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Countering imperialist propaganda: North Korea, Zimbabwe, Yugoslavia

Published Jul 17, 2006 7:43 PM

“Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit,” by Gregory Elich, Llumina Press, 2006, 402 pages. Available through LeftBooks.com.

By John Catalinotto

Radical political scientist and historian Michael Parenti writes in his introduction to Greg Elich’s new book, Strange Liberators: “The difference between what U.S. citizens think their rulers are doing in the world and what these rulers actually are doing is one of the great propaganda achievements of history.”

With his ambitious attempt to combat that propaganda, Elich confronts the lies of the U.S. government and its servile media as he takes on what he calls the “hard cases.” North Korea’s nuclear program, the imperialist assault on Yugoslavia and the machinations against Zimbabwe are his major topics. Even for people who have been following these conflicts closely, Elich has found material that sheds new light on the events.

Though he first finished the book in 2003, he spent the next two and a half years searching for a publisher, during which time he continually updated his material to keep up with new developments, especially regarding the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and Zimbabwe. The book is up-to-date, well researched and a treasure of political arguments.

His work regarding the DPRK is especially on target now, following that country’s tests of rockets and a new wave of threats against North Korea from the U.S. and Japan, the two colonial powers on the Korean peninsula in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Korea’s nuclear program

Elich reviews about 15 years of U.S. relations with North Korea regarding that country’s nuclear power program and its alleged construction of nuclear weapons. While Washington portrayed the Pyongyang leaders as intransigent and irrational, it was the U.S. that refused to make an honest deal.

Elich quotes Selig Harrison, Director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, to show that the Bush administration’s “very rigid position” showed it was “not prepared to trade anything” and “risks a war. The point is, the administration’s objective is really regime change in Pyongyang.”

Harrison referred to Victor Cha of Georgetown University, whom he called a “kind of ideologue of the Bush administration” regarding Korean affairs. Cha’s book on North Korea “lays it all out: the purpose of negotiations with North Korea, he says, is not to settle anything.”

“You have these multilateral negotiations in Beijing simply to show the other parties in the region—China, South Korea, Russia and Japan—that it is not possible to make any deals with North Korea. He [Cha] says the purpose of the negotiations is to mobilize a ‘coalition for punishment.’”

This analysis fits with the latest news, where U.S. pundits speculate what policy will help Washington line up China and Russia to support sanctions against North Korea in the United Nations Security Council. No one in the Bush administration has yet raised as a serious possibility negotiating a real end to the 1950-53 Korean War and normalizing relations with the DPRK.

Elich shows how during 2004 and 2005 it was only on the insistence of the South Korean government that the U.S. had to keep putting up a good front during the six-part talk, and that even then the U.S. bargaining position was intransigent—the U.S. negotiators constantly raised the bar with extra demands on the DPRK for concessions.

And the Democrats

This summer two prominent members of the Clinton administration, Assistant Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Defense Secretary William Perry, have been writing position papers advocating a preemptive military strike against North Korea’s rocket launch pads. Anyone reading Elich’s book could follow the aggressive history of the Clinton administration and especially these two officials. Elich shows how in 1994 the U.S. came within hours of launching an all-out war against North Korea.

In writings following that period, Perry and Carter revealed that the Clinton administration “spent much of the first half of 1994 preparing for war on the Korean peninsula.” The main target was the Yongbyon nuclear site, but targets included all of the DPRK’s military installations. “In the event of a North Korea attack,” they wrote [that is, a response to the U.S. attack—JC], “U.S. forces, working side by side with the South Korean army and using bases in Japan, would quickly destroy the North Korean army and the North Korean regime.” Since the battle would be waged “in Seoul’s suburbs,” they expected heavy casualties among all the armed forces, and “millions of refugees” crowding the highways. They don’t discuss the many civilians who would die.

According to Elich—and he provides sources—Clinton officials were meeting to launch the war when Jimmy Carter pulled the rug out from under them. The former president had visited the DPRK, succeeded in getting an agreement from the Pyongyang government and then held a news conference announcing the agreement. Only by going public did he force the Clinton officials to pull back on their war plans.

Frustrated in Asia, the Clinton administration then opened a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999.

Aggression against Yugoslavia—and lies

The U.S. rulers were even more successful in selling the war on Yugoslavia, in the sense that even some progressive media outlets repeated the lies demonizing President Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav army and even the Serb population.

