Dr. T. J. Coles. DR.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In your masterful book « Britain’s Secret Wars », you demonstrate the hidden face of British politics and its direct involvement in major conflicts via its intelligence services. Do not you think that Britain is responsible, like its US ally, for the chaos that reigns in areas like the Middle East and the Sahel?
Dr. T. J. Coles: Yes. Britain has both historic and contemporary responsibilities for much of the carnage in the Middle East, Central Asia, and elsewhere. There are different degrees of responsibility. When a gang commits a crime, for example a murder and armed robbery, each member of the gang is sentenced by a court of law in accordance with the degree of their participation in the crime. The person who pulled the trigger is the murderer, their associate is the accomplice, and so on. The same principle applies, or if we care about morality should apply, to international affairs. At the moment, the US is the global superpower, so the US bears most of the responsibility for invading Afghanistan, firing drones at Pakistanis, Somalis, and Yemenis, invading Iraq, and using proxy terrorists in Syria and Libya.
But Britain and more recently France are also involved. So, the leaders of these countries must also take responsibility for their actions.
As far as Britain is concerned, the UK has a long history of using violence against Arabs, Kurds, and other peoples of the region. Afghanistan has never invaded the UK, yet Britain’s recent military operations in Afghanistan mark the fourth invasion of that country in less than 200 years. Historically, the UK wanted to ensure that Afghanistan would serve as a trading route with and a bulwark against invasions of its main colonial prize, India. With the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919), colonialists using the newly-created British air force were asking about “the rules for this kind of cricket” (Sir John Maffey), meaning the casual murder of Afghans by air power. The same applies to Iraq. Britain essentially invaded Iraq in the late-1830s, when armed trading ships sailed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, bringing what the colonialists called “civilisation” to “the sons of lawlessness” (later private secretary to Sir Percy Cox, R.E. Cheeseman). By the 1920s, British air power was being used against Iraqis, too. The colonialists of the time called this “spanking” the naughty Iraqis, whom they regarded as children (colonial administrator B.H. Bourdillon). By then, Britain’s interests in Iraq, Iran, and what became Saudi Arabia concerned those nations’ oil reserves.
This kind of direct responsibility for atrocities against colonial subjects continued until after the Second War World, when the US became the superpower and subjugated growing numbers of people, particularly in Latin America but increasingly in the Middle East, which was recognised to be the oil-centre of the world. Britain and the US killed at least half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s with the blockade and then went on to murder another million people with the US-led “shock and awe” invasion (2003) and the destabilisation of the already fragile country that followed. Western media simply suppressed the news that the US-British puppet governments, especially that of Nouri al-Maliki, were as bad in terms of human rights abuses as Daesh (Islamic State), which arrived on the scene a few years later. Under al-Maliki, whose forces were armed and trained by Britain and the US, a thousand Iraqis were put on death-row, many of them students, trade unionists, activists, and so on. The police tortured prisoners with broken glass and drills. Many journalists were killed. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported on this, most the media did not.
In fact, the British public, thanks to the media’s omission of facts, underestimates the level of damage wrought upon Iraq after 2003: and even before with the sanctions. Most Britons, when polled a few years ago, thought that 10,000 Iraqis had died, when epidemiological studies estimate that over 1 million lost their lives.
Among the so-called intelligentsia, there is a slight recognition that the kind of crimes committed over a century ago did indeed happen and that they were morally unacceptable. Richard Gott is one such historian. Others, however, like Niall Ferguson, continue to use racist language. He described Iraq as a “sun-scorched sandpit” and ridiculed what he called the Middle East’s “retarded political culture” (quoted from his book, Colossus).
But try to find any sustained criticism of British foreign policy when it comes to more modern wars, particularly less known ones. Just ten years ago, the UK, quite apart from supporting US interests, participated in ethnic cleansing. In 2013, I was the first researcher or journalist (writing in the US journal Peace Review) to document British arms supplies to the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka. Britain sold the arms before, during, and after the Sinhalese government’s ethnic cleansing of 40,000 Tamil civilians between March and April 2009. Since then, only one other person, journalist Phil Miller, has documented British involvement. But Miller’s research has appeared in alternative media, not in the mainstream. Miller (who hates me for some reason) was recently able to publish a piece in the Guardian about Britain’s historical role in Sri Lanka (in the 1970s), but he could not say much about current or recent crimes there. This is the nature of the media. The same is happening now in Burma (Myanmar). Nobody is reporting the fact that the British armed forces are training the Burmese Army at a time when it is committing an ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people.
The French-British intervention in Libya that has destabilized the Sahel and all Africa and caused chaos is it not a serious political mistake whose political leaders must answer in court house, namely President Sarkozy for France and Prime Minister David Cameron for Britain?
There is a pattern. It is also recognised by the Belgian journalist, Michel Collon. First, the US and Britain organise, train, arm, and instruct a terrorist network. Next, they label that terrorist network “freedom fighters” or “moderate rebels.” They then instruct or authorise that network to attack the government of a sovereign nation. None of this is reported in Western media, so politicians and the public who might otherwise know what’s really going on and oppose war remain ignorant of the geopolitical turmoil being created by Western proxies. The sovereign government under attack by the terrorists then tries to defend its interests, using violence to do so. Only then do Western media report on the situation. They report the violence of the government defending itself, ignoring all of the provocations of the terrorist proxies. Finally, a plea for “humanitarian intervention” is issued by the Western governments working with the proxies. The plea is to save innocent civilians from the foreign government, which is in fact defending its own interests.
As far as I can tell, this pattern was laid in Serbia in 1999. There was a region of Serbia, Kosovo, comprised mainly of Kosovar-Albanians. These were ordinary civilians who were not particularly nationalistic. The majority seemed to want to remain Serbian. But the US and Britain wanted to break up Serbia because an energy pipeline intersected there, hence the US constructed the military Camp Bondsteel on the intersection. Future-NATO Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Schefer, said years later that energy companies essentially lobbied NATO to “intervene” in Serbia. “Let’s be glad that the gas is flowing again,” he said. So, the US and Britain, using the public relations company Ruder Finn, put together the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to stoke secessionist sentiments in Kosovo. The KLA leaders were quite open about their intentions to attack government and even civilian targets. Furthermore, several British House of Commons Library reports published prior to the NATO bombing confirm this.
