>Defence Against What?

>The Iraq disaster has eliminated the last major function of our armed forces. So let’s pay ourselves a war dividend.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (November 28 2006)

No one noticed. Or if they did, no one complained. The government didn’t even bother to issue a press release. Last week, the Ministry of Defence quietly secured a GBP 1.7 billion increase in its budget {1}. The spending for 2006-7 was allocated months ago, which means that another fund must have been raided to find the extra money. It’s the equivalent of half the annual budget for the Department for International Development {2}. But another billion or two doesn’t make much difference when we are already sloshing out GBP 32 billion a year on a programme whose purpose is a mystery {3}.

On Friday, the National Audit Office published a report which appeared to congratulate the Ministry of Defence for going only eleven per cent over budget on thirty acquisitions, such as attack submarines, destroyers, Eurofighter aircraft and anti-tank weapons {4}. This overspending – a mere GBP 3 billion or so – is a heroic improvement on the ministry’s usual efforts. The story was spoilt a little when we discovered that it would have looked much worse were it not for some creative manouevres by the 1st armoured accounts division, confounding the enemy by shifting money between different parts of the budget.

But what the audit report failed to answer, or even to ask, was why we need attack submarines, destroyers, Eurofighter aircraft and anti-tank weapons in the first place. Are the Russians coming? Is Angela Merkel preparing to mobilise a few Panzer divisions? It is preposterous to suggest that we face the threat of invasion, now or in the foreseeable future.

Even the Ministry of Defence acknowledges this. In the white paper it published at the end of 2003, it admits that “there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO … it is now clear that we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat” {5}.

NATO agrees. The leaked policy document it will discuss at its summit this week concedes that “large-scale conventional aggression against the alliance will be highly unlikely” {6}. No country that is capable of attacking NATO countries is willing to do so. No country that is willing is capable. Submarines, destroyers, Eurofighters and anti-tank rounds are of precious little use against people who plant bombs on trains.

Instead, the ministry redefines the purpose of the armed forces as “meeting a wider range of expeditionary tasks, at greater range from the United Kingdom and with ever-increasing strategic, operational and tactical tempo”. {7} It wants to be able to fight either three small foreign wars at the same time or one large one, which “could only conceivably be undertaken alongside the US” {8}.

In other words, our “defence” capability is now retained for the purpose of offence. Our armed forces no longer exist to protect us. They exist to go abroad and cause trouble.

But even such wars of choice can no longer be fought. The disaster in Iraq destroyed every pretence of benign or necessary intervention. It is hard to see how any British government, however powerful its case appears to be, could claim the moral authority to launch another adventure for at least a generation. Iraq disqualifies us from the role the ministry envisages as surely as Suez did. We can kiss goodbye to the idea of going into battle alongside the US as well.

This, then, grants us a marvellous opportunity: to pay ourselves a war dividend. If the war in Iraq means that the current era of invasion and intervention is over, there is no point in maintaining armed forces designed for this purpose. If we were to cut the military budget by eighty or ninety per cent, we would do ourselves nothing but good.

But the danger and paradox of military spending is that the bigger the budget, the more powerful the lobby becomes which can fight for its own survival. As the Guardian’s revelations about the corrupt relationships they have cultivated with Saudi princes show {9,10,11}, the civil servants in the Ministry of Defence write their own rules. Much of the time they seem to be defending not the realm but the arms companies. So does the prime minister. In his book Blair’s Wars, John Kampfner records that “from his first day in office Blair was eager not to antagonise British arms companies, and BAE Systems in particular, which developed extremely close relationships with senior figures in Downing Street”.{12} A Downing Street aide reported that whenever the head of BAE encountered a problem, “he’d be straight on the phone to Number 10 and it would get sorted”. {13}

Having obtained its stupendous budget – the second-biggest defence allocation in the world {14} – our military-industrial complex must justify it. It does so by producing ever more paranoid assessments of the capabilities of terrorists. Bin Laden might possess no submarines, but we must retain our anti-submarine aircraft in case he – or someone like him – acquires some. We don’t know what Blair’s proposed new nuclear missiles are for, but after the money has been spent a justification is bound to emerge. In the ministry’s Defence Vision paper, I found this gobsmacking contradiction. “We face new challenges and unpredictable new conditions. Our strategy must evolve to reflect these new realities. For the future this means [among other positions] … holding fast, in the face of change, to our underpinning military traditions.” {15} Was there ever a clearer sign that the tail is wagging the dog?

A report published by the Oxford Research Group this summer argues that our defence policies are self-defeating. They concentrate on the wrong threats and respond to them in a manner which is more likely to exacerbate than to defuse them. The real challenges to world peace, it contends, are presented by climate change, competition over resources, the marginalisation of the poor and our own military deployments {16}.

By displacing people from their homes and exacerbating food shortages, climate change will cause social breakdown and mass migration. Competition for resources means that the regions which possess them – particularly the Middle East – will remain the focus of conflict. As improved education is not matched by better prospects for many of the world’s poor, the resulting sense of marginalisation provides a more hospitable environment for insurrection. AIDS leaves a generation of orphaned children vulnerable to recruitment by paramilitary groups and criminal gangs. The war on terror has created the threats it was supposed to defeat, by driving people to avenge the civilians it has killed. By developing new weapons of mass destruction, the rich nations challenge others to try to match them.

