Rise of the new imperialism

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    Rise of a new imperialism
    July 3 2002

    In his latest book, The New Rulers of the World, John Pilger argues that the "war on terrorism" is a charade, masking an all-powerful oppressor that dares not speak its name.

    It is nearly 10 months since September 11, and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked and humane response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the "war on terrorism" - when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them.

    The fanatics who attacked America came mostly from Saudi Arabia, the spiritual home of al-Qaeda and the tutors of the Taliban, but no bombs fell on that oil-rich American protectorate. According to an American study, 5000 civilians were bombed to death in stricken, impoverished Afghanistan, where not a single al-Qaeda leader of importance has been caught, or to anyone's knowledge, killed. Osama bin Laden got clean away, as did the Taliban ruler Mullah Omah.

    After this "victory", hundreds of prisoners, including the Australian David Hicks, were shipped to an American concentration camp in Cuba, where they have been held against all conventions of war and international law. No evidence of their alleged crimes has been produced. In the United States, more than 1000 people of Muslim background have "disappeared"; none has been charged. Legislation undermining the Bill of Rights has been rushed through Congress. For example, the FBI now has the power to go into libraries and find out who is reading what.

    Meanwhile, the British and Australian governments made fools of their soldiers by insisting they followed America's orders and pursued Afghan tribesmen opposed to this or that favoured warlord. This is what British squaddies in puttees and pith helmets did over a century ago when Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, described Afghanistan as one of the "pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world".

    There is no war on terrorism. It is the great game speeded up, and now more dangerous than ever.

    Having delivered the Palestinians into the arms of Ariel Sharon, the Christian Right fundamentalists running the plutocracy in Washington turn their priorities to manufacturing more bombs and missiles to hurl at the 22 million suffering people of Iraq. Should anyone need reminding, this is a nation held hostage to an American-led embargo every bit as barbaric as their dictator. Iraq is the world's second greatest source of oil - the reason for the attack is that America wants another, less uppity thug to run it.

    The Pentagon told former president Bill Clinton that an all-out attack on Iraq might kill "at least" 10,000 civilians. In a sustained propaganda campaign, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been used as "conduits" for rumours and lies. These ranged from allegations about an Iraqi connection with anthrax attacks in the US to a link between the leader of the September 11 hijacks and Iraqi intelligence. Both have been discredited.

    The great charade is imperialism's return journey to respectability.

    As the historian Frank Furedi reminds us in The New Ideology of Imperialism, it is not long ago "that the moral claims of imperialism were seldom questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of the Western powers were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation". The quest went wrong when it was clear that fascism, with all its ideas of racial and cultural superiority, was imperialism too, and the word vanished from academic discourse. In the best Stalinist tradition, imperialism no longer existed.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, a new opportunity arose. The economic and political crisis in the developing world, largely the result of post-colonialism, such as the blood-letting in the Middle East and the destruction of commodity markets in Africa, served as retrospective justification for imperialism. Although the word remains unspeakable, the Western intelligentsia, conservatives and liberals alike, boldly echo the preferred euphemism, "civilisation".

    From Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, an ally of crypto-fascists, to impeccably liberal commentators, the new imperialists share a concept whose true meaning relies on a comparison with those who are uncivilised, inferior and might challenge the "values" of the West.

    The great divisions opening up between the rich and poor are reduced to platitudes of how best "we" deal with "them" - an attitude expressed in the return of xenophobia and racism towards refugees, led aggressively by the Howard Government.

    There are many blueprints for the new imperialism, but none as cogent as that of Zbigniew Brzezinski, adviser to several American presidents and one of the most influential gurus in Washington, whose 1997 book is said to have biblical authority among the George W. Bush gang and its "endless war" intelligentsia. In The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, Brzezinski writes: "Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some 500 years ago, Eurasia has been the centre of world power."

