing less than the absolute abolishment of imperialism – in all its modern forms – is of the utmost human necessity.

We can have destruction, or we can have dignity. We can have hypocrisy, or we can have honesty. We can have fascism, or we can have a future. We can have hatred, or we can have humility. We can have repression, or we can have possibility. We can have war, or we can have no more. We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. We cannot have both. Clearly, those in power are not equipped with the principles or possible threat of having a ‘moral moment’ in order to make such decisions: Barack Obama is no exception. Obama is merely the latest political personification of imperial phlegm spewed forth from the charred chest of the American oligarchy as their chief representative, diligently applying Mafia principles to international relations.

The future of humanity – and the ending of empire – can only exist in hands of humanity itself, not a single human being with concentrated power, but rather, with the actualization – the decentralization – of power among the population.

When Hitler’s second in command – Hermann Goering – was asked at the Nuremberg trials about Nazi Germany plunging the world into war, he replied: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war… Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship… voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”[36]

It would seem, then, that the only ones qualified to determine foreign policy are those it affects the most – those who are sent off to kill, and those who are targeted to be killed – in short: the population. Peace is possible, if people are empowered. Otherwise, imperialism is inevitable, and extinction is nearly ensured. There is a choice: we can passively accept imperialism and internalize a sense of insignificance and apathy; or, we can acknowledge that the whole global imperial system and structures of domination were established and are maintained precisely because those few in power – the tiny minority of global oligarchs – who rule the world are very well aware that when people work together, locally and globally, change is inevitable. If people were so easily controllable, so automatically apathetic, or inherently insignificant, why are there so many institutions, ideologies, techniques, structures and systems designed to keep people that way?

We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. The choice is yours.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Mona Mahmood, et. al., “From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads,” The Guardian, 6 March 2013:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/06/el-salvador-iraq-police-squads-washington

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Barry, “‘The Salvador Option’,” Newsweek – The Daily Beast, 7 January 2005:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2005/01/07/the-salvador-option.html

[4] “The Iraq deaths study was valid and correct,” The Age, 21 October 2006:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/the-iraq-deaths-study-was-valid-and-correct/2006/10/20/1160851135985.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

[5] Luke Baker, “Iraq conflict has killed a million Iraqis: survey,” Reuters, 30 January 2008:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/30/us-iraq-deaths-survey-idUSL3048857920080130

[6] Thomas A. Bass, “Counterinsurgency and Torture,” American Quarterly (Vol. 60, No. 2, June 2008), page 233.

[7] Nick Cullather, “‘The Target is the People’: Representations of the Village in Modernization and U.S. National Security Doctrine,” Cultural Politics (Vol. 2, No. 1, 2006), page 41.

[8] Barack Obama, “Transcript: President Obama’s Address To The Nation On Syria,” NPR, 10 September 2013:

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/221186456/transcript-president-obamas-address-to-the-nation-on-syria

[9] Patrick Cockburn, “Iraq: Violence is down – but not because of America’s ‘surge’,” The Independent, 14 September 2008:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-violence-is-down-ndash-but-not-because-of-americas-surge-929896.html

[10] Maggie Fox, “Satellite images show ethnic cleanout in Iraq,” Reuters, 19 September 2008:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/09/19/us-iraq-lights-idUSN1953066020080919

[11] Wesley Clark, “Bush’s ‘surge’ will backfire,” The Independent, 7 January 2007:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/wesley-clark-bushs-surge-will-backfire-431053.html

[12] Max Fisher, “The Iraq success story that propelled David Petraeus to the top,” The Washington Post, 9 November 2012:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/11/09/the-iraq-success-story-that-propelled-david-petraeus-to-the-top/

[13] Ann Scott Tyson, Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Fired. The Washington Post: May 12, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/11/AR2009051101864.html

[14] George Packer, The Last Mission. The New Yorker: September 28, 2009: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_packer

[15] Andrew Gray, US Afghan surge could push militants into Pakistan. Reuters: May 21, 2009: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N21412211.htm

[16] AP, Afghanistan surge tied to Pakistan stability. MSNBC: May 21, 2009: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30871807/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/

[17] George Packer, The Last Mission. The New Yorker: September 28, 2009: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_packer

[18] Andrew Buncombe, In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical. The Independent: May 31, 2009: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/in-pakistan-an-exodus-that-is-beyond-biblical-1693513.html

[19] YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Refugee Crisis Inflames Ethnic Strife in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal: May 30, 2009: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124363974401367773.html

[20] Nita Bhalla, Some Pakistan war displaced must winter in camps: U.N. Reuters: August 20, 2009: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE57J2N020090820

[21] Ann Scott Tyson, Support Troops Swelling U.S. Force in Afghanistan. The Washington Post: October 13, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/12/AR2009101203142.html?hpid=topnews

[22] US surge in Afghanistan ‘may destablize Pakistan’. Press TV: November 30, 2009: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=112484&sectionid=351020401

[23] Scott Wilson, Obama: U.S. security is still at stake. The Washington Post: December 2, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120101231.html

[24] US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: ‘Reviewing our Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy’,” The Guardian, 30 November 2010:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/226531

[25] Ibid.

[26] Fred Branfman, “WikiLeaks Revelation: How US Policy in Pakistan Heightens the Risk of Nuclear Attack,” AlterNet, 16 January 2011:

http://www.alternet.org/story/149547/wikileaks_revelation%3A_how_us_policy_in_pakistan_heightens_the_risk_of_nuclear_attack?paging=off

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Julius Cavendish, “How the CIA ran a secret army of 3,000 assassins,” The Independent, 23 September 2010:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-the-cia-ran-a-secret-army-of-3000-assassins-2087039.html

[30] Laura King, “U.N.: 2010 deadliest year for Afghan civilians,” Los Angeles Times, 10 March 2011:

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/10/world/la-fg-afghan-civilian-deaths-20110310

[31] Damien Pearse, “Afghan civilian death toll reaches record high,” The Guardian, 4 February 2012:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/04/afghan-civilian-death-toll-record

[32] Scott Wilson and David Nakamura, “Obama announces reduced U.S. role in Afghanistan starting this spring,” The Washington Post, 11 January 2013:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/karzai-meets-obama-to-discuss-us-drawdown-in-afghanistan/2013/01/11/b50c72ec-5c03-11e2-9fa9-5fbdc9530eb9_story.html?hpid=z1

[33] Michael R. Gordon, “Time Slipping, U.S. Ponders Afghan Role After 2014,” The New York Times, 25 November 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/world/asia/us-planning-a-force-to-stay-in-afghanistan.html?pagewanted=all

[34] Nathan Hodge, “Blast Mars Day of Security Handover in Kabul,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 June 2013:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323566804578552593026745674.html

[35] Barack Obama, “Transcript: President Obama’s Address To The Nation On Syria,” NPR, 10 September 2013:

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/221186456/transcript-president-obamas-address-to-the-nation-on-syria

[36] G.M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary (New York: Signet, 1961), pages 255-256.

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First Book To Be Done by the End of Summer!

In the past couple months I have been writing almost exclusively on the student movement in Quebec, as well as various other student/social movements around the world. As a result, my work on The People’s Book Project has been postponed, apart from continued research. In the past week, I decided to take a break from everything and re-work my plans for the Book Project and other initiatives.

For those who have been following the evolution of the Book Project since it began in October of 2011, the notion of me “reorganizing” the Project is not new; in fact, it has happened a few times. However, progress on the Project has been continuous, and I have written over 800 pages unedited. It remains disjointed and is a ways away from being a completed project, but that brings me to my current decision. Previously, I had planned to write the whole manuscript through and subsequently break it up into several smaller books, this would still take too long. The support from readers has been consistently wonderful and VERY important: I would not be where I am without you, so thank you. But I find it difficult to ask for (and to receive) additional support when I am in fact not producing a final product for a while. The support is faith-based in the expectation of a final product somewhere down the line. This is a great deal to ask of readers and supporters. This is also frustrating for me personally, as I am in need of actually producing something concrete, and better yet, something which can in turn begin to produce some extra funding for me (as small as the amount is likely to be, at least it’s something!).

So, the NEW and IMPROVED People’s Book Project:

– the focus of the Project is still on producing a series of books on a radical history and analysis of power in our world, understanding the nature of our society, how we got here, where we’re going, and what we can do to change it: a study of the evolution of power and resistance in the modern world

– I will be writing one book at a time, each will be divided according to broad subjects (political economy, imperialism and terror, social engineering and education, race and poverty, psychology and psychiatry, the scientific-technological society, and the world revolution)

– I am starting with a book that will serve as a preface/introduction to the entire Project: a look at where our global society is and how it is changing: the origin, evolution, and effects of the global economic crisis; the advanced stage of global imperialism and war; the moves toward global governance and domination; and the age of anti-austerity rebellions (as well as the efforts to co-opt, control, or destroy them), from the Arab Spring, to the Indignados and Europe, to the Occupy Movement, and to student movements in Chile and Quebec.

The Preface to the People’s Book Project will be a significant book on its own, and gives a glimpse of the state of the world at present, and the prospects for global oppression and global revolution. It hits at key issues that are affecting the lives of everyone in the world today, and thus, I think it is a timely and necessary introduction to the Book Project at large, which will be a far more comprehensive and detailed historical analysis of how we got to this current point in history, and where it is ultimately leading. My aim is to have this first book – the Preface – finished by the end of the summer (the end of August/early September).

