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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Don't Mention the War

This article of mine appears in the New Statesman.

Imagine if, ten years ago, your country had been bombed in contravention of international law for 78 days and nights, leading to the death or injury of more than 1,500 people, and that the reasons for the attack had subsequently been exposed as fraudulent. You would reasonably expect your government to mark the anniversary with a series of official events, and to issue a strong denunciation of those who launched the aggression.

But in Serbia, the pro-western ruling elite seems more concerned about keeping the US embassy onside than with commemorating the Nato bombing of ten years ago in an appropriate fashion.

The biggest event to mark the anniversary was an international conference, organised by the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals, a non-governmental organisation. Delegates from around the world attended, including the former US attorney general Ramsey Clark and the Labour ex-MP Alice Mahon. Yet Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic was the only participant from the Serbian government. His speech was one of the meeting’s most low-key.

On 24 March, a major anti-Nato rally was held in Belgrade’s main square, Trg Republike. There were speakers from the US, Germany and Russia – but no input from the Serbian government. The most it came up with was a commemorative sitting of the cabinet, at which Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic declared that the attack of ten years ago was “illegal, contrary to international law, without a decision by the United Nations Security Council”. Those looking for a more passionate denunciation of Nato actions from governing circles have been disappointed.

The reality is that Serbia’s ruling elite are seeking to take the country closer to the Nato fold. Serbia is to open its first diplomatic and military mission at Nato headquarters in Brussels this summer, and military manoeuvres involving soldiers from several Nato states will take place in Serbia this autumn.

Such moves fly in the face of public opinion. “There is an overwhelming majority of those among the Serbs who believe Serbia’s entering a Nato pact would have been a bigger disgrace than if Jacqueline Kennedy had married Lee Harvey Oswald,” Matija Beckovic, one of Serbia’s leading poets, told an anti-Nato gathering late last month.

Meanwhile, pro-American politicians in Serbia continue to blame the conflict of the late 1990s on the country itself and on Slobodan Milosevic, then leader of the rump Yugoslavia. But a growing weight of evidence indicates that the 1999 war had little to do with Milosevic, and everything to do with the US’s economic and military hegemonic ambitions in the Balkans.

Lord Gilbert, the UK’s defence minister in 1999, has admitted that “the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet [the international conference preceding the war] were absolutely intolerable . . . it was quite deliberate”. In an affidavit to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Colonel John Crosland, the UK’s military attaché in Belgrade from 1996-99, stated that the US had decided on regime change in Serbia and had decided to use the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army to achieve that end. Last month, a documentary on Serbian state television showed that the deaths of 40 people in Racak in January 1999 resulted from a legitimate anti-KLA police action and were only declared a “massacre” by the US Kosovo Verification mission to justify Nato actions.

“The war was not Serbia’s fault, nor the fault of Slobodan Milosevic,” Aleksandar Vucic, deputy leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, told me. “It was the fault of those who did the bombing.” Such views may not go down well in western corridors of power, but they undoubtedly chime with what most ordinary Serbs think.

With the Serbian economy in free fall and pro-western factions likely to pay the price in elections expected before the end of this year, it is probable that future anniversaries of the Nato bombing will receive more enthusiastic support from governing circles.


Louis said...

The western accusation that serbia is ruled by ultra-nationalist is so stupid but constantly reported as fact by verious organisations Serbia has never had a nationalist government and has had a pro western government for 9 years. I think i heard the Serbian president say the attack on Serbia was justified in principle but the death and distruction was unessesery. Sadly Serbia is being forced in to the arms of the NATO empire after its own distruction and the stealing of Kosovo and is expected to just except it with out question. When I visited Serbia for the first time in 20 years last year I found the people to be extremly friendly, well educated and touched some one from the UK would want to come to their country the people I spoke to were against both the pro-west and nationalist parties their nationalism was for Yugoslavia not Serbia and they were all aposed to NATO membership for the government to alow NATO on to their territory is a discrace.

