The US reboots its war machine – weekly briefing

Lindsey German 21 April 2024 –

Joe Biden greets Netanyahu in 2016. Photo: Flickr/US Embassy JerusalemJoe Biden greets Netanyahu in 2016. Photo: Flickr/US Embassy Jerusalem

Lindsey German on imperialism and revolution

The conventional response of politicians and media is that we should breathe a sigh of relief that war in the Middle East hasn’t broken out. The latest strike by Israel directly on Iranian territory is supposed to have settled the dispute which began when Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing among others senior military figures.

Maybe for now. But the war in Gaza, the growing conflict between Israel and Iran, which has now involved direct airstrikes on each country by the other, and the willingness of the US to back Netanyahu to the hilt, is preparing for the terrifying prospect of a much bigger war.

While the US urges ‘restraint’ on Israel, it has given the green light for some sort of invasion of Rafah, where over a million people are trapped. It won’t condemn the consulate bombing, even though the betting must be that this was a deliberate provocation by Netanyahu to draw Iran into war. It is imposing further sanctions on Iran, as has the EU this week, but there are absolutely no sanctions for a state which is committing genocide in Gaza. It is estimated that the cost of shooting down Iranian drones and missiles orchestrated by the US last weekend was $1bn.

Anyone in doubt that the US is ‘ironclad’ in its commitment to Israel, and that it is driving future wars, should take a look at the bills passed in Congress on Saturday. The lion’s share of funding which totals $95bn goes to Ukraine, but a huge further $26bn goes to Israel. In contrast, only $9bn goes for humanitarian assistance for civilians in war zones including Gaza, Haiti and Sudan, where civil war is raging. The bill also bans US funding of UNWRA until March of next year. 

The Israel bill is giving Netanyahu money to buy weapons and increase its missile defence and will make it easier to give the country US munitions which are presently in dumps across the Middle East.

It is hard to see that this is anything other than an endorsement and encouragement for further attacks on the Palestinians and for Israel to continue its escalation elsewhere, perhaps most likely against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The funding for Ukraine is to deliberately prolong a war which cannot be won. While Zelensky’s increasingly beleaguered government welcomes this move (and incidentally supports everything the US does over Israel), there is not a path to victory for Ukraine but only to some sort of settlement with Russia. This could have happened in 2022, but was scotched by the West as it thought it could defeat Russia. The latter’s territorial gains in recent months and its growing missile attacks on Ukraine paint a very different picture from the bragging a year ago that Ukraine’s offensive would break through. In fact it was virtually non-existent.

Those suffering here will not be the US or indeed Ukrainian politicians, but the people of Ukraine who are facing very heavy casualties and injuries, and increasing numbers of whom don’t want to fight.

The big hike in arms funding for Ukraine and Israel, as well as US allies in the Pacific, including Taiwan, will benefit the US arms industry, but it will also make wider war much more likely. It matches greater commitment especially for Ukraine by the EU and Britain. There is a global arms race which is likely to end only in one way. At the same time, we can see the way in which the victims of war are treated as collateral damage and thrown crumbs in terms of aid. Nancy Pelosi made a speech supporting military aid to Ukraine, accusing those who opposed it of enabling rape. Does she not think that rape is common in Haiti or Sudan? Or are those people less worthy of consideration?

The stink of hypocrisy and double standards is not just emanating from Washington but from Westminster. Here is a bipartisan politics where Keir Starmer does not allow even the political division that we saw in the US. He supports Trident, more arms spending, scapegoating of refugees, and this week is stressing his pride and patriotism. The nausea I feel when seeing Labour’s election leaflets drowning in union jacks is only stemmed by the recognition that there are millions around the world who oppose these politics.

The Palestine movement is on a global scale, and despite repression from Columbia students in New York to the Palestine conference in Berlin, it continues relentlessly. But solidarity with the Palestinians is not going to be enough. We need to oppose war with Iran, and Nato’s proxy war with Russia now being fought out in Ukraine.  

We cannot be deceived by the talk of restraint or de-escalation. Our rulers are preparing for war and we must prepare to oppose them.

A revolution remembered

It’s 50 years ago this week that a group of left-wing officers in the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement staged a coup which marked the beginning of the Portuguese revolution. Fed up with fascism and dictatorship at home and failed colonial wars abroad, it opened up the possibility of real change. Revolutions are deliberately depicted as violent and unnecessary upheavals, but that is to misunderstand what they represent.

I went to Portugal a couple of months after the revolution and again in 1975 at its height. In 74 we stayed in Lisbon and in a small seaside town nearby. On Sunday you couldn’t get a bus to the furthest beach because the drivers no longer would work then, nor could you get fresh bread, as the bakers was shut. On the beach the book stalls carried two distinct sorts of publication: pornography, banned under the dictatorship, and the works of Marx, Lenin, Mao and others, also banned under the dictatorship.

There was a movement called saneamento which meant the cleansing of fascist sympathisers and police spies from workplaces. People began to strike and occupy their workplaces to improve their conditions. And everywhere posters, slogans, meetings, red carnations and red flags. 

Revolution means that people change society from the bottom up and in the process change themselves. Solidarity to the people of Portugal who now face a growing far right threat. The memory of that revolution should inspire us today.

This week: I have a Stop the War steering committee on Tuesday, the big demo on Saturday. I’m also pleased to be chairing a discussion on media coverage of Gaza. And I’ll be going to the launch of a new Counterfire book on A People’s History of Covid on Wednesday.