Cowardice as Foreign Policy

On September 5, the Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Libya affirming, among other things, that “the Republic of Cuba does not recognize the National Transition Council or any other provisional authority and will only give its recognition to a government legitimately constituted in that country without foreign intervention and through the free, sovereign and sole will of the sister Libyan people.” This contrasts totally with the mad rush by many other states, led by France, the UK and Qatar, to recognise the NTC. Cuba’s statement is highly critical of NATO: “On the crude pretext of protecting civilians, NATO has killed thousands of people, has ignored the constructive initiatives of the African Union and other countries and has even violated the questionable resolutions imposed by the Security Council, in particular by attacking civilian targets, by funding and supplying weapons to one side, as well as through the deployment of operative and diplomatic personnel on the ground.”

The statement added: “Cuba affirms that nothing can justify the killing of innocent people.”


Killer drone and victims in Pakistan.

Cuba is correct to take this stance. There is little doubt that the victory so far won against the Qaddafi government would not have been possible without the massive and systematic bombing campaign carried out by NATO. The Australian government helped pave the way for this cowardly air campaign against targets that could not defend themselves with the fanatical lobbying by Foreign Minister Rudd for a NATO imposed “no-fly zone” accompanied by the usual war-time media blitz to demonise the enemy to such an extent that negotiating a political settlement is seen as indefensible.

There are many reasons not to back the NTC and its various component supporters, but NATO’s air campaign against Libyan targets, approved by the NTC officials, must be a primary reason. Imperialist foreign policy is more and more relying on a foreign policy of cowardice. Of course, imperialism has a long history of gun-boat diplomacy – using superior fire power to subdue an enemy from a distance. This is usually supplemented by sending in working class people as cannon fodder, either conscripted or recruited in an environment of jingoistic style propagandized hatred of the other. But 21st century imperialist foreign and war policy is taking this to new heights.

Massive bombing campaigns from the air, supplemented by long-distance missile attacks, under wrote the so-called “shock and awe” campaign against the city of Baghdad. Baghdad had no capacity to defend itself whatsoever. The military technology of the Iraqi government was far below that of the United States and the Iraqi army was unable to bring down any US aircraft or reach any of the US warships firing cruise missiles on Baghdad. The “shock and awe” campaign against Baghdad was a campaign to terrorise the population of Baghdad based on a policy of planned cowardice. The US carried out 1700 air sorties, including 504 using cruise missiles. According to the Oxford Research Group, there were more than 6,000 Iraqi dead, and larger numbers injured. Apart from these numbers, of course, a several days long constant series of missile and bombing raids is a psychological terror campaign of the whole population, including children.

The culture of cowardice-based war and foreign policy is also manifested in the spreading use of drones – pilotless aircraft that can also fire missiles with considerable destructive force. Approval of the escalated use of drones was one of the first decisions of President Barak Obama. According to Drones War UK website: “The US has two separate ‘squadrons’ of armed drones – one run by the US Air Force and one run by the CIA. Using drones, the US Air Force has increased the number of combat air patrols it can fly by 600 percent over the past six years; indeed at any time there are at least 36 American armed UAVS over Afghanistan and Iraq. It plans to increase this number to 50 by 2011…. The CIA has been using drones in Pakistan and other countries to assassinate ‘terrorist leaders.’ While this programme was initiated by the Bush Administration, it has increased under Obama and there have been 41 known drone strikes in Pakistan since Obama became President. Analysis by an American think tank The Brookings Institution on drone attacks in Pakistan has shown that for every militant leader killed, 10 civilians also have died.” Israel has also launched missiles in Gaza using drones.

The former CIA Director Leon Panetta has said that drones are “the only game in town.”

The depth of degeneration of moral values and culture represented by the increasing reliance on these deadly weapons of cowardice was also reflected in one of Obama’s attempts at humour – although his audience found it funny, when he laughed: "the Jonas Brothers are here, they're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia [Obama’s daughters] are huge fans, but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I'm joking?"

