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      Imperialism Is the Cuase of Wars & Misery Around the World, and Must be Fought and Defeated!

      A Talk by Nita Palmer, the author of “War and Occupation in Afghanistan, Which Way Forward?"

      Hello everyone and welcome to this important forum on this beautiful sunny evening, I wish we could find a way to do this outside because it would be wonderful! I also want to say thank you to Wala for her beautiful poem, that's a very nice thing to have, to have a little art before my hopefully not too long talk.

      The purpose of this forum today is to reflect on what has happened in the last 14 years of war since September 11, 2001. It's been 14 years since the war on terrorism started, and this war as we all know has cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives around the world. This war on terrorism, we were told, was going to make the world a safer place. It was going to bring security to us in North America so that events like the September 11 th attacks on the world trade center would never happen again. It was supposed to bring human rights and democracy to countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. But instead, over the last 14 years we have seen terrorism increase, both throughout Western countries in the Middle East and around the world. And human rights and democracy certainly have not improved. Today I think as peace-loving people, many of us here have been activists, some for many more years than I have been, some for more years than I have been alive, but I think that it’s very important for all of us.

      Did We Win Afghanistan?
      We will start our story in Afghanistan. The war began there in October 2001, and the Taliban were quickly overthrown with the U.S. bombing campaign. This was supposed to usher in a new era of democracy and human rights in that country. But where is that country today? Today, the supposedly democratically elected government of Afghanistan, of President Ashraf Ghani, is well known to be a farce. The government has very little real power outside of Kabul, and even their hold within Kabul is tenuous at best. Afghans in the majority do not have faith in their government, which has massive problems with corruption, as many government officials and politicians are known to be well connected to war- lords. During the last election there were dozens of reports of war-lords forcing people to vote for Ashraf Ghani, ballot stuffing, people basically being forced to vote a certain way at gun-point. Yet these elections were hailed as a democratic transition in Afghanistan. These war-lords control large parts of the country, with militias basically acting as hired guns, who are often supported by Afghan and U.S. government funds. The Taliban also has had a resurgence and control large parts of the country, even collecting taxes and administering a judicial system in some regions. So I’m sure today, after 14 years of war and bloodshed and over 100,000 lives lost, there is no real democracy in Afghanistan. The war has not improved human rights there either. In the West, it has been celebrated in the media that children can fly kites in Afghanistan now, they can play soccer, people can listen to music, all the things that were not allowed under the Taliban. But what do these rights mean in a country where the most basic human rights are still not met and in fact in many ways have deteriorated since the war began. Forty-two percent of the Afghan population still live in poverty, which is defined as less than $2 a day in Afghanistan. The unemployment rate is around 40%, and thousands of children are still not able to go to school because they must work to feed their families, especially those who have had their fathers killed in the war. The fighting and ongoing violence has displaced 4.1 million Afghans. Half a million of those have been displaced internally and are living in refugee camps with little access to food, water, employment, and medical aid. As we saw in the videos we watched earlier, opium production in Afghanistan - which was almost nonexistent under the Taliban - has skyrocketed with record highs last year and now is producing the majority of the world’s heroin. Along with this, drug problems have become epidemic across the country, and along with it HIV and AIDS, a disease which was almost unheard of in Afghanistan before the war. Yes, schools and hospitals have been built across the country. But many of them remain empty due to the lack of security, staff, supplies or funds to run them. Most of these projects are good for little more than a backdrop for photo-ops. So Afghans today remain in a position which is no better than before the war - except that now, they also have to deal with the constant home raids, harassment at check points, ongoing violence and insecurity in their country.

