We’re constantly hearing U.S. politicians crow about NATO being so essential and how Trump was an apostate for even suggesting during one of his transitory moments of lucidity some time back that maybe NATO was no longer necessary. You’ve heard this shibboleth trotted out several times during the Democratic primary debates. It would be unthinkable to question NATO and the U.S. commitment to it – all for one and one for all – especially in light of that dastardly Putin who’s just waiting for the right moment to swallow up the Baltics, Poland, Germany, France and maybe the eastern seaboard of the United States for dessert.
But how do many in Europe feel – the ones who would be most affected by a potential NATO conflict, especially with Russia? Well, as it turns out, according to a recent Pew Center Poll, many of them are not so gung-ho on that little detail known as Article 5 or the mutual security clause that states an attack on one is an attack on all. In other words, all NATO members are potentially obligated to jump into the fray if Russia and any other NATO member were to somehow end up in a military conflict. The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperityreported:
Pew Research Center poll results released Sunday indicate that the majority or plurality of people in 11 of 16 NATO countries where individuals were questioned oppose their respective governments meeting this commitment, at least if the military adversary were Russia…
…When asked if their respective countries’ governments should use military force to defend a NATO ally country neighboring Russia with which “Russia got into a serious military conflict,” people living in the 16 NATO countries tended to answer in the negative. “No” was the answer for the majority of polled individuals in eight countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Turkey. In three more NATO countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – a plurality rejected military intervention. Only in five countries – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Lithuania – did more people (a majority in each case) support such military intervention than reject it.
For those of you who may have been surprised to see Poland included in the countries who had a significant percentage of their population showing skepticism of abiding by Article 5 in a conflict against Russia, there are even people in the Polish political class who are questioning the wisdom of continuing to nurse historical grievances rather than attempting a modus vivendi.
Earlier this month, ex-Polish president Lech Walesa – who lobbied for Poland to be included in NATO in the 1990’s – admitted that it’s time for Poland and Russia to work to bridge their differences, acknowledging that neither country can escape geography:
It is imperative for Warsaw and Moscow to improve relations, outlive the troubled past and move forward, ex-president of Poland Lech Walesa has said, adding that only a “third party” benefits from the discord.
While the relationship between Poland and Russia wasn’t particularly warm throughout recent decades, it can be unfrozen if both sides do their part, Walesa told Russia’s Sobesednik weekly.
“Even now, these relations can be made good,” the former president said.
When we quarrel, only third parties win. Warsaw was always closer to Moscow than to Washington.
As I explained in a previous post, Russia has no desire to invade or occupy other countries in Europe. It simply wants its security interests to be respected. Any further expansion of NATO should be publicly and officially taken off the table and the U.S. should gradually draw down on its military engagements and entanglements. No, I’m not arguing for isolationism – economic and diplomatic engagement with the world is fine, but militarism is not. There’s absolutely no justification for any country in the world needing 700 or more military bases throughout the planet. Given our geography and our nuclear arsenal, the U.S. is not going to be invaded.
Graham Allison in a recent article for Foreign Affairs said what many observers have noted for a while now – the U.S.’s moment in the sun of being the lone superpower is over:
“Unipolarity is over … For the United States, that will require accepting the reality that there are spheres of influence in the world today—and that not all of them are American spheres. … Yet because many U.S. analysts and policymakers still cling to images of China and Russia formed during this bygone era, their views about what the United States should and should not do continues to reflect a world that has vanished.”
Russia is a major power on the other side of the world that has interests that are not going to be the same as the U.S. Indeed, no two countries’ interests are ever identical. Challenges will come up in relations between countries, especially those who are or perceive themselves to be major powers. Russia will likely be a competitor of the United States for the foreseeable future. But a competitor does not have to be an enemy.
Serious and sustained multilateral diplomacy can lead to a new security architecture in Europe that does not require Russia to be an enemy and does not require the U.S. to play big daddy. Putin proposed an outline that can be used as a starting point for this years ago but was rebuffed out of hand. More recently, he has called for the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council – all major nuclear powers – to hold a summit to cooperate on peace and other pressing global issues. France 24 reported on the proposal last month:
Speaking in Jerusalem at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Putin argued that the countries that created a new global order after World War II should cooperate to solve today’s problems.
“The founder countries of the United Nations, the five states that hold special responsibility to save civilisation, can and must be an example,” he said at the sombre memorial ceremony.
The meeting would “play a great role in searching for collective answers to modern challenges and threats,” Putin said, adding that Russia was “ready for such a serious conversation.”
Putin suggested war-torn Libya could be on the agenda, following recent peace talks in Moscow and Berlin.
To date, China and France have shown interest in a possible meeting in September at the UN General Assembly, but the US and UK have yet to respond.
This is an article I wrote in May of 2005 about Iran. It was originally published by Newtopia Magazine, which is now defunct. I’m publishing it here so that it has a home on the web and for whatever value readers may still derive from it 15 years later. – Natylie
The strong independent spirit of the Iranian people stems from a long history of imperial powers exerting their hegemony directly or using the nation asa pawn in a series of rivalries, namely the Great Game between Russian and Britain in the 19th century, the Cold War in the 20th, and the newly intensified petro-politics of the 21st. Americans would be well-advised to look into the Iranian past if they think that the Neocons will be able to succeed where other imperialists have failed.
When I first viewed photos of the breathtaking images of the detailed rock carvings at the tomb of Xerxes near the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, along with the Zoroastrian fire temple, I wondered how many in the U.S. had any idea about this part of the rich and complex narrative of a civilization that in ancient times reached a cultural level comparable to that of Greece, Rome or Egypt. Within the psychological landscape of most Americans, Iran is a distant place filled with strident Khomeini worshippers and women in chadors, remembered most for a frenzied band of zealots who held the U.S. embassy staff hostage over some little understood animosity towards the shah – a man that the U.S. media, throughout most of his brutal reign, depicted with warmth (1).