When Serbia’s leader Milošević responded with violence, the US and Britain, or “international community” as the media claim, made increasingly absurd allegations, that tens- to hundreds-of-thousands of Kosovar-Albanian civilians had been killed by Milošević. No evidence was provided. The British government at the time confirmed that 2,000 people on both sides had been killed in the civil war: not the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars, as we were told. In violation of international law, NATO began bombing Serbia in March 1999. NATO killed a couple of thousand people (we don’t really know because we don’t investigate our own crimes) and has left tens of thousands of cluster bomblets (little, cluster-type bombs which can be carried by the wind) scattered all over the fields of Serbia for children to step on and get blown up, according to the Red Cross. So much for humanitarian intervention.
The same pattern was repeated in Libya. For years, the UK sheltered Islamist fanatics like Anas al-Libya and Ramadan Abdei in London and Manchester. The right-wing Daily Mail newspaper reported that in October 2010, the British were training anti-Gaddafi forces on a “farm” (which means training camp in intelligence nomenclature). At the same time, the British continued training and arming Gaddafi’s forces because in 2004, Gaddafi had agreed to let Western energy companies exploit Libya’s resources. But the same companies involved in the exploitation of Libyan energy complained that Gaddafi’s privatisation “reforms” were too slow. At the same time, the US was pushing for regime change in Syria by funding the opposition to Bashar al-Assad. The date of October 2010 is important because it predates the Libyan Arab Spring by about four months. So, contrary to media claims, the anti-Gaddafi “rebels” were not part of the Arab Spring. These and other terrorists, or “rebels” as the Western media called them, essentially hijacked the otherwise peaceful Libyan Arab Spring. With British weapons and training, Gaddafi’s military used forced to crush the protestors, but also the terrorists who were also being trained and armed by Britain. This is the old divide and rule tactic. As with Serbia in 1999, Western politicians claimed, again with no evidence, that Gaddafi was about to launch an “ethnic cleansing” in Benghazi (which just happened to be where most of the Islamists were based. In reality, Gaddafi might have defeated the Western proxies). On this lie, 30,000 Libyan civilians were wiped out by NATO and the terrorists, according to the puppet TNC government installed by Britain, the US, and France.
The only difference with the pattern in Syria is that NATO did not get involved and Daesh clashed with the “moderate rebels” (terrorists) used by the US, France, and Britain to depose Assad.
As far as international law is concerned, each of these actions is war crimes. The British government still refuses to release in full the advice given to it by the Attorney-General over Libya, which suggests that the Attorney-General had advised the Prime Minister, David Cameron, against the invasion in March 2011. But powerful people do not face justice from the very courts that they create and support. The International Criminal Court at The Hague has lost all credibility, if it even had any. Tony Blair and George W. Bush committed the most blatant act of aggression by invading Iraq in 2003. Ministers try to argue, not very convincingly, that “humanitarian intervention,” as in the cases of Serbia and Libya, are different; that they are somehow at least legally questionable. But the reality is that these were war crimes. Iraq, though, is an even more blatant case. Blair and Bush were never tried, even though the UN Secretary-General at the time, the late Kofi Annan, said that the invasion was a war crime, and even the British government’s Chilcot Inquiry said so, using polite language. It’s mostly Balkans war criminals and Black people from African being put on trial at the Hague. It’s a neo-colonial arrangement. In response, Uganda led the call for other African nations to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Court, citing its hypocrisy.
The United States and Great Britain, supporting and arming terrorist groups that ended up bombing Europe, are they not guilty before their people for having made a pact with the devil?
There’s even a semi-official name for it. Extremist preachers, like Omar Bakri, call it “the covenant.” The unwritten arrangement is that they work for the British intelligence services and in exchange they are left alone to preach their extreme interpretations of Islam, free from legal prosecution and deportation. But it’s not really a covenant, given that Britain has been successively attacked, supposedly by associates of these people; assuming we believe the official story, of course. Bakri himself left the UK and has access to mainstream media, supposedly from Lebanon. Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada have also been extradited. So, the “covenant” is just a smokescreen for journalists or politicians who ask too many questions. The reality is that these men are just proxies of the intelligence services.
The most blatant case was that of Salman Abedi. I mentioned his father Ramadan above. Then-Home Secretary and now PM Theresa May had, what former MI6 officer and intelligence expert Alastair Crooke called, an “open door” policy on migration for jihadis. The Abedi family were allowed to travel from the UK to Libya, even being rescued by the Ministry of Defence, apparently, during and after the 2011 war. By the time Daesh was a significant force in Libya, Salman had come of age and went to train with them. If we are to believe the media, he murdered 22 British people in May 2017 in an alleged suicide bomb attack. That single act alone should have collapsed the British government. Newspaper headlines should have read: “PM Theresa May had ‘open door’ policy for suicide bomber.” But nothing was said. A few people on the fringes, like Nafeez Ahmed (an excellent journalist) and Mark Curtis (a brilliant historian) noticed. John Pilger on the progressive left and Peter Oborne on the libertarian right were only mainstream voices.
But this is just one case. Extremists have been linked to the intelligence services for a long time: Abu Qatada (described as “bin Laden’s right-hand man”); Abu Hamza (of the Finsbury Park Mosque); Haroon Aswat (a suspect in the London 2005 bombings); Michael Adebolajo (alleged co-killer of Fusilier Lee Rigby); and so on. The right-wing screams that the government of the day (even if it is a right-wing government) is “too soft” in allowing these extremists to live in the UK. The left-wing replies, “Well, these people don’t represent Islam.” But neither side can admit that these people are puppets of the intelligence services. The services use them for a variety of reasons, including as proxies. What is particularly disturbing is that in open-source Ministry of Defence documents, which the media don’t report, it is acknowledged that “proxies” will be used by states where direct warfare cannot be engaged in, and that such proxies “may prove difficult to control,” hence the risk of blowback to domestic civilians.