      Did We Do Better in Iraq?
      Then the war moved on to Iraq, which was invaded in 2003 under the justification of liberating Iraqis from Saddam Hussain and getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. Of course we knew almost immediately that the claims of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction were a lie. Saddam Hussain may be gone, but human rights in Iraq certainly have not improved. The war killed more than 1 million people according to the Lancet Medical Journal, and today nearly a third of Iraqis live in poverty and that number is rising. The health-care system, which was once one of the best in the Middle East, has been destroyed by the war. Many hospitals were destroyed by the bombings, and only some have been rebuilt. But the greater problem is the lack of doctors, because so many were killed in the war or forced to leave the country. According to the charity organization Med Act, between 2003 and 2007 half of Iraq’s doctors left the country. Along with this, other medical and public health factors have been documented to be falling. The number of fully immunized children dropped from 60% of Iraqi children before the war to 45% after. In addition, the bombing campaign pounded Iraq with thousands of tons of depleted uranium and chemical weapons, which has left the country with a toxic legacy which will be there for thousands of years to come. It has polluted the air, water and land especially in southern Iraq. The overall cancer rate in the country has increased from 40 cases per 100,000 people in 1991 to 1,600 per 100,000 in 2005, according to the Iraqi government. The Iraqi ministry of health has reported a sharp increase in miscarriages, infertility and horrific birth defects in Iraqis throughout the country. Some of these birth defects that children are born with are too horrific to describe. It’s like something out of a horror film: children born missing limbs, or born with organs outside of their body, their lives short and painful. This is thanks to the U.S. campaign for human rights in Iraq. In terms of democracy, before 2003 Iraq was a relatively developed country. Iraqis suffered greatly from the first Gulf War and a decade of sanctions, but the country was fairly stable. The overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussain did not bring democracy to Iraq. Instead it has thrown the country into more than a decade of violence. The overthrow of Saddam Hussain and the installation of a weak U.S.-backed Iraqi government allowed a violent extremist group to come to power, ISIS. The roots of ISIS are in Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group which did no exist in the country before the U.S. invasion. There is ample evidence that the U.S. and their allies have been aiding and abetting ISIS very directly, even while they claim to be fighting them. However, even if you do not believe this, it’s undeniable that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has at the very least set the stage for ISIS to come to power. Now, the U.S. and their allies, including Canada, have begun bombing the country again, in the name of fighting ISIS, the very terrorist force which they helped create. Many people in this country were proud that Canadian forces did not invade Iraq in 2003. But today more than 700 Canadian soldiers have been sent to the country, and Canada has conducted over 50 airstrikes there.

      They Destroyed Libya, to What End?
      The next target to be in the sights of this war drive was the NATO bombing of Libya. This expanded the imperialist campaign from the Middle East into North Africa. Once again, the justification was the support for democracy and the so-called popular movement against the president Muammar Gaddafi. But what occurred in the country was in fact one of the most crushing blows to secularism, democracy and human rights in the region. Before the NATO bombing of the country, Libya had the highest GDP in Africa, and the highest life expectancy as well. Health-care and higher education were universal across the country, and Libya had a lower poverty rate in fact than some western countries, even than some European countries. Since the NATO bombing of the country, what is essentially a civil war erupted. The country has been set back decades and is now a failed state. It’s under the control of at least five different groups, two main ones, and the official government of Libya has no real control. It’s a scattering of militias and other groups, including ISIS, who are vying for power across the country. The economy has been destroyed and Libya’s once stellar health- care system is on the brink of collapse. Libyans are fleeing the country in droves, many dying on the dangerous journey to Europe and creating a refugee crisis on that continent. If the U.S. and NATO are trying to promote freedom, democracy and human rights in the region, why would they attack Libya, which had one of the best human rights records in the region? The real crime of Gaddafi was defending Libya’s political and economic independence, and supporting other African countries to do the same. Former CIA officer Clare Lopez told the Daily Mail that the U.S. was knowingly facilitating the provision of weapons to known Al-Qaeda militias and figures in Libya. So if this war is about fighting terrorism, why is the U.S. working with Al- Qaeda? This beyond anything else proves that the U.S. will work with terrorists who they claim to be fighting in order to achieve their strategic interests.