More recently, anxious post-911 Americans were told by their president that Iran belongs to an ominous triumvirate of evil nations. Seymour Hersh (2) and Scott Ritter (3) both claim to have scuttlebutt from inside sources that the U.S. is planning a military attack on Iran.
Many analysts point out that such an attack would not be feasible due to a shortage of U.S. military personnel, Iran’s possession of the dreaded Sunburn missile(4), and the slim chance that Vladimir Putin would simply stand by while a neighbor with such geo-strategic significance is invaded. Therefore, there is speculation that the Bush administration’s saber-rattling is just bluster to get Iran to take negotiations more seriously regarding its nuclear program.
This might be reassuring except that the past words and deeds of Neoconservatives do not indicate that they have been blessed with an overabundance of rationality or a sense of limitations. Added to this volatile mix is the very real likelihood that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons as what it logically perceives to be the only possible deterrent to a declared hostile superpower that militarily occupies Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east, with numerous bases in the Caspian region to the north. Iranians across the political spectrum support such a nuclear program in the interests of maintaining their independence as a nation free of foreign domination (5).
The strong independent spirit of the Iranian people stems from a long history of imperial powers exerting their hegemony directly or using the nation as a pawn in a series of rivalries, namely the Great Game between Russian and Britain in the 19th century, the Cold War in the 20th, and the newly intensified petro-politics of the 21st. Americans would be well-advised to look into the Iranian past if they think that the Neocons will be able to succeed where other imperialists have failed.
The ancient Persian civilization reached its peak under the leadership of Cyrus the Great who united the various tribes and ethnicities stretching back from the Indus Valley to Egypt, and chose Persepolis as his capital in the 5th century B.C. (6). Cyrus understood that humane rule was the simplest way to maintain loyalty. He preferred persuasion and negotiation over force, never humiliated the vanquished, and allowed his subjects freedom of worship. Cyrus also had genuine respect for the amalgamation of Aryan and Sumerian-derived influences that was Persian culture.
Owing to Persia’s unique geographical realities, tribes within the Iranian plateau were historically vulnerable to invasions and had developed loose confederations for protection. However, experience soon demonstrated that a strong and charismatic leader was needed to bridge internal rivalries. Moreover, in the transition from nomadism to agricultural settlements, a spiritual philosophy called Zoroastrianism had emerged in the 6th century B.C. as an ethical guide for resource distribution (6).
Zoroastrianism stressed compliance with a code of just behavior, the origin of the just ruler concept that has been such a strong force throughout Iranian history up to the present. It is this tradition that made the Persians receptive to Islam with its strong emphasis on social justice hundreds of years later (6).
More authoritarian leaders like Xerxes and Darius were less effective at holding alliances. By the time of Darius III, the areas proximate to Greece had shed any loyalty to the Persian Empire, which contributed to Alexander the Great’s defeat of the Persians in battle.
By 208 A.D., with the Iranian plateau’s north and south reunited, the tradition of Cyrus was revived in the Sassanian dynasty. Persian culture enjoyed a renaissance with the emergence of such cultural trademarks as the architectural dome and vault, carpet-making and miniature painting. But Persia again descended into political and spiritual stagnation when the Sassanians sanctioned religion as a means of consolidating power (6).
By the 7th century, the Persians were ready to embrace the message of Muhammad but considered their sophisticated culture superior to that of the tribal Arabs. The Arab incursion occurred at a time of major controversy within Islam regarding the legitimate successor to Muhammad. Ali, a blood relative to Muhammad as well as his first convert, was passed over in favor of Abu Bakr. After Bakr’s death, a series of successors from the aristocratic Umayyad class conquered territory by force while Ali, a quiet and humble preacher of justice and egalitarianism, developed a significant following (Shia Ali). After Ali’s death, his son, Hussein, continued to advocate the Shia viewpoint and confronted a massive Umayyad army with only 72, all duly massacred (6) (7). The anniversary of his martyrdom is still mourned with profound emotion through passion plays (ta’ziyeh), mostly among the popular classes, as it resonates with the grief and injustice many have experienced (1).
Other invasions occurred in later centuries, the most devastating of which was carried out by the Mongols, notorious for their organized butchery. In response to Mongol brutality, Persians retreated into the fatalistic mysticism of the Sufi order, an apolitical group under the tutelage of Safi-al Din of the Safavids renowned for his boundless generosity to the poor. Over the centuries, Sufism was transformed into a political force and gained a following among the tribal Turkomans who mobilized an army in its name. During this time the Persian Empire expanded under a brand of Sufi-influenced Shiism but was eventually defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1514, taking the northwestern territory inhabited by the Turkoman tribes. The most enduring legacy of this period was the continued spread of Shiism which claimed 95% of the population by the 18th century (6).
By the 19th century, the Persians were caught in conflict between imperial Britain and czarist Russia. Conflicts with Russia mostly took the form of border disputes while Britain, a more advanced industrial power, began dumping cheaply manufactured exports in Persia, which destroyed many local farmers, artisans and bazaaris, although a handful benefited from an increase in demand for raw materials to the west. By century’s end, most land was owned by absentee landowners and cultivated by sharecroppers whose produce was typically exported to the west (1).
The reigning Qajar dynasty. comprised of the shah, his court and regional treasurers, collected revenue mostly from the poor peasant majority. Due to lack of centralized control, the ulama (clergy) provided hospitals, schools and other social infrastructure. Sustained popular agitation resulting from increased government debt to foreign powers, extravagant personal expenditures by the shah and corresponding economic hardships on the majority, led to reform demands from the ulama. The central demand involved the establishment of what would become the Iranian parliament, or Majles.
