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Total war: resistance, humanitarian aid and the media

by James Petras Friday, Apr. 04, 2003 at 1:48 PM

2003 is a year to live dangerously: of crimes against humanity and of heroic resistance; it is a time to reject the war and to extend our solidarity with the Iraqi people in this their moment of truth.


March 30, 2003

Total war: resistance, humanitarian aid and the media

James Petras


As the U.S. war against Iraq is prolonged, as Iraqi civilian and military resistance hardens, as guerrilla and militia attacks become more audacious, and the Anglo-American military casualties mount and supply lines become more tenuous the U.S. military-civilian command escalates the war from rapid ground-based offensive promoted by Rumsfeld to the sustained air campaign developed during the 1st Gulf War as the 'Powell Doctrine'. Terror bombing of civilians have become routine - targeting large concentrations of civilians, especially in daylight, and crowded market places. Military forces are ordered to engage in "search and destroy" missions, made infamous in Vietnam, focusing on locating and destroying civilian homes, schools, hospitals and any inhabitants in areas suspected of harboring "enemy forces". In a country where it has been demonstrated that over 90% are hostile to the U.S. invasion, the "search and destroy" policy makes explicit the genocidal nature of the war. The consequences of Anglo-US bombing of civilian targets from above, means more Iraqi car bombs from below. The U.S.'s total war against the determined resistance of the entire Iraqi people has turned this into an international "people's war" against imperial conquest.

The most striking expression is the massive revival of Pan-Arab solidarity throughout the entire Arab world - and of course beyond. Not since the days of Egyptian leader Abdul Nassar, has there been so many millions of Arab citizens in the street expressing solidarity and taking inspiration from the heroic Iraqi popular resistance. The Pan Arab upsurge has led to a profound movement toward democratizing Arab nations: independent television stations have sprung up throughout the region, semi-official newspapers in Egypt and elsewhere have broken with their regimes and denounced U.S. aggression and Arab collaborator regimes. Bush's imperial plan of colonizing the Middle East has boomeranged: the independent, growing and powerful Pan Arab movement threatens to provide the foundations for a vibrant civil society, active anti-imperialist citizens capable of overthrowing their corrupt pro-U.S. rulers and evicting the U.S. military bases.

As the Pan Arab movement spreads and deepens, Washington's Arab client regimes and covert allies begin to divide Syria permits the flow of food and light arms to Iraq. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States who are threatened by mass protests and active hostility by their entire populations, repress and retreat. Thousands of Arab volunteers, Iraqi exiles and emigrants and non-Iraqis form international brigades and cross the borders to join the Iraqi resistance.

In the West, as the mass movements escalate their opposition into large scale, daily confrontations and civil disobedience, splits occur within the governing elites. In England, former Labor Foreign Minister, Robin Cook resigns; in Spain, Aznar's long-time political mentor breaks with the regime along with scores of local officials. In the U.S. the solid support of the war by Jewish religious leaders and organizations is cracking as anti-war Jews contest the positions of the principle fundraisers and the influential rightwing Jews in the Bush regime.

On March 27, Euro-American business leaders meeting in Brussels denounced U.S. unilateralism and severely interrogated Alan Larson, a senior economic adviser to Colon Powell at the European Policy Center. The European business leaders were particularly incensed that the post-war billion dollar reconstruction contracts were given to U.S. firms and the Europeans were excluded. Even U.S. business elites complained that only firms allied to the Cheney and Rumsfeld clique were selected.

While the Western business elites squabble over the spoils of war, the European regimes which opposed the U.S. unilateral war have partially returned to their subservient position. On the 27th of March, France, Germany and Belgium joined 22 other countries to defeat a motion to convoke a special session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, to examine the human rights and humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people under savage attack from the U.S. In the General Assembly and the Security Council, no concrete resolutions were forthcoming to condemn U.S. imperialist slaughter on Iraqi civilians, despite eighty speakers on the first day of the session. While billions of people outside the UN condemns the war, the UN is silent. This demonstrates that the anti-war struggle is essentially an extra- parliamentary battle.

The right-turn by the French regime is most evident in the politics of "humanitarian aid". On March 27, Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, called for a rapid restoration of the United Nation's "oil for food program" to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. He argued that the US could administer occupied Iraq "under the umbrella of the UN to confer legitimacy". He stated that the UN should approve, even if it did not run, humanitarian operations in postwar Iraq. Clearly the European regimes accept the US conquest of Iraq, but hope to secure a part of the oil wealth after voicing their opposition.

On the surface, the issue of humanitarian aid seems simple - supplying food, water and shelter to 23 million Iraqis whose lives and livelihood have been destroyed by the US war. But the politics of humanitarian aid go much deeper and raise several fundamental questions. Will humanitarian aid be an instrument of war and conquest or disinterested support for victims of a criminal war? Is humanitarian aid really aid? Who will deliver and what is the destination of humanitarian aid and under what conditions?