Military spending enhances all these threats. The jets and ships and tanks it buys make a large (though so far unquantified) contribution to climate change and the competition for resources. It diverts money from helping the poor; it generates a self-justifying momentum which stimulates conflict. The budget would contribute far more to our security, the report says, if it were spent on energy efficiency, foreign aid and arms control.

So what role remains for our armed forces? A small one. A shrunken army should concentrate on helping the civil authorities to catch terrorists and deal with epidemics, floods and power cuts; the navy should be deployed to protect fisheries and catch drugs smugglers; the airforce is largely redundant. Now that foreign adventures are no longer an option, it is time we turned our war spending into what it claims to be: a budget for our defence.



1. Des Browne, 21st November 2006. Votes A 2006-7. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm061121/wmstext/61121m0003.htm

2. Department for International Development, 2006. What are we doing to tackle world poverty? http://www.dfid.gov.uk/pubs/files/DFIDquickguide1.pdf

3. Ministry of Defence, 2006a. Defence Spending. http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/Organisation/KeyFactsAboutDefence/DefenceSpending.htm

4. National Audit Office, 24th November 2006. Ministry of defence: Major Projects Report 2006. http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/06-07/060723i.pdf

5. Ministry of Defence, December 2003. Delivering Security in a Changing World: Defence White Paper. http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/051AF365-0A97-4550-99C0-4D87D7C95DED/0/cm6041I_whitepaper2003.pdf

6. Richard Norton-Taylor, 25th November 2006. Military alliance battles to reinvent itself as it struggles for credibility in first real combat test. The Guardian.

7. Ministry of Defence, December 2003, ibid.

8. Ministry of Defence, July 2004. Delivering Security in a Changing World Future Capabilities. http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/147C7A19-8554-4DAE-9F88-6FBAD2D973F9/0/cm6269_future_capabilities.pdf

9. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 11th September 2003. BAE accused of arms deal slush fund. The Guardian.

10. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 13th October 2003. MoD chief in fraud cover-up row. The Guardian.

11. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 6th October 2004. BAE denies GBP 60m Saudi slush fund. The Guardian.

12. John Kampfner, 2004. Blair’s Wars, pages 15-16. Free Press, London.

13. John Kampfner, 2004, ibid, p170.

14. Ministry of Defence, 2006a, ibid.

15. Ministry of Defence, 2006b. The Defence Vision. http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/Organisation/DefenceVision/

16. Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda, June 2006. Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century. Oxford Research Group. http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefings/globalthreats.pdf

Copyright (c) 2006 Monbiot.com


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>They lied their way into Iraq

>Now they are trying to lie their way out

Bush and Blair will blame anyone but themselves for the consequences of their disastrous war – even its victims

by Gary Younge

Guardian (November 27 2006)

“In the endgame”, said one of the world’s best-ever chess players, Jose’ Rau’l Capablanca, “don’t think in terms of moves but in terms of plans”. The situation in Iraq is now unravelling into the bloodiest endgame imaginable. Both popular and official support for the war in those countries that ordered the invasion is already at a low and will only get lower. Whatever mandate the occupiers may have once had from their own electorates – in Britain it was none, in the US it was precarious – has now eroded. They can no longer conduct this war as they have been doing.

Simultaneously, the Iraqis are no longer able to live under occupation as they have been doing. According to a UN report released last week, 3,709 Iraqi civilians died in October – the highest number since the invasion began. And the cycle of religious and ethnic violence has escalated over the past week.

The living flee. Every day up to 2,000 Iraqis go to Syria and another 1,000 to Jordan, according to the UN’s high commissioner for refugees. Since the bombing of Samarra’s Shia shrine in February more than 1,000 Iraqis a day have been internally displaced, a recent report by the UN-affiliated International Organisation for Migration found last month.

Those in the west who fear that withdrawal will lead to civil war are too late – it is already here. Those who fear that pulling out will make matters worse have to ask themselves: how much worse can it get? Since yesterday American troops have been in Iraq longer than they were in the second world war. When the people you have “liberated” by force are no longer keen on the “freedom” you have in store for them, it is time to go.

Any individual moves announced from now on – summits, reports, benchmarks, speeches – will be ignored unless they help to provide the basis for the plan towards withdrawal. Occupation got us here; it cannot get us out. Neither Tony Blair nor George Bush is in control of events any longer. Both domestically and internationally, events are controlling them. So long as they remain in office they can determine the moves; but they have neither the power nor the credibility to shape what happens next.

So the crucial issue is no longer whether the troops leave in defeat and leave the country in disarray – they will – but the timing of their departure and the political rationale that underpins it.

For those who lied their way into this war are now trying to lie their way out of it. Franco-German diplomatic obstruction, Arab indifference, media bias, UN weakness, Syrian and Iranian meddling, women in niqabs and old men with placards – all have been or surely will be blamed for the coalition’s defeat. As one American columnist pointed out last week, we wait for Bush and Blair to conduct an interview with Fox News entitled If We Did It, in which they spell out how they would have bungled this war if, indeed, they had done so.

So, just as Britain allegedly invaded for the good of the Iraqis, the timing of their departure will be conducted with them in mind. The fact that – according to the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett – it will coincide with Blair leaving office in spring is entirely fortuitous.

More insidious is the manner in which the Democrats, who are about to take over the US Congress, have framed their arguments for withdrawal. Last Saturday the newly elected House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, suggested that the Americans would pull out because the Iraqis were too disorganised and self-obsessed. “In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future”, he said. “And the Iraqis must know: our commitment, while great, is not unending”.

