The leaders of the West want us to focus solely on the carnage of war in Ukraine. We are told that it is a “unique” conflict primarily because it takes place in Europe and involves “people like us.”
Any attempt to test the morality of this assumption, to compare how the war in Ukraine has been presented to conflicts elsewhere, is met with liberal outrage. Even to suggest that the destroyed lives of people in Yemen and Somalia are of equal value to those being bombed by Russia is to risk being insulted as “providing cover for president Putin”.
Such put downs are designed to stop us seeing a pattern of injustice created by imperialist conflict. And they allow the war in Ukraine to be presented as though it is without history, without causes and beyond understanding. The only explanation is to say that president Putin is a unique villain and a “New Hitler”.
Here Socialist Worker exposes some of the West’s conflicts to the scrutiny that politicians and the media are only too happy to turn away from.
Yemen The poorest country in the Middle East is being bombed by one of the richest, Saudi Arabia. As Boris Johnson made his way to meet with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman this week he had one thing in mind—trading Yemeni blood for Saudi oil.
Saudi forces have bombarded Yemeni people into near oblivion. But instead of condemnation Johnson has agreed to ignore those horrors in return for increased oil production to fill in for the millions of barrels lost to sanctions on Russia.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and the result of the war has been devastating. More than 12,000 civilians have died in the fighting, and over four million people have been forced to flee their homes. Despite moves to try and stop the flow of hi-tech weaponry to Saudi forces Britain remains at the forefront of countries profiting from the carnage. Arms dealers have supplied British‑made Typhoon and Tornado jets that drop British-made cluster bombs onto hospitals, schools, and even refugee camps.
Why are Saudi Arabia and its Western allies so determined to devastate Yemen? The answer is familiar—they are propping up a dictatorship. The revolutionary wave of 2011’s Arab Spring gave rise to a revolt in Yemen that drove out the dictator Ali Saleh. But the compromise deal that followed allowed his former deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to take the reins.
Soon the Houthi religious movement, which champions the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, launched a rebellion of their own. Having conquered the north of the country, they moved southwards, towards Hadi’s stronghold.
While their drive into the south was heavily contested, many ordinary Yemenis, including some Sunni Muslims, backed them against the corrupt regime. The Saudi ruling class, fearing that a Houthi-led Yemen would align itself to Iran, set about building a coalition among mostly Sunni Arab states—and the US, Britain and France.
In the wake of the disastrous war on Iraq, the West could not tolerate Iranian victory in the region. The air assaults on Yemen were, according to Saudi officials, only supposed to last weeks. But seven years later a deadly military stalemate exists.
Missiles launched by the coalition are met by ballistic missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile in Yemen itself, civil war rages with different groups trying to mark out their own territory. Joe Biden promised in his first speech as US president that ending the war in Yemen was a key goal. But US diplomacy has achieved nothing. Instead imperial rivals have flooded the country with enough arms to keep the conflict going for many years to come.
The US military and lawmakers are pushing president Joe Biden to station hundreds of commandos in Somalia to fight the al-Shabaab Islamist group. It would be another phase in Somalia’s decades-long agony at the hands of imperialism. The US has conducted a largely secret war against the group since 2007. The US Africa Command has launched hundreds of airstrikes, killing thousands of people. But it has admitted to only a single case of killing civilians.
Abdullahi Hassan, Amnesty International’s Somalia researcher, wrote in 2020, “The US military should not be allowed to continue to paint its civilian victims as ‘terrorists’ while leaving grieving families in the lurch.”
He added that some of the attacks “amount to apparent violations of international humanitarian law”. Somalia has been a target of the great powers ever since its independence in 1960. It has a strategic position with close access to the oil shipping lanes of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This made it a prize during the Cold War between Russia and the US.
In 1992 the US invaded, using famine as a pretext. Initially welcomed, the US soon became hated. Massacres, torture and virulent racism by the US-led forces made them deeply resented and eventually resistance forced a humiliating US withdrawal. Amid the chaos and poverty caused by the US intervention, various Islamist groups emerged offering stability. They won widespread popularity compared to what had gone before. They were pushed out by a Western-backed invasion led by Ethiopian forces.
The present government in Somalia survives only because it is backed by 20,000 African Union (AU) troops and the political support of the US. But the US has now begun implementing sanctions against some Somali leaders because the government has been so slow to hold elections.
