Experts fear coronavirus cover up in Iran
2nd March 2020
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, there is growing evidence of an increasing impact in Iran. It is feared that sanctions imposed by the US may have weakened the capacity of the country’s medical sector to cope. Jane Green reports.
Coronavirus in Iran – may be worse than officially reported
Since first announcing the presence of coronavirus COVID-19 recently, Iran has reported a total of 388 cases and 34 deaths, a far higher fatality rate than seen elsewhere. It is widely suspected that the official tally vastly underestimates the true number of cases. Iran has the highest number of coronavirus cases outside of China.
A senior medical doctor at the Masih Daneshvari hospital in Tehran, the country’s top pulmonary public hospital and the main facility overseeing coronavirus patients was keen to retain his anonymity but stated,
“We think that this virus has been in Iran for the past three to four weeks and has circulated throughout the country. Right now in Iran we are facing a coronavirus epidemic.”
Medical teams are concerned that they do not have the means to test effectively or to screen potential cases. Testing kits were not available in Iran until last week due to the sanctions imposed upon the regime by the US.
Medical workers are also concerned that their equipment is badly outdated, a situation made worse by the US sanctions, although the US administration says “humanitarian and medical needs” are exempt from sanctions. Nevertheless, many European companies fear doing business in Iran for fear of retribution from the US.
In addition, sanctions on Iranian banks make it difficult to carry out financial transactions with Europe. It can take three times longer to make a simple banking transaction with Europe under the newly imposed sanctions.
Ventilators and medicines are also in short supply as the scarcity of US dollars limits purchasing power. While the government has imposed some restrictions on holy sites and called off some Friday prayer services, President Rouhani has said there are no plans to quarantine entire cities hit by the virus.
Due to the shortage of surgical masks and hand sanitiser in shops, public health experts say Iran could become the hub of a major outbreak across the Middle East, especially given its porous borders with unstable countries at war or in turmoil.
Studies by Human Rights Watch and other groups last year found the country’s health care sector was severely affected under the latest round of US sanctions, putting cancer and other patients in danger, without access to life-saving medicine.
Iran’s reported mortality rate for coronavirus, at just under nine percent, surpasses the rate for other countries by a wide margin. Earlier this week, it was 16 percent. China’s reported mortality rate is currently at 3.5 percent. In South Korea, 13 patients have died out of 1,766 cases, for a reported mortality rate of slightly less than 1 percent.
Precise figures for Iran however, are difficult to come by. The head of the Medical Science University in Qom, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, a city in which there has been a significant number of confirmed cases, said on state television that the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures on the outbreak in the city.
Asked how many people had been placed in quarantine, Ghadir said, “The Health Ministry has told us not to announce any new statistics.”
The lack of clear reporting from Iran has prompted experts to raise concerns over whether there has been an official cover-up of the scale of the epidemic, and whether the country will be able to contain the deadly disease.
The response of the leadership of the regime has not inspired confidence, with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, playing down the outbreak, accusing Tehran’s enemies of playing up “negative propaganda” over the coronavirus threat, to undermine recent Parliamentary elections.
The lack of concern shown by the regime is underlined by the fact that nine flights by Mahan Air, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps controlled airline, were made without any official permit to China, for the transportation of passengers and freight in the two weeks prior to the Iranian government’s acknowledgement of the presence of coronavirus inside Iran.
This was despite a rule having been made by the Iranian government supposedly suspending all flights between Iran and China. The passengers of these flights were not subject to quarantine or any control whatsoever upon their return to Iran.
However, given the growing international concerns and the prospect of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring a coronavirus pandemic, there have been growing calls upon the US to ease its restrictions on humanitarian trade with Iran, which would allow China and other Tehran-friendly countries, including Russia, to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the Islamic Republic before the disease escalates into a greater crisis in the region.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies programme, told reporters last week that the virus “came unseen and undetected into Iran, so the extent of infection may be broader than what we may be seeing.”
If the situation in Iran continues to deteriorate the US will come under mounting international pressure to remove some of its sanctions to allow humanitarian aid. Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, said last week,
“The Trump administration will face a moral dilemma: whether to remove some of the pressure on Iran or face international condemnation for putting millions at risk.”
Luft also expressed concern that, as fears of a global pandemic grew and countries stockpiled face masks and other medical equipment, it could be hard for other nations to help Iran effectively.
In an ironic twist State media said last week that a member of the Iranian Parliament, Mamoud Sadeghi, and the country’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, who lead a task force battling the virus, had tested positive. The news came a day after Harirchi appeared at a news conference looking feverish, reaching for tissues to wipe his brow. He wore no mask as the ministry spokesman standing next to him expressed confidence about the government’s response to the crisis.
Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur called on Iranians to avoid “unnecessary trips inside the country”, while Iran’s neighbours have closed their borders. The UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Estonia in northern Europe all recorded new cases of the virus in people travelling from Iran.
Globally, more than 80,000 people in nearly 50 countries have been infected with the coronavirus. Nearly 2,800 have died, the majority in China’s Hubei province.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star (02/03/20)
For more information visit www.codir.net
Pledges and Priorities
23rd February 2020
Pro-Palestine but against antisemitism – perfectly compatible
Voting for the Labour Party leadership will get underway this week, with the top job now narrowed down to three candidates; Kier Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long Bailey. To some extent all three are compromised, by supporting the Ten Pledges to End the Antisemitism Crisis diktat, by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which seeks to impose external controls on how the Labour Party addresses allegations of antisemitism, stating that,
“An independent provider should be used to process all complaints, to eradicate any risk of partisanship and factionalism.”
The pledges include handing responsibility for training on antisemitism to one group in the Jewish community, the Jewish Labour Movement, and for Labour to,
“…engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals.”
This latter being code for the Board of Deputies or groups it approves as being ‘representative.’
This presumably excludes Jewish Voice for Labour, for example, which has supported a rejection of the Ten Pledges by the leadership candidates.
Even Rebecca Long Bailey, the most progressive of the leadership candidates, has fallen victim to the antisemitism smear campaign, suggesting in Jewish News that,
“Unfortunately, some people who regard themselves as anti-racist may nevertheless, when talking about the legacy of colonialism or the distribution of power within our capitalist society, use some of the negative stereotypical ideas or images that have become embedded within our culture over time.”
Long Bailey could have more usefully made the point that conflating criticism of the Israeli government’s failure to respect UN resolutions and international law with antisemitism, is the most dangerous of the “negative stereotypical ideas or images” being systematically embedded within our culture.
In the Deputy Leadership race only Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler have not agreed to the demands of the Ten Pledges, a position which has brought on predictable vitriol from the Board of Deputies and its mouthpiece the Jewish Chronicle, which quoted Board president Marie van der Zyl saying it “beggars belief” that Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon and Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler had withheld their endorsement.
Butler, in a statement as to why she would not sign the Ten Pledges made clear,
“If I thought that signing these 10 pledges would help solve the problem, I would do it. It would no doubt be the easy thing for me to do and I know the attention not doing so will bring. I endure racism on a daily basis. I know what it feels like. I have dedicated my career and life to doing just that, including in my current role as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.
That’s how I know that the easy route is not always the best route and I must do what I think is best. I fear that signing the pledges without further discussion will result in no positive change and I fear it will just be a token gesture.”
Her full statement is here:-
The Ten Pledges from the Board of Deputies has received far greater profile that the Ten Key Pledges to Support Muslim Communities, released by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) during the General Election campaign, and to which all leadership candidates have also signed up.
More information is here:-
It is interesting to note pledge 10 on the subject of Ethical Foreign Policy which states,
“Support a binding recognition of Palestine as an independent and sovereign state, and address human rights abuses abroad, including in Kashmir, Xinjiang and Myanmar.”
The Board of Deputies will no doubt have a view on the Palestinian question. It will be interesting to see how much time the successful candidate devotes to this MCB pledge, compared to those in the Board of Deputies set of pledges. There can be little doubt which will receive the most scrutiny from the media and which organisation has the strongest lobby, both inside and outside of the Labour Party.
One thing is certain, real leadership will come from the candidate who is not only vociferous in their condemnation of antisemitism but who calls out racism in any form. That will mean being prepared to make the case for the rights of Palestinians, in accordance with international law, however strong the pressure may be not to do so.
The Centre Cannot Hold
15th February 2020
Sinn Féin break the mould in the Irish general election
The Left in Britain should take heart from the outcome of the recent General Election in Ireland, where Sinn Féin broke the stranglehold of the centre right consensus in Irish government, in the form of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have dominated the political life of Ireland for eight decades.
Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has set about the task of attempting to form a People’s Government with the support of smaller parties and independents in the Irish Parliament. It may take time to put together such a coalition but the fact that Sinn Féin are even in such a position is a huge leap forward.
In a statement on the election outcome the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) made the following assessment,
“This election result has grown on the rejection of EU-imposed austerity and the polices that give priority to the needs of capital, of the rich and powerful, at the expense of workers, policies promoted by all the establishment parties, including the Labour Party, and the establishment media. It follows from the mass struggles on water, housing, health, Repeal the 8th, and marriage equality.
The election only confirmed that housing, health, pensions and child care were central questions that have had a great impact on the working class.”