The air campaign against the pro- Qaddafi forces, including the bombing of targets in Tripoli, is another example of this cowardice based war policy. The lack of NATO planes shot down is not a reflection of incompetence on the party of the Qaddafi military but simply a result of the fact that they had no means of self-defense. More than 7,000 bombing sorties (out of more than 17,000 flights over Libya) were carried out before the fall of Tripoli – we don’t know yet how much bombing of the towns of Sirte and Bani Walid has occurred since then. Yes, there were fighters on the ground against Qaddafi – with various motivations – but their victory to this point has been enabled by the bombs dropped and missiles fired from so high up, people will sometimes only know they have flown over after the explosion.

The politics of cowardice

The air-based “gun-boat” foreign policy of the 21st century has been made possible by the massive millions of US and European working class peoples’ taxes invested in advancing war technology. Cruise missiles, high altitude bombing and missile firing and drones are all products of US, UK and other European technological advance. Is it a matter of a dynamic developing that because they have it, they just can’t help using it? There is more to this escalation of the use of coward’s technology than that. The imperialist states face a contradiction. On the one hand, they are facing the probability of an expanded range of military interventions around the world to maintain the control they desire of natural resources, especially oil. In the last ten years an active war presence has extended to include Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Pakistan and now Libya. There is still Iran, Syria and Somalia worrying them. There is little prospect of Libya evolving free of a NATO military presence. Even if anti-Western Islamist forces seize the initiative in Libya, it will not end a NATO military intervention in the country. At the same time, both troop availability and, more importantly, public enthusiasm for wars is not high, both for humanitarian, political as well as economic reasons. It is becoming more and more essential for these states to minimize any direct experience of these wars in home populations. Embed journalists to make manipulation of the media presentation of the war. In the case of Libya, they seemed even to end the practice of releasing footage from war plane video cameras that film hits on targets. As much as possible, they try to enclave the war as far away as possible. Essential to this strategy is to reduce military casualties and reduce the visibility of such casualties where they do occur. High altitude bombers, cruise missiles and drones fulfill this need. They will indeed be more and more “the only game in town” – at least in terms of the tactical thinking of the war planners. Working class cannon fodder, conscripted, recruited out of economic need or convinced ideologically to fight, will still be needed, but wherever possible they should be found locally. In Libya, NATO has tried to keep the image as one of no “boots on the ground”, despite the admitted presence of NATO country special forces.

However, despite this, it is not possible to pretend that these wars are not going on. For the moment, the propaganda is that Libya is over (as it was with Iraq at one point). Drones and missiles keep NATO and allied casualties down, and in the US, the burial of war dead is now a much more low-key activity. In Australia, the strength of the ANZAC war propaganda tradition requires maximum national political recognition of every soldier killed at war, while those physically and mentally maimed are rarely mentioned. The coward technology minimizes the war’s presence “at home” but can’t eliminate it.

Meanwhile, it is worth heeding another warning from Cuba: “Cuba attests to the fact that NATO’s conduct is directed at creating similar conditions for an intervention in Syria and demands the end of foreign interference in that Arab nation.” The economies and societies of many Arab nations are outgrowing the various family-rule based regimes that emerged from these societies several decades ago. As that contradiction has grown, conflict between new class forces and old cliques and elites sharpen, with all sides seeking support amongst an increasing dissatisfied population. Stable access to the region’s resources by imperialism is threatened; opportunities for intervention can open up. The resolution of these conflicts are a matter for the peoples of those countries, not the air forces, high-tech drone control panels or the sci-fi style equipped special forces of imperialist countries. Self-determination in these matters also requires full independence. Ending its statement, Cuba “calls on the international community to prevent a new war, urges the United Nations to fulfill its duty of safeguarding the peace and supports the right of the Syrian people to their full independence and self-determination.”