It is absurd to suggest that the Iraqis – who have been invaded, whose country is currently occupied, who have had their police and army disbanded and their entire civil service fired – could possibly be in a position to take responsibility for their future and are simply not doing so.

For a start, it implies that the occupation is a potential solution when it is in fact the problem. This seems to be one of the few things on which Sunni and Shia leaders agree. “The roots of our problems lie in the mistakes the Americans committed right from the beginning of their occupation”, Sheik Ali Merza, a Shia cleric in Najaf and a leader of the Islamic Dawa party, told the Los Angeles Times last week.

“Since the beginning, the US occupation drove Iraq from bad to worse”, said Harith al-Dhari, the nation’s most prominent Sunni cleric, after he fled to Egypt this month facing charges of supporting terrorism.

Also, it leaves intact the bogus premise that the invasion was an attempt at liberation that has failed because some squabbling ingrates, incapable of working in their own interests, could not grasp the basic tenets of western democracy. In short, it makes the victims responsible for the crime.

Withdrawal, when it happens, will be welcome. But its nature and the rationale given for it are not simply issues of political point-scoring. They will lay the groundwork for what comes next for two main reasons.

First, because, while withdrawal is a prerequisite for any lasting improvement in Iraq, it will not by itself solve the nation’s considerable problems.

Iraq has suffered decades of colonial rule, thirty years of dictatorship and three years of military occupation. Most recently, it has been trashed by a foreign invader. The troops must go. But the west has to leave enough resources behind to pay for what it broke. For that to happen, the anti-war movement in the west must shift the focus of our arguments to the terms of withdrawal while explaining why this invasion failed and our responsibilities to the Iraqi people that arise as a result of that failure.

If we don’t, we risk seeing Bono striding across airport tarmac ten years hence with political leaders who demand good governance and democratic norms in the Gulf, as though Iraq got here by its own reckless psychosis. Eviscerated of history, context and responsibility, it will stand somewhere between basket case and charity case: like Africa, it will be misunderstood as a sign not of our culpability but of our superiority.

Second, because unless we understand what happened in Iraq we are doomed to continue repeating these mistakes elsewhere. Ten days ago, during a visit to Hanoi, Bush was asked whether Vietnam offered any lessons. He said: “We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while … We’ll succeed unless we quit”.

In other words, the problem with Vietnam was not that the US invaded a sovereign country, bombed it to shreds, committed innumerable atrocities, murdered more than 500,000 Vietnamese – more than half of whom were civilians – and lost about 58,000 American servicemen. The problem with Vietnam was that they lost. And the reason they lost was not because they could neither sustain domestic support nor muster sufficient local support for their invasion, nor that their military was ill equipped for guerrilla warfare. They lost because it takes a while to complete such a tricky job, and the American public got bored.

“You learn more from a game you lose than a game you win”, argued the chess great Capablanca. True, but only if you heed the lessons and then act on them.



Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2006


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Get Iraq’s Civil War Over With

>Two Options: More Occupation + Civil War, Or Civil War

by Ted Rall

www.rall.com (November 28 2006)

If we pull out now, warn Bush’s generals, Iraq will disintegrate into civil war. Experts counter that the civil war is already underway, and that what would follow a US withdrawal would be even worse.

“All indications point to a current state of civil war and the disintegration of the Iraqi state [if the US leaves]”, says Nawaf Obaid of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We’re not talking about just a full-scale civil war” after a US withdrawal, adds Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group. “This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups” growing into regional conflict.

Think of the ferocious fighting that broke out after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

Neighboring countries – Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan – prolonged the bloodshed and destruction by arming proxy warlords. The Afghan civil war slowed to a simmer after the Taliban consolidated their harsh rule over most of the country. Hiltermann describes a similar grim scenario. “The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body”, he says. “Regional war is very much a possibility”. The winners will probably be the Shias, who will crush the Sunnis and transform Iraq into an Islamist state aligned with, but more radical than, Iran.

At least one of Iraq’s neighbors agrees. “When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned recently. “It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars – no one will be able to get a grip on the consequences.”

With so much at stake in the war against Iraq, argues Arizona Senator John McCain, we ought to sending more troops, not pulling them out. He agrees with Pentagon planners, who want to add 25,000 or 30,000 troops to the 140,000 already there.

“The consequences of failure are so severe that I will exhaust every possibility to try to fix this situation”, McCain says. “It’s not just Iraq that they’re interested in. It’s the region, and then us.”

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute describes the Pentagon’s thinking about troop strength: “You ramp up in 2007 and then ramp it down to below 100,000 to maybe 60,000 or 70,000 in 2008, but we cannot go higher. We don’t have a big enough military.”

But then what?

The United States has two options in Iraq. First: It can pull out now, which will almost certainly lead to civil war along sectarian and tribal lines, and possibly to a wider regional conflict. Second: it can pull out later – and deal with the same exact consequences then.

Invading Iraq was the kind of idea that is so bad that, once it’s acted upon, nothing can be done to redeem it. One of my prewar worries was that there were no viable, well-known and popular opposition figures ready to replace Saddam Hussein. The dictator had suppressed the Kurds, Shias and non-Baath-aligned Sunnis for decades; each would want to run the country after he was removed. “Iraq has a one-man thugocracy”, wrote the neoconservative historian Robert Kaplan five months before the war in November 2002, “so the removal of Saddam would threaten to disintegrate the entire ethnically riven country if we weren’t to act fast and pragmatically install people who could actually govern”.