I have already started work on the chapter covering the economic crisis, and after five days of work thus far, I am 50 pages (single-spaced) into this examination of the crisis, focusing on Europe at the moment. It’s very detailed, but an important look at power in this crisis, how it has and is being abused, for whom and with what intent, and how it effects the majority of people who have no access to or influence over that power (i.e., everyone but the elite). I have already written a good deal on several of the other subjects I will be writing about in this project, specifically in relation to the Quebec student movement, and thus, I am hoping that this book moves forward quickly and efficiently. I am incredibly motivated, and am working at a faster pace than I am certainly used to.

Also, I am planning to post a rather large chunk of the current chapter I am writing, so that you – the readers and supporters – may see what my current work is looking like. The excerpt I will provide is a look at the debt crisis and its effects in Italy, and all I can say from my research is that it’s quite the story!

I think that this method of approaching the Project is better for myself and my readers and supporters. After eight months of the People’s Book Project, I think it’s time to start producing finished products. By the time the entire Project is finished, it will no doubt be quite some time from now. But if I am able to do it piecemeal, book by book, subject by subject, and finish it off with an amalgamated, compressed, and comprehensive summary of all the works before it, this would make it a more useful enterprise for both myself and my supporters.

So that is why I have set the goal of having the first book written by the end of the Summer. For that, I again need to ask for your support. I am setting a goal of raising $2,500 to get me through the Summer while I dedicate my time to finishing this first volume. Of course, edits and publishing will follow, and that takes time, but it is time that I produce something I can call my own, and which my readers and supporters can see as the fruitful product of their support. No more hesitation, no more indecision, no more procrastination: it’s time to PRODUCE a final product! Help me make that a reality!

I will make more details about the reorganization of the Project as I decide upon it. The other volumes I have in mind have yet to be finalized as ideas, and remain just that: ideas. But the first volume, the Preface/Introduction – the age of crisis, austerity, global governance and global revolution – is already being written, and written quickly. It’s radical, it’s critical, it’s full of facts: it will make you angry, informed, and I hope, inspired. I know it’s certainly having that effect upon me.

Thank you so much for all your kind support!

Sincerely,

Andrew Gavin Marshall

Please donate to The People’s Book Project:

The Predatory Global Empire in Panama: Punishing the Poor

The Predatory Global Empire in Panama: Punishing the Poor

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Please support more research and writing like the following article by contributing donations. This would not be possible without your support, so thank you to all who contribute!

Establishing a New War Doctrine

The war on Panama presents an interesting case to study. Taking place in 1989, it was the first war and intervention (whether covert or overt) which was not justified on the basis of a ‘Communist threat’. As such, it has been deemed as the first post-Cold War war. However, the justifications for the intervention, which was incredibly violent and destructive, especially upon the poor majority of Panama, were confused and inconsistent. Like all wars, conflicts, and interventions, it was made necessary through imperial logic: a once-client regime and puppet leader became too autonomous from the United States, its leader (and his nefarious connections with the American elite) became a liability and an embarrassment, and the tiny country of Panama threatened American strategic interests in the region, notably with the Panama Canal and the American military bases present to protect it. More importantly, perhaps, Panama was experiencing the development and growth of a populist-nationalist movement, particularly among its poor black and brown population, who had been previously ruled by a tiny white elite of European descent. In the imperial paradigm, the greatest threat to empire is the political, social, and economic mobilization of the people over whom the empire dominates.

Of course, it is a challenge to publicly justify a foreign intervention and war on the premises of a small nation and its people threatening the strategic imperial interests of America; after all, in the eyes and minds of most Americans, America is not an empire, but a bright shining beacon of freedom and bastion of democracy to lead the ‘free world.’ Thus, to sell a war requires the maintenance of more lies to fit in with the prevailing mythology. Yet, in the strategic vacuum created by the ending of the Cold War, and thus the disappearance of ‘Communism’ as the prevailing global boogeyman to serve as an excuse for any and all atrocities committed by America and the West, Panama was subjected to a far less eloquently articulated and designed justification. The threat of Communism was briefly attempted, and then the strategy quickly switched into the realm of the U.S. ‘War on Drugs,’ with many other failed attempts at justification thrown in for fair measure.

While the war was ultimately successful at removing the imperial ‘threat’, the politics surrounding the event were so disjointed that the war fails to stand up to any half-decent examination of the conflict as legitimate, and is, in fact, slightly embarrassing. There is a reason why it is a largely ‘forgotten’ war in terms of the collective memory of the American people having overlooked that ‘incident’ in recent history. People tend to remember only the wars they are reminded about and told to remember. This one, however, is worth remembering, not least because of the great loss of life it incurred on an incredibly poor and innocent people.

The Jimmy Carter administration, in 1978, signed an agreement with Panama allowing the country to regain control of the Panama Canal by 2000. The canal no longer had the same strategic importance it once held for the United States, as it did in the early 20th century. Long considered by American strategists to be “America’s back yard,” Latin America has been subjected to overt and covert U.S. interventions, coups, and wars more frequently than any other region of the world. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was written, which “asserted the pre-eminent and unilateral claim of the United States to hegemony in the Western hemisphere.” This document projected “near-absolute strategic control” over Latin America, thus justifying literally dozens of interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean. With the Cold War, the ‘doctrine’ was that of anti-Communism. With the end of the Cold War, “foreign policy managers [were] bereft of a national security doctrine and severely constrained by the greater volatility and suspicion of North American public opinion in foreign policy matters, and congressional and public fear of future Vietnam-style interventions.”[1]

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt “forcibly separated Panama from Colombia by sending in the U.S. Navy and Marines.” In 1904, he announced an updated version of the Monroe Doctrine with “a U.S. right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of neighboring republics” in order to “prevent chronic wrongdoing.” Thus, in 1912, U.S. Marines entered Nicaragua’s civil war on the side of wealthy land owners; in 1914 the Navy bombarded and briefly occupied Veracruz, Mexico; in 1915, U.S. Marines occupied Haiti, establishing a military government and remaining there for over a decade; that same year U.S. Marines also occupied the Dominican Republic, also remaining there for over a decade. In 1926, the U.S. invaded Nicaragua again, destroying the agrarian rebel movement threatening domestic and international elite interests. Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. intervened in Panama, Honduras, and Cuba.[2]

The Reagan and Bush administrations (1981-1993) dramatically increased U.S. militarism and interventions around the world, such as in Lebanon, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Honduras, the covert war against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra conspiracy, the invasion of Grenada, invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, and the 1992 intervention in Somalia. As Waltraud Queiser Morales wrote, “the Panamanian case can be seen as an important transition from ‘Monroe militarism’ and Reagan’s ‘containment militarism’ to Bush’s ‘New World Order militarism’.” This was characterized less by anti-Communist rhetoric, which was only partially (at least initially) used in the justification for the Panama invasion, but largely “projected ahead to an era of future global lawlessness in the ‘strategic slums’ of the Third World, where the US faced the chronic danger of ‘prolonged security operations’.”[3]

National Security Doctrines (NSDs) are important for American administrations to establish and articulate, as they deflect dissent and justify state actions with an aura of credibility and most notably by employing the notion that the end justifies the means. The Reagan doctrine for Latin America employed such a technique: “The national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America. If we cannot defend ourselves there, we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere. Our credibility would collapse, our alliances would crumble, and the safety of our homeland would be put at jeopardy.”[4]

The Reagan doctrine was largely realized through its support of anti-Soviet and virulent anti-Communist “freedom fighters” in the Third World, as well as “friendly anti-Communist authoritarians.” This strategy defined the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the largest covert operation in history, but had the Reagan administration particularly preoccupied with Central America; most notably, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The new strategic doctrine defined low intensity conflict (LIC) as a principle means for implementing this vision. LIC was defined by the Pentagon in 1985 as, “a limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives,” often using methods of insurgency and terrorism. The war, however, is waged in three key areas: the field, within the administration in Washington, and in the media. During the Reagan years, the “War on Drugs” emerged as a potentially powerful new National Security Doctrine (NSD).[5]

Between 1986 and 1988, U.S. policy-makers employed a conscious rhetorical effort to associate the flourishing global drug trade with leftist guerillas in the Third World. The acceleration of employing the “war on drugs” in defining National Security interests increased as U.S. (largely covert) efforts experienced setbacks in Central America. Thus, Presidential directives were signed which increased efforts on the part of intelligence and military personnel against drug operations. Thus, still employing the method of a Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), “militarized drug operations provided a laboratory to project US power, train local militaries in the new strategic doctrine, transfer military hardware and gather intelligence.” The drug war could thus be used “to generate public support behind a resurgent, interventionist US foreign policy in Latin America.”[6]

Of course, missing from this discourse is the very-well documented facts revolving around how the United States has covertly – directly following World War II – supported the drug trade around the world, largely through efforts of the CIA. This was especially the case in Southeast Asia during the Indochina War, where heroin was the principle prize for these covert efforts; Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war (and in the present occupation of Afghanistan), which then came to replace Southeast Asia as the main producer of heroin in the world, and of course, South and Central America (particularly during the Reagan years onward) in terms of the cocaine trade. The role of the CIA and other covert elements has been extensively documented by professors Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott in various books and publications, most notably, The Politics of Heroin (McCoy) and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (Scott).

