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NDP Votes For War

After the sweetness of victory comes the agony of betrayal

by Stephen James Kerr

To my gentle readers,


In X-Ray issue #25, I defended the young NDP MPs. In X-Ray issue #21, I urged readers to vote NDP. And Canadians did, in record numbers, delivering 103 MPs to Canada’s 41st Parliament.


In this edition of X-Ray, I come to critique the party, not to praise it.


As soon as the party was safely parked in the official opposition benches, they fulfilled one of my predictions from X-Ray #21: they betrayed us, or at least those of us who oppose the mushrooming imperialism of our own nation state.


NDP voters are almost as used to being betrayed as we are to losing, as betrayal usually happens after we win. The Party is said to “oppose from the left, and govern from the right.” Now they’re opposing from the “centre.”


With the Green Party Leader MP Elizabeth May the sole dissenting voice, Canada’s MPs, including those rosy cheeked McGill students, voted to endorse NATO’s barbaric attack against a sovereign state, Libya. Why?


The answer to that question can be found in the answer to another – why are we there at all? Unfortunately, the NDP seems to have swallowed the government’s propaganda that we’re bombing Libya to stop alleged human rights abuses, based on an inquiry I sent to my MP Jack Layton, which was kindly answered by Karl Belanger, his Press Secretary, and a staffer from Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar’s office.


Once upon a time I used to be able to email Jack and get a response back from the man himself. We’ve met on several occasions, I’ve interviewed him in person, and I like him a great deal.


That only made the answers I received from his staff even more disappointing. I reproduce some of them here in full, as we will be dissecting them.  


From the desk of Mr. Belanger came the following statement:


New Democrats support the clear UN mandate to protect Libyans from government attacks. The UN mandate is clear: protect civilians from government attacks and work towards a ceasefire. We remain deeply concerned about Gaddafi's savage treatment of civilians. Reports from the ground demonstrate there's a continued need for the international community to help protect the lives of Libyans.  We are particularly alarmed by reports that Gaddafi's troops are carrying out systematic sexual violence against women in rebel-held areas.


New Democrats have concerns about mission creep and we want the government to do more on diplomacy and humanitarian assistance. That is why New Democrats proposed substantial amendments to the government's motion seeking to extend Canada's contribution to the United Nations-mandated mission in Libya. In doing so, New Democrats set clear conditions for Canada's involvement in Libya. New Democrats also made clear that they would not support a further extension of the mission.


Our amendment secured clear guidelines for Canada's involvement in Libya. We made clear the goal of the UN-mandated mission is to protect civilians. We secured an increase to Canada's support for Humanitarian assistance. We strengthened our diplomatic role and acknowledged that only a Libyan-led political transition will end this conflict. We ensured improved oversight of Canada's involvement in Libya, including committee meetings and better information sharing.”


First of all, there is at least one very promising statement in the above; the NDP won’t support a further extension of the mission. Jack Layton has also, to his credit, urged the Canadian government to follow the example of Italy, and declare a ceasefire. It goes rapidly downhill from there.


The NDP’s expressed illusions in the goodness and rightness of Canadian diplomacy are troubling. If “war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means” then neither our diplomatic efforts in Libya nor the bombs we drop are protecting civilians.

The Canadian state and the Conservative government don’t give a damn about such things.


This war is about “regime change” and the “interests” of western corporations. If the government really cared about “protecting civilians from government attacks” we’d be at war against the United States and Israel, which most people in the Middle East believe to be the greatest threat to their civil, political and economic rights, to their very lives.


A 2010 Zogby poll in Egypt revealed that essentially the whole working and middle class population, 92 percent thought the USA, our ally, was their greatest threat. We’re proving how correct they are in Libya.


There’s a massive blind spot in the NDP’s field of vision where the dead bodies of Libyans are piling up. According to a credible western witness on the ground, Franklin Lamb, a former Assistant Counsel of the US House Judiciary Committee at the US Congress and Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, NATO bombings have killed or injured up to 6232 civilians.


His figures are not being reported by western media, who, according to Lamb, prefer to hang about in Tripoli hotel bars and pontificate to each other instead of going out to see Libyan hospital wards. Russian television RT has covered the story in Tripoli extensively.


Perhaps Jack should tune in. The once mighty western liberal press is a sick and pale shadow of its former investigative glory. The political institutions which once depended upon the press as a bulwark of democracy fare little better.


I suspect that some in the NDP benches, and certainly many NDP supporters either know or suspect that the “human rights” angle is part of a phony sales pitch long in the making, and that it was crafted to help sell imperialist war to “the folks at home.”


The Iraq wars were sold the same way. Saddam Hussein was tossing babies out of incubators in 1991, except he wasn’t. The PR firm Hill and Knowlton invented it. And then in 2002, Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”, except he didn’t. He had “mass graves” with 400,000 bodies, until we looked for them.