We should also remember that, as horrifying as the London 2005 attacks and Manchester 2017 attacks were, people in the Middle East and North Africa endure this kind of terrorism every day, namely from US-British-French drone strikes. But in the UK, we don’t think of daily drone blasts and the threat of being eliminated at any second as terrorism. By 2014, around 2,500 people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan had been murdered by US drone operators: the overwhelming majority were civilian and the rest were suspects, not “terrorists.” Calling them terrorists is a matter for international or domestic law courts, not media propagandists. Many of the peoples in those regions live in constant fear of being instantly incinerated by machines called Predators and Reapers that fire missiles called Hellfire in operations like “Widowmaker.” Western media carefully shield domestic publics from the reality of what drones do to the flesh and bone of men, women, and children, as well as to their mental health. So, when revenge acts of terrorism occur in Europe and the US, to the domestic populations it seems as if these acts have come out of nowhere. The explanation offered by the right-wing is that Muslims hate our freedoms, and so on.
You wrote the book very interesting and very researched “Real Fake News: Techniques of Propaganda and Deception-based Mind Control, from Ancient Babylon to Internet Algorithms”. The mainstream media have been involved in imperialist wars by relaying propaganda from the US military and its allies. Today we notice that there is a debate about the fake news. Have mainstream media kept their credibility? Do not they serve the dominant interests and is this debate on fake news not just wrong and biased? Can we receive journalistic ethics lessons from some media that claim to be references like NY Time, CNN, BBC, etc. while they are propaganda media of dominant interests, watchdogs?
Fake news isn’t confined to the media. The medical industry spreads fake news about the brilliance of its products, even going so far as setting up fake journals to give their drugs positive reviews. Industry experts write papers and hire academics to put their names to them. In the early days of war reporting, when film and photography came into use, the technology was so novel that war correspondents could get away with faking battle scenes, using actors. Many “classic” war photos are actually re-enactments. Today, we can tell that some images are frauds, but at the time they looked real to an audience unfamiliar with the new technology. Then there’s colonial fake news: that the famines in Ireland in the 19th century were caused by potato blight, when in fact colonial Britain understood perfectly well that the blight was merely a trigger. The underlying causes of the famine were the transformation of Irish agriculture by the British into monocultures for export and domestic markets, like potatoes, as well as the exportation of food to the UK during the starvation period.
So fake news is nothing new and its general aim is to keep the public subordinated to power.
Has that changed with the internet, where information can come from the ground up? Not much. If you look at the most popular blogs and websites from ten or 15 years ago – Huffington Post, Politico, the Daily Beast, Vice — you find that many were set up by figures who worked for mainstream newspapers. Ariana Huffington, for instance, was already a millionaire when she co-founded the Huffington Post with Andrew Breitbart, who, with the backing of the billionaire Robert Mercer, later established Breitbart News. So, under the pretence of using this revolutionary new medium, the “alternative” sites were dominated by establishment figures. In addition, it’s important to remember that we hear claims that the mainstream media–CNN, BBC, New York Times, etc,–have declined in audience ratings. It’s true that print revenues for newspapers are down, but if you look at the rankings online, the most popular news sites are not generally the alternative sources, they are the establishment: Daily Mail, BBC, New York Times, Yahoo! (which sources from the Associated Press, Reuters), and so on.
Trust in mainstream sources has been declining for years. Some polls suggest that even the respected BBC is now less trusted than Wikipedia, which is itself a source of disinformation, as journalist Helen Buyniski has documented. This steady decline in trust has occurred for the very simple reason that media coverage of events do not reflect the everyday experiences of ordinary people. In the US and Britain, most media are private corporations that have an interest in presenting to people a picture of the world that reflects the interests and, crucially, experiences of the major shareholders and CEOs of corporations. Occasional articles here or there present a different picture, but the general tone is one conducive to elite interests. The so-called “liberal” media, like the New York Times, tend to be culturally liberal in terms of supporting gay rights or empathising with refugees. This annoys the right-wing, whose media are culturally “conservative” (meaning antihuman). But when it comes to key issues, such as workers’ rights or economic regulation (the kind of things that could really help ordinary people), neither left nor right media reflect most people’s major concerns.
If we look at the issues that matter to most people, they are the economy, employment, and migration. A study by the Reuters Institute and Oxford University analysed hundreds of media articles published after the financial crisis of ’08. They found that the vast majority of reporting was either neutral or pro-financial sector. That simply didn’t reflect reality, so why would anyone trust that kind of reporting, either on the left or on the right? This generalises. When it comes to foreign policy, the mainstream consensus is that war is good. The “conservative” Fox News sold the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on a pack of lies, just as much as the “liberal” New York Times did. More recently, President Trump’s rhetoric, though not the reality, has been against foreign wars. The alternative far-right media support this narrative, but they do so with strong anti-Islamic bias, to the point of Islamophobia, in fact. Take, say, Breitbart News’ coverage of Daesh. Breitbart claimed that in its Issue 15 of its jihadi magazine Dabiq, Daesh said that it will always attack Westerners because most of us are non-Muslim. The BBC, which is considered to be a liberal news organisation reported on it, too. The only difference between the reporting is that the BBC implied that not all Muslims are extremists, whereas as Breitbart implied that the Issue 15 of Dabiq was typical of Islam.
The trouble is that Issue 15 was a fraud, probably published by US intelligence. Daesh issued a statement warning its followers not to read Issue 15. So, the BBC a respect organisation was quoting from a fraud as if it was real. This important revelation about the fakery was reported in a single news outlet, as far as I can see: Vice online. So, we cannot trust the so-called alternative any more than we can trust the mainstream. We have to evaluate evidence and be sceptical about everything we see, hear, and read—including about what I’m saying.
We should also be wary of self-appointed fact-checkers. You shouldn’t let some else check facts on your behalf. How do you know if they’re telling you the truth? Take Snopes and its article on the Iran nuclear deal. Nowhere in that article do you see the reports from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists or other experts who say that, not only does Iran have a right to develop nuclear energy but various UN reports have confirmed that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. The Bulletin’s reporters also note that the US has pressured the UN to unconstitutionally probe Iranian weapons facilities to a greater extent than the agreements require. So, as usual, the US is a bully. But an even bigger question is, what right does the US have to impose any kind of “deal” on Iran or indeed any country? If we want to follow international law, that’s for the UN to decide. The idea that the US has an inherent right to make Iran or North Korea adhere to a deal is also fake news.