However, as the CPI go on to warn, Sinn Féin must remain vigilant against the efforts of the Irish establishment to incorporate them into the system and blunt the demands which have propelled them into such a strong position. A coalition with one of the establishment parties could very well lead to a watering down of the programme on which Sinn Féin were elected. As the CPI go on to state,
“In the next few weeks we will witness the behind-the-scenes negotiations and back-room deals being pulled together to see which combination of parties will form the next Government. The opportunism of the Labour Party, Social Democrats and Green Party will make them very amenable to forming or supporting a Government with Fianna Fáil.
While Irish communists welcome these progressive developments, we are mindful of the history of class struggles and the fight for national independence and sovereignty, of how easily the demands and the energy of working people have been smothered in the past, promoting the blind faith that the electoral system alone can deliver real or lasting change.”
In the words of Irish poet WB Yeats , “the centre cannot hold.”
The election in Ireland does illustrate that Left policies can prove popular, as the Labour Party in Britain demonstrated in the 2017 General Election. The contest for the leadership of the Labour Party has now been narrowed to three candidates, with Emily Thornberry failing to make the cut for the final ballot.
Kier Starmer remains the clear front runner, based upon Constituency Labour Party and trade union nominations, with Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy also in the frame. The election now goes to one member, one vote with all 500,000 Labour Party members eligible to make their choice.
Only Long Bailey has presented a platform which is consistent with the progressive positions Labour has developed over the past four years under Jeremy Corbyn. Her demonisation by the media is in proportion to her support for left wing policies and every effort is being made, by both the media establishment and the establishment within the Labour Party, to undermine her position.
Starmer has recognised that he will not win without some left wing support and has made conciliatory noises, suggesting that Corbyn’s leadership and policies had some merit, and that the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water. This is rich coming from him as Starmer was one of the key architects of Labour’s defeat, in arguing to ditch the policy of support for the referendum outcome, while lending weight to the so-called People’s Vote campaign.
Lisa Nandy is the current darling of the soft left and is likely to garner votes from those determined to see a woman leader but not brave enough to vote Long Bailey.
Whatever the outcome of the Labour leadership election the successful candidate can be sure of a media vilification campaign, if not on the scale of that directed at Corbyn, at least sufficient to pose questions about their leadership competence and economic credentials. Even Starmer, the safety first candidate, will not escape this.
Nor can the centre hold in Britain any more than it can in Ireland. Whoever lands the Labour Party job can be sure that they will face a Prime Minister whose primary objective over the next five years is to secure a further five years in office. The effective sacking of Chancellor, Sajid Javid, heralds a move to centralise economic decision making in the hands of No.10 and a determination by Boris Johnson to increase public spending on infrastructure projects, the green light for HS2 being just the start.
It is Johnson’s calculation that such spending will not only prove popular but will boost the economy, at least sufficiently, to gain him a second term. However, it will take more than fast trains to turn around some of the structural issues of poverty, which have been compounded by ten years of austerity and biting welfare reforms. It is ironic that HS2 will not even reach those Northern seats that Johnson has characterised as ‘lending’ him their votes. It may not be long before many voters realise they have been short changed.
Johnson has been equally determined not to raise taxes, leaving him in the position of fuelling his spending plans through increased borrowing, albeit at favourable interest rates, or breaking the tax pledge.
In Britain, as in Ireland, it is hard to see how things will not, at some point fall apart.
9th February 2020
Trump – basks in his impeachment acquittal
“Trump Acquitted” screamed the headline in The Washington Post, held aloft by the self promoting, narcissist currently occupying the White House at his press conference on Friday.
“Best headline I’ve ever had in The Washington Post”, quipped a delighted Trump, barely able to conceal his joy at the outcome of the impeachment trial, which will surely go down in US history as one of the greatest constitutional debacles ever.
The move to impeach Trump was set in train last August when the President was accused of putting pressure upon the President of Ukraine, to dig dirt on the son of Democratic presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, or say goodbye to US aid and political support. Trump is alleged to have held back millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine and promised a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president, as bargaining chips. This forms the basis of the first charge against Trump.
The second charge against Trump is that, after the White House refused to allow staff to testify at the first impeachment hearings last year, Trump was effectively obstructing Congress.
An investigation in the House of Representatives from October to December resulted in a vote to impeach Trump, which led to the case being passed on to the Senate. While the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats, the Republicans control the Senate, giving Trump a distinct advantage once the trial got underway in January.
The Republican majority rejected moves by the Democrats to allow new witnesses and documents to be brought into the trial hearings, rendering them virtually meaningless and the outcome a foregone conclusion. In the final analysis only one Republican Senator, Mitt Romney, broke ranks and Trump got his acquittal.