The Destabilization of Panama

General Omar Torrijos, Panama’s military strongman, “was a populist reformist” who had negotiated the Panama Canal Treaties with the United States in the late 1970s. While the Canal held less strategic significance for the United States than in previous times, the 14 military bases present in Panama remained incredibly significant in strategic circles, particularly with the Pentagon’s Southern Command headquarters based in Panama, “which was the site for U.S. military and covert operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.” In 1981, Torrijos died mysteriously when his plane blew up in midair, and he was subsequently replaced by the head of Panama’s military intelligence, General Manuel Noriega. Noriega had long been supported by the United States, going back to when George H.W. Bush was Director of the CIA in the Ford administration, at which time the CIA paid Noriega $200,000 a year.[7]

Following the death of Torrijos, “US relations became cosy with his successor and head of the Panamanian Defence Forces, General Manuel Antonio Noreiga, who had associations with the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Southern Command (Southcom), housing over 14,000 US troops in Panama at 14 US military bases worth some $5 billion.” Noriega was a longtime participant in the drug trade, particularly with the Colombian drug cartel, which was all well-known to the U.S. Embassy, Southcom, and the CIA. Yet, in 1987, letters from the DEA and the US Justice Department referred to Noriega’s cooperation with those agencies in the drug war as “superb.” It was ‘superb’ in the true sense of intent and methods, whereby the U.S. was an active organizational participant in the drug trade. Noreiga and many others in the Panamanian military “facilitated drug smuggling and laundered millions in drug money with the complicity of the DEA, Southcom and the CIA.” When cash reserves were high in Panama in 1986, “deposits of $1.3 billion in laundered drug monies were easily transferred from Panama’s central bank to the Federal Reserve Bank in Miami.” Further, large sums of drug money were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras (death squad terrorists) fighting a war against the Sandanistas on behalf of the CIA. The operation of support for the Contras in their brutal war in Nicaragua were exposed in Congressional hearings and investigations known as the ‘Iran-Contra Affair,’ which was made public in the late 1980s. The scandal, by no means exclusive to the case of Nicaragua, involved the CIA and Pentagon covertly funding, training, and arming the Contras with money earned from illegal arms sales to Iran as well as money from the drug trade. The investigations revealed a complex network of relationships and actors, centered in the National Security Council (NSC), and directly involving CIA Director William Casey, Lt. Col. Oliver North, and then Vice President George H.W. Bush.[8]

Yet, despite Noriega’s “cosy” relationship with these agencies and individuals in the United States, “there were limits to [his] willingness to serve Washington.” As political scientist Michael Parenti explained:

He reasserted Panama’s independence over the control of the Canal Zone and the leases for U.S. military bases. He reportedly refused to join an invasion against Nicaragua and maintained friendly relations with both Managua and Havana. Before long, hostile reports about him began appearing in the U.S. media. In 1987, the Justice Department indicted Noriega for drug smuggling. A crippling economic embargo was imposed on Panama, a country of two million people, causing a doubling of unemployment and a drastic cutback in social benefits.[9]

The initial aim, then, of US intervention in Panama, “was to destabilize Noriega and install in his place a more pliant right-wing commander, but US military leaders feared an even greater threat in the nationalistic Panamanian Defence Forces [PDF].” Further, with the exposure of the Iran-Contra Scandal, “Noriega became a potential domestic political embarrassment and threat to higher-ups in the government, including Bush himself.”[10] Subsequently, “a media blitz demonized the Panamanian leader as a drug dealer, thus preparing the U.S. public for the ensuing invasion.”[11] Thus, “in the end, the drug war served as the public excuse for invasion. But it was not the real reason.”[12]

As Waltraud Queiser Morales wrote, just as was done elsewhere (such as Chile, Grenada, and Nicaragua), the United States promoted the destabilization of Panama, as “economic sanctions, pro-democracy and electoral manipulation, and confrontational military exercises worked to intimidate and provoke incidents that could provide pretexts for intervention.” The pro-democracy and electoral strategy employed by the United States (part of America’s “democratization” project), involved the “Bush administration, the CIA, and the National Endowment for Democracy [which] funneled more than $10 million to opposition candidates – Guillermo Endara, Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon – in the 1989 Panamanian national elections.” With Endara having won, amidst claims of vote fraud by the Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF), and with Noriega subsequently annulling the elections and staying in power, riots and protests erupted. Images of US-supported politicians being beaten and attacked by the PDF and Noriega’s supporters erupted in the American media, which ultimately “damaged Noriega’s regime and enhanced the opposition’s image in Panama and the United States.” Noriega, however, annulled the elections on the basis of “foreign interference,” which, as a direct result of millions of US dollars funding opposition candidates, is an accurate claim of “interference.”[13] Imagine the notion of a foreign power throwing tens of millions of dollars at domestic American politicians in a national election. The idea alone is reprehensible, not to mention illegal. But this is how America “promotes democracy” around the world: through buying the politicians.

The Reagan and Bush administrations had hoped to encourage a coup by the Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF). The Reagan administration began to encourage this option in 1988, as Ronald Reagan continuously refused to employ the option of a direct military intervention. However, additional US forces were sent to their bases in Panama as an indication to Noriega of the increasingly threatening posture of the United States. On March 16, 1988, the Panamanian Chief of Police, Colonel Leonidas Macias, attempted to orchestrate a coup against Noriega, which ultimately failed.[14] The Reagan administration was split internally on the potential to use the military option. The State Department supported the option, while the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had opposed military intervention. Elliot Abrams, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, in March of 1988, suggested using limited force, “a commando raid to capture Noriega and to bring him to trial in the United States, accompanied by 6,000 American soldiers to defend… against any PDF retaliations,” yet the Pentagon remained opposed to the option.[15]

In anticipation that Reagan would eventually adopt Abrams’ suggestion, the Pentagon launched a public counter-attack to discredit Abrams and his suggestions, which included leaking many of his ‘suggestions’ to the press. The Reagan administration attempted to negotiate a deal with Noriega, offering to drop the drug-related charges against him which were brought forward in US courts in 1988. Vice President Bush, however, firmly opposed negotiations with Noriega, as he was campaigning for the presidency, Bush did not want to appear soft on Noriega, as he had suffered the public image of a ‘wimp.’[16] Bush’s victory in the Presidential elections in 1988 allowed for the development of a new strategy for Panama, and with a change in administration personnel, the administration could become more unified in their position.[17]

On October 1, 1989, the United States was informed about a future coup attempt by a member of Noriega’s inner circle, Moises Giroldi, and asked for U.S. assistance in blocking roads to protect the family of the coup plotter. The United States Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, agreed to help, and when the coup took place two days later, on October 3, the U.S. blocked the requested roads. However, Noriega outmaneuvered the coup plotters, getting help from a special military unit, and the U.S. refused to intervene to ensure the success of the coup. Thus, the plotter was killed, and Noriega began to purge the PDF of dissenting elements. The failure of the U.S. to ensure the success of the coup led to many domestic political leaders criticizing Bush and his strategy.[18] However, this was actually part of a larger strategy. The coup was not supported because there were internal complications within the Bush administration as well as a larger overall strategy. Two top military commanders were replaced days before the coup took place. The chief of Southcom was replaced three days prior to the coup, and the next day, Colin Powell (Reagan’s National Security Adviser), became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The men that these two replaced – General Woerner and Admiral Crowe, respectively – had opposed direct military intervention in Panama, and thus preferred a coup option. Thurman and Powell, however, wanted the change of government to take place “on a U.S. timetable,” and Powell stated that he didn’t like the idea of “a half-baked coup with a half-baked coup leader.” Powell advocated, instead, not simply for replacing Noriega, but that the United States would have to employ a strategy of “destroying and replacing his entire regime.”[19]

What was needed, then, was a pretext for a full-scale invasion in order to crush the regime and destroy the PDF. As the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. Invasion of Panama revealed, “over 100 instances of U.S. military provocations in 1989 were documented by the Panamanian government. These included U.S. troops setting up roadblocks, searching Panamanian citizens, confronting PDF forces, occupying small towns for a number of hours, buzzing Panamanian air space with military aircraft, and surrounding public buildings with troops.”[20] Again, simply imagine if a foreign military in the United States, which had over a dozen major bases around the country, was engaging in such provocative actions within America. This would be construed as a direct military threat and interpreted as a foreign occupation.

In December of 1989, a Panamanian soldier was injured by U.S. troops.[21] Subsequently, on 15 December, the Panamanian National Assembly declared Panama to be in a state of war with the United States.[22] This, however, was “interpreted” in the U.S. media as a declaration of war against the United States by the tiny Central American nation of Panama. Ted Koppel of ABC “reported that Noriega had declared war in the United States.” Yet, as Noriega himself stated, America “through constant psychological and military harassment, has created a state of war in Panama.”[23] In mid-December, the United States achieved its goal of provoking Panamanian Defence Forces to act, as PDF soldiers stopped a U.S. military patrol car, holding the police officer at gunpoint, and on 16 December, “they fired at an American vehicle in a checkpoint and killed” a U.S. Marine. On 17 December, “a U.S. officer shot a PDF policeman.”[24]

On that same day, the Bush administration discussed their options in Panama. Colin Powell “advocated a large scale intervention whose goal would be to destroy the PDF and the entire Noriega regime and not just [aim to achieve] the capture of Noriega.” Powell reasoned, “that it could be difficult to find Noriega and arrest him at the beginning of the operation, but destroying the PDF would ensure Noriega’s capture.” Thus, Powell concluded, “the PDF’s destruction would be required to establish democracy in Panama.” Subsequently, “Bush agreed and approved the plan for large-scale military intervention in Panama.”[25]

On December 20, 1989, George Bush launched a midnight attack on Panama with an invasion of 26,000 US troops. The invasion took place amidst “a complete media blackout,” allowing for great atrocities to take place with no independent voices or visuals emerging from the nation. The “three-day intervention” known cynically as “Operation Just Cause” was heaped with praise in the United States, as Bush’s reputation as a ‘wimp’ was erased and his popularity shot up. As Bush declared war, the publicly pronounced reasons were “to protect American lives and bring the drug-indicted dictator to justice.”[26]

The True ‘Threat’ in Panama: The Poor

In reality, there were far greater reasons for the war, dictated not by humanitarian, legal, or moral claims; instead, the true reasons were ardently imperial in nature. There were of course the strategic considerations: more reliable client states and puppet leaders, more indirect control over the Canal and maintenance of the fourteen military bases as a launching point for counter-revolutionary operations around Central America, and to install a “democratic” regime based upon party politics as opposed to potentially problematic military leaders who may stand up to the United States. However, there was also a far greater threat, which wove through all the other reasons: Panama was in the midst of a nationalist popular movement, consisting largely of the poor black majority who had for centuries been repressed by a tiny white elite of European descent, as has been the case across all Latin America.