Subsequent negotiations for drafting a constitution, however, proved problematic.
Secular reformers framed their arguments in terms that the average Persian could not relate to, while the ulama invoked popular religious rhetoric. The resulting constitution only vaguely addressed reforms with any potential to limit the ulama’s influence, and failed to limit the shah’s authority. By 1911, the constitutional movement was dead due to ineffectiveness, desertion by the ulama and the intervention of outside powers (1) (6).
At the end of WWI, most of Iran was under the control of the British. Its economy was in shambles and food scarce while separatist movements flared. A military commander named Reza Khan staged a British backed coup. He focused on building and maintaining a strong army in order to minimize foreign dominance and ensure security. He suppressed rebellions, centralized government control and embarked on an intensive modernization program, reasoning that to compete with and subdue the west, Persia had to emulate its ways. He viewed Islam as an obstacle to modernization, and glorified pre-Islamic Persia. Reza was declared shah in 1925 and took the name Pahlavi. Meanwhile, the ulama fumed under increasing marginalization (1) (6).
The shah’s downfall was precipitated by his support of the Nazis. Britain and Russia demanded that the shah expel the Germans and then marched into Iran, forcing the recalcitrant shah’s abdication and accession of his son, Muhammad Reza Shah. Social and economic discontent deepened due to war-related destruction and Reza Shah’s continued influence in the Majles. Little opportunity for meaningful redress existed, however, as British and American interests dug in for oil (1).
During WWII, Britain had enjoyed monopoly concession rights to Iran’s oil through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) (1). When Muhammad Mossedeq, a populist leader of the National Front coalition, spearheaded passage of a bill in the majles – which, by this time had weakened the shah’s authority – to nationalize Iran’s oil in 1951, Mossadeq’s popularity soared, leading him to victory as prime minister the following month (8).
With British and American support, Mossadeq was eventually pushed from power and Muhammad Shah reinstalled. The coup likely would have been impossible if Mossadeq had succeeded in taking control of the military (8) (1). Many Iranians still view Mossadeq as a national and democratic hero and wonder what Iran might be like today had he remained in office (9).
With strong U.S. support, the shah’s reign in the 1960’s and 70’s was characterized by a rise in GNP driven by oil, massive corruption, and increased socioeconomic dislocation for most Iranians. Many of the shah’s development policies reflected western methods that were inappropriate to Iran’s conditions but benefited a few Iranian elites and U.S. corporations. The result was mass exodus to urban areas that were largely unprepared for the influx. Urban workers faced inflation, low wages, shortages of essential goods and insufficient productive investment (1).
This period was also marked by evermore repressive political tactics via SAVAK, the shah’s secret police, trained by the CIA and Mossad (1). The brutality of the shah’s Iran by 1976 was described in an Amnesty International report as “[having] the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran” (8).
By the late 1970’s, the confluence of economic grievances, extreme political repression and outside influences united the various groups within Iran with the common goal of ousting the shah. These included nationalists, leftists and Islamists, though the Islamists were the only group with limited ability to express opposition (1) (10). The human rights rhetoric of the Carter administration provided some transitory cover for the dissidents who disseminated petitions in Iran in 1977. The shah initially made some minor concessions because he was uncertain as to how serious the U.S. administration was about human rights. He subsequently realized that as long as Iran played ball on oil, the U.S. would sweep human rights issues under the rug (1).
As organized opposition against the shah’s regime reached a critical mass, the State Department began attempts to contact the more moderate elements in order to stave off the possibility of a more stridently anti-U.S. replacement, to little avail (1).
As an Iranian blogger in Tehran known as The Brooding Persian stated, “As revolutions go, the overthrow of the monarchy was relatively painless. But what happened afterwards was a killer. I was enthusiastic about the revolution though didn’t much care for the Ayatollah from day one. I never thought of it as his revolution” (11). Any revolutionary coalition with so many different groups with various perceptions of self-interest will have post-revolution jockeying for power. The group(s) who are the most willing to rout out their competitors with any means necessary are typically the ones who prevail (9).
Ayatollah Khomeini spoke out against Reza Shah in an early book called Secrets Exposed wherein he outlined the blueprint for an Islamic government ruled by mujtahids – or educated members of the clergy just below an ayatollah. To Khomeini the majles was simply an instrument of western imposition and only mujtahids could be trusted to govern with sufficient piousness.
Khomeini’s following increased from 1961 – 1963, during which he renewed criticism against Muhammad Shah’s regime. He was arrested several times and eventually exiled. He subsequently wrote another book, Islamic Government, which expanded on his earlier writings and articulated three points: 1) monarchy is to be unequivocally condemned, 2) legitimate authority comes only from Islamic jurists who interpret the Quran and Traditions (hadith), and 3) Islam must be vigilant against corruption from within and without (1) (7). Of the several influential ayatollahs of the revolution, including Third World Movement anti-colonialist Ali Shariati, Khomeini was the most enduring and extreme.
When the overthrow of the shah had been completed, Khomeini – as the uncompromising revolutionary leader in absentia – was flown into Tehran from Paris to take the reins. Despite promises to National Front leaders in the revolutionary coalition, Khomeini refused to place any democratic language in either the name of the new republic or in the constitution (1). Khomeini forcefully suppressed competing parties, maintained the secret police and cemented his powers by purging universities of all leftists, destroying grassroots workers’ councils, and personally appointing local clergy who led Friday prayers (1).
Afshin Matin-Asgari, a participant in the 1979 revolution, now a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, observed the revolution heading in a troubling direction even before the shah’s overthrow but believes that the shah’s repressive regime is to blame for creating conditions in which only the most reactionary elements could emerge as a viable alternative, “In retrospect, I think the revolution’s balance has been negative [but] that does not mean thinking that the Shah’s regime was a good thing” (12).