Karl Haudbourg said...

Excellent post (as per usual).

jock mctrousers said...

Excellent articles , this and the one before it. I haven't really much to add to them, but maybe it's worth noting that even the Marxist left in the UK, though they talk about the Yugoslav war and always opposed Nato intervention, still have to heavily qualify support for Serbia with lip-service to the mainstream media propaganda about Serbian expansionism. Do you recall the editorials in the Morning Star and the Socialist Worker when Milosevic died (was murdered)? The Socialist Worker, which was in my opinion the best of the UK left groups on Yugoslavia, had an editorial titled (something like) 'Goodbye to the butcher of the Balkans'; the Morning Star, which was consistently well short of courageous re the Yugo wars, but at least gave space to Neil Clark and the Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, had a similarly shameful editorial. I (among others) had an argument last year with Lenin of Lenin's Tomb, who is the highest profile 'Marxist' blogger and SWP member; he expressed a preference for the accounts of the war from Misha Glenny, Silber and Little and Susan Woodward (Balkan Tragedy, certainly not the worst) over those of Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman, Michael Parenti and Kate Hudson; to be fair, he seems to be improving a bit on this lately, but unsurprisingly he's starting to get pieces in the Guardian - daring, but not too daring.
Neil Craig, who comments here, is certainly right that the European Left's response to the destruction of a modern European nation gives a good idea of how much faith we should put in them. But at least I suspect we wouldn't have to try too hard to convince the 'working classes' that when it comes to the crunch the Marxist 'left' are unlikely to be 'there for them'.

Anonymous said...

Because they got away with it in Yugoslavia, they got away with it in Iraq, because they got away with it in Iraq, the war criminals think its worth ignoring what amounts to feeble opposition, to do it all over again to Iran. Protest a bit, they throw us crumbs.
S. African Judge Richard Goldstone of the " International Independent Enquiry on Kosovo" fame is to head the UN investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

Of further interest to neil's brilliant article, since it's all connected, might be this by James Petras.

The Pentagon Minerva Research Initiative

US military support for the Israeli invasions of Lebanon and Gaza, the US-sponsored Ethiopian occupation of Somali, the coup attempts in Venezuela (2002) and Bolivia (2008), have also failed to defeat popular incumbent regimes. Worse still, civilian, family, community and national networks have reinforced the anti-colonial movements providing essential logistical support, intelligence, recruits and legitimacy.

Pentagon strategists, recognizing the socio-political bases of their failures, have turned to willing accomplices in the academic world to provide intelligence, in the form of ethnographic accounts of targeted peoples, tactics and strategies in order to divide and destroy local and national loyalties. The Pentagon is contracting social scientists to develop ‘social maps’ to identify leaders and groups, susceptible to recruitment in the service of the empire. For example, Pentagon-contracted academic ‘field research’ is designed to demonstrate ways in which traditional religious practices and rituals can be harnessed to facilitate imperial conquest through cultural warfare discouraging subjugated peoples from giving their support to national liberation movements. Rather than confront the imperial occupier with a goal of re-establishing national sovereignty, ‘cultural warfare’ strategies direct people to focus on ‘local concerns’. These are a few of the Pentagon funded “research projects” taken up by the ‘academics in uniform.’

The Pentagon is seriously engaged in this military-academic empire building strategy, allocating almost 100 million dollars to contracting academic collaborators and funding multiple ‘research’ projects throughout the world against targeted states, movements and communities.

The “Minerva Research Initiative” (MRI)

The biggest, but not the only, Pentagon-funded empire building research program in the social sciences is dubbed the Minerva Research Initiative (MRI). The MRI has contracted scores of academics from the usual prestigious academic brothels, including the veteran academic hookers and ambitious neophytes among post-doctorates and graduate assistants. These ‘scholars for empire’ are currently engaged in at least fourteen projects. MRI money has attracted a wide assortment of university affiliated psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, economists, professors of religious studies, public affairs specialists, labor economists and even nuclear physicists from MIT, Princeton, University of California at San Diego, and Arizona State University among others. This Pentagon largess provides what Science (Jan 30, 2009 p 576) (official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) calls a “banquet for a field accustomed to living on scraps.”