But by the time the truth was revealed our leaders had the war they wanted. It will be the same with Libya. Our oil is under their sand.


Western liberals, NDP included, have once again been overcome by the weapons of mass deception wielded by their own governments. And because both the Iraqi National Congress and the Benghazi based “National Transitional Council” were and are being funded by our governments, we’re essentially paying our own PR firms to befuddle our elected representatives.


The Benghazi rebels are being aided in their PR efforts by the Harbour Group and Patton Boggs. How many people will Canadian bombs kill before we sort fact from spin this time? No doubt the NDP is also “concerned” about the “savage treatment of civilians” blown to bits by NATO bombs.


But how can the party be or even look serious while it endorses the bombing runs and expresses faith in the official military / diplomatic warfare process, which are two sides of the same coin?


UN Resolution 1973 was just a pretext to start shooting. In late June the Guardian revealed that the French government, our NATO ally, has been secretly arming the Libyan rebels, something expressly forbidden under this mandate.

NATO does not take the resolution that provided the cover for its violence seriously. Why does the NDP?


And in this respect the NDP commitment to stop supporting the war after the clock runs out is irrelevant. The war is now started on the pretext of preventing civilian casualties. Only the facts on the ground matter now, yet the NDP is focused on the reality of the pretext.


For the United States and NATO the must be won by killing people until the survivors surrender. But it’s not cake walk we were promised. According to Franklin Lamb, the NATO bombing has united Tripoli citizens behind the government, which has distributed one million AK47s to the population, training to defend the city in house to house fighting. Friday prayers end with mass rallies in Green Square.


Our allies are also trying to assassinate Gadaffi---illegal under international law. Are Canadian forces participating in such illegal attempts? Or will they capture him and send him to the International Criminal Court, which is simply a political weapon in the hands of the west, since our own leaders will never be subject to its “justice”? To date, it has indicted only Africans.


And since this is a tribal civil war, not an episode of the simplistic “Arab Spring” TV melodrama as so many, including apparently the NDP, want to believe, it’s going to go on longer than necessary, the longer we stay, just like the other civil wars in which we’ve interfered in total ignorance, such as Afghanistan and Vietnam. Our intervention will prolong the killing, not halt it.  


The NDP is “alarmed” about reports of rape being used as a weapon of warfare.  These reports should alarm us, but more so because investigators on the ground, from both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch can find no evidence to support such claims:


“Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, said "we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped". She stresses this does not prove mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, the head of women's rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: "We have not been able to find evidence."


A party or government in a condition of alarm which induces it to launch the full force of state sanctioned violence against “rapists” on the other side of the world that nobody seems to be able to find needs to lie down a while before contemplating its next big move.


When I followed up with Mr. Dewar about this, his aide referred to Margot Wallenstrom, the special representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She has a mandate to investigate all instances of rape during wartime, but even she cannot point to any evidence of mass rape or a specific incident in Libya to support the contention coming from Benghazi that Gadaffi’s supporters are using mass rapes as a weapon of warfare.


Despite this lack of evidence, urgent “Calls to Action” were seeded all over the net, like this one from Melodee, a young American woman who works at the NATO “Fusion Centre” for the Mediterranean Basin.


Since the initial explosion of rape rumours in June, western media outlets have let the mass-rape story die a quiet death. If it had any legs at all, this story would be walking all over our front pages because it supports NATO war aims. Because it does not, it goes “down the memory hole.”  


Why aren’t we bombing US prisons, in America or in Afghanistan or Iraq? Rape, which is by definition of weapon of violence used to subjugate and repress, is endemic in all three contexts.


The answer is simple. Human rights are beside the point, and taking that argument seriously leads away from a rational explanation of our foreign policy, not towards one.


The US, Canadian and other western state governments intervene militarily in the affairs of other nations to protect their most important principle, the right of our corporations to accumulate private capital and profit anywhere they so choose. We also fail to intervene on the side of aspiring revolutionaries in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for exactly the same reason.


In those cases the “humanitarian intervention” line would run counter to the interests of the Canadian state, and the corporate power structure of which it is an expression. In those cases the human rights abusers are our business partners, such as the neo-Duvalierist Government of Haiti we recently installed, with the help of France and the United States, but not with the help of the majority of the Haitian people.


Our gangster for hire, “Sweet Mickey” was elected with less than 10 percent of the vote. The most popular party by far, Lavallas was banned from running.  Canadian sweatshop operators in Haiti can rest easy that Haitian wages will remain the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and their super-profits are safe. This is Canadian diplomacy at work abroad. Be very afraid.


The fact that human rights are beside the point is why we are not bombarded with ongoing coverage of the show trials of doctors in Bahrain, and why we’re not waging a war for Bahraini human rights against the al-Khalifa family.