Life under Khomeini was one of general economic stagnation and draconian controls on personal behavior, justified by extreme religious interpretation, enforced by fundamentalist vigilantes (1) (9). There were, however, some advancements in the areas of education and health, especially in the provinces. War with Iraq from 1980 to 1988- in which the U.S. sided with Saddam Hussain’s Iraq – unified Iranians and diverted attention away from internal problems.
The end of the war and Khomeini’s death the following year allowed for some debate among the top ulama, though Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khameini, was hardly more liberal. President Rafsanjani followed the wishes of Khameni and implemented more privatization, deregulation and free-trade style policies (1). Frustration among Iranians in general continued to build as many felt that, in addition to a war that had required huge sacrifices, the revolution had not lived up to its promise of justice (10) (11).
In 1997, a burgeoning Reform Movement channeled frustration into action as the Iranian people voted for Muhammad Khatami as president over Khameini’s favored candidate. Khatami was a quiet intellectual who, as cultural minister, had eased censorship and advocated reconciliation between Islam and liberal democracy, the rule of law, political rights for women and minorities, equitable economic development and a moderate foreign policy (14).
Khatami, however, has been limited in what he can accomplish, due mainly to the Khomeinist Guardian Council, consisting of twelve Islamic jurists, six appointed directly by the Supreme Leader and six nominated by a judiciary controlled by the ulama. The Guardian Council has ultimate veto power over any legislation by the majles it deems in conflict with Islam. The Guardian Council can also vet candidates for office and has recently disqualified thousands of reformists from running (13).
The Reform Movement is another complex coalition of left-leaning clerics and various secular progressives. As Iranian economist and self-described anti-imperialist/Marxist/Feminist Simin Royanian points out: “Today’s ‘Democracy and Liberalization’ movement in the jargon of the western powers, especially the U.S. government, means trade and market liberalization” (10).
Iranian political observers have broken down the Reform Movement into six general streams ranging from hard-left – or unionists and revolutionaries, to more right-wing reformers consisting of the upper middle class who favor a top-down free market reform package that protects their gains, along with some political liberalization (14) (15). Many of the reformers do not support economic liberalization policies, but actively support stronger unionization, higher wages and social welfare protections for women and children (10). A student protest at Tehran University that turned violent in June of 2003 was in response to a proposed privatization plan (16).
With the failure of Khatami to implement significant reforms, much of the Iranian population, including reform supporters, is disillusioned. Youth comprise a large percentage of the population and show signs of increasing depression and alienation. Drug use, immediate self-gratification and consumerism are on the rise (1) (17).
Afshin Molavi, an Iranian-American journalist who chronicled his journey through Iran in a 2003 book, Persian Pilgrimages, encountered two recurring complaints: lack of economic opportunities and disgust with archaic religious policies. Many express ambivalent or even positive feeling towards the United States as a result of associating such negative conditions with the Islamic Revolutionary government free of foreign control. In a country where a despised regime espouses rhetoric of the U.S. as the Great Satan, sympathy toward the U.S. is one small expression of defiance (9).
If the U.S. were to attack Iran, however, any supportive sentiments would likely evaporate quickly (5) (11). Iranian human rights attorney and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi has argued persuasively how a military intervention would destroy Iran’s gradual march toward greater human rights by rallying newfound support to a regime that will opportunistically clamp down further (18). The point was echoed by Royanian, “When the gates [of reform] opened, there followed a flood, which continues today. If the U.S. intervenes, the gates will close” (10).
The Brooding Persian agreed: “I think what we need here is time and space to map out our own priorities. So my only solution for now is freedom, tolerance and space. Iranian encounters with the west in modern times have been problematic, something to look up to while also being fearful of. The west’s conduct in Iran has been less than exemplary – assorted intrigues and conspiracies and wars and coups. And you can’t reconstruct those memories away. Since a lot of people loath this regime so much, most are willing to forgive and forget…well, until the next round that is” (11).
Keddie, Nikki R. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. Yale University Press. New Haven, CT. 2003.
Aaron Mate interviews award-winning journalist and historian Gareth Porter on the contextual run-up to the attack in Iraq last month that killed an American contractor, which led to the escalation that included the U.S.’s drone assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany, which incinerated tens of thousands of people – the vast majority of them civilians – in the closing days of the war in Europe. Below is an article by Brett Wilkins about the bombing. – Natylie
The Dresden bombing shocked the world’s conscience.
The Allied destruction of Dresden wasn’t the biggest or deadliest aerial bombardment of a German city during World War II. But it is by far the most infamous, largely due to Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five. February 13 marks the 75th anniversary of what Vonnegut, who survived the bombing as a prisoner-of-war, called “carnage unfathomable.”
Butcher Harris and British Terror Bombing
By early 1945 the once-unstoppable German army was in retreat on all fronts. Its desperate last-ditch counteroffensives against the rapidly advancing Allied forces in the west—the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Baseplate—had failed, while in the east the Red Army rolled into German territory during the first Silesian Offensive. The time was right, British commanders argued, for large-scale aerial attacks on cities in eastern Germany that would aid the Soviet offensive and crush German morale.
Long before this time the British had implemented a policy of what they called “terror bombing,” or the total deliberate destruction of German cities, as a method of breaking the will of the German people to continue fighting. Waves of Royal Air Force (RAF) warplanes bombed densely populated cities under cover of night, abandoning any pretense of precision targeting and causing widespread, indiscriminate death and destruction. The chief of the RAF Bomber Command, Arthur “Bomber” Harris, declared his desire to visit “the horrors of fire” on the German people. Once Harris was pulled over by a British police officer for speeding in his black Bentley. “You could have killed someone,” the constable admonished him. “Young man,” the commander retorted, “I kill thousands of people every night.”