That didn’t happen. In all fairness, given Ahmed Chalabi and the other ridiculous Iraqi exiles Washington had to work with, it never could have. Once Bush decided to get rid of Saddam, civil war became inevitable. The US accelerated the balkanization of Iraq by recognizing the nascent state of Kurdistan and sanctifying the ratification of a constitution that enshrines sectarian divisions in the form of privileges and semiautonomous fiefdoms under a virtually powerless federal government.

It’s cold-blooded calculus, but where’s the advantage in staving off the inevitable? Perhaps Iraq is destined to set the Middle East ablaze, or to collapse into a failed state like Somalia, or to disintegrate into partition and ethnic cleansing like Yugoslavia. It is likely that, after we pull out, a lot of people are going to die. Does it matter if they die now rather than 2008?

Long or short, the bloodletting of an Iraqi civil war is coming. Unlike the bloodletting of our current occupation, however, it will eventually end.


Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright 2006 Ted Rall


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Licensed to Loot

>The East India Company was the first multinational corporation – until its abuse of power caused a public backlash. Nick Robins examines its legacy to reveal how it set the corporate blueprint for today’s firms to operate unchecked.

by Nick Robins

www.theecologist.org (November 01 2006)

In August 1769, two Armenian merchants, Johannes Rafael and Gregore Cojamaul, arrived at London’s docks. The two were rich men and had made their fortunes in India’s most prosperous region, Bengal. But their purpose was not to trade. Instead they sought justice from the most powerful corporation in the world: the East India Company.

In March 1768, Rafael, Cojamaul and two others had been summarily arrested by the Company’s chief executive in Bengal, Harry Verelst, who then held them for more than five months under guard. When they were released, they found that the Company had pressured its puppet, the Nawab of Bengal, to ban all Armenians from the Bengal market.

Sailing around the world to where the Company was headquartered, Rafael and Cojamaul appealed to its board of directors, complaining of their “cruel and inhuman” treatment. When this was arrogantly brushed aside, the two went to court, suing Verelst for damages. An intense legal battle unfolded with claim and counter-claim, from 1770 until 1777, when the courts found Verlest guilty of “oppression, false imprisonment and singular depredations”. The Armenians won a total of GBP 9,700 in compensation – more than GBP 800,000 in today’s money. Thousands of miles from the scene of the crime, the principle of extraterritorial liability for corporate malpractice had been established in Georgian London.

Fast-forward more than 200 years, and Cojamaul and Rafael’s revenge still has a powerful resonance for communities seeking to plug the justice gap in 21st century globalisation. But this is not all that we can learn from the extraordinary corporate career of the Honourable Company (one of the names by which it was sometimes known).

Founded on a cold New Year’s Eve in 1600, the Governor and Company of Merchants in London Trading into the East Indies – its original full name – was the mother of the modern corporation. From its headquarters in the City of London, it managed a commercial empire that stretched across the Atlantic, around the Cape, past the Gulf and on to India and China. Starting as a marginal importer of Asian spices, the Company became the agent that changed the course of economic history, combining financial strength with military muscle to conquer India and break open China’s closed economy. Always with an eye to the share price and their own executive perks, its executives in India combined economic muscle with a small, but effective private army to establish a corporate state across large parts of the sub-continent.

A Treacherous Deal

The battle of Plassey (the anglicised version of Palashi) in June 1757 was the turning point, when the company’s forces defeated the last independent Nawab of Bengal, helped largely by strategic bribery of his military commander Mir Jafar, whom it then placed as its puppet on the throne. This is often regarded as the contest that founded the British Empire in India, but is perhaps better viewed as the Company’s most successful business deal, generating a windfall profit of GBP 2.5 million for the Company and GBP 234,000 for Robert Clive, the chief architect of the acquisition. Today, this would be equivalent to a GBP 232 million corporate windfall and a cool GBP 22 million success fee for Clive.

The Company’s new-found market power enabled it to drive down the prices it paid to Bengal’s weavers – to such an extent that rumours spread of weavers cutting off their own thumbs to escape the innumerable fines and floggings. Eight years later, Clive followed up his coup at Plassey with a lucrative acquisition: he convinced the Mughal emperor to out-source tax collection in Bengal to the Company. The Company’s share price soared on London’s financial markets, almost doubling in the next three years. But in the same month that Rafael and Cojamaul arrived in London, the rains failed in Bengal, marking the start of a ferocious drought. What turned this into a ravaging famine was the weakened state of Bengal and the Company’s negligence and callousness – even increasing the tax rate to ensure that the overall revenue remained level. Some estimates put the resulting deaths from starvation as high as ten million, and it is certain that at least one million people died – more than the population of London at the time – with some regions losing between a third and a half of their inhabitants. Clive managed to escape parliamentary censure for his part in all this, but died – most probably by suicide – with Dr Johnson observing that he had “acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat”.