About your enlightening book « Great Brexit Swindle« , do not you think that the vote for Brexit was a scam that serves the interests of the ruling classes, bankers, billionaires, the 1%, at the expense of the disadvantaged classes?
The British elites, including politicians and businesses, are split over whether to Leave or Remain in the EU. A majority of elites clearly favour Remain, hence the Leave agenda has stalled, for the time. However, a powerful lobby wants to exit the EU for its own financial interests, not in the interests of ordinary working people, or even in the class interests of fellow elites. I call the two camps the Heseltine Faction, after the neoliberal Remainer, Michael Heseltine: and the other, the Lawson Faction, after the ultra-neoliberal Leaver, Nigel Lawson; both of whom are former Conservative cabinet ministers. So, the pro-Leave agenda was a scam by a small number of the ruling elite, namely those who want to deregulate financial markets (the Lawson Faction).
It’s important to remember that more than 50% of Conservative party funding comes from hedge funds and other financial institutions, so Remain politicians are financially blackmailed to push through Brexit by the financial institutions and party donors that want to Leave.
It’s pretty clear that the majority of business owners and politicians wanted to Remain in the European Union. For them, slow economic growth in a neoliberal Union was preferable to the uncertainty of Leaving. Investment banks call this “stability” and “predictability,” which is why they like to promote multilateral trade and investment deals or unions, like the EU, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and so on. But for the last 20 years or more, a new breed of profiteer class has grown in importance: financial services and their specialists. Financial services include insurance companies, hedge funds, liquidity firms, and so on. They have an opposite view to the more traditional neoliberals. They believe that bilateral trade and investment works best because they aren’t importing and exporting products that need assembling and reimporting, the way traditional producers are. They rely on digital transactions that require very little human resources. For them, the new and more profitable economy is pure money: making money from money. They see lucrative markets in the growing economies of Asia. These are ultra-neoliberals. So the neoliberal EU is terrible for working people, but the ultra-neoliberal financial markets economy is even worse.
Brexit and the political fallout is due to this battle between the status quo neoliberals who think they ought to Remain part of the EU and the ultra-neoliberals who want to Leave. Elements of the Conservative party in the UK have always hated Europe because some of the strongest players, notably France, have retained some state controls over their economies. The ultra-neoliberals in the UK want as few state controls as possible, except where state controls benefit their cronies. For example, they were happy to have state intervention to bail out the banks after the crisis in ’08-09. But they were not happy when the EU imposed some rules (MIFID and MIFID II) on financial transactions. The government’s Bank of England was not under the control of the European Central Bank, contrary to what a lot of Britons thought. But private financiers were constrained by EU directives.
The interests of the ultra-neoliberal faction coincided with the anger of a large number of working-class Britons who were conditioned by media propaganda to believe that the EU was responsible for their economic misery. Had the British been Greek or Irish, it would have been true. In those countries, the deliberate choice to impose brutal financial austerity on the publics of Europe came from the EU bureaucrats and Troika: the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the US-led International Monetary Fund. But British fiscal and monetary policy is not determined by the EU due to the fact that Britain never accepted the euro as its currency or accepted European Central Bank jurisdiction. In fact, Britain was, in some ways, never really part of the EU. It never accepted the euro as its currency, never signed onto the Schengen Area of free movement, and it opted out of a record number of agreements. On occasion, EU Directives are cited by the British government as the pretext to privatise public assets. For example, the privatisation of Royal Mail, the British postal service, was enacted under an EU Directive that made privatisation mandatory. But successive British governments were committed to privatisation anyway, regardless of EU membership.
As this was going on politically, serious public discontent over the status quo was brewing among working-class Britons, particularly Northerners. The City of London, in the South, has disproportionate influence over people’s lives. It is in London where policy is set and budgets are finalised. Ordinary people who have little control over their lives are at the mercy of hated, London-centric political elites. There’s also a lot of racism and xenophobia in the UK. People say that foreign workers are taking “their” jobs and “their” housing. There’s some truth to that. There is a shortage of affordable housing and decent, well-paying jobs. But instead of pushing the government via local political representatives to spend more money building council houses and investing in skills for British working people, the public have been trained by the right-wing media–the Sun, the Daily Mail, and others–to blame economically vulnerable people (the immigrants) for their plight. EU arrangements on freedom of movement made it possible for migrants from Poland and elsewhere to get easy access to the UK. It was after the mid-2000s that the real Euroscepticism (i.e., hatred of Europe) accelerated among the British working-class. The lack of government investment, particularly in the North, an aging population (people tend to get more right-wing as they get older), and an influx of migrants created a powder keg.
After the financial crisis in 2007-08, the EU imposed some very minor financial reforms on the institutions that caused the crash. Some of them didn’t like this and lobbied the Conservative party in the UK to Leave the EU in order to avoid the regulation. They were able to exploit working people’s hatred of the EU and thus we have Brexit. It’s very easy to prove what’s going on, but try finding a mention of it in the media.
In « President Trump, Inc. », you evoke the links of Trump’s advisors with big business. Has not the White House itself become a multinational?
US politicians have always been in the pockets of big business. But Trump has taken it even further, writing in his book The America We Deserve (2000) that “nonpoliticians,” meaning businessmen (and most of them are men) “represent the wave of the future.” So, Trump is what happens when big business takes over.