The news came at the end of a week when the Democrats had initially failed to declare a winner in the Iowa caucuses, the first step on the road to finding an opposition candidate to Trump for November’s presidential election. On Tuesday, Trump delivered his State of the Union speech, which was greeted with thunderous applause by Republican Senators and compelled House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to rip up her copy of his speech, as Trump basked in the applause.
While Pelosi’s protest may have made for dramatic TV it will not have moved the Democrats any closer to laying a glove on Trump in November. Iowa eventually announced that little known small town Mayor, Paul Buttigieg, had nosed slightly ahead of veteran firebrand Bernie Sanders in the caucuses. There is a long way to go however.
The main talking point in the Democrat race has been the position of former New York mayor, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, allegedly keeping his powder dry till the bigger states, especially California, come into play in the Democrat selection process on so-called Super Tuesday on 3rd March.
Bloomberg’s response to anyone concerned about a rich Democrat trying to buy the race to defeat a rich Republican is typically robust,
“Someone said, Are you spending too much money? And I said, I’m spending money to get rid of Donald Trump. And the guy said, Spend more.”
On the one hand, the impeachment debacle and the Democrat primary race would appear to sum up the hopeless state of US politics, certainly as reported by the mainstream media. Alternatively, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) has a more hopeful perspective, noting that,
“…the strength and stability of any government rests not so much on the accumulation of power at the top but the degree of support below among the governed. With a split ruling class at the “commanding heights of big capital”; hard public support hovering around one-third; and a widespread, well-organized opposition in the labor, civil rights, women’s, Latino, LGBTQ, and youth movements—Trump is in big trouble.”
As the CPUSA acknowledge though, that opposition still needs to be galvanised in a way that can mount an effective challenge to Trump in November and that,
“…much depends on the ability of the various components of the people’s movements to forge greater unity around issues as the primaries play out. As recent events reveal, this is not a given. All of us have to keep our eyes on the prize. Defeating Trump….is central to social progress.”
The response to Trump’s State of the Union address from the CPUSA can be found here:-
It offers the hope of an alternative USA in which the people are truly empowered and elections cannot be bought, by Republican narcissists or Democrat billionaires.
As the media coverage builds towards the election in November, and the focus in the short term sharpens on the Democrat primaries, it is worth remembering that a bigger alternative is possible. There are millions in the USA committed to fighting for that alternative. They deserve our support and solidarity.
1st February 2020
UK departure a step towards solving the EU puzzle
In the past forty seven years the UK has seen the Winter of Discontent and the collapse of the Labour government; the Thatcher government, incorporating the rundown of manufacturing industry, the erosion of trade union rights, the destruction of Council housing, the dismantling of comprehensive education, the Miner’s Strike and poll tax demonstrations; the Blair/Brown years with the illegal war on Iraq, troops in Afghanistan and the banking crisis of 2008, paving the way for more Tory austerity, the consequences of which we are still living through.
All of this has occurred while the UK has been a member of the EU. Membership has done nothing to stop any of this and the EU has actively colluded in much of the economic deregulation, free movement of cheap labour and flexibility for capital, upon which the EU depends.
Those who regard the EU as the greatest deliverer of peace, progress and prosperity the world has known tend to forget Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria or the migrant crises which have followed being tied to adventurist US foreign policy. They tend to forget the conditions imposed upon nations such as Ireland, Greece and Portugal as part of so called ‘bail out’ packages, when their economies have been bled dry by the stronger EU states.
In economic terms growth in the UK economy has collapsed from 2% a year on average to 0.5% a year. The growth trend across mainland Europe is not much better, having fallen from a 4% per year to a 1% average. As Larry Elliott, economics editor for The Guardian has pointed out,
“Europe has world class companies but none of them were set up within the past 30 years. There is no equivalent of Facebook, Amazon or Google: the reason the UK has turned to Huawei to build its 5G mobile network is because the Chinese company is ahead of Europe’s rivals: Nokia and Ericsson.”
There is no economic miracle waiting to happen across Europe that the UK will be missing out on by leaving.
Of course, UK departure does not guarantee economic nirvana either. The fact that growth rates are tanking in both the EU and UK is not to do with EU membership but with the general crisis faced by capitalism. The EU is only one means by which the ruling classes across Europe attempt to manage this crisis in their own interests. In large measure that means the stronger economies, of Germany and France, managing the EU market in their interests.
However, the German economy only just avoided going in to recession in the last economic quarter. Discontent continues to simmer in the annexed East Germany where opportunities since ‘unification’ remain slim and a two tier system in terms of access to education, economic and political opportunity effectively operates. The rise of right wing populists Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD) is in part a reflection of this.