All of the regions and groups specifically targeted for the ‘Pentagon-academic’ investigation are currently in conflict with the US empire or its Israeli ally and include Southwest Asia, West Africa, Gaza, Indonesia, the Middle East. The Pentagon’s ideological parameter, which defines the MRI, is the “war on terror” or its ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’, new facsimile under President Obama.

The MRI has a special interest in academics who can target the field of Muslim-Arab organizations and activities, in order to study and develop methods to “diffuse and influence counter-radical Muslim discourse.” In other words, the MRI is contracting academic research, which will allow the Pentagon to penetrate Muslim communities, co-opt the leaders and turn them into imperial collaborators.

MRI is not merely a mechanism of “soft power” – a battle of ideas – it engages US academics in some of the more brutal aspects of colonial warfare. For example, the Pentagon-funded Human Terrain Teams (HTT), which operate in Afghanistan, are deeply immersed in the identification and torture/interrogation of suspected resistance fighters, civilian sympathizers and members of extended families and clans. One San Francisco State psychology professor on the MRI payroll, with longstanding ties to Pentagon counter-insurgency operations, is deeply involved in the “study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven movements.” Covert occupation intelligence operations have been deeply involved in “stoking” hostility between Shia and Sunni communities in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, and Afghanistan. Torture and harsh interrogation techniques, used in the Middle East and Afghanistan, are based on academic studies of cultural and emotional vulnerabilities of Muslims and are used by US and Israeli military interrogators to “break” or cause profound mental breakdown of anti-occupation activists (“quelling ideological movements”).

Two US professors who solicited and secured major funding under MRI, one Eli Berman of the University of California San Diego and Jacob Shapiro of Princeton are working with Israeli counter-insurgency academics in researching what it takes for the Jewish state to manipulate Palestinian communities “to counteract grass-roots movements such as Hamas” (Science Jan 30/09) .

Berman and Shapiro have their own academic empire building ambitions, feeding off the Pentagon largesse and its military driven empire building. With the Pentagon money Berman claims “I’ll be able to do surveys and experiments around the world, partner with additional organizations and bring postdocs as well as several graduate students. We’ll be able to accomplish things in a matter of years rather than decades.”

This contemporary version of Dr. Strangelove with his version of instant counter-insurgency formulas cooked up by a world network of academics in uniform can poison the academic ambience – in much the same way that the Professor ‘Bermans’ at Michigan State, MIT, Harvard and elsewhere developed techniques for search and destroy missions against grassroots movements during the Viet Nam War. The danger and appeal to academics of Pentagon funding is especially acute nowadays, given the economic depression and the pseudo-progressive image of the Obama regime. Wall Street bailouts and the crash of the US stock market have reduced university endowments resulting in sharp reductions in academic budgets, salaries and research funding especially on non-military, non-business related research. The Obama regime’s double discourse of talking peace and escalating military budgets, increasing troops in Southwest Asia and extending sanctions on Iran may entice academics to justify the latter by citing the former. To procure academic recruits to the MRI stable, the Pentagon organized a workshop in August 2008, under the ideological façade of “complete openness and strict adherence to academic freedom and integrity.” Subsequently the Pentagon claimed to have received 211 inquires from academics seeking a place at the imperial trough.

Notwithstanding the Pentagon’s claim of success in procuring academics, there are counter-signs appearing in the academic world, especially in light of the highly publicized kidnapping, torture and interrogation of thousands of Muslims and activists throughout the world including in the United States, by Special Forces.

Outside the far-right there has been a widespread reluctance among academics to be associated with a government identified with abuses at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo prisons, the shredding of the US Constitutional protections and open ended colonial wars of occupation.