Trump portrayed himself as a rebel, an outsider. That’s nonsense. Trump is or was friends with the Clintons. There are photos of him golfing with Bill. He went from “lock her up” (referring to Hillary) on the campaign to, “They’re good people. I don’t wanna hurt them…” (the Clintons) as President-elect. The Trump supporters and fanatics like Alex Jones like to ignore these facts. Trump is also a pure opportunist. He’s not a far-right ideologue like Steve Bannon. Back in 1999 with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, Trump was asked what he thought of the Republicans. He said that they were “too crazy right.” Trump’s view at the time simply reflected the mood of the country, not his personal ideology. Most Americans were relatively Democratic, hence the electoral win of Democrat Al Gore a year later, which was stolen for George W. Bush by the electoral college. But as the Democrats under Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton moved further to the right, many potential Democrat voters gave up on the party. As this was going on, an insurgency in the form of the Tea Party was taking place on the right, and gaining momentum. Although he distanced himself from the Tea Party because it was not right-wing enough, Steve Bannon associated with them for a while. Trump sensed that enough of the country had been radicalised against the Democrats and against the so-called “moderate Republicans” (whom he called “crazy right” in the late-90s) to make his presidency tenable. It’s pure careerism.
How did Trump succeed? He won, technically, because of the electoral college system. But the roots go deeper. Why were there enough Americans willing to vote for this disgusting figure? From the end of the Second World War until the mid-to-late-1970s, the US was a kind of state-capitalist nation. Banks invested in communities: in housing, cars, people’s futures, and so on. The economy was relatively stable, minus a couple of comparatively small recessions. To counter those, there were some significant social programmes, like President Johnson’s Great Society project, or “war on poverty.” Even President Nixon was forced to enact legislation written by progressives like Ralph Nader. But the financial elites also pushed for economic deregulation. Over the next few decades, the entire political spectrum drift further to the right, where the Democrats became Republicans and Republicans became far-right lunatics, or at least the Trump faction.
The socioeconomic consequences were serious. The poor largely gave up voting as the Democrats, their traditional representatives, simply turned to the Wall Street elites for funding. The middle- and upper-middle-classes, the kind of people who voted for Trump in the 2016 election, not only saw their share of the wealth decline over the previous few decades, they also saw demographic changes. The Bill Clinton-signed NAFTA “free trade” deal led to an increase in Mexican migration, as 2 million Mexican farming jobs were wiped out. NAFTA was actually finalised by George Bush I, but Trump supporters dismiss that by saying that Bush was really too left-wing(!). In addition, the Black population has continued to grow. So, many white, middle-class Americans, particularly rural ones, see their income decline, their quality of life suffer, their children’s lives get harder, and what they see as “their” country being taken over by “illegals” and Blacks. Until Trump, the Republican voters and backers were split over Tea Partiers and those who held less extreme views. But neither faction particularly appealed to the kind of voters whose lives had been getting progressively worse, hence the major hedge fund backers gave up on candidate Ted Cruz and reluctantly shifted their money over to Donald Trump, who appealed to these generations of unfortunates with his catchy slogans: “lock her up!”, “Drain the swamp!”, “Make America Great Again,” etc.
Trump’s only “rebellious” qualities are his public displays of vulgarity. In the real world, his major donors were the very same people who deregulated and wrecked the economy; the financial sector. As the media eat up the nonsense about his alleged senility, sex life, dietary habits, and so on, the real policies, his Executive Orders, are signed behind closed doors with little comment: the setting up of a task-force on more financial markets and financial technologies (which will ultimately lead to another crash in thirty or so years’ time); the ripping up of climate regulations to make air quality even worse and extract more fossil fuels; the renegotiation of NAFTA to make it easier to export more US biotech (which could include genetically-modified goods); expanding the bombing of the Middle East; and the continuation of the missile system aimed at Russia, which could lead to nuclear war.
In your book « Fire and Fury », you make a statement of what is happening in Southeast Asia. In your opinion, what is behind the Trump administration’s dubious game targeting China and North Korea?
Trump is being berated by the “liberal” mainstream media for doing what any sensible politician would do (not that Trump is sensible!), namely making moves to de-escalate tensions with North Korea. The situation is extremely precarious, with US-EU sanctions on North Korea pushing the population literally to the edge of survival, plunging many (we don’t have the exact numbers) into famine; and with North Korea test-firing missiles over Japan, a close US-ally.
There is a history behind this. After WWII, the US carved Korea into two entities, North and South. In the South, the US worked with a dictatorial regime that murdered tens of thousands of Koreans. The pretence for supporting this regime was anti-communism. The North was essentially ceded to Soviet control in the form of US appeasement to Stalin. Now-declassified US military documents reveal that Western war planners understood that Stalin did not want to invade the South. Other declassified documents reveal that the North’s invasion of the South in 1950 was a response to US-South Korea military build-ups. Not that it was justified, but it could be read as a form of pre-emptive war; the mantra of George W. Bush in 2003 when he invaded Iraq. In response to the North’s predicted invasion of the South, the US, by its own military records, wiped out 20% of the population of the North and destroyed 90% of its buildings. Other documents reveal that, having learned its lesson about the sheer brutality of the US empire and war machine, the North Korean regime built fortified subterranean bunkers in case of future attacks.
Since then, the US has violated treaty after treaty with the North. Far from being this weird country closed off to the world, as Western media claims, North Korea has been deliberately isolated by the US. Violating the Armistice Agreement, the US positioned weapons, possibly nuclear, in South Korea in the 1950s. Despite this, a CIA report says that there was a “decade of quiet,” until the US invaded Vietnam and provoked North Korea into starting tit-for-tat manoeuvres as a warning to the US. This began four phases of build-ups, mainly involving US-South Korean military exercises which have increased in size since the 1960s. The US even war-games nuclear attacks on the North. The right-wing Heritage Foundation acknowledges that it was as late as 1994 that the US attempted diplomacy with the North. But when George W. Bush came to power and labelled North Korea part of the “Axis of Evil,” the diplomacy vanished. The US never lived up to its commitments to replace North Korea’s nuclear reactors, supply fuel, and so on. So, in response, North Korea re-initiated its nuclear weapons programme, which even US military experts—like the annual threat assessments to Congress—agree are designed to deter US attacks against it. Try finding that in the media.
But it’s important to remember that the US has no legal or moral right to make North Korea give up its nuclear programme, any more than North Korea has a right to make the US give up its own.