In 1943, Harris wrote that “the aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany” while “downplaying the obliteration of German cities and their inhabitants.”
He wasn’t lying. Although the British government insisted that it was never its policy to target civilians, the truth was something altogether different. As Harris said after Luftwaffe bombers blitzed British cities, since the Germans had “sown the wind” they should “reap the whirlwind.” In 1943, Harris wrote that “the aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany” while “downplaying the obliteration of German cities and their inhabitants.”
“Bomber” was indeed a fitting nickname for Harris, but his men had another one for him — “Butcher.” He lived up to the moniker. Around 50 German cities were subjected to horrific aerial bombardment, often with incendiary bombs designed to spark massive firestorms and maximize death, destruction and terror. In July 1943, some 45,000 civilians including 21,000 women and 8,000 children died during more than a week of relentless bombing in Hamburg. In February 1945 hundreds of Lancaster bombers leveled Pforzheim, killing nearly a third of the population. The list went on and on.
‘Fire, Only Fire’
Harris and other RAF commanders proposed simultaneous attacks on Berlin, Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig in the winter of 1945. Dresden, Germany’s seventh-largest city, was the largest urban area in the Third Reich that hadn’t yet been bombed. It had been spared from Allied attack because it was an important cultural city — known as the Jewel Box for its celebrated architecture — with relatively few significant military targets. It was a city of refuge, with 19 hospitals and more than a million refugees fleeing the horrors of the Red Army advance encamped there. They were drawn by Dresden’s reputation as a safe haven from the flames of war that had engulfed most of the rest of Germany, a reputation reinforced by the presence of some 25,000 Allied prisoners of war held in and around the city.
The first RAF warplanes approached the city after 9:30 p.m. on February 13. Some 200,000 incendiary bombs along with 500 tons of high-explosive munitions including two-ton “blockbuster” bombs were dropped during the initial raids, sparking thousands of fires that could be seen from 500 miles (800 km) away in the air. The heat generated by the inferno melted human flesh, turning many victims into piles of goop. Men, women, children, the sick, the elderly, refugees and Allied POWs and even the animals in the city zoo — all were incinerated together. The 2700º Fahrenheit (1480° C) firestorm sucked all the oxygen from the air; many thousands suffocated to death. Lothar Metzger, who was nine years old at the time, later recalled:
About 9:30 p.m. the alarm was given. We children knew that sound and… hurried downstairs into our cellar… My older sister and I carried my baby twin sisters, my mother carried a little suitcase and the bottles with milk for our babies. On the radio we heard with great horror the news: “Attention, a great air raid will come over our town!” … Some minutes later we heard a horrible noise — the bombers. There were nonstop explosions. Our cellar was filled with fire and smoke and was damaged, the lights went out and wounded people shouted dreadfully. In great fear we struggled to leave this cellar…
We did not recognize our street any more. Fire, only fire wherever we looked… It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe… Inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon… cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from… The twins had disappeared… we never saw my two baby sisters again.
The following morning, a wave of more than 300 United States Army Air Force Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers pounded the survivors with over 700 tons of explosives. On February 15, US warplanes bombed the city’s southeastern suburbs, as well as the nearby towns of Meissen and Prina. By the time it was all over, some 25,000 men, women and children were dead and nearly 90 percent of the homes in central Dresden were obliterated. Many of the targets that could have been considered of military interest — a few factories, the railway system — remained relatively unscathed. Nazi military trains were chugging through the city again within three days of the bombing.
‘Are We Beasts?’
British and American officials insisted Dresden was chosen as a target because of its industrial and transportation infrastructure. This is only partially true. On the eve of the bombing, the Red Army was a mere 80 miles (130 km) from Dresden and the US and Britain, knowing that Europe would be carved up between themselves and the Soviets after the war, wanted to impress Stalin with a massive show of force. An RAF memo to airmen the night of the attack explained that “the intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most” and “to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.” A few months later, the United States would wage the world’s first and only nuclear war, obliterating two Japanese cities and killing hundreds of thousands of their people, in what was partly yet another bid to shock and awe the Soviets.
The Dresden bombing shocked the world’s conscience. Churchill, not known for outpourings of compassion, was appalled by the savagery of the attack, calling it “an act of terror and wanton destruction.” After seeing photographs of the devastated city, the prime minister asked, “Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?” In a top secret memo dated March 28, 1945, he wrote:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land.
Others defended the bombing. “Butcher” Harris acknowledged that “the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were fully justified.” However, he asserted that terror bombing would “shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers.” Harris infamously added: “I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British grenadier.”
As many as 600,000 German civilians were killed by Allied bombing over the course of the war. Many of these victims died during the war’s final months, when Germany’s defeat was certain and such slaughter served no valid military purpose. And while the Nazis may have started the air war by bombing British cities, killing 14,000 civilians during the Blitz, the whirlwind they reaped—to paraphrase Harris—was so grossly disproportionate that it would forever stain the Allies’ self-righteous claims of having waged the “last good war.”
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based freelance author and editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. His work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com.
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Recently Noam Chomsky tweeted out the video below of Hillary Clinton testifying before Congress in 2009 about how the U.S. – with the help of Pakistan – helped create, fund and train the jihadist fighters who became Al Qaeda in order to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
However, the U.S.’s role started even before Clinton acknowledges. President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, bragged in a 1998 interview with the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur that he had encouraged Carter to sign a secret order in 1979 to begin training and funding jihadists in Afghanistan. The purpose of the order was to lure the Soviet Union into invading – so it could have “its own Vietnam” quagmire. This was known as Operation Cyclone.
The Soviet-Afghan war is estimated to have killed around a million Afghans*.