Nor did the Company’s footprint stop there. If India was the site of its first commercial triumphs, it was in China that it made its second fortune. Its ‘factory’ at Canton was the funnel through which millions of pounds of Bohea, Congou, Souchon and Pekoe teas flowed west to Britain, Europe and the Americas. In the other direction came first silver and later a flood of Indian-grown opium, smuggled in chests proudly bearing the Company chop (logo). Desperate to find a way of paying for the tea trade without exporting bullion, Warren Hastings (Britain’s governor-general of India from 1773 to 1786) first tried to smuggle opium into China in 1781, defying the Qing Empire’s trading ban. Initially unsuccessful, the Company grew increasingly brazen as its power grew, shipping ever-expanding quantities of contraband into China, turning the country’s centuries-long trade surplus with the outside world into deficit. When the Qing eventually tried to crack down on the import of ‘foreign mud’, Britain sent in its gunboats in the first of a series of ‘opium wars’.

But before the second opium war was over, the Company itself was no more, the victim of the public backlash in Britain in the wake of the 1857 Indian Mutiny – otherwise known as the ‘first war of Indian independence’. The Company’s most senior executive, the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, pleaded with Parliament, but effective nationalisation followed the Company’s failure. Always solicitous for the needs of its shareholders, the Company managed to continue paying dividends for another quarter century – financed by taxes from India – until on April 30 1874, its stock was liquidated and the Company’s financial heart finally stopped beating.

At first sight, this extraordinary corporate biography might seem to be merely of antiquarian interest. There is clearly a world of difference between the Company’s operations in the 18th century and the business landscape of our own times. The Company’s establishment by royal charter, its monopoly of all trade between Britain and Asia, and its semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and raise armies certainly mark it out as a corporate institution from another time. Yet in its financing, its structures of governance and its business dynamics, the Company was undeniably modern. It may have referred to its staff as servants rather than executives, and communicated by quill pen rather than email, but the key features of the shareholder-owned corporation are there for all to see.

This Imperious Company

What is equally striking, looking back at the legacy of John Company (another name by which it was known, reflecting its ubiquity) is how it not only shaped the modern multinational, but also prefigured the same bundle of tensions exhibited by today’s global corporations.

In ways that are immediately familiar to us today, the East India Company lay at the centre of a web of commercial relationships. Internally, the interactions between owners, executives and employees defined the fundamental direction of the business. Externally, fiscal and regulatory interactions with states at home and abroad defined the Company’s scope for action, while in the marketplace, its standing with customers, competitors and suppliers determined its chances of success.

Ultimately, however, it was the Company’s ability to maintain a basis of trust with society at home and abroad that decided its fate – and once this trust was broken, protest, rebellion and its eventual downfall would follow. What makes the story so inspiring is how the Company’s bid for unbounded economic power was repeatedly met by individuals fighting to make it accountable.

From the beginning, the East India Company’s monopoly control over trade with Asia had been disputed by its competitors. But it was with the Company’s acquisition of unprecedented economic power following Plassey that it came to be seen as a more structural threat to political liberty back home. Poems, pamphlets and plays poured off the presses, accusing the Company of oppression and corruption. For the editor of London’s Gentleman’s Magazine, by April 1767 it had become the “imperious company of East India merchants”, with the issue at stake being whether “freedom or slavery” would result from the Company’s immense power.

A Critique of Corporate Design

Nine years later, political economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith published his Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations (1776), containing one of the most powerful critiques of the Company – and, by extension, the corporate form. Written in the wake of the Company’s ‘Bengal Bubble’, Smith’s Inquiry dissected the corporation as an institution and evaluated the factors that led to the East India Company’s own particular crisis.

Uniquely, Smith was emphatic in downplaying the actions of individuals as the root cause of the problems. “I mean not to throw any odious imputation upon the general character of the servants of the East India Company”, he wrote, stressing that “it is the system of government, the situation in which they are placed, that I mean to censure”. The problem was one of corporate design. Monopoly didn’t just create economic injustice; it was also “a great enemy to good management”.

Smith was equally critical of the Company’s joint stock model of corporate control, which separated managers from owners and was a licence for speculation, where “negligence and profusion must always prevail”. Adam Smith was certainly a believer in open markets. But freeing the world for exploitation by corporations formed no part of his vision.

Smith’s critique of the Company provided a powerful intellectual platform, but it was his friend, the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, who sought to bring the Company to justice in the 1780s. Often known as the father of modern conservatism for his defence of the monarchy in the French Revolution, Burke himself believed that his greatest contribution was his battle against the East India Company. In Burke’s view, the Company had become financially and institutionally bankrupt, breaching the implicit terms of its Georgian “licence to operate”. Drawing from the rich tradition of legitimate resistance to tyrannical government, Burke argued that “every description of commercial privilege [is] all in the strictest sense a trust, and it is of the very essence of every trust to be rendered accountable”. Burke continued with a rhetorical flourish: “To whom then would I make the East India Company accountable?” he mused. “Why, to Parliament, to be sure”. When George III intervened to block Burke’s East India Bill – which would have replaced the Company’s board of directors with parliamentary commissioners – Burke turned to law, like the Armenians before him. In 1787, he impeached Warren Hastings for “high crimes and misdemeanours”. The trial, which began in 1788, lasted seven long years and gripped London society. Burke’s mission was clear. “I must do justice to the East”, he declared, “for I assert that their morality is equal to ours”. Eventually, Hastings was cleared by a grateful House of Lords, more interested in imperial acquisition than points of principle.

