and other tales of the onward march of
“freedom and democracy”
President Bush’s visit to Europe has gone a long way to heal the breach in relations between the US and Europe, which began over Iraq. So we are told.
But that begs the question: what breach? In reality, the breach, such as it was, ended on 22 May 2003, within weeks of the invasion, when France and Germany (and Russia and China) joined together on the Security Council to pass resolution 1483, which gave the Council’s blessing to the US/UK occupation of Iraq for the indefinite future. At that point the rift was effectively healed.
It is true that, prior to the invasion, France and Germany refused to support US/UK attempts to get the Security Council to authorise their military action against Iraq. But when the invasion took place they made no attempt to get the Council to condemn the US/UK aggression. True, it wouldn’t have got through the Council, because the US/UK would have used their vetoes, if necessary, but France and Germany didn’t even try.
A few weeks later, they supported resolution 1483, which authorised the US/UK to govern Iraq for the indefinite future and to sell its oil, and spend the proceeds. The latter was important, because without it the US/UK as occupying powers would have been in an uncertain legal position in selling Iraqi oil – occupying powers are not supposed to steal the resources of the state they occupy. The resolution was sold as a generous act which, after more than 12 years, ended economic sanctions: it did; it had to in order that the US/UK could sell Iraqi oil, and spend the proceeds.
France and Germany supported the US/UK occupation in May 2003, and in October 2003 they agreed that the occupying forces should be authorised by the Security Council to use force to put down resistance to the occupation. This authority was given in Security Council resolution 1511, paragraph 13 of which says:
“[The Security Council] … authorizes a multinational force under unified command [aka the occupying forces under US command] to take all necessary measures [ie use force] to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq”
This licence to kill was renewed, with French and German support, in resolution 1546 passed in June 2004. Fallujah was flattened with the blessing of the Security Council.
France and Germany have backed the US/UK occupation of Iraq, and the use of force to suppress resistance to it. True, they still refuse to put their money where their mouth is by sending French and German troops to do the job.
The gulf between France and Germany, and the US, on Iraq has been greatly exaggerated.
Freedom and democracy
Now, France and Germany have joined with other European states in the chorus of approval for President Bush’s project to bring “freedom and democracy” to the world, and they have gone along with the pretence that great success has attended the project already – in Afghanistan, the Ukraine, Iraq and Palestine.
The push is now on to bring “freedom and democracy” to Lebanon, with France standing shoulder to shoulder with the US on this one (because it used to be the imperial power there, presumably) and the rest of Europe in support.
On Iran too, Europe and the US are at one, sharing the principle that Israel can have as many nuclear weapons as it likes, but Iran can’t have any.
So where are the differences in foreign policy between the US and Europe? Now that France and Germany have signed on for the Bush project of bringing “freedom and democracy” to the world, they owe him an apology for refusing to back him in his “liberation” of Iraq.
As for the success of President Bush’s project, there has been a presidential election in Afghanistan and election to a National Assembly in Iraq. But holding one election doesn’t mean that a functional state has been brought into existence: there may never be one in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
Claims of success for the project in Ukraine and Palestine require amnesia about the fact that presidential elections took place there previously. The “success” this time is that the people elected president are more acceptable to the US, and the West in general, than the previous ones – for now at least.
Lebanon is now the centre of attention. US/Europe are united in demanding that Syria withdraw its troops (and its intelligence service) from Lebanon, so that there can be “fair” elections in May. President Bush told the New York Post on 4 March:
"The subject that is most on my mind right now is getting Syria out of Lebanon, and I don't mean just the troops out of Lebanon, I mean all of them out of Lebanon, particularly the secret service out of Lebanon - the intelligence services … This is non-negotiable. It is time to get out … I don't think you can have fair elections with Syrian troops there.”
Apparently, the presence of foreign troops makes “fair” elections impossible – except in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq, of course.
The US and its allies have around 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and nearly 200,000 in Iraq, and Israel dominates the West Bank and Gaza militarily. The irony of his demanding, in these circumstances, that Syria withdraw its puny 15,000 foreign troops from Lebanon in order that “fair” elections can be held is obviously lost on him.
The President’s demand has the authority of the Security Council in resolution 1559, passed on 2 September 2004. This “calls upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon” (and “for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias”, which is aimed at Hizbullah).
It was proposed jointly by the US and France and supported by four other European states – UK, Germany, Spain and Romania – plus Angola, Benin and Chile. The other six members of the Council - Russia and China plus Algeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Brazil – abstained.
Mohammad Issa, representing Lebanon, was allowed to address the Security Council, before it voted on the resolution. He opposed the resolution vehemently, as unwarranted interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs contrary to the UN Charter. Since Article 2.7 of the Charter states:
“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter”
Mohammad Issa has an open and shut case, and the states that abstained (apart from Russia) agreed.