In terms of Trump’s strategy, I think we need to look at the bigger picture. When it comes to foreign policy, the Pentagon is in charge. There are lobbyists and the media are very pro-war. Congresspeople who vote against military budgets and war, if there are any, are told that they’re being unpatriotic. The Pentagon sees itself as the military guarantor of a global architecture that enables the US to run the world. They call it “full spectrum dominance” and cite the satellites that enable our internet, banking, GPS, air traffic control, shipping, and so on, to operate. Their mission is to “protect” this infrastructure and in doing so shape the world for US corporate interests. Until the 1980s, South Korea was a kind of capitalist economy. It had some state controls and traded and exported via relatively normal tariffs with the rest of the world. But by the 1990s, that had changed. South Korea is now a neoliberal economy. The same pattern is repeated, but less successfully in China, which is now a semi-neoliberal economy with state controls. North Korea is getting there, very slowly. So the entire region is shifting toward US-led neoliberalism.
I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the US wants a united, neoliberal Korea to act as a strategic bulwark against China: to make China continue with the kind of neoliberal policies that benefit US corporations like Apple and to ensure that, militarily, China doesn’t get too big for its boots. The US wouldn’t suddenly allow peace and the possibility of reunification between the two Koreas unless it served some, as-yet unclear, interest.
Your important book « Human Wrongs: British Social Policy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights » goes against the popular belief relayed by propaganda and the media lies (you mention the deaths of 20,000 pensioners a year who can not pay for their heating, 40,000 people who die every year from air pollution, the limits on freedom of speech, the massive surveillance of the British by deep State, etc.). This book has the merit of showing the true face of Britain. Do not you think it’s nonsense to talk about human rights and democracy in Britain?
It’s not nonsense to talk of human rights in Britain. Britain has more domestic human rights than, say, Saudi Arabia. But it is nonsense to think that rights were given by elites. The history of rights is a long one. In various history books like A.L. Morton’s A People’s History of England or E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, we see that the origins of trade unions, the women’s movement, enfranchisement for working people, and so on, were hard-won by popular resistance. For example, by the year 1700 just 3% of the population, the aristocratic class, had the right to vote. By 1800, so-called Combination Acts were passed in order to prevent working people from forming associations. These became known as trade unions. Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre—the massacre of 15 people who had protested the socioeconomic conditions of the time. It was as late as 1884 with the passing of the Third Reform Act that working class men over the age of 21 won the right to vote. The rights that exist today should not be dismissed out of hand, but more rights need to be won. The elites can pass more laws to hinder unions, but they can’t, for example, massacre Britons in the street as they did 200 years ago.
However, by comparison to other European countries, Britain’s rights are seriously lacking. On all sorts of measures, from maternal and infant mortality to child wellbeing and life expectancy, Britain’s level is very low. In fact, Britain is like an Eastern European, ex-Soviet country. The reason for this is economic neoliberalism and, unlike European countries, which are also neoliberal to an extent, the dissolution of state controls over the economy. After the Second War World, Britain was so wrecked that national investment and rebuilding was required. The nascent Labour Party, then just 45 years old, succeeded in convincing enough people to back comprehensive state reconstruction. The National Health Service was established and social security guaranteed for everyone. The Conservatives (Tories) hated the idea but conceded that both had popular support. By the 1970s, the so-called New Conservativism was established. The Labour Party moved further to the right, with the help of American money (Giles Scott-Smith has good material on this). By the 1980s, socialism was old-hat and even derided as dangerous. Increasingly brutal financial austerity and anti-union laws were passed against the backdrop of a “greed is good” culture.
The socioeconomic consequences have been horrendous. Since the year 2010 and with the imposition of more austerity following the financial crisis, 120,000 people have died due to social cutbacks. It’s a death-toll that Islamic State could only dream of inflicting. And it is a choice. If we compare Britain to other economies like Germany, France, and Italy, those which have tighter controls, we see fewer deaths and less social misery. That’s changing now with the neoliberal Macron in power in France, but the situation continues to remain markedly better for Britain’s counterparts in Europe.
I wrote the book Human Wrongs in response to this year being the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The kind of social policies that I mentioned have extreme consequences for the poorest. In fact, Britain has violated all 30 articles of the UDHR in recent years; and that’s on domestic issues alone, never mind foreign policy. These include the right to life and the right to be free from torture, to more subtle rights, like the right to decent housing and the right to adequate pay. The people in power want to exploit the population as much as possible, even if societal collapse is the result. Dominic Raab, a Tory and ephemeral Brexit Secretary, is a lawyer by training. He wrote a book explaining that in his view (typical of a Tory), rights should not extend beyond vagaries like “liberty.” In his book The Assault on Liberty, Raab is quite clear that free healthcare and decent housing should not extend to the level of rights, contrary to what the UDHR says.
Do not you think that the dramatic situation in which Julian Assange is left since years is inhuman and that the incredible fury that targets him reveals the true face of these false Western democracies?
Assange’s mental torture at the hands of the UK, which has effectively imprisoned him, and the US, which has not withdrawn the threat to arrest and possibly execute him, sets an example to potential whistleblowers: do this and be punished.
But WikiLeaks has a background. There is a global movement, much of it funded by the same kind of elites who gave us Donald Trump, to bring down governments. It’s ridiculously called “anarcho-capitalism,” as if anarchism and capitalism could ever go together. WikiLeaks began in this context. As far as I know, the organisation has not received a penny from Trump’s backers, but these self-styled “libertarians” and “anarchists” are the same kind of people that supported WikiLeaks. Vaughan Smith in the UK is one such example; a wealthy, land-owning elite who wants to shatter the system and who offered Assange some protection for as long as possible. If you look at WikiLeaks’ earliest exposés, they tended to focus on the governments of poor countries, like Somalia and Kenya, exposing corruption there. This, presumably, interested the US State Department, which likes to condemn the corruption abroad as a weapon against countries that do not have or do not honour business contracts with the US. However, WikiLeaks also exposed the US. Their aim was to expose everyone. Assange didn’t seem to care from whom he received funding. Emails reveal that he was perfectly happy to “fleece,” in his words, the CIA and other organisations. Assange’s handle was “Mendax” which means Liar in Latin.