France has been beset by street demonstrations over the past year, through the gilets jeunes. The recent pressure to reverse proposed attacks on the working week and pensions has seen thousands more pour onto the streets in protest, with a high level of mobilisation through French trade unions, especially the CGT, and a leading role played by the French Communist Party (PCF).
The British ruling class has always been split over the EU and this has been reflected in the struggle within the Tory Party over the past fifty years. For the moment, those seeing that their interests are best served inside the EU have lost their grip and the Little Englander faction is on the march.
For socialists the EU has not brought any benefits and the social democratic gains of the post war period have been steadily eroded, without the EU affording any protection. The EU, friend or foe, is essentially a distraction from the main issue. That is that capitalism itself is the main enemy and the ruling class, however it chooses to organise, inside or outside an economic and political union or not, will never act in the interest of the working class.
Leaving the EU is a momentous occasion and an historic step. However, it will not result in the ‘freedoms’ the right wing imagine, or be the calamity imagined by hand wringing liberals. In many respects it is simply a continuation of the ongoing class struggle by other means and on slightly different terrain.
For workers in the UK the enemy should be a bit clearer. We need to make sure that our focus is sharper and that the real needs of ordinary people can be articulated and delivered, freed from the shackles of the monetarist restrictions imposed by the EU. That will not mean arguing a case to return to the EU, as Labour leadership candidate Kier Starmer is advocating, but putting the case for a forward looking, truly internationalist, socialist Britain.
The people of the UK need to move forward, with no regrets about leaving the EU, but looking forward to a true internationalism, based upon the union of the peoples of Europe, not a union of the banks and corporations which exploit them.
Theatre of the Absurd
30th January 2020
Marwan Bishara, Senior Political Analyst at al-Jazeera shares some thoughts on the so-called Middle East Peace Plan, unveiled this week by Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and Trump – aiming to call the shots in the Middle East in more ways than one
The devil is not in the detail; it’s in the headlines of Trump’s initiative.
So, to resolve the problem of the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian lands, Trump wants them legalised and recognised as part of Israel.
To resolve the problem of Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied Jerusalem, Trump wants it recognised as the capital of Israel and Israel alone.
To deal with the question of Palestinian refugees and their inalienable right of return and compensation, Trump wants to prevent their return.
To solve the problem of violent, repressive and inhumane Israeli control over the Palestinians, Trump wants to see that extended indefinitely. Even after the Palestinians meet all the new conditions imposed on them, they would still be at the mercy of Israel’s security forces.
The Trump plan tramples over United Nations Security Council resolution 242, which requires Israel to return to its 1967 borders (or to their approximate, according to past US initiatives), and redraws the borders to suit Israel’s settlements and facilitate its control.
Instead of ending Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine, Trump wants to see it continue under a different name, at least until his promise for a provisional Palestinian “state” is fulfilled, one which will have no sovereignty or independence.
Basically, Trump envisions half a Palestinian state on half of the West Bank, but only after the Palestinians combat terrorism and recognise Israel as a Jewish state extending over some 90 percent of historic Palestine.
Trump’s embrace of apartheid in the holy land, as a pragmatic even indispensable prerequisite for “peace” and stability adds insult to Palestinian injury.
And lest we forget, the Trump administration has already closed down the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority, transferred the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and repealed US recognition of the refugee issue by suspending all funding to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
The full text of this article can be found here:-
Is progressive patriotism possible?
27th January 2020
UK Armed Forces – not to be criticised….
The idea of progressive patriotism is being raised as one of the issues the Left needs to grapple with following Labour’s General Election defeat in December last year. It is certainly the case that by the measure of patriotism used by the BBC and right wing media, Labour in general, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, do not measure up.
The new patriotism test, against which Labour fails, has evolved by degrees following the defeat of the Soviet Union; the post 9/11 war on terror, resulting in UK troops being deployed following UK backing for the US invasion of Iraq; the deployment of UK troops, supporting the US once again in the unwinnable war in Afghanistan; and the four years long commemoration of the centenary of the First World War.
Replacing the International Workers’ Day May Day Bank Holiday, with an 8th May Bank Holiday to mark 75 years since the end of World War 2, is just the latest occasion to glorify the armed forces. It is ironic that across much of Europe both 1st May and the 8th May, marking the end of WW2 and the defeat of fascism, have been public holidays for many years, the two not being seen in opposition to each other.