Of course, it will be said that Issa was speaking for a pro-Syrian government that was unrepresentative of the Lebanese people. Even if that were true, or partly true, it doesn’t follow that the US and France, and the other states that voted for 1559, have a right to speak for the Lebanese people and decide its relations with Syria.
After a murderous civil war lasting 15 years (and two invasions by Israel, the last of which ended in 2000 after 18 years of occupation) Lebanon has had 15 years of relative peace. The framework for that relative peace was agreed at Ta’if in Saudia Arabia on 22 October 1989, where 62 Lebanese deputies - those still alive of the 99 originally elected in 1972 – signed what was called the National Accord Document. The Agreement received the blessing of the Security Council, including the US, in a formal declaration on 31 October 1989.
As part of the Agreement, Syrian troops were to stay in Lebanon. Originally, Syria had sent 40,000 troops into Lebanon in June 1976 at the invitation of the Christian president, and with the blessing of the US, to support Christian forces in the civil war. The Ta’if Agreement did not lay down a timetable for Syrian withdrawal: it was a matter of negotiation between the governments of Lebanon and Syria.
The following has been written about Lebanon recently:
“Lebanon has made progress toward rebuilding its political institutions since 1991 and the end of the devastating 15-year civil war. Under the Ta'if Accord - the blueprint for national reconciliation - the Lebanese have established a more equitable political system, particularly by giving Muslims a greater say in the political process while institutionalizing sectarian divisions in the government.
“Since the end of the war, the Lebanese have conducted several successful elections, most of the militias have been weakened or disbanded, and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have extended central government authority over about two-thirds of the country. Hizballah, a radical Shia organization, retains its weapons. Syria maintains about 16,000 troops in Lebanon, based mainly east of Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. Syria's troop deployment was legitimized by the Arab League during Lebanon's civil war and in the Ta'if Accord.”
This is from the entry for Lebanon in the CIA’s World Factbook (the entry was last updated on 10 February 2005). It acknowledges that Syrian forces are in Lebanon under an Agreement that has brought 15 years of relative peace there.
Product of imperialism
Like Iraq, Lebanon is an artificial product of European imperialism, in this case French imperialism. It was carved out in 1920, its boundaries drawn such that there was a small Christian majority (which is now a 40% minority). In so far as it has functioned as a state, it has functioned by having a formal system for sharing governance between Christians and Muslims, beginning at the top with the President being Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister Sunni Muslim and the parliamentary Speaker Shia Muslim. As part of the Ta’if Agreement, parliamentary seats were equally divided between Christians and Muslims, and proportionately by sect.
The present US/European interference is the height of irresponsibility, which could lead to the fracturing of the Lebanese state and the end of the relative peace of the past 15 years. The notion that this interference is prompted by America’s desire to have “fair” elections in Lebanon would be laughable, if it weren’t for the fact that it may have awful consequences for the Lebanese people.
In reality, the interference has got nothing to do with the governance of Lebanon: it is about weakening Syria and Hizbullah, the forces that are still resisting US/Israeli hegemony in the region. And if Lebanon descends into chaos as a consequence, what do they care? It will serve their purpose.
This project to force Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon got underway with the passing of Security Council resolution 1559 last September. But it lifted off with the assassination on 14 February of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, by common consent the key figure in Lebanon’s revival after the civil war.
If one is seeking to identify responsibility for an assassination, it is common sense to ask who gained from it. Syria certainly didn’t: on the contrary, pressure on Syria has increased immeasurably because of it. It is undeniable that the US and Israel have gained, by blaming Syria for it. It was in their interest to have him assassinated, and to blame Syria, which wouldn’t have been difficult since he was estranged from Syria.
Patrick Seale wrote in the Guardian on 23 February:
“Hariri was not a diehard enemy of Syria. For 10 of the past 12 years he served as Lebanon's prime minister under Syria's aegis. A few days before his murder on February 14 he held a meeting with Syria's deputy foreign minister, Walid Muallim. They were reported to have discussed a forthcoming visit by Hariri to Damascus. Hariri had not officially joined the opposition in Lebanon, but was thought to be attempting to mediate between Syria and the opposition.”
Was the timing of his assassination connected with his discussions with Syria? Certainly, had he come to an accommodation with Syria, it couldn’t easily be blamed for his assassination, so, if it was to be done, it had to be done before an accommodation took place.