Before Noriega, the military dictatorship of General Omar Torrijos established itself during a period where the issues of race and class were becoming more public and vocal. Torrijos, who ruled Panama from 1968 until 1981 (when he died in a mysterious plane explosion), “sought to legitimize his military regime by seeking support from all social groups for his populist-nationalist project.” The Panamanian Black movement, which had begun in earnest some decades before, truly began to flourish during the Torrijos regime, and played a large part in creating the heated nationalistic sentiments and public demands for the Carter-Torrijos Panama Canal Treaties in the 1970s. As George Priestley and Alberto Barrow wrote:

It was within this new political environment of military led populism and nationalism that racial discrimination and racism was weakened in Panama as progressive and Black groups emerged to gain greater visibility, challenged racial stereotypes, and forged transnational bonds.[27]

The movement was helped along in no small part due to Afro-Panamanian organizations based in the United States, which were directly engaged with the Torrijos government to build support for the “nationalist struggle for the recuperation of the Panama Canal and Panamanian sovereignty.” When Torrijos was killed in the plane explosion, the CIA’s man in Panama, Noriega, back-tracked on many of Torrijos’ programs, including “interventionist” state measures in the economy which “had brokered the populist-nationalist alliance and eased social and racial tensions.” Noriega, instead, embraced the Western neoliberal policies of ‘structural adjustment,’ which antagonized the growing popular movement in Panama. As Noriega failed to become a “responsible” leader in the eyes of the United States, he faced two increasing problems: antagonizing the United States and the Panamanian Black movement simultaneously. However, there were still several remnants of the Torrijos reforms, and the populist-nationalist sentiments which had been fostered by the Torrijos military regime remained strong in the military ranks of the PDF itself. With the U.S. invasion and occupation (and the subsequent media blackout), the true intent of the war became clear to those who suffered in it:

A disproportionate number of those who were affected economically by Noriega’s structural adjustment policies, and who lost their lives because of the U.S.’s Low Intensity Conflict and invasion were from El Chorillo, Colon, and San Miguelito, [poor] communities whose residents are predominantly Black and brown.[28]

These communities, along with the PDF itself, had to be targeted in the war. While Noriega’s economic structural adjustment policies had weakened the populist movement for social justice and equality, the movement continued to struggle and the PDF remained an ideological ally in the promotion of nationalism. This is ultimately the real reason why the United States could not simply support another military coup, as it would still take place from within the ranks of an intensely nationalistic and somewhat left-leaning military, just as was the case with Noriega. This explains why the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, claimed that it was not enough to remove Noriega from power, but that the U.S. had to have a strategy of “destroying and replacing his entire regime.”[29] Destroying the regime is just what the U.S. did. As Morales wrote in Third World Quarterly:

The invasion victimized thousands of innocent Panamanians and left densely populated areas devastated. Local and international eye witnesses said civilians and residential areas were deliberately targeted. Perhaps 18,000 Panamanians were displaced and thousands remain[ed] in refugee camps in 1993. Local reports had 7000 Panamanians, primarily progressives and labour activists, arrested. Charges of summary executions and secret mass graves also emerged. The Panamanian National Human Rights Committee claimed that 4000 persons were killed in the invasion; regional human rights agencies and the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported over 2500 deaths. The US military admitted only 250; later the Pentagon released the figure of 516 Panamanians killed, over 75% civilian.[30]

The United States media, for its part, “covered Operation Just Cause like a U.S. Army recruitment film,” explained Michael Parenti. American audiences were shown “helicopters landing, planes dive-bombing, troops trotting along foreign streets, the enemy’s headquarters engulfed in flames, friendly Panamanians welcoming the invaders as liberators.” Of course, Parenti elaborated, there was no mention in the media that “the Panamanians interviewed were almost always well dressed, light skinned, and English speaking, in a country where most were poor, dark skinned, and Spanish speaking. Also left out of the picture were the many incidents of armed resistance by Panamanians.” As for the actual bombings and indeed, the virtual ‘scorched-earth’ policies of burning down El Chorillo along with several other working-class poor black neighbourhoods, the media treated “these aerial attacks on civilian populations as surgical strikes designed to break resistance in ‘Noriega strongholds’.”[31]

Following the invasion, the United States installed their favoured candidates from the previously held elections (whom the US – through the CIA and NED financed with $10 million) as Panama’s new “democratic” leaders: President Guillermo Endara, Vice President Guillermo Ford, and Attorney General Rogelio Cruz. As it turned out, unsurprisingly, “all three of these rich, white oligarchs were closely linked to companies, banks, and people heavily involved in drug operations or money-laundering.”[32] After invading, the U.S. “abolished the Panamanian Defense Forces and crushed the popular movement, creating conditions for the consolidation of a right of center party system and the growth of an economy based on neoliberal policies that have exacerbated socio-economic inequalities and increased racial/ethnic exclusion of Afro-Panamanians.”[33] As Priestly and Barrow wrote:

The U.S. invasion and the so-called transition to democracy had negative effects on popular organizing. During and immediately after the invasion, Black and brown communities were devastated; their organizations negatively affected, and their leaders killed or jailed, or otherwise persecuted. Political parties regained center stage in the electoral process and many Black and popular militants were co-opted into these organizations, reducing the organizational capabilities of some organizations and eliminating others.[34]

Only months after the invasion “did a few brief reports appear regarding mass graves of Panamanians dead buried hastily by U.S. Army bulldozers,” while the American media focused on the sideshow of the pursuit of Noriega, who ultimately turned himself in early January. No footage was shown of the poor neighbourhoods destroyed by U.S. bombing, such as El Chorillo’s “total devastation,” and no mention “of the many lives lost in what amounted to a saturation terror-bombing of a civilian neighborhood.”[35] As Michael Parenti wrote:

With the U.S. military firmly controlling Panama, conditions in that country deteriorated. Unemployment, already high because of the U.S. embargo, climbed to 35 percent as drastic layoffs were imposed on the public sector. Pension rights and other work benefits were lost. Newspapers and radio and television stations were closed by U.S. occupation authorities. Newspaper editors and reporters critical of the invasion were jailed or detained, as were all the leftist political party leaders. Union heads were arrested by the U.S. military, and some 150 local labor leaders were removed from their elected union positions. Public employees not supporting the invasion were purged. Crime rates rose dramatically, along with poverty and destitution. Thousands remained homeless. Corruption was more widespread than ever. More money-laundering and drug-trafficking occurred under the U.S.-sponsored Endara administration than under Noriega.[36]

Noriega was taken to the United States and convicted of drug smuggling in 1992. The United States conveniently ignored the drug-trafficking by Panama’s new “democratic” Endara administration, not to mention “its infringement of civil liberties and democracy.” The U.S. Congress received George Bush with a standing ovation when he declared, “One year ago the people of Panama lived in fear under the thumb of a dictator. Today democracy is restored. Panama is free.” Endara, however, “was extremely unpopular in Panama,” seen as “just another pliant US puppet.”[37] In June of 1990, the Washington Post had declared that the Endara regime, against all evidence, improved human rights and “press freedoms have been restored.”[38]

Conclusion

The struggles of the once-popular resistance and Black movement continued well into the 21st century, and up to the present day. The war on Panama represented the true nature of what was to come in the post-Cold War world, as it was the first war the United States undertook without Cold War rhetoric. Its principle aim was to destroy a popular people’s movement, remove a non-compliant dictator, and establish more control over the country and the region. Of course, among our political leaders and media in the West, this is referred to as “restoring democracy.” Thus, the threat of the Communist boogeyman faded, and the benevolent aim of ‘democracy’ resurfaced, as it initially did following World War I when Woodrow Wilson declared that the world must be made safe for democracy. For all the rhetoric of Western leaders and media, the greatest crime a leader or people can commit is to support themselves, or simply seek to do so; to provide for the poor and needy, to attempt to industrialize and develop their own country as they see fit, and to create an educated, free, healthy and stable population and society. This, above all else, is the ultimate sin in the world of “international politics.”

Logic thus dictates, then, that the greatest potential for true change and hope in this world is solidarity among all people’s movements the world over, and for a resurgence of populist movement, ideally not nationalistic in character, but simultaneously local and global: seeking local autonomy (moving around the nation-state, an easily corrupted and contemptuous institution), and seeking solidarity globally, to align itself with all such movements around the world, achieving strength in numbers, interaction of ideas, articulation of strategies, and advancement of all peoples in all places.

If a popular movement in a tiny little nation like Panama was such a threat to the massive American Empire, the largest, most militarily advanced, and most globally expansive empire in all of human history, this is actually a source of hope for all humanity. If Panama was such a threat that the United States saw fit to invade and occupy the small country, then imagine the threat which would be posed if all people, everywhere in the world, simultaneously sought a populist liberation struggle; not divided by nations and regions, but acting locally – for local autonomy from domestic elites and liberation from the empire – and interacting globally, with other such movements around the world. This is truly the greatest threat ever known to a global empire. This threat has been articulated by one of the empire’s most prominent strategists, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as the “Global Political Awakening.” Thus, it is in the interest of all peoples, everywhere, always and eternally, to seek and support all liberation struggles, to advance the “Awakening” and bring in a new concept of democracy, one which lives up to the rhetoric of our current system: “of, by, and for the people”; a democracy void of predatory elites. This is true freedom, true liberation, and no other philosophy or ideology is so capable of uniting the people of the world under one banner than that of the ‘ultimate liberation’: of, by, and for the people.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is co-editor of the book, “The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.” His website is http://www.andrewgavinmarshall.com

Notes

[1]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 77.

