by Michael Faulkner
July 17, 2008
Two weeks ago in my regular in TPJ column I dealt with the international response to the situation in Zimbabwe. Due to an error on my part, only the first few paragraphs of my article (Mugabe and Mandela) were posted. I hope that TPJ readers will have the opportunity to read the article in full this week. I concluded that column with the following comments:
‘When, in a few days from now, Robert Mugabe declares himself the victor after an election in which the opposition was bludgeoned into silence, his claim will lack credibility and the result will lack legitimacy. But, equally lacking in credibility will be the protests of those who claim to be champions of freedom and democracy: George W. Bush, appointed President of the United States in 2000 by the Supreme Court, who in 2003 launched an illegal war against a defenceless country, and his staunchest allies in this criminal venture, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.’
Mugabe won the election with 98% of the vote – hardly surprising since the opposition MDC candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai had withdrawn from the contest in the face of a campaign of terror against his supporters, many of whom were murdered and others forced into hiding. The outcome has been widely condemned. Mugabe is now fully exposed as a thug presiding over a country reduced to bankruptcy and impoverishment. He has no defenders. South Africa’s outgoing president, Thabo Mbeki, who has doggedly refused to criticise him publicly, has lost credibility in the African Union. But how credible are those Western politicians who have been vociferous in their denunciations of Mugabe? On July 11th the U.K. and U.S. governments failed in their attempt to win UN security council approval for a resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. The resolution would have imposed an arms embargo and financial and travel restrictions on the regime and its leaders. It was vetoed by China and Russia, both of whom export weapons to Zimbabwe. Their motives were hardly noble, but also, hardly unprecedented in the use of the veto in the security council. The break-down in the vote seemed to echo the old days of the Cold War. Russia and China were supported by Libya and Vietnam. France, Belgium, Italy, Croatia, Costa Rica and Panama voted with the U.S. and U.K. It was very much ‘business as usual.’
Adopting, as usual, a tone of moral indignation, Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, said it would be ‘incomprehensible’ to the people of Zimbabwe. Following the farcical second election in that country, British Prime Minister Brown, Condoleezza Rice and others confidently asserted that ‘the international community’ would not allow Mugabe to get away with this blatant assault on his own people and on democracy itself. Last week’s G.8 summit in Japan found time to call for action against him in the name of ‘the international community.’
We have heard a lot recently about ‘the international community.’ It is one of those terms with which we are all familiar and its meaning is assumed to be self evident. To question its meaning is regarded as a sign of political illiteracy. But, as with so many other ‘communities’, once we begin to examine the term more carefully it becomes clear that it serves to obfuscate rather than clarify. This may be dismissed as a mere exercise in semantics, but it is more important than that. Those who use the term most frequently and speak as though they are the prime representatives of the ‘community’ tend to be the leaders of the U.S., the U.K. and certain states in the E.U. Recently, they have invoked the ‘international community’ in relation to Iran: the international community, it is said, will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Should Iran ignore this warning, the consequences will be dire.
Let us assume what to many may seem obvious – by ‘the international community’ is meant the United Nations. That seems reasonable. Further, it may be argued, the will of the international community is expressed in the resolutions of the U.N. security council. But, according to the self-appointed champions of the international community, this cannot be so, because if the security council vetoes something they regard as self evidently right and proper, then they say that the security council has ‘failed’ the international community. This is the stance taken by the U.S. and U.K governments prior to the Iraq war. They realised that the security council would veto a second resolution sanctioning an invasion, so they abandoned the security council in favour of an ‘alliance of the willing’ – that is, those willing to act without a U.N. mandate, effectively against their own vaunted ‘international community.’ Of course, when the veto is used, as has been the case most frequently since its foundation, by the U.S. and the U.K., they claim to use it in the real interests of the international community. So, if there can be no consensus about the security council expressing the will of the international community, perhaps it may be found in the General Assembly. A resolution passed by all members of the United Nations must come closest to expressing the will of the elusive ‘international community.’ Surely this is democracy in action on an international scale. However, from the standpoint of the U.S. government, this is far from so. One example will suffice to make the point.