The policy is coherent and coldly rational, but only if one grasps that the “humanitarian intervention” angle is a subterfuge designed to create “buy in” for our wars of aggression, and in any other context may not be mentioned. We love human rights abusers who do business with us on our terms.


Only when a nation asserts economic independence from the western banking and finance structures do our governments become alert to “human rights abuses.” If they can’t be found, we simply fabricate them.


Judged by the answers of his staffer to my follow-up questions, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar doesn’t share this analysis.


I asked if the NDP really believed that NATO and the USA---our "coalition partners"---were truly interested in protecting civilians, and received a non-answer prefaced by this bit of sophistry: "I can't speak to the intentions of everyone involved…"


The NDP has endorsed a war - organized, state-sponsored killing, costing billions of dollars - and its mandarins have not thought about and can’t describe the possible motives or intentions of our allies? Words fail this reporter.


I asked about whether or not the NDP accepted the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that underpins the false “we’re here to protect civilians by bombing them” argument. Apparently the answer is yes.


The staffer writes:


‘The “responsibility to protect” doctrine is not mentioned in the UN resolutions on Libya, but the situation certainly fits the criteria ascribed in R2P. We have a collective responsibility for the situation in Libya. You’d think no one would be a fan of Gadhafi, but he has been pretty good for business. Under the current government, Canada's exports to Libya have skyrocketed and that included the sale of arms to the Gadhafi regime.


Canadian owned SNC-Lavalin received a $275 million contract to build a prison for Gadhafi – today we hear in the news that the Harper government is planning to sell our nuclear agency to the same company! Western oil companies have reaped the benefits of doing business with that regime – with little consideration for Libyan human rights or their economic rights over their own oil resources. The current uprising undermines those business interests and that’s why a lot of right-wing hawks in Canada and the United States were actively trying to stop UN-mandated action in Libya.”


In addition to his total brushing aside of a progressive and principled opposition to the violence of the Canadian state, the staffer’s answer is troubling on a number of levels.


Do we have a “collective responsibility for the situation in Libya”? Who gave us such a burden? Do the Libyans then not have a “collective responsibility” for the situation on our First Nations Reserves? Why does this responsibility only seem to fall on western nations with large armaments industries and greedy financiers? Next time the Toronto police stage a riot, should activists expect rescue from Belorussian and Cuban troops?


“You’d think no one would be a fan of Gadhafi…” says the staffer, only because he knows near to nothing about him, or about Libya. Actually Gadhafi does have a fan club in Libya, and in Africa, and for several very good reasons, which reveal why we're really attacking Libya.


This is not a blanket political endorsement of Gadhafi, but before we started bombing runs, Libya had the highest UN Human Development Index score in Africa, with modern hospitals and housing. Education and healthcare are free public services. The gentle reader will remember the American government's fondness for socialized medicine.


Gadhafi’s government created the world’s only functioning system of direct democracy. Is it faulty? Certainly. Is ours not?


Why do we critique it with armaments and not with arguments? Is it because the intense posturing on behalf of "democracy" by our governments, elected by a minority of eligible voters and determined to push unpopular policies on citizens whether we like it or not, masks a very real and intense hatred for democracy?


Africans admire Libya for reducing their cell phone costs. Libya paid for the first African telecommunications satellite. Before this satellite was launched, African countries paid massive premiums of hundreds of millions per year to Intelsat for phone service. Gadhafi broke that monopoly, cutting Intelsat revenues.


Most importantly, and I believe this is the key to the whole business, Libya has been moving to rid Africa of the International Monetary Fund, the organization which just removed its lefty chief executive Dominique Strauss Khan on what are almost certainly trumped up charges of rape. Remember Julian Assange? False accusations of rape seem to be in fashion this year.


The loss of the IMF as a vehicle to force foreign investment and privatization of state assets on developing countries would be a major blow to western corporate interests, for it would deprive them of foreign markets to penetrate.


So it's no coincidence that the United States illegally seized $30 billion in Libyan government funds that had been set aside to set up an African Monetary Fund, an African Central Bank, and an African Development Bank.


The US government has never frozen more money in a single instance.  Nobody can state that this freeze was about preventing rapes. It was about preventing the prevention of rape - the rape of a whole continent, by our criminal governments and corporations.


So yes indeed, why would anybody like Gaddafi? He looks squinty eyed, and he talks funny, making long rambling speeches in that language we don't understand… he must be nuts! And did I mention he's against the occupation of Palestine? Suicidal crazy!


Since making an agreement with the western powers in 2004, Gaddafi has been “pretty good for business”, as Mr. Dewar's staffer avers. Why and how he suddenly went from business partner, friend and ally in the “war against terror” to persona non-grata is key to why we're there. Civilian casualties in the civil conflict that started in February had zero to do with it.