The UK was in a different position to much of Europe as World War 2 approached. The British Empire was still a tangible reality and the ruling class were desperate to keep it that way. The role of the UK in colluding with the Nazis in their re-armament programme; the free hand given to the German and Italian invaders of Spain in the so called Civil War (1936-39), due to the policy of non-intervention; and the desire to see either Japan, Germany, or both, attack the Soviet Union, are conveniently airbrushed out of the popular histories of the 1930’s and the build up to war.
On the contrary, the popular assumption is that Britain won the war, which in one sense it did but not without the help of allies in the United States and more significantly, in terms of damage done to the Nazis, the Soviet Union.
In the bid to win hearts and minds in Labour’s traditional heartlands these historical facts will not cut any ice. By the same token, in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, Colonel Qaddafi and tackling the Taliban, ‘our boys’ have been doing their bit to keep the free world safe. The reality for many working class communities is that ‘our boys’, and increasingly girls, are just that, family members who have signed up to the armed forces as the best career option, in areas where the run down of manufacturing and the public sector have gone hand in hand to create virtual ghost towns.
The winning of hearts and minds on the Left has for too long focussed upon the second part of that equation. For example, it is altogether rational to equate the estimated £150 billion cost of renewing Trident nuclear submarines with so many roads, schools or hospitals which could be built instead. When the response to that however, is that scrapping Trident will leave us defenceless, it is clear that the debate is not necessarily about the rational.
While it is intellectually self evident that Trident weapons will not stop someone in a suicide vest, a cyber attack or a knife wielder on London Bridge, there is still a strong emotional appeal for many in the idea of a ‘strong’ defence of the UK and that includes nuclear weapons, with all of the international status and prestige they confer.
In the North East of England, one of the areas hardest hit by the Tories’ austerity programme, traditional Labour seats tumbled in the 2019 election. Labour’s ambivalent position on Brexit was undoubtedly a factor. The unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn came high on the list of reasons not to vote Labour. Why was Corbyn so unpopular? Scratch the surface for many North East voters and it was not the Labour programme or the issue of anti-Semitism, it was that Corbyn was perceived as ‘unpatriotic’. The drip feed smear campaign of the right wing press and BBC had made an impact. Combined with the other factors undermining Labour’s position, it proved fatal.
Whether progressive patriotism is the right phrase or not the Left needs to reassess how it projects its position in relation to the armed forces. That does not mean simply playing to the lowest common denominator. It could mean redirecting some of the projected spend for Trident into conventional forces, while still retaining some for socially useful production. One or two Generals may even be persuaded to back such a position.
The commitment to peace is so deeply engrained in many on the Left that voicing any support for the armed forces may seem anathema. However, a socialist Britain will still need to retain some form of defence capability. In the longer term it need not be deployed in support of adventurist US wars. It need not be a vehicle to shore up the post colonial ambitions and greed of the minority. It need not be allied to NATO.
If the Left is even to get close to these possibilities it needs to be thinking now about its own strategy for the military and how we build bridges to neutralise the ‘anti-patriotic’ smear campaigns in the meantime.
Picking fights with the establishment
18th January 2020
BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg – more lazy journalism
The field of candidates for the Labour Party leadership is not a hugely inspiring array but it is becoming clear, even this early in the race, who the political and media establishment do not want to see win; Rebecca Long-Bailey.
The relatively modest platform of reforms aimed at taming some of the worst excesses of capitalist austerity, otherwise known as the Labour Party 2019 election manifesto, has been branded as a template for ‘Corbynism’ by the lazy journalists of the BBC, including Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg.
There is of course no such thing as Corbynism, as Jeremy Corbyn would be the first to point out. As a shorthand however it allows the likes of Neil and Kuenssberg to use the term as a trope for anything, or anyone, they regard as being remotely left of centre and, by implication, a threat to the established order. In this way Rebecca Long-Bailey, before she says a word, is caricatured as the ‘continuity candidate’ of Corbynism.
Needless to say, in the world of Neil and Kuenssberg, Corbynism is a failed project and therefore anyone associated with it must be defending the indefensible. After all, does the 80 strong majority enjoyed by Boris Johnson not signal the death of Corbynism?
In their usual shoddy approach to the issues Neil and Kuenssberg make every effort to undermine the intelligence of their viewers and characterise the Labour leadership according to the lowest common denominators.
Summarising on the Andrew Neil Show on the BBC this week Kuenssberg casually referred to Long-Bailey as “the party machine’s preferred candidate”. Kuenssberg went on to offer her assessment of the desire of Labour Party members to “move on”, something she regarded as unexpected “given how strong Jeremy Corbyn’s teams grip has actually been on the levers of power inside the machine”. Neil then chipped in to suggest that, “continuing Corbynism without Mr. Corbyn looks to be more difficult than they might have expected….”; Laura couldn’t agree more….