[2]            Charles Maechling, Jr., “Washington’s Illegal Invasion,” Foreign Policy (No. 79, Summer 1990), pages 113-114.

[3]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 78.

[4]            Waltraud Quesler Morales, “The War on Drugs: A New US National Security Doctrine?” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 11, No. 3, July 1989), page 151.

[5]            Ibid, page 152.

[6]            Ibid, pages 154-155.

[7]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 45.

[8]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 82.

[9]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), pages 45-46.

[10]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 83.

[11]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.

[12]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 83.

[13]            Ibid.

[14]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 547.

[15]            Ibid, page 548.

[16]            Ibid, page 549.

[17]            Ibid, page 551.

[18]            Ibid, pages 554-555.

[19]            Ibid, page 556.

[20]            The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. Invasion of Panama, The U.S. invasion of Panama: the truth behind operation ‘ Just Cause’ (South End Press, 1991), page 24.

[21]            Ibid.

[22]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 558.

[23]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.

[24]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 558.

[25]            Ibid, pages 558-559.

[26]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), pages 83-84.

[27]            George Priestley and Alberto Barrow, “The Black Movement in Panama: A Historical and Political Interpretation, 1994-2004,” Souls (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2008), page 231.

[28]            Ibid, pages 231-232.

[29]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 556.

[30]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 84.

[31]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.

[32]            Ibid, page 48.

[33]            George Priestley and Alberto Barrow, “The Black Movement in Panama: A Historical and Political Interpretation, 1994-2004,” Souls (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2008), page 232.

[34]            Ibid, page 234.

[35]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), pages 46-47.

[36]            Ibid, page 49.

[37]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 84.

[38]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 49.

VIDEO: US failing to adjust to new reality

War, Racism and the Empire of Poverty

War, Racism and the Empire of Poverty
When Empire Hits Home, Part 1
Global Research, March 22, 2010

At a time of such great international turmoil economically and politically, it is increasingly important to identify and understand the social dynamics of crisis. A global social crisis has long preceded the economic crisis, and has only been exacerbated by it. The great shame of human civilization is the fact that over half of it lives in abysmal poverty.

Poverty is not simply a matter of ‘bad luck’; it is a result of socio-political-economic factors that allow for very few people in the world to control so much wealth and so many resources, while so many are left with so little. The capitalist world system was built upon war, race, and empire. Malcolm X once declared, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

The global political economy is a system that enriches the very few at the expense of the vast majority. This exploitation is organized through imperialism, war, and the social construction of race. It is vitally important to address the relationship between war, poverty and race in the context of the current global economic crisis. Western nations have plundered the rest of the world for centuries, and now the great empire is hitting home. What is done abroad comes home to roost.

The Social Construction of ‘Race’

500 years ago, the world was going through massive transformations, as the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and British colonized the ‘New World’ and in time, a new system of ‘Capitalism’ and ‘nation states’ began to emerge. The world was in a great period of transition and systemic change in which it was the Europeans that emerged as the dominant world powers. The colonies in the Americas required a massive labour force, “Between 1607 and 1783, more than 350,000 ‘white’ bond-labourers arrived in the British colonies.”[1]

The Americas had both un-free blacks and whites, with blacks being a minority, yet they “exercised basic rights in law.”[2] Problems arrived in the form of elites trying to control the labour class. Slaves were made up of Indian, black and white labourers; yet, problems arose with this “mixed” population of un-free labour. The problem with Indian labourers was that they knew the land and could escape to “undiscovered” territory, and enslavement would often instigate rebellions and war:

The social costs of trying to discipline un-free native labour had proved too high. Natives would eventually be genocidally eliminated, once population settlement and military power made victory more or less certain; for the time being, however, different sources of bond labour had to be found.[3]

Between 1607 and 1682, more than 90,000 European immigrants, “three-quarters of them chattel bond-labourers, were brought to Virginia and Maryland.” Following the “establishment of the Royal African Company in 1672, a steady supply of African slaves was secured.” Problems became paramount, however, as the lower classes tended to be very rebellious, which consisted of “an amalgam of indentured servants and slaves, of poor whites and blacks, of landless freemen and debtors.” The lower classes were united in opposition to the elites oppressing them, regardless of background.[4]

Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 was of particular note, as bond-labourers, black and white, rebelled against the local elites and “demanded freedom from chattel servitude.” For the colonialists, “Such images of a joint uprising of black and white, slave and bondsman, proved traumatic. In the face of a united rebellion of the lower orders, the planter bourgeoisie understood that their entire system of colonial exploitation and privilege was at risk.”[5]

In response to this threat, the landed elite “relaxed the servitude of white labourers, intensified the bonds of black slavery, and introduced a new regime of racial oppression. In doing so, they effectively created the white race – and with it white supremacy.”[6] Thus, “the conditions of white and black servants began to diverge considerably after 1660.” Following this, legislation would separate white and black slavery, prevent “mixed” marriages, and seek to prevent the procreation of “mixed-race” children. Whereas before 1660, many black slaves were not indentured for life, this changed as colonial law increasingly “imposed lifetime bondage for black servants – and, especially significant, the curse of lifetime servitude for their offspring.”[7]

A central feature of the social construction of this racial divide was “the denial of the right to vote,” as most Anglo-American colonies previously allowed free blacks to vote, but this slowly changed throughout the colonies. The ruling class of America was essentially “inventing race.” Thus, “Freedom was increasingly identified with race, not class.”[8]

It is out of this that ideas of race and later, ‘race science’ emerged, as eugenics became the dominant ideology of western elites, trying to scientifically ‘prove’ the superiority of ‘whites’ and the ‘inferiority’ of ‘blacks’. This would carry a dual nature of justifying white domination, as well as providing both a justification for and excuse to oppress black people, and in fact, people of all ‘races’. This was especially clear as in the late 1800s and early 1900s the European empires undertook the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in which they colonized the entire continent (save Ethiopia). It was largely justified as a ‘civilizing’ mission; yet, it was fundamentally about gaining access to Africa’s vast resources.

Following World War II, global power rested predominantly in America, the leading hegemon, expanding the economic interests of North America and Western Europe around the world. War, empire, and racism have been central features of this expansion. In large part, poverty has been the result. Now, the empire hits home.

Global Labour

The world has almost 6.8 billion people, half of them female. The world economy has a labour force of 3.184 billion people; of all people employed in the world, 40% are women. While the world is equally male and female, 1.8 billion men are employed, compared to 1.2 billion women. The population of people in low paying jobs, long hours, and part-time work are predominantly women.[9]

Global Poverty and Wealth

In 1999, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that, “Although 200 million people saw their incomes fall between 1965 and 1980, more than 1 billion people experienced a drop from 1980 to 1993.” In 1996, “100 countries were worse off than 15 years [prior].” In the late 1960s, “the people in well-to-do countries were 30 times better off than those in countries where the poorest 20 percent of the world’s people live. By 1998, this gap had widened to 82 times (up from 61 times since 1996).” As of 1998, “3 billion people live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women.”[10]

Elites and academics, as well as major social movements in western nations focus on population growth as being the driver in global poverty, picking up from where the Malthusians left off; poverty becomes the problem caused by “population growth” as opposed to a problem caused by wealth and resource distribution. In 2003, a World Bank report revealed that, “A minority of the world’s population (17%) consume most of the world’s resources (80%), leaving almost 5 billion people to live on the remaining 20%. As a result, billions of people are living without the very basic necessities of life – food, water, housing and sanitation.” Further:

1.2 billion (20%) of the world population now lives on less that $1/day, another 1.8 billion (30%) lives on less than $2/day, 800 million go to bed hungry every day, and 30,000 – 60,000 die each day from hunger alone. The story is the same, when it comes to other necessities like water, housing, education etc. On the flip side, we have increasing accumulation of wealth and power, where the world’s 500 or so billionaires have assets of 1.9 trillion dollars, a sum greater than the income of the poorest 170 countries in the world.[11]

Other figures from the World Bank report include the fact that, “The world’s 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s people,” and “The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.” Incredibly, “A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people.”[12]

In regards to poverty and hunger statistics, “Over 840 million people in the world are malnourished—799 million of them are from the developing world. Sadly, more than 153 million of them are under the age of 5 (half the entire US population).” Further, “Every day, 34,000 children under five die of hunger or other hunger-related diseases. This results in 6 million deaths a year.” That amounts to a “Hunger Holocaust” that takes place every single year. As of 2003, “Of 6.2 billion living today, 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day. Nearly 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”[13]

In 2005, according to World Bank statistics, “More than one-half of the world’s people live below the internationally defined poverty line of less than U.S. $2 a day,” and “Nearly one-third of rural residents worldwide lack access to safe drinking water.”[14]

In 2006, a groundbreaking and comprehensive report released by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER) reported that, “The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth.” An incredible startling statistic was that:

[T]he richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.[15]

This is worth repeating: the top 1% owns 40% of global assets; the top 10% owns 85% of world assets; and the bottom 50% owns 1% of global assets.