To the leading lights of its age, such as Smith and Burke, the East India Company’s rise and fall highlighted three fundamental flaws in the corporate metabolism: first, the unrelenting drive to market domination; second, the inherent speculative dynamic of shareholderowned businesses; and, third, the absence of effective mechanisms for bringing companies to account for overseas malpractice. Looking back, the parallels with today’s corporate leviathans became overpowering, with the Company outstripping Wal-Mart in terms of market power, Enron in corruption and Union Carbide in human devastation.

The Company’s example shows us that open markets and corporations do not necessarily mix – that economic diversity and enterprise often flourish best where corporations are kept in check. From Smith’s contemporary analysis of the rising commercial economy of 18th-century Britain, it emerges that the truly entrepreneurial company is likely to be locally rooted, limited in size and liable for the costs it imposes on others.

Indeed, for Burke, there was something fundamentally suspicious about the Company’s chartered rights. Speaking to Parliament in 1783, he made a clear distinction between human and corporate rights, arguing that “Magna Carta is a charter to restrain power and to destroy monopoly”, while “the East India charter is a charter to establish monopoly and create power”. It was this corporate tyranny that Burke tried – but failed – to break, urging Parliament to recognise that “this nation never did give a power without imposing a proportionable degree of responsibility”.

Today, Justice Still Goes Begging

Drawing from Smith’s analysis of the corporation, it is clear that the privilege of limited liability needs to be balanced with a social “duty of care” to curb the speculative quest for excessive rates of return. The Company Bill currently going through Parliament is an ideal opportunity to impose a legal duty of care upon company directors, to ensure that their actions do not damage society or the environment. At the time of The Ecologist going to press, the Bill in its present draft does not introduce such a duty of care, but it is being pressed for by the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE), which represents more than 130 charities and campaigning organisations pressing for new laws to make sure that companies do not profit at the expense of people and planet. Through this simple, yet profound alteration in the corporation’s genetic code, its inner dynamics would be reshaped to match its social obligations. Shareholders would also thus become aware of the wider implications of their investments, stimulating a search for companies that take a pro-active approach to reducing their harmful impacts on others. Not just corporations, but capital itself would start becoming accountable.

Although he is frequently cited as the theoretical inspiration for globalisation, Smith would be horrified at the way in which the unlimited corporation now dominates economic and political life. Corporate scale magnifies an underlying problem of behaviour. When it was small, the damage that the East India Company could inflict was relatively limited. When it grew in size to dominate whole markets and territories, its potential for harm grew correspondingly large.

While 21st-century corporations rarely enjoy the chartered monopolies that the East India Company fought so hard to sustain, global deregulation has meant that concentration in key markets has climbed to economically destructive and politically dangerous levels. At local, national and global levels, unrelenting action is needed to break up the corporate giants that currently hold the world to ransom. For this effort, Smith’s passionate critique of the East India Company holds out the promise of new and creative alliances between those seeking open markets and those wanting to tame corporate power, whether it be ‘big oil’ or ‘big retail’.

The example of the Armenian merchants winning their battle for reparations from the Company can also inspire us in today’s efforts to hold corporations to account. As we know from the unrelenting pain of incidents such as the Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal, instruments of justice need to be as international as business. Rafael and Cojamaul’s legal triumph can give us hope that we too can put in place effective legal mechanisms to enable those affected by corporations to bring action, either in the company’s place of registration or in an international court. The realistic prospect of judicial intervention to penalise malpractice, wherever it may occur, would be a powerful deterrent, further encouraging business to adopt responsible practices that prevent problems in the first place.

The Company’s legacy still haunts both Europe and Asia; and, knowing its story, the obligation is to remember and then to act. This was certainly the stance taken by Jawaharlal Nehru, who in 1944 was serving his ninth – and final – term of imprisonment for his campaign to achieve India’s independence from the British. From his prison cell in Ahmadnagar, Nehru wrote what became The Discovery Of India (1946), presenting his vision of how India’s rich and complex past related to its freedon struggle. For him, the writing of history was not a remote, academic exercise, but intimately bound up with taking action to change the present. Running through the book was Nehru’s conviction that the two centuries of British rule had imposed a terrible burden on India that needed urgent removal. But it was when he describes the English East India Company and its plunder of Bengal following Clive’s victory at Palashi that this cool voice of humanist reason boiled over in anger. “The corruption, venality, nepotism, violence and greed of money of these early generations of British rule in India”, he thundered, “is something which passes comprehension”. To underline his distaste at the Company’s practices, Nehru added: “It is significant that one of the Hindustani words which has become part of the English language is ‘loot’.”


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Owning the Torture Society

>The Long Slog of Rebuilding American Democracy

by Ted Rall

www.rall.com (November 21 2006)

The military tribunal lasted a week. At the end the seventeen defendants were permitted to make a closing statement. Alexei Shestov, 41 years of age, stood up and admitted being a terrorist and traitor. “In that struggle”, he confessed, “I employed every loathsome, every filthy and every destructive method”. Coercive interrogation techniques – what effete and weak-stomached liberals would call torture – loosened the terrorist’s tongue. “For five weeks I denied everything”, he said, “for five weeks they kept confronting me with one fact after another, with the photographs of my dastardly work and when I looked back, I myself was appalled by what I had done”.

Unlike his cowardly co-conspirators, Shestov proclaimed himself ready to face the ultimate sanction. “Now I have only one desire, to stand with calmness on the place of my execution and with my blood to wash away the stain of a traitor to my country”. He got his wish. The Military Collegium of the Supreme Court ordered him to be shot.