Even in the case where powerful pro-Israel academics and lobbyists have successfully secured the dismissal of highly published professors critical of the Hebrew state, these vindictive purges were openly opposed by scores of professors around the country including several dozen Jewish academics. More recently, hundreds of scholars and researchers in the US, the United Kingdom and Canada, horrified by the Israeli war crimes in Gaza, have called on universities to boycott Israeli academic institutions and individuals who collaborate with the Israeli Defense Forces and the Mossad in the destruction of Palestinian institutions especially the bombing of universities in Gaza.

The principled stand of academics critical of Israel and US policy notwithstanding, distinguished academics who have substantially challenged the empire through their research and publications are not immune from retaliation designed to discourage other intellectuals: A recent case in point is the suspension of academic medical epidemiologist, Dr. Gilbert Burnham of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins University. Dr Burnham was publicly reprimanded and suspended from directing any research involving ‘human subjects’ for 5 years because of ‘ethical breaches of confidentiality’(Science, March 6, 2009 Vol 323 page 1278). These ‘ethical violations’ referred to his co-authorship of the first rigorous large-scale epidemiologic survey of mortality in Iraq during the US invasion and occupation. Extensive site surveys throughout Iraq found that upwards of 600,000 Iraqi civilians had died from violence between the time of the US invasion in March 2003 and the summer of 2006. The results of this study of imperialist war-induced death and destruction, published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet in October 2006, was denied by a furious Pentagon but confirmed by subsequent studies. The so-called ‘ethical violations’ referred to a minor technicality: the incomplete coding of some of the names of the Iraqi families interviewed on the Arabic language survey sheets. For imperialist institutions, like Johns Hopkins University, using the phony pretext of ‘protecting the privacy’ of the hundreds of thousands of nameless dead in a US war of aggression to punish a distinguished epidemiologist send a message of intimidation to scholars to refrain from documenting the genocidal consequences of imperialist wars on a colonized people. By publicly punishing Dr. Burnham on these trumped up charges, the Pentagon-John Hopkins University are sending an unambiguous message to academics not to research and reveal the real human costs of military empire building. One thing is clear, the identity of those tortured or dispossessed on the basis of policies developed by the Pentagon sponsored Minerva ‘academics’ will certainly be kept ‘confidential’ –and very likely hidden in mass graves.

The fact that the Bloomberg School of Public Health levied extraordinarily severe punishment on one of its own faculty epidemiologists for a technical methodological error (the usual procedures is a private reprimand) and the fact that the sanctions were given the widest public notice indicates the highly political nature of the entire process. What is not clear is whether the financial backers of the Bloomberg School (with their own Middle East Agenda) may have had a say in the punitive decision.

We can expect the Obama regime, with its ‘missiles for peace’ rhetoric and populist images, will provide a cover for Pentagon recruitment of liberal academics to “work for change from within.” Unmasking the role of the Pentagon’s Minerva Research Initiative as an integral part of Obama’s military escalation is a challenge to all academics who are opposed to empire building and who support the reconstruction of an American republic supportive of international rights of self-determination.


Anonymous said...

Neil, hope this doesn't deflect from the subject, I think it shouldn't. I forgot to ask, was anyone else listening to Jeremy Vine on radio 2 this morning? As some of you'll probably know, Google is going round photographing every house, on every street, in every village, town and city in Britain. I missed the name of the town in Buckinghamshire where a householder confronted Google's employees photographing his house, and told them to stop. He was joined by his neighbours who told Google to get off their street. Jeremy Vine read out an email from a concerned listener questioning Google's motives, mentioning that Google is part owned by the CIA. I didn't know that. (Neil, Jock ?)

Cheers, Nicki

neil craig said...

I have much sympathy with those Serbs who are going along with NATO. It is not courageous but it is difficult to be courageous when it impoverishes your children.