These would be useful in camouflaging the reality of outside control. The AU troops are widely unpopular because of their brutal treatment of local people. But the UN is poised later this month to clear them to remain for years more. This is the climate in which al‑Shabaab has grown. Its soldiers have repeatedly seized territory from the government.
In Mali, West Africa, many people are welcoming the arrival of Russian mercenaries—because the departing French troops were such a murderous disaster. President Emmanuel Macron was forced to announce last month that he will pull French forces out of the country after a nine-year occupation.
Buttressed by racist ideas about “backward Africans” it was always against Malian people’s interests. Mali was a French colony until 1960 and the government in Paris has always intervened to shape who rules.This is to control the region and its important resources.
Around 70 percent of French electricity is generated by nuclear power. It relies on uranium mining in the region. Mali’s Taoudeni Basin, a massive oilfield that stretches 600 miles from Mauritania across Mali and into Algeria, is very important for French oil giant Total.
And Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer, its industry riddled with British, South African and other multinationals. Hundreds of British troops also went to bolster the occupation.
Instead of bringing promised security against groups affiliated to Al Qaeda and Isis groups, the foreign forces swiftly became unpopular as they killed civilians. An infamous French aerial attack on a wedding party in the village of Bounti in January 2021 killed dozens of people who had no connection with Islamist rebellion.
The French continue to insist the raid murdered “armed jihadists”. But that’s totally denied by eyewitnesses and even the United Nations says the French are wrong. Bitterness at decades of neo‑colonial rule and French intervention saw Islamist groups prosper and spread to other countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger.
In January hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, joined demonstrations encouraged by the Malian government against Western‑backed sanctions. Some of the protesters waved Russian flags.
The repressive Malian government turned to the Wagner Group, one of Russia’s private military companies. Like Western “contractors”, such as Blackwater Security Consulting in Iraq, Wagner offers soldiers for hire. And its state backer can also offer valuable diplomatic support at the United Nations and in other forums to resist US pressure.
Wagner is also active in the Central African Republic (CAR) where its mercenaries arrived in 2018 after another French withdrawal. The president’s armed guard is staffed by Russians. Russian companies have access to the CAR’s considerable diamond reserves in return. Imagine how angry you would have to be at Western occupation to celebrate the arrival of Russian mercenaries.
Almost every criticism of president Putin’s war on Ukraine finds an echo in Israel’s war on Palestine. Illegal invasion, indiscriminate bombing, targeting civilian populations, ethnic cleansing and the creation of millions of refugees are all outrages that both Russia and Israel are guilty of.
The Israeli state was founded in 1948 out of a ruthless colonial war to drive Arabs out of much of the historic state of Palestine. Gangs of uniformed thugs spread fear by massacring civilians and ethnically cleansing the land they wished to control.
As many as 850,000 Palestinians were forced to become refugees. The British, which had controlled Palestine from 1918, had encouraged expansionist Jewish settlements as a bulwark against rising Arab nationalism. Now the colonisers took advantage of Britain’s crumbling empire to take over the whole of the territory. In the wake of the horrors of the Second World War, settlements grew rapidly and Zionists moved to clear out Palestine’s original inhabitants.
The 1967 Six Day War saw Israel expand still further to take absorb the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Though illegal under international law, no Western power sought to stop the appropriations, and few in the mainstream wanted to discuss the racism that accompanied the move.
Palestinians, trapped in “occupied territories” are today still held as captives of the Israeli state. There have been various United Nations resolutions that declare the occupation illegal, and the building of new Jewish settlements there in direct contravention of its rulings. But the so‑called international community is silent. Time and again, Israel has violated the national sovereignty of its neighbouring countries with military invasions—without fear of even mild rebuke.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in a bid to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The International Red Cross estimated that 9,583 people died in the first week of the assault. The casualties were overwhelmingly Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian. Israeli dead numbered 368.
In 2006 Israel invaded again in a bid to smash the Hezbollah movement and its military forces. At least 1,191 people were killed, with around a third thought to be children. No Western politician then raised the possibility of a “no-fly zone”, because Israeli jets were key to its military superiority. And no Western state has imposed sanctions because imperialism depends on Israel to help it dominate the Middle East.
Israel’s pattern of aggression without international condemnation continues today. In May last year Israel launched three strikes that killed 62 Palestinian civilians where, according to the Human Rights Watch group, there were no evident military targets. That clearly meets the definition of a “war crime”. But don’t expect the Israeli state to be in the dock of the International Criminal Court any time soon. That kind of “justice” is reserved only for the West’s enemies
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