      How Imperialists Destroyed One of the Cradles of Civilization?
      In Syria, a supposed popular movement against President Bashar Al-Assad began in 2012. But from the beginning this popular movement was suspicious. It did not start as the other Arab Spring protests did, a mass movement in a large city, but with a small group of armed rebels in a town near the Turkish border. The New York Times reported that CIA operatives were working within Syria, helping to supply weapons to the rebels shortly after the war began. This so-called civil war has killed over 200,000 people, and displaced over 10 million, according to the United Nations. The country’s health-care system, which had improved greatly since the 1980’s, has largely been destroyed or disrupted since the war. Many hospitals and health- care clinics have been destroyed or do not have the equipment to operate, and a lack of security prevents many Syrians from accessing health-care, particularly women and children. A report on Syrian health-care before and during the war published in the Avicenna Journal of Medicine found specific concerns for the chronically sick: “It is estimated that more than half of those chronically ill have been forced to interrupt their treatment. These concerns are exacerbated by the virtual halt of referrals of ordinary patients outside of conflict areas, as life-threatening injuries receive a higher priority in an overwhelmed health-care system.” Today, only 43% of the primary health-care centers in Syria are partially functional, and there are country-wide shortages of even the most basic medicines. The education system in the country has been decimated as well, and risks leaving an entire generation of Syrian children lost without an education. The UN High Commission on Refugees reported that before the war 97% of children attended primary school, and 67% attended secondary school. Today enrollment is as low as 37% in some areas. There are 2.5 million children not in school. The report said that “what remains of Syria’s education system bears little resemblance to pre-crisis conditions” and found that “schools had been destroyed, teachers fled and children were unable to attend classes due to lack of security.” Although what is happening in Syria is being called a civil war, it is in reality a proxy war. There is plenty of evidence that the U.S. and their allies created and fanned the flames of the conflict by supplying the so-called rebels of the Free Syrian Army with material support and training. In March 2015 the U.S. announced that they would be spending $70 million on aid to these moderate rebel groups in Syria. And yet many of these rebels have gone on to join Al-Qaeda and ISIS. So even as the U.S. and their allies, including Canada, claim to be fighting ISIS, they are arming its supporters. Now a large part of Syria is under control of ISIS, thanks to the support of the U.S. and their allies. But the proxy war was no longer enough for the U.S. to try to achieve its ends in the country, and airstrikes have begun by the U.S. and Canada in Syria.

      Yemen, The Latest Victim of Imperialist Military Aggression
      The latest war to open in the Middle East is the massive bombing of Yemen. It's officially not led by the United States, but by the Gulf Cooperation Council led by Saudi Arabia. But the U.S. has provided logistical and intelligence support, by re-fueling planes and identifying targets for the Saudis to bomb. The airstrikes have killed over 2000 people so far, and 19 people were killed today alone. But these numbers don’t even include the hundreds of Yemenis killed over the years by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. The CIA through it’s drone strike program claims to be targeting terrorists in Yemen, but dozens of innocent civilians have been killed. These airstrikes have destroyed many of Yemen’s ancient and beautiful historical sites, as well as hospitals, schools, and other vital infrastructure. The shortage of fuel in the country has caused wide-spread power outages and forced hospitals to close, leaving those injured in airstrikes without urgently needed medical care. This brutal war in Yemen was yet again justified on the basis of stopping terrorism. But in this case the terrorists that the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council are trying to stop is a popular opposition movement to the U.S. and the Saudi-backed government of Mansur Hadi. This movement has been labeled as so-called “Iranian-backed Houthis” but in fact the popular movement against the government which began in 2011 was much broader than this.

      The U.S. War on Terrorism Failed
      So we can see, this is a very brief picture of some of the things that have happened over the last 14 years of war and occupation. How has democracy improved? We see nothing but evidence that it is failing in every country that the U.S. and their allies have intervened in. Terrorism certainly hasn’t stopped, we now have ISIS spreading across the Middle East and into Europe as well. This hasn’t improved the security situation for anyone in the Middle East or really anywhere in the world.