I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever with western politicians & journalists who will not say what they know to be the truth. Yugoslavia & the atrocities carried out in Kosovo is a subject on which the press not only does not report but on which it censors any letters & excludes anybody from online comments.

Vladimir Gagic said...

Serbia has no choice but to follow the NATO/neocon line. Serbia is a tiny, poor country, and it is a fantasy to think Serbia can reject NATO, and NATO's evil policies, and still improve its standard of living. Serbia's leaders know this is about bread, not bombs.

Ken Shirov said...

Neil, this is off topic (sorry!) But I just wanted to ask you: have you considered standing against Smith (or one of the other New Labour sleazebags) at the next UK-election as an anti-corruption candidate?

You'd have my full support for starters, buddy!

David Lindsay said...

Albania and Croatia have just joined NATO.

I don't know which is worse, NATO for letting them in, or them for wanting to join NATO.

And NATO was always going to make them both bigger by force (against other people, naturally), whether they joined or not.

Or is this a ruse by Croatia, at least, to have NATO come to the aid of the daily more rueful Croats in The Land The Izetbegovic Built? Good luck with that...

olching said...

Good article again, Neil. I saw it in the NS today.

I went to two demos on Saturday; one at the BoE (dreadful policing) and one at Trafalgar Sqaure (anti-war etc..). It is amazing how Serbia has become utterly forgotten. You talk to people who focus exclusively on I/P or Iraq (often Iraq is the only time a lot of these people have thought about politics), but there's a complete absence of understanding what impact the bombing of Yugoslavia has had on our political culture.

You are absolutely right to say that it is too cushy for many of them to really voice a strong opinion on Serbia, because essentially they have been consumed by the very myth that NATO perpetuated.

It's also similar with the notion of globalisation. It has been hammered home in the media for decades now as a 'fact' and it's become one. Many so-called lefties cannot distinguish anymore between internationalism (i.e. solidarity) and globalisation. Look at the idiots calling for 'global solutions' at the moment whilst pretending to criticise the G20 and what it stands for (and of course praising Obama). Either they are for globalisation (in which case eff off), or they understand the perils of it. It's no good cheering Obama and 'global solutions' whilst paying lip-service to criticisms of globalisation.

Sorry for the roundabout rant.

Nicki, apparently (according to the Private Eye) if you go to Elephant and Castle on Google Streetview you can see two Evening Standard journalists enjoying a "liquid lunch". Haven't checked it myself, but thought it was quite an amusing story on the side.

Dragan Sindjelic said...


Please refrain from speaking in the name of Serbs, on behalf of the Yellows and Tadic.

Serbia joining NATO is an issue that would have to be decided in a referendum, since the state's military neutrality has been enshrined in the Constitution. And with the overwhelming majority of population being offended at the very thought, such a referendum isn't even remotely close or anywhere on the horizon.

By accepting Croatia and Albania, NATO is continuing its pressure on Serbia and further encircling both Serbia and Russia.

If the push comes to shove, Serbia and Russia would be left alone against the Beast but, on the other hand, quite a few of us would have nothing against standing side by side with Russians, once again.

This time around, however, we would get all the toys drunken Yeltsin, a pitiful sold soul, withheld from us ten years ago and I would personally cherish the opportunity for a payback.

That will be a fine day to live or die. Very fine indeed.

Bolje grob nego rob! We said it dozens of times already and we'll keep saying it always. Keep that $hitty bread.

jock mctrousers said...

What shitty bread? What's that about?

neil craig said...

Olching you are right about the memory hole over Yugoslavia. Nobody likes to admit they have been taken in by conmen - one of the reasons they are so successful. However until the "left" acknowledge that they were fooled into going along with genocide & root out exactly why, then they are open to doing so again & again. The "left" are not alone in this. The boss of Ruder-Finn, a New York advertising agency expressed his pride at having been able to con various Jewish groups into supporting Tudjman the Croatian Nazi leader, despite his "careless" anti-Semitic remarks.