The programme had featured an extended interview with leadership candidate Lisa Nandy, who performed reasonably well and kept some of Neil’s usual excesses in check, but fell well short of being convincing. Nandy wobbled on selective education and devolving power to communities. She failed to address the need to halt the obsolete Trident nuclear weapons programme.
On the question of anti-Semitism she regarded characterising the Board of Deputies of British Jews as Conservative backing, and asking them to condemn Israeli atrocities in the Gaza strip and West Bank, as anti-Semitic. Nandy’s shallow grasp of the issue was alarming.
Long-Bailey meanwhile secured the backing of the Momentum pressure group inside Labour, a further red rag to those looking for more evidence of her ‘Corbynist’ and hard left credentials.
Outlining her position in The Guardian this week, Long-Bailey stated that,
“The next Labour leadership team must not junk our values, or abandon plans to deal with the big challenges of the age. Instead we must plot our path to power then deliver it.”
Seeing the need to galvanise Labour’s grass roots and the communities it should be representing Long-Bailey calls for,
“…a government for and by the people…a popular movement to turn the British state against the privatisers, big polluters and tax dodgers that have taken hold of our political system.”
It is a bold recognition of the need to combine extra-Parliamentary action with action in Parliament to bring about change, stressing the need to “pick a fight with the political establishment.”
It was such a break with the political consensus which saw Jeremy Corbyn rise to such levels of popularity before the 2017 General Election. It is exactly what gave the political establishment such a fright that it unleashed the systematic campaign of vilification, which went right through to the 2019 General Election.
For Rebecca Long-Bailey, the fight with the political establishment is already underway.
Pressure Builds on Iranian dictatorship
12th January 2020
Debris from the Ukranian plane crash just outside Tehran
The death toll following the assassination, by the United States, of Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, General Qasem Souleimani, currently runs at over two hundred, with over 60 civilians being crushed in scenes of grief at Souleimani’s funeral and 176 deaths in the shooting down of the Ukranian civilian airliner, which the Iranian regime has admitted was a tragic mistake.
Neither of these events would have taken place without the assassination of Souleimani and both are examples of the unintended consequences which can follow on from significant political and military decisions, taken outside the norms of international law.
Souleimani, was the loyal servant of a theocratic dictatorship, unpopular with its own people, as recent demonstrations in November 2019 against corruption and political cronyism across Iran illustrate. The Iranian regime will never admit it but his assassination came at a time when uniting the country against a foreign enemy could have been a useful distraction from domestic pressures.
While the regime may have been hoping that the death of Souleimani would provide a distraction, the shooting down of the Ukranian passenger aircraft, with significant loss of life, has refocussed the Iranian people upon the incompetence of the regime.
Over the weekend massive demonstrations have taken place in Tehran and other key cities, in protest against the IRGC forces shooting down the plane killing 176 passengers, 82 of them Iranian, on their way to Europe and North America. The Iranian authorities had for three days falsely claimed technical difficulties as the cause of the crash. However, early on Saturday morning they announced that an IRGC air defence system had shot down the airliner minutes after leaving Tehran international airport. Protesters have been demanding the regime’s resignation, including that of Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.
While political assassination as a tool of foreign policy is not a new tactic for the US, the assassination of Souleimani still came as a shock to the Iranian regime and a blow to its adventurist foreign policy in the Middle East. With responsibility for the IRGC Quds Force, in charge of overseas operations, Souleimani was instrumental in extending Iranian influence throughout the region, across Iraq, into Syria and in Lebanon and Yemen. His military and tactical acumen is widely credited with having turned around the prospect of a Western led victory in the war of intervention in Syria.
The assassination of Souleimani followed a sequence of events going back to the 27th December, when an Iranian backed Shia militia attacked an Iraqi military base, killing a US contractor. Reports from the US indicate that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, suggested the killing of Souleimani at that point but the tactic was rejected in favour of air strikes against the militia responsible for the attack.
The air strikes led militia supporters to attack the Green Zone in Baghdad’s diplomatic quarter, overrunning the gated US embassy compound, before Iraqi forces arrived to break up the intrusion. It would seem that the event was sufficient for Pompeo to win over Trump to his viewpoint and Souleimani’s fate was sealed.
The political balance in the region, already precarious, has become even more volatile since Souleimani’s death.
Iran is using the opportunity to call for the complete withdrawal of US troops from the region, a demand echoed by the Iraqi Parliament, but one with which the US is unlikely to comply. An estimated 5,500 US troops are in Iraq and the US is in negotiations with NATO about an increased non-US NATO contribution. This is added to the fact that the United States has moved 14,000 additional troops to the Gulf region in the past year.