Milosevic had waged a heroic and quite successful self-defense in his trial before NATO’s court in The Hague until his suspicious death in March. On July 10, this so-called tribunal opened another important case on the so-called “Kosovo War,” this one against Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and five other Yugoslav leaders for the same charges about Kosovo that Milosevic’s defense had completely discredited.

Elich again provides good research to back up his explanation of the “Kosovo War,” the machinations used to overthrow the Milosevic government in the summer of 2000, and other aspects of the war waged by the U.S. and its NATO allies to destroy the multinational, pro-socialist state of Yugoslavia from 1990-2000.

One point that Elich reveals involves the details of the U.S. threats against Yugoslavia at the end of May 1999. This was an important moment, one that led the Belgrade government to allow NATO to occupy Serbia’s Kosovo province.

The world knew that Yugoslavia faced an imminent invasion. It knew also that the Russian government had removed all support for the embattled Yugoslavs. What was kept hidden at the time were the specific threats the European Union’s “mediator,” Martti Ahtisaari, literally laid on the table before Yugoslavia’s coalition government.

When Milosevic asked “what will happen if I don’t sign” the ultimatum, “Ahtisaari made a gesture on the table,” wrote Serb negotiator Ljubisa Ristic, and then moved aside the flower centerpiece. Then Ahtisaari said, “Belgrade will be like this table. We will immediately begin carpetbombing Belgrade. There will be half a million dead within a week.” The Yugoslav leaders accepted the terms.

Zimbabwe and the land question

As with the war on Yugoslavia, the U.S. has also disguised its maneuvers in Africa as “humanitarian interventions.” In Somalia the U.S. forces were supposed to be feeding people in a “failed state.” Now the propagandists are making a case that the civil war in Sudan needs the wise heads of imperialist generals to “rescue Black Africans.”

Another major target of U.S. and British maneuverings is Zimbabwe. This southern African country with 12 million inhabitants, formerly called Southern Rhodesia after the wealthy British colonialist and then led by outright apartheid-style racist settlers, won its independence in 1980 following a long liberation war.

A leader of that independence struggle, Robert Mugabe, has been the head of the Zimbabwean government since. As Elich points out, a key element of the struggle for liberation of the African people is the struggle for land in this agricultural country. British and U.S. attitudes toward Mugabe soured when the African leader began to resist privatization and imperialist globalization in the form of “structural adjustment programs.”

Then conflict between Britain and the Mugabe government sharpened when the government in Harare started to seize the land from the wealthy European farmers and distributed it to Africans who had participated in the struggle for liberation. To the Tony Blair government, its allies in Washington and the imperialist press, taking this land from “productive farmers” was a heinous crime. The imperialists slander the Mugabe government, calling it autocratic and inefficient.

Elich, with a quick review of colonial history of the region, shows how the British Empire waged a bloody colonial war against the local peoples to seize the land in the first place and distribute it to settlers, then how the colonial governments drove Africans off the land and prevented them from owning it by law. If the settlers’ farms are productive, it is also because the colonial regimes built up the country’s infrastructure in such a way as to support the regions owned by European-origin farmers.

In 2002, the 4,500 white commercial farm owners still held 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s arable land. Six million African peasants did subsistence farming in the “communal areas.”

Since the sanctions the U.S. and the EU have imposed against Zimbabwe have condemned many of its HIV-positive citizens to death, it is hard even for the imperialist media to claim a “humanitarian intervention” is needed. Instead, the intervention is alleged to be pro-democracy.

The tool for this intervention was the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), founded in September 1999 and benefiting from a massive infusion of funds from Western sources, writes Elich. The MDC supported the structural adjustment programs that Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party had begun to resist.

By 2002 the British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Brian Donnelly, who had been ambassador to Yugoslavia for two years, was considered instrumental in formulating a plan to get rid of Mugabe. This time the plot failed.

The MDC was weakened in 2005 when its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, provoked a split in his own party by demanding a boycott of the election. The split led to a landslide victory for ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s party. His next announced step was to prepare for regime change not by electoral processes but through what amounts to a coup.

In each of these hard cases and some other topics Elich takes up, he shows the goal of U.S. foreign policy is never democracy or human rights, but “to create a world that exists only to serve the wealthy, where resources are freely exploited and the mass of humanity labors for shrinking wages and inadequate or nonexistent benefits.”