Every year the Cuban government brings to the General Assembly a motion calling for the lifting of the 46 year old U.S. blockade of their country. Every year the motion is carried with overwhelming majorities. The only countries who vote regularly with the U.S. against the motion are Israel and the Marshall Islands. Thus, according to this reading, the international community regularly calls for the lifting of the blockade, and its resolutions are regularly ignored by the United States. There are other examples, too numerous to mention, but familiar I am sure to TPJ readers, where U.N. resolutions perceived to be hostile to the interests of the U.S. and its allies, are ignored.
If the neither the U.N. security council nor the general assembly provide a satisfactory explanation of what the U.S. and U.K. governments mean when they refer to the ‘international community’, then clarification must be sought elsewhere. One thing is clear: there are certain (many) countries who are not considered to be part of the community; those countries that have been variously described by the Bush administration and its allies as Rogue States and those belonging to an Axis of Evil. In addition to these, there are others that do not qualify. Here are a few countries that are obviously not regarded as members of ‘the international community.’: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Serbia, Syria, Venezuela. The criterion for membership has little or nothing to do with a country’s democratic credentials, though promoting democracy is supposedly one of the main aims of Bush’s foreign policy. One could name many, but a few will do. The systematic violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia, seat of one of the world’s most benighted medieval despotisms, has not led for calls from the U.S. and the U.K. for sanctions against the Saudi regime; indeed it is one of ‘our closest allies.’ Pakistan, through its long years of military dictatorship was supported and armed to the teeth by the U.S. Such states are firm bastions of ‘the international community.’
The only conclusion one can draw from this is that the international community is composed of those states whose governments are deemed acceptable, or sufficiently submissive, by the U.S. and its allies. Membership may change from time to time according to the stance taken by particular governments towards U.S. foreign policy. Now, to Iran.
The Bush administration, supported by the British government, seems to be moving towards a dangerous confrontation with Iran. Both the U.S. and the U.K. have an unfortunate historic involvement with that country and the role they have played since the second world war in stifling democracy there has not been forgotten by Iranians. Indeed, the long years of support for the despotic Shah largely accounts for the triumph of the Islamic revolution in 1978. The U.S. and U.K. charges against Iran are that the regime is interfering in Iraq and enriching uranium in order to make a nuclear weapon. Neither of these charges is proven. The first, even if true, is laughable coming from those who invaded Iraq and maintain occupation forces there against the will of the Iraqis. The second, according to the findings of the U.S. Intelligence services investigation last year, is unfounded, but those findings have been ignored by the Bush administration. The Iranians claim that they are enhancing and enriching uranium in order to meet their energy needs. This may, or may not be true, but countries like Britain and the U.S. who themselves are in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have no moral right to criticise Iran. Neither, for that matter, does Israel.
The consensus amongst those who are supposed to know, seems to be that the U.S. and/or Israel, is unlikely to launch an attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear plants. They may be right, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ll conclude with an alternative ‘nightmare’ suggestion, which, needless to say, I hope does not materialise.
Bush and Cheney are determined to go out with a ‘bang.’ They calculate that if they don’t attack Iran’s bases, Israel may well act alone. They also calculate that they can destroy the nuclear plants without too much difficulty. This would lead to political turmoil in Iran and Ahmadinejad and the ‘hard-liners’ would be overthrown. The Revolutionary Guard would be dismantled and the ‘threat’ to Iraq removed. Israel would be satisfied without launching any attack itself. Also, a successful strike against Iran would be very popular and hand the initiative to McCain in the presidential election campaign, thus pretty much guaranteeing a Republican victory.
There are a few flaws in this scenario. Should it be undertaken, the outcome is likely to be an escalating catastrophe. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh has just published a long article detailing covert CIA operations inside Iran intended to destabilise the regime. So much for Bush’s charges that Iran is interfering in Iraq. Hersh also makes clear that top military officers are totally opposed to an attack on Iran, regarding it as insane. In the past few days, the Iranians have warned of the consequences that would follow from such an attack. They point out that Tel Aviv is within reach of their rockets. They also say that they would respond by attacking the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf. They could close the Straits of Hermuz, cutting of f the West’s oil supplies. In addition, such an attack would ignite Shia and Sunni terrorism throughout the Middle East and beyond.
In the face of such a finale to 2008, the outcome of the presidential election may seem somewhat academic.
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