    The key to controlling this vast area of the world is Central Asia. Dominance of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan ensures not only new sources of energy and mineral wealth but a "guard post" over American control of the oil of the Persian Gulf. "What is most important to the history of the world?" asked Brzezinski. "The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe ...?" The "stirred-up Muslims" replied on September 11 last year.

    Nation states, says Brzezinski, will be incorporated in the "new order". "To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires," he says, "the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

    Brzezinski is not from the lunar right. He is as mainstream as Bush. He was President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, who persuaded Carter to sign a secret executive order in 1979, funding a new Islamic terrorist movement, the Mujihadeen, which the CIA trained in Pakistan and Virginia and from which emerged Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Brzezinski's followers include John Negroponte, the mastermind of American terror in Central America under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, now Bush's ambassador to the United Nations. It was Negroponte who first warned the world, after September 11, that the US planned to attack any country it wished.

    For those in thrall to, and neutered by, the supercult of America, the most salient truths remain taboos. Perhaps the most important taboo is the longevity of the US as both a terrorist state and a haven for terrorists. That the US in the only state on record to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (in Nicaragua) and has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on governments to observe international law, is unmentionable.

    "In the war against terrorism," said Bush, "we're going to hunt down these evil-doers wherever they are, no matter how long it takes." Strictly speaking, it should not take long, as more terrorists are given training and sanctuary in the US than anywhere in the world. They include mass murderers, torturers, former and future tyrants and assorted international criminals.

    There is no terrorist sanctuary to compare with Florida, currently governed by the President's brother, Jeb. In his book Rogue State, former senior State Department official Bill Blum describes a typical Florida trial of three anti-Castro terrorists who had hijacked a plane to Miami at knifepoint. "Even though the kidnapped pilot was brought back from Cuba to testify against the men," he wrote, "the defence simply told the jurors the man was lying, and the jury deliberated for less than an hour before acquitting the defendants."

    General Jose Guillermo Garcia has lived in Florida since the 1990s. He was head of El Salvador's military during the 1980s when death squads closely linked to the army murdered thousands of people. General Prosper Avril, the Haitian dictator, liked to display the bloodied victims of his torture on television. When he was overthrown, he was flown to Florida by the US Government. Thiounn Prasith, Pol Pot's henchman and apologist at the UN, lives in Mount Vernon, New York. General Mansour Moharari, who ran the Shah of Iran's notorious prisons, is wanted in Iran, but is untroubled in the US.

    Al-Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan were kindergartens compared with the world's leading university of terrorism at Fort Benning in Georgia. Known until recently as the School of the Americas, it trained 60,000 Latin American soldiers, policemen, paramilitaries and intelligence agents in terrorism.

    In 1993, the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador named the army officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war; two-thirds of them had been trained at Fort Benning. In Chile, the school's graduates ran Pinochet's secret police and three principal concentration camps. In 1966, the US government was forced to release copies of the school's training manuals. For aspiring terrorists, these recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses' relatives.

    The irony is that the US is also the home of some of history's greatest human rights movements, such as the 1960s epic campaign for civil rights.

    Having just returned from the US, it seems the stirring has begun again. In an open letter to their compatriots and the world, published in the Herald on June 17, almost 100 of the US's most distinguished names in art, literature, journalism and education wrote: "Let it not be said that people in the US did nothing when their government declared war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression. We believe that nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers. We believe that all persons detained and prosecuted by the US Government should have the same right of due process. We believe that questioning, criticism and dissent must be valued and protected. Such rights are always contested and must be fought for. We, too, watched with shock the horrific events of September 11. But the mourning had barely begun when our leaders launched a spirit of revenge. The Government now openly prepares to wage war on Iraq - a country that has no connection with September 11. We say this to the world: too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist. We draw on the inspiration of those who fought slavery and all those other great causes of freedom that began with dissent. We call on all like-minded people around the world to join us."

    This is an edited extract from The New Rulers of the World, by John Pilger, published this month by Pan Macmillan Australia.
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