The 2009 UN Millennium Development Goals report stated that in the wake of the global economic crisis and the global food crisis that preceded and continued through the economic crisis, progress towards the goals of poverty reduction are “threatened by sluggish – or even negative – economic growth, diminished resources, fewer trade opportunities for the developing countries, and possible reductions in aid flows from donor nations.”[16]

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report stated that in 2009, “an estimated 55 million to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the crisis.” Further, “the encouraging trend in the eradication of hunger since the early 1990s was reversed in 2008, largely due to higher food prices.” Hunger in developing regions has risen to 17% in 2008, and “children bear the brunt of the burden.”[17]

In April of 2009, a major global charity, Oxfam, reported that a couple trillion dollars given to bail out banks could have been enough “to end global extreme poverty for 50 years.”[18] In September of 2009, Oxfam reported that the economic crisis “is forcing 100 people-a-minute into poverty.” Oxfam stated that, “Developing countries across the globe are struggling to respond to the global recession that continues to slash incomes, destroy jobs and has helped push the total number of hungry people in the world above 1 billion.”[19]

The financial crisis has hit the ‘developing’ world much harder than the western developed nations of the world. The UN reported in March of 2009 that, “Reduced growth in 2009 will cost the 390 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty around $18 billion, or $46 per person,” and “This projected loss represents 20 per cent of the per capita income of Africa’s poor – a figure that dwarfs the losses sustained in the developed world.”[20]

While the world’s richest regions lie in North America, Europe, and Pacific Asia respectively, the vast majority of the rest of the world lives in gross poverty. This disparity is ‘colour-coded’, too; as the top, the worlds wealthy, are white, while the world’s impoverished, the vast majority of the world’s people, are people of colour. This disparity is further polarized when gender is included, as the majority of the wealthy are men, while the majority of the impoverished are women. This disparity of a global scale is carried over to a national scale in the United States.

Race and Poverty in America

In the last months of Martin Luther King’s life, he focused his attention to the struggle against poverty. Today, “Sadly, as far as the country has come regarding civil rights, more Americans live in poverty today than during King’s lifetime. Forty million people, 13% of the population, currently fall below the poverty line.” In 1967, King wrote:

In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out. There are twice as many white poor as [black] poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and [black] alike.[21]

Today, “more whites than blacks do still live in poverty, but a higher proportion of minorities fall below the poverty line, including 25% of blacks and 23% of Latinos (compared to 9% of whites). Stable jobs, good housing, comprehensive education and adequate health care are still unequal, unsuitable and, in many cases, unavailable.” King wrote, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.”[22]

In 1995, “Federal Reserve research found that the wealth of the top one percent of Americans is greater than that of the bottom 95 percent.” Further, “Wealth projections through 1997 suggest that 86 percent of stock market gains between 1989 and 1997 went to the top ten percent of households while 42 percent went to the most well-to-do one percent.”[23]

Wealth disparity is not colour-blind. As of 1998, “The modest net worth of white families [was] 8 times that of African-Americans and 12 times that of Hispanics. The median financial wealth of African-Americans (net worth less home equity) [was] $200 (one percent of the $18,000 for whites) while that of Hispanics [was] zero.” Further, “Household debt as a percentage of personal income rose from 58 percent in 1973 to an estimated 85 percent in 1997.”[24]

In 2000, a major university study revealed that the poor were more likely to be audited by the IRS than the rich.[25] In December of 2009, the Seattle Times ran an article in which they tell the story of Rachel Porcaro, a 32-year-old mother of two boys. She was summoned to the IRS back in 2008 where she was told she was being audited. When she asked why, she was told that, “You made eighteen thousand, and our data show a family of three needs at least thirty-six thousand to get by in Seattle.” Thus, “They thought she must have unreported income. That she was hiding something. Basically they were auditing her for not making enough money.”[26]

The reporter for the Seattle Times wrote that, “An estimated 60,000 people in Seattle live below the poverty line — meaning they make $11,000 or less for an individual or $22,000 for a family of four. Does the IRS red-flag them for scrutiny, simply because they’re poor?” He contacted the local IRS office with that question; they “said they couldn’t comment for privacy reasons.” What followed the initial audit was even worse:

She had a yearlong odyssey into the maw of the IRS. After being told she couldn’t survive in Seattle on so little, she was notified her returns for both 2006 and 2007 had been found “deficient.” She owed the government more than $16,000 — almost an entire year’s pay.

[. . . ] Rachel’s returns weren’t all that complicated. At issue, though, was that she and her two sons, ages 10 and 8, were all living at her parents’ house in Rainier Beach (she pays $400 a month rent). So the IRS concluded she wasn’t providing for her children and therefore couldn’t claim them as dependents.[27]

A family friend who was an accountant determined that the IRS was wrong in its interpretation of the tax law; “He sent in the necessary code citations and hoped that would be the end of it.” But the story wasn’t over; “Instead, the IRS responded by launching an audit of Rachel’s parents.” Rachel said, “We’re surviving as a tribe. It seems like we got punished for that.”[28]

Taxation is a major issue related to poverty. A major report issued in November of 2009 revealed that the state of “Alabama makes families living in poverty pay higher income taxes than any other state.” Thus, “At the lowest incomes, we have some of the highest taxes in the nation because our system is upside down.”[29]

In November of 2009, stunning statistics were revealed as a true test of poverty in America:

With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.[30]

The food stamps program is growing at the pace of 20,000 people per day, as “There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps,” and “In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children.” Further, “food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible” nationwide.[31] Thus, there is potentially 18 million more Americans eligible to use food stamps, which would make the figure soar to 54 million.

In 2008, tent cities started popping up in and around cities all across the United States, as the homeless population rapidly expanded like never before.[32] The Guardian reported in March of 2009 that, “Tent cities reminiscent of the “Hoovervilles” of the Great Depression have been springing up in cities across the United States – from Reno in Nevada to Tampa in Florida – as foreclosures and redundancies force middle-class families from their homes.”[33]

An April 2009 article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel ran a report on the middle class in the US being thrown into poverty, in which the authors wrote, “The financial crisis in the US has triggered a social crisis of historic dimensions. Soup kitchens are suddenly in great demand and tent cities are popping up in the shadow of glistening office towers.” Further:

Poverty as a mass phenomenon is back. About 50 million Americans have no health insurance, and more people are added to their ranks every day. More than [36] million people receive food stamps, and 13 million are unemployed. The homeless population is growing in tandem with a rapid rise in the rate of foreclosures, which were 45 percent higher in March 2009 than they were in the same month of the previous year.

[. . . ] The crisis in the lower third of society has turned into an existential threat for some Americans. Many soup kitchens are turning away the hungry, and even hastily constructed new facilities to house the homeless are often inadequate to satisfy the rising demand.

Many private corporations across America are withdrawing their funding for social welfare projects. Ironically, their generosity is ending just as mass poverty is returning to America.[34]

Crime was also reported to be on the rise at a dramatic rate. One criminologist explained that in the face of more Americans struggling in harsh economic times, “The American dream to them is a nightmare, and the land of opportunity is but a cruel joke.” Statistics were confirming his predictions of a rise in crisis-related crime, as April 2009 was “one of the bloodier months in American criminal history.” A professor of criminology stated, “I’ve never seen such a large number (of killings) over such a short period of time involving so many victims.”[35]

In the midst of the euphoria over a perceived economic recovery, which has yet to “trickle down” to the people, tent cities have not vanished. In late February of 2010, it was reported that, “Just an hour outside of New York City, a thriving tent city gives a home to refugees from the economic downturn.” Many people in poverty “have become so desperate that they have had to move into the woods.” One woman in this forest tent city outside of New York had been living there for two years. She said, “I just went through a divorce. And it was a bad divorce. And I ended up here, homeless in here.”[36]

Rob, a 21-year-old who was laid off when the Great ‘Recession’ began, is the youngest homeless man living in the forest tent city. He said the worst part is the shame, “The embarrassment of walking out of here, the cars see you come by and they know who you are. The shame of walking into town and having people give you dirty looks just for the way you’re forced to live.”[37]

While many more millions are being plunged into poverty, the internal disparities of race, gender, and age still persist. In November of 2009, it was reported that the jobless rate for 16-to-24-year-old black men has reached Great Depression proportions, as 34.5% of young black men were unemployed in October of 2009, “more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population.” Further:

The jobless rate for young black men and women is 30.5 percent. For young blacks — who experts say are more likely to grow up in impoverished racially isolated neighborhoods, attend subpar public schools and experience discrimination — race statistically appears to be a bigger factor in their unemployment than age, income or even education. Lower-income white teens were more likely to find work than upper-income black teens, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, and even blacks who graduate from college suffer from joblessness at twice the rate of their white peers.[38]

Another startling statistic in the report was that, “Young black women have an unemployment rate of 26.5 percent, while the rate for all 16-to-24-year-old women is 15.4 percent.” The fact that these are the statistics for young people is especially concerning, as “the consequences can be long-lasting”:

This might be the first generation that does not keep up with its parents’ standard of living. Jobless teens are more likely to be jobless twenty-somethings. Once forced onto the sidelines, they likely will not catch up financially for many years. That is the case even for young people of all ethnic groups who graduate from college.[39]

With poverty, food scarcity increases. While many Americans and people the world over have felt the effects of the recession on their daily meals, the race disparity persists in this facet as well, as “one in four African-American households struggles to put food on the table on a regular basis, compared with about one in seven households nationally.” Further, “90 percent of African American children will receive food stamp benefits by the time they turn 20.”[40]

In March of 2010, a truly staggering report was released by a major economic research group which concluded that, “Women of all races bring home less income and own fewer assets, on average, than men of the same race, but for single black women the disparities are so overwhelmingly great that even in their prime working years their median wealth amounts to only $5.” Let’s review that again:

[W]hile single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.[41]

The research organization analyzed data from the Federal Reserve’s 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances. Wealth, or net worth, in the report, is defined as:

[T]he total of one’s assets — cash in the bank, stocks, bonds and real estate; minus debts — home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans. The most recent financial data was collected before the economic downturn, so the current numbers likely are worse now than at the time of the study.[42]

The study further revealed that, “For all working-age black women 18 to 64, the financial picture is bleak. Their median household wealth is only $100. Hispanic women in that age group have a median wealth of $120.” Black women are more likely to be hit with the responsibility of working and raising children on their own:

In a 2008 study of black women and their money, the ING Foundation found that black women — who frequently manage the assets of their households — financially support friends, family and their houses of worship to a much greater degree than the general population.