The great Moscow “show trials” of 1937, officially bringing to justice the nefarious agents of the “Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre”, were the centerpiece of Stalin’s campaign to terrorize Soviet citizens from their previous state of basic subjugation to absolute submission. In truth, there was no such thing as the Anti-Soviet Trostskyite Centre. Shestov wasn’t even an opponent of the regime. To the contrary, he was an NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) employee. His bosses ordered to pose as a suspect in order to inculpate the other men. Stalin, as thorough as he was diabolical, had him executed anyway.

A trial without due process isn’t justice. It’s farce.

Newly leaked audiotapes of military tribunals held at Guanta’namo Bay concentration camp shared the eerie quality of the Soviet show trials of the 1930s. Once again the men are accused of membership in a shadowy terrorist conspiracy. The evidence against them consists of hearsay – the testimony of other mise’rables giving them up in order to save themselves. They have been beaten, abused and probably tortured.

Murat Kurnaz, 24, a German cititzen held for four years without being charged with so much as a traffic violation, described life at Gitmo to CNN after being sent back to Germany. Among the “many types of torture” he endured were “electric shocks to having one’s head submerged in water, (subjection to) hunger and thirst, or being shackled and suspended [hung from the ceiling]”.

“They tell you ‘you are from Al Qaeda’ and when you say ‘no’ they give the (electric) current to your feet … As you keep saying ‘no’ this goes on for two or three hours”.

In testimony consistent with that of other Gitmo survivors, Kurnaz said he was suspended from the ceiling for at least four days. “They take you down in the mornings when a doctor comes to see whether you can endure more. They let you sit when the interrogator comes … They take you down about three times a day so you do not die.”

Such precautions weren’t 100 percent effective. “I saw several people die”, he said.

Now the United States is trying to burnish its nasty image as one of the world’s leading torture states – not by eliminating torture, but by silencing its victims. In a remarkable bit of legal sang froid, the Bush Administration has filed a brief in its case against Majid Khan asking a federal court to seal its torture of him as “top secret”.

Khan is one of fourteen alleged Al Qaeda suspects transferred earlier this year from secret CIA torture chambers in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Pakistan to Gitmo. CIA official Marilyn Dorn said in a Bush Administration affidavit that Khan should be silenced lest he reveal “the conditions of detention and specific alternative interrogation procedures”.

“If this argument carries the day”, The Washington Post wrote in an editorial, “it will make virtually impossible any accountability for the administration’s treatment of top Al Qaeda detainees”.

“Sausage making”, a right-wing blogger calls it. We abandon American values to protect the American way of life. But we don’t want to hear about it, much less watch it. A YouTube video of a volunteer undergoing waterboarding – an illegal but frequently used CIA torture technique that Dick Cheney agreed was a harmless “dunk of water”, a “no-brainer” – vanished hours after being posted.

When political leaders justify torture, it isn’t long before it goes mainstream. Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 21-year-old college student at UCLA, was typing away in the back of a campus library computer lab when security guards demanded that he produce ID for a “random check”.

What happened after he refused was caught on eight agonizing minutes of video shot by another student’s cellphone. As he screamed and convulsed on the floor, rent-a-cops repeatedly shot Tabatabainejad with a Taser stun gun.

“Any student who witnessed it was left with an image you don’t want to remember”, a witness told the UCLA student newspaper. Asked whether Tabatabainejad resisted, the witness said, “In the beginning, no. But when they were holding onto him and they were on the ground, he was trying to just break free. He was saying, ‘I’m leaving, I’m leaving’. It was so disturbing to watch that I cannot be concise on that. I can just say that he was willing to leave. He had his backpack on his shoulder and he was walking out when the cops approached him. It was unnecessary”.

The video captures the security men ordering Tabatabainejad to “get up or you’ll get Tased”, shooting him when he complies and laughing as they repeat their demand. “Here’s your Patriot Act, here’s your f – – – abuse of power”, he shouted at bystanders who were visibly upset but too cowed to intervene.

The Democratic takeover of Congress has seen high hopes of national moral redemption downgraded to more modest goals: raising the minimum wage, allowing the Medicare program to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. No leading Democrat has called for impeaching Bush, closing Guanta’namo and other torture camps, or outlawing spying on American citizens without a warrant. There is, however, a sign that something remains of American morality.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has introduced a bill to defang the neofascist Military Commissions Act, signed into law by Bush shortly before the elections. Under the MCA, the president or secretary of defense can declare anyone, including a US citizen, an “enemy combatant” and toss them into a secret prison for the rest of their life, where they can legally be tortured. The MCA eliminates habeas corpus, a legal right enjoyed by Westerners since the 13th century that forces police to file charges against an arrestee or let him go.

“People have no idea how significant this is”, said Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University. “What the Congress did and what the president signed … essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values”.

Dodd’s Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act (S 4060) would eliminate the most heinous aspects of the MCA and begin the restoration of American democracy before 9/11, when it was supplanted by our current police state.

“I strongly believe that terrorists who seek to destroy America must be punished for any wrongs they commit against this country”, said Dodd. “But in my view, in order to sustain America’s moral authority and win a lasting victory against our enemies, such punishment must be meted out only in accordance with the rule of law”.

As we’ve seen in Iraq, it’s easier to destroy a society than to rebuild one. Seven decades after Stalin’s Great Terror, Russia is still struggling to establish democratic institutions.