The Security Council has passed resolutions about Syria in the past. For example, resolution 497, on Israel’s annexation of a piece of Syrian territory, namely, the Golan Heights. This resolution said:
“1. [The Security Council] Decides that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect;
2. [The Security Council] Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, should rescind forthwith its decision;”
This resolution, passed on 17 December 1981, deals with an issue of proper concern for the Security Council, that is, the aggressive behaviour of one UN member state towards another, and not the internal affairs a member state like 1559. The latter has been on the books for a mere six months, but US/Europe are greatly exercised about its implementation. Resolution 497 has been on the books for nearly 25 years, but neither the US or Europe are exercised at all about its implementation, nor have they ever been.
There must me a reason for this difference in urgency, but we can’t think why.
“Our greatest opportunity and immediate goal is peace in the Middle East. After many false starts, and dashed hopes, and stolen lives, a settlement of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is now within reach. America and Europe have made a moral commitment: We will not stand by as another generation in the Holy Land grows up in an atmosphere of violence and hopelessness.”
These are President Bush’s words in his much praised speech in Brussels on 21 February. Fine words, and only four years too late. He could have brought about the truce that now exists at any time since he first became President in January 2001. But he chose not to because the elected President of Palestinian Authority was Yasser Arafat, and, in the interim, approximately 1,000 Israelis and nearly 3,000 Palestinians have been killed. He could easily have prevented that.
Europeans were also very pleased about he had to say about Israel’s obligations:
“So Israel must freeze settlement activity, help Palestinians build a thriving economy, and ensure that a new Palestinian state is truly viable, with contiguous territory on the West Bank. A state of scattered territories will not work.”
(The President also insisted that “Palestinian leaders must … encourage free enterprise”, whether they like it or not. His “freedom and democracy” doesn’t include freedom to discourage free enterprise, or even be neutral about it.)
The President didn’t draw attention to what Ariel Sharon said a few days earlier on 15 February. When asked: “How does it help the state of Israel to pull out of Gaza and get nothing in return?”, Sharon replied:
“I don’t think we made that compromise without getting anything in return. On the contrary, in the agreement between President Bush and myself we had tremendous achievements that Israel never had since its establishment, like the issue of the Palestinian refugees who will only be able to return to a Palestinian state. I would say the issue of the population blocs that are heavily populated by Jews, will be part of the Jewish state in the future … .”
Sharon is absolutely right: in a letter to him on 14 April 2004, Bush wrote:
“The United States is strongly committed to Israel's security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
There you have it: before the negotiations start, the honest broker has agreed with one side that
(a) parts of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel contrary to Security Council resolution 242, and
(b) Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes by Israel in 1947/8 and 1967, and their descendants, have no right of return to this further expanded Israeli state, while Jews from anywhere in the world, including converted Peruvian Indians, have an unconditional right of residence there.
You can see the justice of it. Understandably, President Bush didn’t spell that out to his audience in Brussels.
If final status negotiations do take place, Palestinians representatives are going to be put under tremendous pressure to accept terms such as these, as Arafat was at Camp David in 2000. The best defence against such pressure is that Palestinians vote en masse for Hamas, in the promised elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in July, as they did in recent local government elections in both the West Bank and Gaza. That would strengthen the hand of Palestinian negotiators, and stiffen their resolve to resist being browbeaten and bribed by Washington.
(Besides, it would be such a pleasure to hear President Bush expressing his joy that the march of “freedom and democracy” across the Middle East had brought a Hamas electoral victory in Palestine).
President Bush told his audience in Brussels:
“In Iran, the free world shares a common goal: For the sake of peace, the Iranian regime must end its support for terrorism, and must not develop nuclear weapons. … We're working closely with Britain, France and Germany as they oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions, and as they insist that Tehran comply with international law.”
It is Iran’s misfortune that it signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 when the Shah was in power. That is why it can be condemned by President Bush for failing to comply with “international law”. That is why it is subject to inspection by the IAEA. If, like India and Pakistan (and Israel), it hadn’t signed up, then it would be breaking no international treaty obligations by developing nuclear weapons.
Article X of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allows a state to withdraw from it:
“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”
In recent months, Iran must have contemplated withdrawing from the Treaty (as North Korea has threatened to do, or has done?). By any objective standard, Iran (and other neighbours of Israel) has good grounds for withdrawal, with the build up over the past 30 years of an Israeli nuclear arsenal targeted at them. There could hardly be a better example of “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty”, which “have jeopardized its supreme interests”.
But for Iran to withdraw now, with the implication that it intended to develop nuclear weapons as a counter to Israel, would risk terrible havoc from the US and/or Israel. The only sensible course of action for Iran, or any other non-nuclear state which may wish to develop nuclear weapons, is to do it secretly and, like India and Pakistan, make an announcement about it only after success has been achieved – and retribution by other nuclear states is impossible.
Labour & Trade Union Review