They also are more likely to be employed in jobs and industries — such as service occupations — with lower pay and less access to health insurance. And when their working days are done, they rely most heavily on Social Security because they are less likely to have personal savings, retirement accounts or company pensions. Their Social Security benefits are likely to be lower, too, because of their low earnings.[43]

The poor youth of America are also disproportionately subject to racial exacerbations of their social situations. In America, “more than half of all young adult dropouts are jobless. And dropouts are at greater risk of being incarcerated and having poorer physical and mental health than those who graduate.” Again, the racial disparity emerges, as “[p]oor and minority youths are far less likely to graduate from high school than white children.”

An October 2009 report released by the National Center for Education Statistics says 59.8 percent of blacks, 62.2 percent of Hispanics, and 61.2 percent of American Indians graduated from public high school in four years with a regular diploma in the 2006-2007 school year compared to 79.8 percent for whites and 91.2 percent for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Black and Hispanic dropout rates were more than twice those of white youths.[44]

Many youths then venture into crime to survive. It is here where another racial divide rears its head in a clear example of how Justice is not blind, but sees in technicolour. The incarceration rate, that is, the prison rate of Americans is colour-coded. Black men are incarcerated “at a rate that is over 6 times higher than that for white males.” While black Americans make up 13% of the US population, they make up 40% of the US prison population. Meanwhile, whites make up 66% of the US population, yet only 34% of the prison population. Hispanics make up 15% of the U.S. population, and account for 20% of the prison population.[45]

The poor youth are subject to further insults, as new federally funded drug research revealed a startling and bleak disparity: poor children who are dependent upon Medicaid, a government health program for low-income families, “are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance.” Further, these children, the poor children, “are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts.” A research team from Rutgers and Columbia posed the question:

Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?[46]

The effects are not simply psychological, as “Antipsychotic drugs can also have severe physical side effects, causing drastic weight gain and metabolic changes resulting in lifelong physical problems.” Ultimately, what the research concluded was that, “children with diagnoses of mental or emotional problems in low-income families are more likely to be given drugs than receive family counseling or psychotherapy.”[47]

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that, “Children and youth on certain antipsychotic medications are more prone to getting diabetes and becoming fat,” and that, “the medication has significant and worrying side-effects.”[48] In America, the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to children rose five-fold between 1995 and 2002 to roughly 2.5 million.[49]

Thus, we have a situation in which the poor are treated in such a way as to dehumanize them altogether; to deprive them not simply of life’s necessities, but to then use them as guinea pigs and to punish them for their poverty. Hubert Humphrey once said, “A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members.” How shall our societies be thus judged?

War and Poverty

It is to our own detriment that we fail to see the relationship between war and poverty both on a national and global level. War is the most violent and oppressive tool used by the powerful to control people and resources. The industry of war profits very few at the expense of the majority; it does not simply impoverish the nation that is attacked, but impoverishes the nation that is attacking.

In April of 1967, one year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he delivered a speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” This speech is one of King’s lesser known, yet arguably, one of his most important. While reading the text of the speech does it no justice to the words spoken from King’s mouth in his magnanimous manner, they are worth reading all the same. Dr. King declared that, “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” His words are as significant today as the day they were spoken, and are worth quoting at some length:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. [. . . ]

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

[. . . ] I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

[. . . ] In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

… A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death… The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.[50]

After delivering such a monumental speech against war and empire, King was attacked by the national media; with Life Magazine calling the speech, “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,” and the Washington Post saying that, “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”[51]

War is inextricably linked to the impoverishment of people around the world and at home. Inherent within the system of war, racial divides and exploitation are further exacerbated.

In the midst of the economic crisis, military recruitment went up, as the newly unemployed seek job security and an education. A Pentagon official said in October of 2008 that, “We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society,” as “185,000 men and women entered active-duty military service, the highest number since 2003, according to Pentagon statistics. Another 140,000 signed up for duty in the National Guard and reserve.”[52]

In November of 2008, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported that recruitment into the military had increased by over 14% as a result of the economic crisis. Interestingly, “The north of England, where the credit crunch has hit hard, is among the areas where the MoD says recruitment is at its strongest.”[53]

In 2005, it was reported that the Pentagon had developed a database of teenagers 16-18 and all college students “to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment.” Further, according to the Washington Post, “The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.”[54]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report in 2008, which revealed that there is a dangerous trend in recruiting youth in the United States. Recruitment of youth 16 and younger is prohibited in the United States, however:

[T]he U.S. armed services regularly target children under 17 for military recruitment.  The U.S. military heavily recruits on high school campuses, targeting students for recruitment as early as possible and generally without limits on the age of students they contact.  Despite a lawsuit challenging its identification of eleventh-grade high school students for recruitment, the Department of Defense’s central recruitment database continues to collect information on 16-year-olds for recruitment purposes.[55]

Various Army programs and recruitment services target students as young as 11, which includes a video game used as a tool for Army recruitment “explicitly marketed to children as young as 13.” Further, “The U.S. military’s recruitment policies, practices, and strategies explicitly target students under 17 for recruitment activities on high school campuses.”[56]

In 2007, prior to the economic crisis, it was reported that, “nearly three quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average.” Further, “More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average.” The war casualties have disproportionately affected rural American towns, which make up the majority of military recruits. Interestingly, between “1997 to 2003, 1.5 million rural workers lost their jobs due to changes in industries like manufacturing that have traditionally employed rural workers.”[57] Now, they make up the majority of war casualties. War and poverty are inherently related in this example: the most impoverished suffer the most in war.

In 2007, it was further reported that more than 30,000 foreign troops are enlisted in the US Army, being recruited to join from foreign nations such as Mexico in return for being granted US citizenship.[58] In 2005, whites made up 80% of Army recruits, while blacks made up 15% of recruits. In 2008, whites made up 79%, while blacks made up 16.5% of Army recruits. However, an interesting statistic is that between 2007 and 2008, there was a 5% increase in the recruit of whites, while over the same period there was nearly a 96% increase in the recruitment of blacks. In 2008, 52% of recruits were under the age of 21. For the fifth year in a row, as of 2008, “youth from low- to middle-income neighborhoods are over-represented among new Army recruits.”[59]

In March of 2008, The Nation published an article entitled “The War and the Working Class,” in which it explained that the American military operated under an “economic draft,” as “Members of the armed forces come mainly and disproportionately from the working class and from small-town and rural America, where opportunities are hard to come by.”[60] This was even before the economic crisis had really started to be noticed in the United States.

In January of 2009 it was reported that, “The Army and each of the other branches of the military are meeting or exceeding their goals for signing up recruits, and attracting more qualified people.”[61] In March of 2009, it was reported that, “Fresh recruits keep pouring into the U.S. military, as concerns about serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are eclipsed by the terrible civilian job market.” All branches of the armed forces “met or exceeded their active duty recruiting goals for January, continuing a trend that began with a decline in the U.S. job market.”

The military acknowledged that weakness in the U.S. economy, which lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008 and another 598,000 in January, has made the armed services more appealing to potential recruits.[62]

It was reported in October of 2009 that due to the economic crisis, “Middle-class American youth are entering the military in significant numbers,” as the Department of Defense announced “that for the first time since the draft ended and the all-volunteer force began 36 years ago, every service branch and reserve component met or exceeded its recruiting goals, both in numbers and quality.” As the economic crisis “resulted in the largest and the swiftest increase in overall unemployment that we’ve ever experienced,” this created a boom for military recruiting.[63]

In December of 2009 it was reported that with a record number of college graduates unable to find work, recruitment soared to record levels, even in the midst of President Obama announcing the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. As one commentator put it:

The United States is broken – school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding – yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each.[64]

In January of 2010 it was reported by the military that many Marines nearing the end of their active duty are reconsidering re-enlisting due to the severe economic situation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor in November of 2009, there were 15.4 million unemployed people in the United States, with the unemployment rate hitting 10%. “Employment fell in construction, manufacturing and information industries, while jobs in temporary help services and health care increased.” Thus, the unemployment figures are somewhat deceiving, as it doesn’t take into account all the people that only rely upon part-time jobs, as “People working part-time jobs for economic reasons numbered 9.2 million. These individuals worked part-time because their hours at another job had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job.” Hence, “Marines reenlist for numerous economic reasons.”[65]

In 2007, Obama campaigned on a promise to increase defense spending, and that he wanted the American military to “stay on the offense, from Djibouti to Kandahar,” from Africa to Afghanistan. Obama proclaimed his belief that “the ability to put boots on the ground will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now face,” and he said that, “no president should ever hesitate to use force — unilaterally if necessary,” not simply to “protect ourselves,” but also to protect America’s “vital interests.”[66]

Sure enough, Obama followed through on those promises. Obama increased defense spending from the previous year. Alone, the United States spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, including seven times the amount as the next largest defense spender, China.[67]

In October of 2009, Obama signed the largest-ever bill for military spending, amounting to $680 billion. At the same time, he authorized a spending bill of $44 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. A sad irony was that, “Obama signed the record Pentagon budget less than three weeks after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.”[68]

In February of 2010, Obama asked Congress to approve a new record-setting defense budget, at $708 billion.[69] Interestingly, “the Pentagon budget increased for every year of the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented run that didn’t even happen in the World War II era, much less during Korea or Vietnam.” Further, “if the government’s current plans are carried out, there will be yearly increases in military spending for at least another decade.”[70]

As Eric Margolis wrote in February of 2010:

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

[. . . ] China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations ­— putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.[71]

Thus, the American Empire is in decline, spending itself into utter debt and is at the point of “imperial overreach.” As Eric Margolis wrote, “If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.”[72]

So, while people at home are on food stamps, welfare, living in tent cities, going to soup kitchens, getting by on debt, and losing their jobs; America sends forces abroad, conducting multiple wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expanding the war into Pakistan, funding military operations in Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, building massive new military bases in Pakistan and Colombia and providing military aid to governments around the world. As the empire expands, the people become more impoverished.