Nobody asked why the elite mainstream media was paying attention, i.e., giving a platform, to WikiLeaks and ignoring more significant whistleblower sites, like Cryptome.
It seemed that Assange thought that he could use the system, but the system has used him. Don’t get me wrong: WikiLeaks has done fantastic work. I visit the site frequently and quote its leaks in my own books. But being interested in so-called libertarian causes meant that Assange was expected to back those claiming to be libertarian. Notice that WikiLeaks has little dirt on Trump. WikiLeaks released carefully-timed emails during the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign that caused her approval rating, which was already low, to drop even lower. This played a part in Trump becoming president. Progressives were alarmed by this, including the great journalist Allan Nairn and Democracy Now! presenter, Amy Goodman (both of whom are old colleagues). They raked Assange over the coals during an interview because of his politicisation of WikiLeaks. At that point, WikiLeaks basically exposed itself for what it is: a tool for more anarchic elites, as I’ve been trying to tell people for years (no one on the “left” would publish my findings because everyone wants to believe in a hero; Assange in this case).
But, as I say, regardless of its politics, WikiLeaks has done great work and put the mainstream to shame. Initially, the New York Times and Guardian rode the coattails of Assange’s success. Then, they turned against Assange. The only people sticking up for him were the progressives. But when he pulled that trick and released the Clinton emails in time for the presidential elections, the progressives turned against him. If self-styled libertarians who support Trump thought that Trump would save Assange, having previously declared his “love” of WikiLeaks, they were horribly mistaken. Assange is now trapped in some kind of legal limbo. The British have violated articles of the UDHR, mentioned above, by detaining Assange; a point flagged by the UN, which declared that his treatment by Britain is contrary to international law.
You draw attention to activism against free trade agreements in “Privatized Planet: Free Trade as a Weapon Against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment“. Do not you think that we need a united front of resistance against the globalized capitalism and ultra liberalism that lead the human race to extinction and the planet to death? Is it too late to influence the balance of power and to bring people back to decide their future?
It’s difficult to form a united front against corporation globalisation for a number of reasons. The major one is that people’s jobs rely on corporations. In the UK, and I assume it’s similar elsewhere, 9 out of 10 businesses fail in the first couple of years. Eight out of ten businesses, roughly, employ fewer than 20 people. So globalisation is a privilege of the large, monopolistic employers. That means that most people rely on larger businesses for their employment. How are people to protest against the very system that employs them? That’s a crucial catch-22.
Next comes the issue of advantage. Until the 1970s, roughly, most Americans and Europeans benefited from corporate globalisation and a regulated economy. Most people were middle-class. They had opportunities to buy a home and raise children, who would go on to have an even better future. That wasn’t true of everyone, of course: ethnic minorities were, on the whole, the major exception. But generally, the picture is correct. By the 1970s, that started to change. In response, self-styled heroes like Donald Trump come along and appeal to core elements of the shrinking middle-class; the very people who could once again benefit from corporatism. So, how can we appeal to people like that and encourage them to push for a more equal form of grassroots globalism?
There are all kinds of events taking place around the world. If working people could learn about these events via democratised media, there might be a greater chance of solidarity and cooperation against elites. In the early-2000s, there were textile strikes in Bangladesh over the awful working conditions there. Had British workers, who sell the garments made in Bangladesh, been aware of these conditions they might have been able to lend their support. Instead, the Bangladeshi military was called in, Operation Clean Heart, to suppress the social uprising. Britain supplied the arms. A few years later in neighbouring India, women protested outside one of the central banks of India to cancel the debts that are leading Indians to sell their body organs to survive. That was reported by Reuters, if I recall, but received little attention elsewhere. Unionisation is one of the key tools in overcoming the corporate abuses of human beings and the environment. Colombia is one of the worst cases. The UK’s companies, or at least co-owned companies, have really exploited the civil war and government oppression of self-styled Marxist elements. Oil giant BP, brewer SABMiller, and mining firm AngloGold Ashanti operate in Colombia. The Colombian military and its links to paramilitaries (now gangs) have set conditions in which corporate operations are highly profitable. Unionists, students, left-wing politicians, environment activists, and others, are bullied, intimidated, kidnapped, tortured, and even killed. There are some links between British unions and Colombian unions; a link which raises awareness of Colombians’ plight in the UK.
But we should be careful not to believe the professed aims of leaders like Trump. Trump tore up the corporate globalisation treaties like TPP and renegotiated NAFTA for a simple reason: those “deals” weren’t profitable enough for US businesses. TPP contained tax loopholes to allow foreign countries to charge the US hidden value-added taxes. The public who don’t know or care about the details of so-called free trade deals were duped into believing that Trump cares about American workers. The fact is that Trump’s team prefer one-on-one or bilateral deals. In a bilateral set-up, the US is the dominant of any two countries, including China. (China’s economic rise is largely a myth, given that major investors are US-based.) But in a political union, like the EU or the TPP, the US is weaker. The interests of working Americans, i.e., not to sign on to TPP, coincided with the interests of big business; to have a “free trade” deal that included provisions against hidden taxes. It was a bit like Brexit: it benefited some elites and coincided with public opinion. In addition, growing numbers of corporations are relying on automation. Foreign countries simply haven’t the infrastructure to assemble US products with robots, so US companies are on-shoring (coming home). Trump can claim credit for this by claiming that he’s bringing jobs back to America.
The major hope and indeed action comes in the form of political engagement. Syriza of Greece totally sold the Greek people out to the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank—the Troika. But at least it has some leftist policies. Its failings have led the way for the right-wing New Democracy, which is currently leading in the polls. Podemos in Spain is another example of moderately leftist progress which, if successful, could be pushed even further by grassroots activism. Though not yet in power in the UK, Corbyn’s Labour Party is by now the biggest political party in terms of grassroots membership in Europe. There are dangers, too, with Austria and Italy now led by far-right governments. Both far-right and far-left parties profess an anti-globalisation agenda but neither fully commit to ending their support for corporate globalisation.