First this is not really "aid": the source of "aid" is the income derived from the exploitation and sale of Iraqi oil that has been confiscated by the UN-USA. It is hardly a "humanitarian" act to return a portion of the wealth stolen from a victimized country. Humanitarian aid during and after the war is only destined for US occupied territories and is offered to Iraqi-controlled cities and villages on condition that they surrender. That is not aid but blackmail. Under current circumstances humanitarian aid is part of the US siege strategy: to starve and bomb the civilian population. Military encirclement and the bombing of markets and waterworks provokes hunger, thirst and slow death for millions. Humanitarian aid then is offered to break the resistance of the most vulnerable and weakened sectors of the population. In the post-war period, humanitarian aid will be used to legitimate what Villepin calls "transatlantic solidarity", and US colonial rule.

A real humanitarian aid policy would include contributions from the UN in addition to the oil for food policy; a cease fire to allow shipments of humanitarian aid to all civilian population, especially those in Iraqi held cities and villages. Humanitarian aid should be delivered to the Iraqi officials, Red Crescent and civil society groups for distribution and there should be no "labeling" of aid for propaganda purposes. Bush approved the UN humanitarian aid initiative but the UN has not spoken to any real humanitarian aid policy which deals with victims in the cities controlled by the Iraqi resistance.

One of the major reasons why issues like humanitarian aid is misunderstood is the role of the Anglo-American controlled mass media (AAMM) and their counterparts in Europe, Japan and Latin America. The key to understanding the war propaganda role of the AAMM is to examine what Washington calls "embedded reporters" - journalists integrated with the Anglo-American forces attacking Iraqi cities and under military command censorship. Freelance and independent journalists are excluded from accompanying the invasion forces. The result is the exclusion of reports on US massacres and of photos of mutilated and dead civilians in the streets and hospitals of Baghdad and Basra. . What is published is Anglo-American propaganda, non-existent captured cities, non-existent popular uprisings in Basra and Iraqi children receiving caramels from the hands of US soldiers. The Daily Mirror of London was the only Anglo-American daily to publish a photo of two headless Iraqi soldiers beside a tattered white flag of surrender while 'allied' soldiers stare down on their victims. The US military celebrate the success of "embedded news reporters" reinforcing the belief of their pro-war supporters in the US and Britain, whose "direct reports from the war zone" serve as propaganda to convince the doubters of the "authenticity" of the war…as experienced through the eyes and mouths of the conquering generals and combat officials. The media amplify and disseminate the Bush/Blair propaganda about abuse of prisoners who are interviewed in Iraqi television - forgetting the thousands of captured Afghan and Arab prisoners who were suffocated and murdered in metal shipping containers after their surrender to the US-Northern Alliance or the hundreds of manacled, blindfolded and caged prisoners in Guantanamo. The embedded reporters parrot US propaganda about abused prisoners, but fail to report on the latest "search and destroy" orders which target all Iraqi civilians and "take no prisoners". The notion of "embedded" reporters" - that is the formal incorporation of the journalists as part and parcel of the military propaganda machine - represents a general assault on the freedom of the press in Anglo-American society.

The imperialist war has met mass resistance in Iraq, the political and economic costs of the war has increased domestic opposition. President Bush declares the war will continue indefinitely. The US warlords admit there is no quick end. The regimes in Spain and Britain are terribly isolated domestically. Some pro-war media are going into opposition - El Pais in Spain, The Daily Mirror in Britain, and for the first time even the NY Times has published some critical articles. But the war is demonstrating the profound growth of authoritarianism in the regimes supporting the US. They ignore the vast majority of their citizens opposing the war; Bush confines his public meeting to military bases. The Euro-American allies meet in a remote island in the Atlantic - fearful of mass public rejection. Decisions are taken by inner cliques of confidants - parliaments, congresses, civil society are all excluded. Civilian space is militarized.

As the Iraqi resistance continues, as the military ground campaign is stalled, as domestic opposition grows and Pan-Arabism becomes a reality, the out-of-control extremists in the White House look to the Final Solution - they consult with Israeli military experts about a "Jenin solution" - mass destruction with bulldozers, helicopter gunships, carpet bombing of the entire civilian population of Baghdad. But the Iraqi resistance is stronger and better armed than the Palestinians - and their resistance has the support of tens of millions of demonstrators in Europe and North America, the "Arab Street" has begun to move. Which will come first - the capture of Baghdad, the popular overthrow of client regimes, the collapse of Western democracy? Will new wars result or new revolutionary movements?

We shall struggle against the former and act to bring about the latter.

2003 is a year to live dangerously: of crimes against humanity and of heroic resistance; it is a time to reject the war and to extend our solidarity with the Iraqi people in this their moment of truth.

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