Here are images from 1960’s era Afghanistan taken by an American college professor named Bill Podlich who was there at the time – before the horrors of the Taliban and other extremist jihadists were unleashed on behalf of Brzezinski’s wet dream of socking it to the Soviets:
See the full article with more images at My Modern Met.
The Atlantic also has a great photo-journal of this era here.
*Afghanistan: Demographic Consequences of War, 1978-1987” by NA Khalidi. Central Asian Survey, Volume 10, No. 3, pp. 101-126. 1991.
A recent Levada Center poll shows that about half of Russians approve of the new PM Mikhail Mishustin. This reflects a clear improvement over Russians’ views of the former PM Dmitry Medvedev, according to BBC Monitoring:
The poll published on the Levada site on 30 January reported that some 48 per cent of respondents said they liked the “first activities” of Mishustin as prime minister. A further 37 per cent said they did not approve, and 15 per cent did not give an answer.
When asked the same question in December 2019 about the actions of then prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, 38 per cent of respondents said they approved and 61 per cent said they were not in favour.
The real test of Mishustin’s popularity will come over the next year or so during which Russians will be looking at their standard of living and pocketbooks. The Financial Timesreported yesterday that decisions on budget spending will be decided on next week:
Russia’s 2020 state expenditure could swell by more than Rbs 2tn ($32bn), equivalent to around 1.3 per cent of GDP, analysts have estimated, if the amendments are approved. That would be on top of an already agreed Rbs19.5tn spending blueprint, helped by cash from an oil-fuelled national wealth fund that has swollen to $125bn….
…Real incomes in Russia have fallen for five of the past six years as Mr Putin’s administration prioritised tight state spending and the building up of a fiscal safety net that helped Moscow weather the brunt of western sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea….
…Andrei Belousov, a pro-spending former Kremlin aide who was promoted to the powerful role of first deputy prime minister in the new government, said on Wednesday that additional capital had been approved for the initiative. He described the budget changes as “a serious injection of liquidity into the economy.”
Mr Belousov, who is seen by investors as the embodiment of Mr Putin’s new-found desire for stimulus, said that the government estimated Rbs300bn could be spent from the national wealth fund each year without affecting inflation, a key concern to more hawkish ministers under the previous government who had argued against spending the fund’s proceeds domestically.
Another Levada poll showed that Russians are about evenly split on the goal of Putin’s recent proposed constitutional changes. Russian news agency Interfaxreported:
Forty-seven percent of the respondents polled by Levada said that the constitutional amendments were aimed at improving the public governance system for the benefit of most residents, and the same percentage argued that the amendments served the interests of the incumbent president, who wished to broaden his power and to stay in office after 2024.
A state-backed poll that was reported on by TASS in early February breaks down Russians’ views regarding the proposed changes in more detail. With respect to the amendments involving social benefits, an overwhelming majority of Russians were supportive:
The poll results indicated 91% of Russians applauded the initiative to have regular cost-of-living adjustments to pensions and other monetary benefits for inflation enshrined in the Constitution. Some 90% of respondents welcomed the initiative to set the minimum wage no lower than the subsistence level.
Proposed changes that tighten citizenship and residency requirements on office-holders was very popular:
Some 87% of those polled approved the idea to raise the residency qualification for Russian presidential candidates from 10 to 25 years. The idea to grant the Constitutional Court the power to check bills at the president’s request was supported by 81% of the survey’s respondents.
Provisions allowing for the Constitutional Court to review proposed legislation for legality beforehand also received overwhelming support, according to BBC Monitoring’s reporting on the same poll:
…. Eighty-one per cent of respondents described as “rather positive” the amendment allowing the president to refer bills passed by the State Duma to the Constitutional Court and veto them if they are found to contravene the constitution.
Meanwhile Putin has reiterated that the Russian people will vote on the proposed changes. He further stated that, depending on how the vote goes, he can sign or not sign the changes into law. The APreported Putin’s comments at the end of January:
“It is necessary that people come to the polling stations and say whether they want the changes or not, ” Putin said at a meeting with municipal officials in a Moscow suburb.
“Only after the people speak out, I will either sign or not sign” the amendments into law, Putin added.
Putin continued to clean house in recent weeks when he dismissed the regional governor of Chuvashia, Mikhail Ignatyev. Ignatyev was first expelled from the United Russia party on January 29th, then Putin fired him the following day, citing “loss of confidence.” Putin appointed State Duma deputy Oleg Nikolaev as the interim governor.
Ignatyev had engaged in a pattern of disturbing behavior, including stating publicly on January 18th that journalists critical of the government should be “wiped out” – comments condemned by his Russian colleagues as well as the UN and OSCE. Shortly after, a video emerged of Ignatyev dangling a set of keys to a fire engine above the head of a firefighter, forcing him to jump up and down to retrieve them. According to The Moscow Times, Ignatyev tried to mitigate the fallout, but both colleagues and authorities higher up weren’t having it:
The Chuvash administration’s press service and the regional fire department defended Ignatyev’s latest actions as a “friendly joke,” saying the jumping firefighter is the governor’s longtime acquaintance. Ignatyev also apologized for using the phrase “wipe out” in reference to journalists and said his words had been “distorted.”
One Russian analyst quoted by Vesti News said that particularly in a region like Chuvashia, which is relatively low-income, such behavior by the governor makes it look like he is out of touch and sees himself as a king.
In a post last month, I discussed an article by William Arkin published by Newsweek about how “usable” or “low yield” tactical nuclear warheads were being manufactured pursuant to legislation allowing it. The Federation of American Scientists has now learned that the first “usable” nuke has been deployed onto to a U.S. submarine patrolling the Atlantic ocean. Common Dreamsreported the following:
The low-yield Trident nuclear warhead was commissioned in 2018 by President Donald Trump.
The warhead has an explosive yield of five kilotons, about a third of the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, which killed 80,000 people instantly and tens of thousands later from radiation exposure.