Unraveling the oppressive legacy of Bush’s post-9/11 security apparatus won’t be easy either. Even if it passes, Dodd’s bill faces an almost certain presidential veto – yet another reason impeachment should be Democrats’ top priority in January.


Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East? (Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2006), an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.

Copyright 2006 Ted Rall


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>The Story of Thanksgiving

>MaxSpeak, You Listen! (November 24 2005)

“It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it”. – – Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson

The Story of Thanksgiving, in the rich MaxSpeak tradition, is here {1}. And here {2}. Or maybe it’s here {3}?

MaxSpeak Summary: Among Puritan Christian fundamentalists, the Pilgrims were treacherous, murderous swine. The Pilgrims made a treaty with the indigenous people around Plymouth, until they had enough forces to wipe them out. This they later did with smallpox and guns, unless they were able to sell them into slavery, all for the greater glory of God.

Wait a minute. That wasn’t quite right. Let’s try it again. Here’s how it goes.

The Puritans in England were subjected to religious persecution, lo unto death. They needed a homeland where they could survive as a people and live in peace. They tried to settle in the Netherlands, but it proved inhospitable. Only the possibility of the New World seemed to beckon. It was a land without a people, and they were a people without a land.

Upon settling around Plymouth, the first Puritans (Pilgrims) established amicable relations with the Wampanoag Nation. The Wampanoag were subject to aggression by other Native American groups, so their alliance with the Puritans became an outpost of peace and freedom in the New World.

As more Puritans arrived, they required more breathing space. The Wampanoag, like other indigenous peoples, lacked a modern system of property rights. They did not see fit to build fences, put up street signs, or establish variable-rate mortgages. The Puritans remedied these defects of indigenous culture. It just happened that the Puritans ended up owning all the property, and native Americans themselves became classified as property.

Taking umbrage at this advance of Judeo-Christian civilization, the indigenous people were reduced to terrorism. Some were sufficiently maniacal as to sacrifice their own lives in order to murder innocent settlers. There was a virtual cult of death. Underlying this irrationality was a primitive religious belief system that celebrated exterminating one’s enemies, as well as the consumption of locoweed and psychedelic mushrooms. In short, the natives hated freedom.

As a matter of self-defense, the Puritans were compelled to rise to the challenge of this war of civilizations by exterminating both the terrorists and the societies that nurtured them. There was no middle ground; you were with them or against them. Those Native Americans that were willing to live in peace were provided with alternative living arrangements, under the protection of the new government. Sadly, they proved unequal to the rigors of modern society and eventually disappeared.

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving as a tribute to their memory, and to the invaluable assistance they unselfishly provided to the Christian conquest of America.

Now please pass the gravy, and have a happy Thanksgiving, from all the MaxSpeak mispochah.



{1} http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr040.shtml

{2} http://www.eatel.net/~wahya/thksgvg.html

{3} http://www.altpr.org/print.php?sid=529


Addendum: We proudly note that if you Google the title of this post, the MaxSpeak rendition comes up 6th out of 12,800 hits.

Copyright (c) 2001 – 2005 max sawicky


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

>Give Thanks No More

>It’s Time for a National Day of Atonement

by Robert Jensen

Alternative Press Review (November 21 2006)

One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits – which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin – the genocide of indigenous people – is of special importance today. It’s now routine – even among conservative commentators – to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of US myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it’s also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.

The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians’ land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving “wild beasts” from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape”. Thomas Jefferson – president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the “merciless Indian Savages” – was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn’t stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, “[W]e shall destroy all of them”.

As the genocide was winding down in the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt (president #26) defended the expansion of whites across the continent as an inevitable process “due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway”. Roosevelt also once said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth”.

How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? Here’s how “respectable” politicians, pundits, and professors play the game:

When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand wringing about the younger generations’ lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history. In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who “settled” the country – and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.

But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable – such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States – suddenly the value of history drops precipitously and one is asked, “Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?”

This is the mark of a well-disciplined intellectual class – one that can extol the importance of knowing history for contemporary citizenship and, at the same time, argue that we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about history.

This off-and-on engagement with history isn’t of mere academic interest; as the dominant imperial power of the moment, US elites have a clear stake in the contemporary propaganda value of that history. Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures – such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq – as another benevolent action.

Any attempt to complicate this story guarantees hostility from mainstream culture. After raising the barbarism of America’s much-revered founding fathers in a lecture, I was once accused of trying to “humble our proud nation” and “undermine young people’s faith in our country”.

Yes, of course – that is exactly what I would hope to achieve. We should practice the virtue of humility and avoid the excessive pride that can, when combined with great power, lead to great abuses of power.

History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. The United States is hardly the only society that has created such mythology. While some historians in Great Britain continue to talk about the benefits that the empire brought to India, political movements in India want to make the mythology of Hindutva into historical fact. Abuses of history go on in the former empire and the former colony.

History can be one of the many ways we create and impose hierarchy, or it can be part of a process of liberation. The truth won’t set us free, but the telling of truth at least opens the possibility of freedom.

As Americans sit down on Thanksgiving Day to gorge themselves on the bounty of empire, many will worry about the expansive effects of overeating on their waistlines. We would be better to think about the constricting effects on the day’s mythology on our minds.


Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center http://thirdcoastactivist.org/. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism (City Lights, 2005) and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu .

This article comes from Alternative Press Review

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Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html