We cannot afford to ignore the relationship between war, poverty and race. The poor are made to fight the poor; both are often disproportionately people of colour. Yet war enriches the upper class, at least powerful sects of it in industry, the military, oil and banking. In a war economy, death is good for business, poverty is good for society, and power is good for politics. Western nations, particularly the United States, spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to murder innocent people in far-away impoverished nations, while the people at home suffer the disparities of poverty, class, gender and racial divides. We are told we fight to “spread freedom” and “democracy” around the world; yet, our freedoms and democracy erode and vanish at home. You cannot spread what you do not have. As George Orwell once wrote:

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.

Notes

[1]        David McNally, Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism. Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2006: page 149

[2]        Ibid, page 150

[3]        Ibid, pages 151-152

[4]        Ibid, pages 152-153

[5]        Ibid, page 153

[6]        Ibid, pages 153-154

[7]        Ibid, pages 154-155

[8]        Ibid, page 155

[9]        ILO, Women in labour markets: Measuring progress and identifying challenges. International Labour Organization, March 2010: pages 20-21

[10]      Jeff Gates, Statistics on Poverty and Inequality. Global Policy Forum: May 1999: http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/218/46377.html

[11]      Social & Economic Injustice, World Centric, 2004: http://worldcentric.org/conscious-living/social-and-economic-injustice

[12]      Ibid.

[13]      Ibid.

[14]      PRB, PRB’s 2005 World Population Data Sheet Reveals Persisting Global Inequalities in Health and Well-Being. Population Reference Bureau, 2005: http://www.prb.org/Journalists/PressReleases/2005/MoreThanHalftheWorldLivesonLessThan2aDayAugust2005.aspx

[15]      GPF, Press Release: Pioneering Study Shows Richest Own Half World Wealth. Global Policy Forum: December 5, 2006: http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/218/46555.html

[16]      UN, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009. United Nations, New York, 2009: page 4

[17]      Ibid.

[18]      G20 Summit: Bank bailout would end global poverty, says Oxfam. The Telegraph: April 1, 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/g20-summit/5087404/G20-Summit-Bank-bailout-would-end-global-poverty-says-Oxfam.html

[19]      Press Release, 100 people every minute pushed into poverty by economic crisis. Oxfam International: September 24, 2009: http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2009-09-24/100-people-every-minute-pushed-poverty-economic-crisis

[20]      Press Release, Financial crisis to deepen extreme poverty, increase child mortality rates – UN report. UN News Center: March 3, 2009: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30070

[21]      Josie Raymond, MLK’s Last Goal: Eradicating Poverty. Poverty in America: January 18, 2010: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/mlks_last_goal_eradicating_poverty

[22]      Ibid.

[23]      Jeff Gates, Statistics on Poverty and Inequality. Global Policy Forum: May 1999: http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/218/46377.html

[24]      Ibid.

[25]      David Cay Johnston, I.R.S. MORE LIKELY TO AUDIT THE POOR AND NOT THE RICH. The New York Times: April 16, 2000: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/16/business/irs-more-likely-to-audit-the-poor-and-not-the-rich.html?pagewanted=1

[26]      Danny Westneat, $10 an hour with 2 kids? IRS pounces. Seattle Times: December 6, 2009: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/dannywestneat/2010435946_danny06.html

[27]      Ibid.

[28]      Ibid.

[29]      Phillip Rawls, Study: Alabama Income Tax on Working Poor Harshest. ABC news: November 4, 2009: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=8996975

[30]      Robert Gebeloff, Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades. The New York Times: November 28, 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/us/29foodstamps.html

[31]      Ibid.

[32]      AP, In hard times, tent cities rise across the country. MSNBC: September 18, 2008: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26776283/

[33]      Oliver Burkeman, US tent cities highlight new realities as recession wears on. The Guardian: March 26, 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/26/tent-city-california-recession-economy

[34]      Gregor Peter Schmitz and Gabor Steingart, Crisis Plunges US Middle Class into Poverty. Der Spiegel: April 23, 2009: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,620754,00.html

[35]      Ibid.

[36]      RT, Unemployed New Yorkers find a new home in the woods. Russia Today: February 24, 2010: http://rt.com/Top_News/2010-02-24/homeless-woods-new-york.html

[37]      Ibid.

[38]      V. Dion Haynes, Blacks hit hard by economy’s punch. The New York Times: November 24, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/23/AR2009112304092.html?hpid=topnews

[39]      Ibid.

[40]      Greg Plotkin, A Quarter of All African Americans Are Hungry. Poverty in America: February 25, 2010: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/a_quarter_of_all_african_americans_are_hungry

[41]      Time Grant, Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: March 9, 2010: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10068/1041225-28.stm

[42]      Ibid.

[43]      Ibid.

[44]      Marian Wright Edelman, Children Drop Out and Into Lives of Poverty and Imprisonment. Poverty in America: January 22, 2010: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/children_drop_out_and_into_lives_of_poverty_and_imprisonment

[45]      Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008 – Statistical Tables, March 2009 (Revised 4/8/09): http://allotherpersons.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/factoid-black-male-incarceration-rate-is-6-times-greater-than-rate-for-white-males/

[46]      Duff Wilson, Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics. The New York Times: December 11, 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/health/12medicaid.html

[47]      Ibid.

[48]      Kelly Sinoski, Children on antipsychotic drugs more prone to diabetes: Canadian study. The Vancouver Sun: November 11, 2009: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Children+antipsychotic+drugs+more+prone+diabetes+Canadian+study/2212393/story.html

[49]      AP, Anti-psychotic drug use in kids skyrockets. MSNBC: March 16, 2006: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11861986/

[50]      Rev. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html

[51]      Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV. FAIR: January 4, 1995: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2269

[52]      David Morgan, Financial crisis could aid military recruitment. Reuters: October 10, 2008: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE4998WU20081010

[53]      Simon Johnson, Armed Forces enjoy recruitment surge thanks to the credit crunch. The Telegraph: November 30, 2008: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/3536738/Armed-forces-enjoy-recruitment-surge-thanks-to-the-credit-crunch.html

[54]      Jonathan Krim, Pentagon Creating Student Database. The Washington Post: June 23, 2005: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/22/AR2005062202305.html

[55]      ACLU, Soldiers of Misfortune. American Civil Liberties Union: May 13, 2008: page 8: http://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/crc_report_20080513.pdf

[56]      Ibid, pages 8-9.

[57]      AP, Rural America bears scars from Iraq war. MSNBC: February 20, 2007: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17231366/

[58]      Cordula Meyer, US Army Lures Foreigners with Promise of Citizenship. Der Spiegel: October 19, 2007: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,512384,00.html

[59]      NPP, Army Recruitment in FY 2008: A Look at Age, Race, Income, and Education of New Soldiers. National Priorities Project, 2008: http://www.nationalpriorities.org/militaryrecruiting2008/a_look_at_race_ethnicity_and_income_of_new_soldiers

[60]      Michael Zweig, The War and the Working Class. The Nation: March 13, 2008: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080331/zweig

[61]      AP, Bad economy makes for more military recruits. MSNBC: January 19, 2009: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28736832/

[62]      Aaron Smith, Military recruitment surges as jobs disappear. CNN Money: March 16, 2009: http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/10/news/economy/military_recruiting/index.htm

[63]      Tom Philpott, Weak Economy Draws Middle-Class Recruits. Military.com, October 22, 2009: http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,204238,00.html

[64]      Nicholas Kimbrell, US army recruitment booms as economy slumps. The National: December 4, 2009: http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091205/FOREIGN/712049812/1135

[65]      Lance Cpl. Antwain J. Graham, U.S. economy makes Marines consider re-enlistment options more seriously. Marines in Japan: January 15, 2010: http://www.okinawa.usmc.mil/Public%20Affairs%20Info/Archive%20News%20Pages/2010/100115-reenlist.html

[66]      Robert Kagan, Obama the Interventionist. The Washington Post: April 29, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/27/AR2007042702027.html

[67]      Glen Greenwald, The “defense cut” falsehood from The Washington Post and Robert Kagan. Salon: February 3, 2009: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2009/02/03/kagan

[68]      Patrick Martin, Obama signs bills for record Pentagon, Homeland Security spending. World Socialist Web Site: October 30, 2009: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/oct2009/dfns-o30.shtml

[69]      Andrea Shalal-Esa, UPDATE 1-Obama seeks record $708 bln in 2011 defense budget. Reuters: February 1, 2010: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0120383520100201?type=marketsNews

[70]      William D. Hartung, Obama and the Permanent War Budget. Foreign Policy in Focus: December 22, 2009: http://www.fpif.org/articles/obama_and_the_permanent_war_budget

[71]      Eric Margolis, Wars sending U.S. into ruin. The Toronto Sun: February 5, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/eric_margolis/2010/02/05/12758511-qmi.html

[72]      Ibid.