We need to act fast because it’s not at all certain that a neoliberal corporate agenda can survive. Last year, I wrote an article for Truthout documenting the numerous indigenous peoples around the world, “tribes” as we dismissively call them, who are literally facing extinction. That’s what our civilisation and its reliance on corporate greed has done, driven thousands of endangered peoples to the edge of literal extinction. Their plight is a taste of things to come. If we look at social data in societies that have been first hit with financial crises and then by neoliberal programmes, we see massive mortality rates. Neoliberalism literally kills. Neoliberalism is a system of institutionalised greed which measures everything in terms of its financial value. A global system based on those inhuman principles can’t survive for long.
You have published « Voices for Peace », a book co-authored by several personalities of which I interviewed some of them, such as Kathy Kelly and Noam Chomsky. According to you, are the voices of these personalities not very important in the fight of the resisters around the world?
These voices are important representatives. Each author has contributed different things to humanity in different ways. In the 1970s, journalist John Pilger raised millions of dollars to help Cambodian famine victims. He literally saved lives. Today, John does other vital work in raising awareness about the lies of government. Kathy Kelly is associated with numerous groups, particularly Voices for Creative Non-Violence, in Afghanistan, providing blankets, emotional support, and more. Brian Terrell is a dedicated anti-war, anti-drone activist who has been arrested on multiple occasions. Bruce K. Gagnon pioneered raising awareness about the weaponization of space and continues to keep the momentum going by organising protests, doing interviews, and writing articles. For Palestinians, it’s an important psychological boost to have Israeli Jews like Ilan Pappé speaking up for their rights.
The book begins by talking about grassroots activists, like those who drop water bottles in the deserts of the border between the US and Mexico, so that dying refugees might survive, or the brave volunteers who take boats out into the waters of Europe to look for men, women, and child refugees who would otherwise drown or catch hypothermia. These grassroots activists have an acute sense of humanity and compassion. They don’t need high-profile figures like Chomsky to motivate them, but high-profile names are important to represent them and their causes, directly or indirectly, to wider audiences. Featuring big names is a way of attracting attention to important, on-the-ground work often done by others; but also done by many of the people featured in the book.
You are the director and founder of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research. Can you introduce your organization to our readers?
PIPR was founded in 2014 by my partner and I to commemorate the start of the First World War and to draw attention to the wars and oppression going on today. PIPR is a website. It is an independent organisation funded out of pocket; in other words it has close to zero funding. This was a deliberate choice, as I did not want the agenda to be shaped by financial backers—not that I had any offers. Unlike war, peace is not a profitable pursuit. The only thing for sale on the site are my books. There is no advertising. The site has a document archive consisting of what I consider to be the most important documents: The US military’s drone expansion plan; the US Army-Air Force “owning the weather” agenda to test climate-change technologies; the US Space Command’s declaration of war on the world, it’s “full spectrum dominance” agenda; and others.
The site also hosts videos, in particular a BBC documentary acknowledging MI6 and CIA terror attacks across Europe after World War II, Operation Gladio. There is a Links page to other (what I regard to be) progressive and anti-war organisations, like Amnesty International and Code Pink. There is an Honorary Members page. Honorary members include: Suaad Genem, an Israeli-Palestinian who was basically bullied out of her homeland due to her commitments to secular political parties advocating Palestinian rights; Kathy Kelly, whom I mentioned above; John Pilger; and Dr. Cynthia McKinney, former Congresswoman and activist. Some Honorary Members contributed nothing to the site and were removed. Others turned out to be charlatans and were also removed. The Events page supports Bruce K. Gagnon of Space4Peace. We also publish articles on a range of topics. Over the last few years, we’ve acted as a mirror site for Kathy’s group, Voices for Creative Non-Violence by re-publishing the articles on their site, most of which concern their on-the-ground work in Afghanistan.
PIPR was established when my partner and I lived in Exeter, UK, and were involved in a number of peace-related activities close to or inside the city: Palestine Solidarity, anti-slavery, the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament, and so on. It seemed sensible to establish and use PIPR as a kind of hub in which these seemingly disparate activities could coalescence under the general banner of peace. In terms of practical, grassroots activism: We marched in protest and held vigils against Israel’s further demolition of Gaza in 2014; joined the protests against the drone factory UAV Engines in Shenstone, UK; supported Exeter’s Music for Peace events; manned stalls to sell books and distribute peace-related leaflets at the Exeter Respect festival; spoke at the local Tolpuddle Martyr’s Festival in Dorset, UK; and gave talks elsewhere, including to the Cambridge Stop the War Coalition.
Moving from Exeter to a more rural area has made it more difficult to keep up the grassroots activism, hence my current focus on writing. As the First World War commemorations, such as they were, come to an end, the site has served its purpose. At its peak, we were getting around one thousand unique hits per day, with no advertising or promotion. This resulted solely from the popularity of interviewees and contributors, including those mentioned above as well as Ilan Pappé. Our biggest academic successes included interviewing Noam Chomsky and publishing Bruce K. Gagnon’s article which was cited by Sonoma State University’s Project Censored in its Censored 2016 book. Public attention was drawn to PIPR by accident when Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, which shares its title with one of my books, received publicity from Newsweek. The latter ran a story on books with the same title as Wolff’s. PIPR was mentioned in the article. It’s a shame that the mainstream considered us to be of peripheral interest piqued by the coincidence of the success of Wolff’s mainstream book. Wolff’s book is mostly unsubstantiated gossip. But that says a lot about the culture of fame and the respect and attention given to people of high status.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Dr. . J. Coles?
Dr. T. J. Coles is a postdoctoral researcher at Plymouth University’s Cognition Institute, working on issues relating to blindness and visual impairment. A columnist with AxisOfLogic.com, he has written about politics and human rights for a number of publications, including CounterPunch and Truthout. Books include Union Jackboot (with Matthew Alford), Manufacturing Terrorism (Clairview Books), Britain’s Secret Wars, Human Wrongs, Real Fake News, Voice for Peace, The Great Brexit Swindle, President Trump, Inc. and Fire and Fury.
He is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research (PIPR).
Published in American Herald Tribune, December 12, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/interview/2692-tim-j-coles.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.141218.htm