Compared to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, the effect of the W76-2 “would be very beneficial to a military officer who was going to advise to the president whether we should cross the nuclear threshold,” according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, which learned about the recent deployment from government briefings…
…According to Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the U.S. government claims the Trident is a deterrent against Russia….
…While Russia’s nuclear threat level is questionable, Trump has said he may direct the use of nuclear weapons to respond to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” on the U.S., its allies, or “infrastructure.”
Last week, the Grayzone’s Aaron Mate interviewed Professor Stephen F. Cohen regarding Representative Adam Schiff’s dangerous mischaracterizations of Russia and the civil war in Ukraine during his remarks at the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
Some more background on Schiff’s motivations for vilifying Russia and boosting the new cold war narrative is provided in this article by Liza Featherstone, which discusses how generous the military-industrial-complex has been to Schiff’s campaign.
James Carden, a journalist, analyst and former Russia Adviser in the Obama State Department, discussed foreign policy thinking at Foggy Bottom and in the Democratic Party in an email exchange with me earlier this week. His full biography appears at the end of the interview.
NB: How did you gain your expertise on Russia? How did you come to be a Russia adviser in the State Department in 2011?
Carden: I came to be a Russia adviser at State via the Franklin Fellowship, a program for people in mid-career who wanted to make a contribution to the US. I had just gotten back from a post graduate semester (after having received my master’s at Johns Hopkins SAIS) at the equivalent institution in Moscow, where I took courses on Russian language and other courses on Russian foreign policy. It was eye-opening. I was in the foreigners program, only one other American was with me and it was clear there was something a bit “off” from the start. The only other American in the class, a fellow student – and Russian-fluent, unlike me – from Columbia, told me that the dean or associate dean – took her aside and informed her, to our great amusement – that they “knew” she and I were CIA.
My response was basically “I wish, having a salary and health care would be nice.”
NB: Your service in the State Department was under Hillary Clinton – at least, in the beginning. What was the attitude toward Russia and Ukraine at that time and what was your experience like?
Carden: I actually thought that for the most part (with one important exception) that the FSOs [Foreign Service Officers] were, well, many of them were neutral toward Russia. The political appointees were okay -or at least the ones I ran into. But I began to wonder: why this lack of any real thought as to the country [assignment]. Or countries – after all, the Russia desk shared a suite of offices with the desks that covered a number of former Soviet states. The answer was that, with the exception of the desk head, these people didn’t know a thing about Russia either. Not their fault. But that’s how the foreign service is set up. You have expertise in, say, China? You will spend the a lot of your working life in, say, Latin America. It makes no sense.
NB: Were you able to ascertain if then Vice President Joe Biden had any special knowledge of or interest in Ukraine that would explain why he became the administration’s point person after the Ukraine Crisis broke out?
Carden: No. I had left by then. I think it actually is reflective of Obama’s deep disinterest in European affairs that he had appointed Biden as his point man on such a pivotal issue as Ukraine. It seemed to me then that Obama had outsourced his policy on the Ukrainian crisis to his assistant secretary of state Toria [Victoria] Nuland and the then-Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, with disastrous results.
NB: With respect to the impeachment process we’ve been watching unfold, it seems that the Democratic Party establishment is emphasizing a Cold War framing regarding Ukraine and Russia. What are your thoughts on this?
Carden: I’m not particularly surprised. Part of the problem is personnel, many of the people advising these politicians working on the Hill or in the DNC can’t even reach back, try as they might, to 1989. What does 1989 mean to you and me? Well, obviously the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. What does 1989 mean to the average staffer? They have no memory of the first Cold War and consequently no conception of how the current one might be even more fraught with danger.
Part of it of course is the old adage ‘where you sit is where you stand,’ So take Adam Schiff, Schiff has defense industry interests in his district, gets campaign cash from them and consequently – as a very good article in Jacobin laid out recently – has never met a war he didn’t like.
The underlying reason for the party’s embrace of the cold war mentality though has, of course to do with the 2016 election. Had it gone the other way – as it could have had the Clinton campaign bothered to make a few more trips to Michigan and Wisconsin – we wouldn’t have heard much more about the much vaunted Russian intervention. But she lost and her team took the issue of Russian interference (which, I’m sorry, was negligible) blew it up and ran with it in order to deflect blame from themselves. Now Robbie Mook runs a ‘disinformation’ course up at Harvard. What a world.
NB: What do you think is the biggest obstacle within the government to the improvement of US-Russia relations? What role do the following factors play:
a. poorly trained “Russia experts”?
b. ideology – particularly, Neocon and Humanitarian Intervention?
c. influence of the military-industrial complex
Carden: If this is a multiple choice I would say “d” – all of the above. ‘
NB: You wrote a very interesting article recently that was published at the American Conservative called “Meet the Cold War Liberals”. In it, you discuss some of the leading Democratic candidates – who are considered progressive, including Bernie Sanders – and their foreign policy ideas as they’ve publicly discussed them. There seems to be a common theme emerging of the U.S. and democracies of the world in a struggle against an axis of “authoritarian” governments. This is problematic on a lot of levels. For example, it continues the deeply ingrained idea that we have to have a bogeyman to fight and to reinforce our moral superiority over. Although this framing of democrats vs. authoritarians may play better to those who consider themselves to be liberal, it partly has its roots in neoconservative ideology. Influential Neocon writer Robert Kagan also said we needed to shift focus to the “newly confident” authoritarian governments of the world – referencing Russia and China – in a 2008 interview with Peter Beaumont of The Observer. Neocons have now insidiously embedded themselves in both major parties. In this same interview, Kagan stated his support of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy and claimed that he wanted to be called a “Liberal interventionist” rather than a Neocon. What are your thoughts on this?