The volatility of US foreign policy, the ideological objectives of Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the geopolitical ambitions of Russia, do not lend themselves to any degree of regional certainty. Added to that the increasingly unstable position of the theocratic dictatorship in Iran, under intense pressure from its own people for democratic change, will continue to be a major factor for instability in the regional balance. Resistance to US troops in Iraq continues to be an issue, political instability in Lebanon continues and the ability of the Syrian people to recover from seven years of war will, no doubt, continue to be tested.
Much of this uncertainty is also due to the pressure for democratic change coming from the people of countries suffering under dictatorships of one form or another, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, or suffering under US occupation or influence such as in Iraq.
The Middle East remains a complex web of alliances in which there is no obvious or easy route to navigate. However, solidarity with the people of the Middle East, in their efforts to reshape their nations and the region in their interests, rather than those of Western corporations or the military industrial complex, will be more vital than ever in the coming period.
Trump in shoot to kill outrage
3rd January 2020
Qasem Soleimani – assassinated by US airstrike
The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, on the order of US President Donald Trump, marks a massive escalation in the undeclared war on Iran, which has been waged virtually from the moment Trump took office.
Soleimani was killed by an air strike on Baghdad airport early on Friday. As the leader of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Soleimani was widely regarded as second only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the pecking order in the Islamic Republic’s hierarchy.
Khamenei has said that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack and three days of national mourning have been announced. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has called the attack an “act of international terrorism”, going on to say that,
“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
Condemnation has come from Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who described the killing as a “dangerous escalation” and from Russia where Vladimir Putin warned that the assassination would “seriously aggravate the situation in the region”.
US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo stated that the strike was “lawful” and that it “saved lives”.
In the UK Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, issued the following statement,
“The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance. We urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US and we call for an end to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.”
The Stop the War Coalition have called a protest outside Downing Street for Saturday, 4th January at 2pm.
In the wider context of the ongoing interventionist war against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the fact that the United States has moved 14,000 additional troops to the Gulf region in the past year, there is every potential for wider conflagration.
A wave of protest has been sweeping the Middle East in recent months, with demonstrations against unpopular regimes unfolding in Iran, Iraq and the Lebanon. The protests have resistance to government corruption, mass unemployment and plunging living standards in common. All three regimes have reacted with increased violence and repression.
In Iraq at least 400 people are reported to have died since protesters took to the streets in early October. Amnesty International estimate that at least 208 people have died in nationwide protests in Iran since protests erupted in October. The true figure could be much higher. Protests against new taxes in Lebanon brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets and forced the resignation of Prime Minister, Saad Hariri.
While the protests across the region have been the result of internal repression and government incompetence, key players have been maximising their efforts to link the protests to wider regional tensions. The Intelligence Ministry in Tehran for example claimed to have arrested eight “CIA operatives” accused of inciting riots.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) chief commander, General Hossein Salami, suggested that the riots were conducted by “thugs” with the backing of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Salami went on to link the protests to the US policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year. Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has talked of a “dangerous conspiracy” implicating the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The US, on the other hand, has characterised the protests in Iraq and Lebanon as part of a region wide insurgency against Iranian power.
At least 7,000 people have reportedly been arrested in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces since mass protests broke out on 15th November, prompting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to state that she is “extremely concerned about their physical treatment, violations of their right to due process, and the possibility that a significant number of them may be charged with offences that carry the death penalty, in addition to the conditions under which they are held.”
While protests continue to sweep Iran, underlining the unpopularity of the Islamic Republic, the regime continues to try and bolster its position and circumvent US sanctions. Excluded from the US international interbank payment system, SWIFT, Tehran is looking to link with alternative systems in China and Russia.
Oil sales continue, primarily to Syria and China in order to generate income for the regime, prompting Khamenei to state recently that,
“The US policy of maximum pressure has failed. The Americans presumed that they can force Iran to make concessions and bring it to its knees by focussing on maximum pressure, especially in the area of economy, but they have troubled themselves.”
In countering the US “maximum pressure” approach Iran has upped the ante by participating in joint naval drills with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean in late December.
However, the assassination of Soleimani gives the whole “maximum pressure” policy a dangerous new twist.
The danger of external intervention in Iran is one which has been in the wings for some years. With the Iranian regime itself increasingly under pressure the possibility of a major strike, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from its domestic problems, should not be ruled out. Soleimani’s assassination may just give the clergy in Iran the excuse they need. Such an outcome would be disastrous, not only for the region, but for world peace.
Trump may have ordered the killing of Soleimani in order to look tough at home in an election year but there is every danger that, this time, the international consequences may far outweigh any perceived domestic benefits.