Contrary to Dewar’s staffer’s claim that the Libyan government's grant of oil concessions to western corporations showed “little consideration for Libyan human rights or their economic rights over their own oil resources,” it was precisely Gaddafi’s refusal to turn away from a posture of resource nationalism and independent economic development for Libya and Africa that triggered the western attack.


"Human rights" are just a smokescreen for befogging the real issues at stake.


Gaddafi had been demanding an increased share of oil exploration and production revenue to go to Libyan coffers since 2009, even though Libya receives the majority of the oil revenue under existing exploration deals.  


He was given courage by the global trend of secondary economic powers such as the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India China) developing new economic and political relationships that are independent of the United States, Canada and Europe. Chinese and Russian business delegations are currently all over Tripoli.


The NATO war is much about thwarting the development of these new, independent relationships. It’s a proxy war against the BRIC economies intended to assert continued western dominance of geo-politics and economics through a demonstration of brute force. NATO is also attempting to thwart the independent development of the revolutions in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. And there are significant material interests at stake.


Ironically, the Harper government’s lack of sensitivity training may have helped provoked Gaddafi back towards resource nationalism. I reported on this in my blog back in March. In 2009 the Canadian government first castigated Gaddafi over his greeting of the accused, but innocent “Lockerbie bomber” Omar Megrahi at the Tripoli airport.


Later that year, Gaddafi was to stop over in Gander, Newfoundland on his way to address the UN General Assembly. The Harper government issued him a standard tourist visa, instead of the diplomatic visa to which he is entitled as a head of a UN member state. Insulted again, he began to harass our oil and business interests.


Those are considerable. Suncor paid a signing bonus to the Libyan government of $500 million dollars in 2008 for its oil concession in Libya. SNC Lavalin is busy building the massive “Great Man” canal project that will pump billions of gallons of water into Libyan cities. The company also built a prison.


Sonde Resources is drilling for offshore oil. The outbreak of civil unrest in February threatened those investments. But the NATO war is not good for them either.


A month into the civil war in Libya, on March 21st, a few days after a second UN resolution was passed against Libya, Gaddafi declared that he would re-nationalize the Libyan oil resource, and grant new concessions directly to China, India and Brazil, while maintaining its existing relationships.


The rebels in Benghazi set up a new and illegal "National Oil Company" to deal directly with western oil companies the very next day.


Libya has the lowest cost of oil production in the world, with some fields having a cost of just $1 per barrel. That’s about as big as a profit margin gets. The light sweet crude oil is abundant only because Libya is relatively unexplored.


In a world past the global peak of oil production, the lost Libyan production due to the war has caused countries to release petroleum from their strategic oil reserves to manage prices. Libya is a crucial part of the slowly deflating "global oil supply cushion.” The little war we can’t seem to win is causing major problems in the oil markets. Look for $150 oil before too long.


Libya's are the largest oil resources on the African continent: larger than Nigeria's. Let us not forget that for more than 50 years, the United States has considered oil to be "a tremendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." The quote is from a US State Department memo in 1945. It still applies.


So those who think we're bombing Libya to stop young ladies from being ravished and thrown in front of moving trains by "evil people" they can’t find need to explain why the principal belligerents are also the western countries with the biggest investment positions in the Libyan oil fields: Italy (ENI) France, (Total) the UK, (British Petroleum) USA, (Conoco Phillips, Amarada Hess, Marathon) Canada (Suncor, Sonde).


Ironically, these same relationships also illustrate the weak points in the coalition. Since the war started to go badly for NATO, Italy, which is dependent upon Libyan oil for its own domestic needs, was first to have second thoughts. Add France to the list.


The NATO war's NDP endorsers also need to ask themselves some questions about what exactly they voted for. Would a rebel Libyan government, beholden to the coalition for its existence grant sweetheart deals to our corporations?


Would they take an IMF loan or three to finance the rebuilding of the infrastructure we’re bombing? Would Halliburton, Bechtel and SNC Lavalin win the contracts? Would formerly free public services be sold off for cheap to predatory western capitalists?


Would a western-backed puppet government in Tripoli keep silent while Israel continues its criminal occupation of Palestine? Would it ruthlessly repress pan-Arab nationalists and trade unionists, as was done in Iraq? Will our political leaders be forced to admit one day that they were "fooled again" by slick PR firms into supporting another war of choice for oil and full spectrum dominance?  


What's more disturbing to you, gentle reader? That the Harper government is using an easily refutable cover story to hide its true motives in bombing Libya? Or that Her Majesty's Official Opposition, the NDP, whether naïve or complicit, is letting them get away with it?


I report. You decide. (X)


X-Ray’s “deep politics” columnist Stephen James Kerr writes about politics, constitutional and classical history, energy and the environment, and whatever strikes his fancy at stephenjameskerr.ca.

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