Carden: Well. Between the neocons and liberal hawks – it’s a distinction without a difference. And you see that the two war-happy wings of both parties have shaped our politics in the Trump era: the neocons see in their mirror image liberal hawks like Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and, above all, Hillary Clinton. They’re simply different sides of the same coin. But since the day Trump took office, liberals have really taken to heart the old (and wondrously wrong) adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But you would have to be pretty silly to actually believe something like that. And yet, mainstream Democrats, unable to get over the fact that Hillary lost the election, have become what they have long claimed to despise.
NB: Though Sanders says some laudable things in his Westminster address (e.g. budget priorities, addressing our internal problems, expanding diplomacy), why does he seem to be embracing this framework of us against the authoritarians? Do you think it portends a Sanders administration possibly being lulled into a regime change intervention if it’s framed as “supporting democratic forces” against authoritarians? Supporting “democratic forces” in other countries that we deem insufficiently democratic will no doubt be construed by the target country as interference in its internal affairs. It is also seems to be right out of the playbook of the CIA and NED in terms of facilitating coups. What do you think?
Carden: I can’t names names here but I’ll tell you this: last year I was on Capitol Hill and ran into one of my sources, a very, very pro-Bernie kind of person. We got to talking about the upcoming presidential race and Bernie came up. I was quite surprised when this person told me, without much pushing, that they thought, whatever Bernie’s merits as a person, as a Congressman, as a potential president, that Bernie would quickly and easily be captured by what President Obama called “the Blob.” That has stayed with me. Nevertheless, I will happily vote for Mr. Sanders in the general, as I did when I wrote him in on Election Day 2016.
I think part of the reason Sanders has embraced the us vs them mindset is because of his advisors who come out of progressive activism and right now, as we have seen, its very in vogue among that set to say, “well, we’re not for regime change wars but we will take a hard line against the global authoritarians like Putin, Orban and Xi because they don’t share our enlightened politics.” It kind of a way to look ‘serious’ in front of the entrenched foreign policy establishment of which, of course, they desperately want to be a part but will never admit to their peers on Twitter. I would say it is this that worries me most about a potential Sanders presidency. It’s a way that will allow the liberal hawks to enter through the back door.
NB: Sanders regularly reinforces the Russiagate framework, calls Putin a “brutal dictator” and doesn’t seem to have a very good understanding of contemporary Russia – the world’s other nuclear superpower. He has, however, called for arms control diplomacy. What do you think a Sanders administration might be like in terms of U.S.-Russia relations?
Carden: Better on arms control but pretty bad elsewhere. It’s nice that Bernie’s campaign makes the right noises now and again, but really, running around and taking selfies with Pussy Riot is a pretty bad sign. What next: Ambassador William Browder? Spare me.
It seems like he could use a tutorial from someone like Stephen F. Cohen. Barring that, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of progress in US-Russian relations until (if?) Putin leaves the stage. But then, of course, we’ll make the same mistakes we always do: we’ll over-personalize/idealize the new Russian leader as ‘our kind of guy’ and then be inevitably disappointed when it turns out he actually doesn’t want American troops on his borders and pursues geopolitical interests that conflict with ours. Then the downward spiral of demonization and cold war will renew itself. Sanders will make a lot of noise about Russia’s kleptocrats and oligarchs but probably not push the issue of NATO expansion or missile defense, so on that score, he will be far superior than someone like Biden or Klobuchar.
NB: A recent article by Joe Biden in Foreign Affairs, seems to suggest that he would generally continue the Bush-Obama policies. Of course, he played a key role in legitimizing the 2014 coup in Ukraine and has been a big supporter of Russiagate. What do you think a Biden administration would be like for U.S. foreign policy in general and U.S.-Russia relations in particular?
Carden: Disaster – on both counts. Biden will toe a much harder line on Russia, he will ratchet up tensions between Kiev and Moscow and likely push the issue of NATO expansion which is currently a dead letter – at least among the Europeans.
He’ll take a tougher line on NATO expansion and will likely allow our policies to be dictated out of Kiev, Warsaw and Riga. There will be a lot of disingenuous talk about the glories of the Revolution of Dignity [a reference to the western spin on the 2014 coup in Ukraine], lots about Russian information warfare and not too much about how to identify areas of cooperation – after all, how can you cooperate with a criminal like Putin anyway? This, by the way, will likely be the policy of any of the Democrats except for Sanders or by some miracle, Gabbard.
NB: As an alternative guideline for a more constructive foreign policy, you bring up FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” involving the UN and its original vision of the equality of all nations whose sovereignty would be respected. Can you explain a bit more about this policy, its historical context, and why it might be good to look to this now as a way out of our destructive interventionist foreign policy?
Carden: It was spelled out by FDR in his 1933 inaugural address and then his secretary of state Cordell Hull gave it the further imprimatur of official US policy toward Latin America at the Montevideo Conference later that year which produced the so-called Montevideo Convention which, among other things, pledged that the signatories not interfere in each other’s domestic affairs. Seems to me to be an eminently sensible way out of our current predicament. I would argue that it is informed by the best traditions of US foreign policy going back to John Quincy Adams and George Washington.
NB: Putin has made public comments recently about the five permanent security council members of the UN coming together and working cooperatively on peace and other pressing global issues. He also referenced the original spirit of the UN. Do you think there would be receptivity in Moscow to a Good Neighbor type policy as a possible foundation for improved U.S.-Russia relations?
Carden: I think the Good Neighbor policy is premised on the validity of Westphalia, so yes, I think it would be welcomed by both Russia and China. If you look at the public statements of Sergey Lavrov, for instance, you see broad outlines – or echoes – of that rather sensible policy of non-interference. It would be a nice change to hear an American politician recall that tradition rather than bleat on about the ‘liberal international order’ which of course is not liberal, international or orderly.