      So why has this war on terrorism failed? They spent trillions of dollars on this, there has been massive amounts of resources from around the world put into this war, why has it not succeeded? At one time you may have been able to argue that this is just a failure on the part of governments around the world. But I think today the evidence is clear. Governments including the U.S. are working directly and indirectly with some of the most brutal and anti-democratic forces in the region, including terrorist groups like Al- Qaeda which they supposedly set out to rid the world of. I think the only logical conclusion from this is that spreading democracy and human rights and stopping terrorism never was the true objective.

      So if that’s the case, what was? I would argue that the real reason behind the past 14 years of war are political and economic agendas. The global capitalist competition for trade markets and natural resources is increasing, and imperialist countries are trying to secure their hold on the market. While countries like Canada, the U.S. and Britain are ultimately in competition with each other, they have formed alliances against the larger threats to their power. Up and coming economic powers such as China and Russia threaten the hegemony of the US and its allies. Another major threat to their economic and political dominance are popular movements in the third world, movements for self-determination in which people are demanding control over their own lives, countries, and resources. Should the worldwide movements for self-determination succeed, they would deal a serious blow to countries such as the US and Canada, which have gained wealth through the plundering of other nations’ resources.

      U.S. Imperialism is the Source of All Social Ills Around the World
      Now, this might just sound like a crazy conspiracy theory, but I have some evidence straight from the horse’s mouth to back it up. In 1992, the U.S. Defense Planning Guidance, a classified document that was leaked to the New York Times, said the following: “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy, and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia. There are three additional aspects to this objective. First, the U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role, or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. Second, in the non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations, to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”

      As well, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review published in 1997, had this to say: “The security environment between now and 2015 will also likely be marked by the absence of a global peer competitor, able to challenge the United States militarily around the world as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. Furthermore, it is likely that no regional power or coalition will amass sufficient conventional military strength in the next 10 to 15 years to defeat our armed forces, once the full military potential of the United States is mobilized and deployed to the regional conflict. The United States is the world’s only superpower today and is expected to remain so through the 1997 to 2015 period. In the period beyond 2015, there is the possibility that a regional great power or global peer competitor may emerge. Russia and China are seen by some as having the potential to be such competitors, though their respective futures are quite uncertain.”

      This is essentially the assessment of what is happening in the world today, straight from the United States’ government. They are affirming that they will do what they must, politically and militarily, to remain the world’s superpower.

      More Than a Decade of Imposed Suffering and Pain by Colonial Powers
      The last 14 years have essentially been a classic example of how imperialism works. If we look back in history, we can see that the period we are living in today is in many ways similar to the “scramble for Africa” in the 1800s, or the colonization of Indigenous lands in North America. Even the justification is similar. Hundreds of years ago the imperialist powers justified their brutal colonization of other nations with the idea that they were in fact helping Indigenous peoples, bringing them education, technology, and religion. But what Indigenous people across the world ended up with was the takeover of their land and resources and the destruction of their culture. Today we are told that imperialist countries are helping the people of the Middle East by bringing them freedom and democracy. But what they have ended up with are governments that do the bidding of the U.S. and their allies, and the destruction of their countries.

      I think the most important question for us today is: who is the real enemy? If you watch the news these days you could be easily led to believe that the biggest threat to humanity today is Russia, China, Iran or whichever government is next in the sights of the United States. But as we have seen, these targets of Russia or China or Iran that we hear about in the media are being portrayed that way because it is in the interests of forces within Canada and the United States to portray them as the big enemy. In fact, the real threat to humanity today is imperialist forces across the world. They have proven without a doubt, over the past 15 years and for many hundreds of years before, that they have no principles or morals. They will ally themselves with anyone, even the repressive Saudi regime or terrorist organizations, to achieve their goals.

      Around the world imperialist countries are bringing in drastic austerity measures. Here in Canada we have seen extensive cuts to health- care, education, unemployment insurance and environmental protection. As well we have seen major attacks on basic democratic rights and rights to free speech, as has happened with the passing of bill C-51. Yet, despite all of these cuts, the money continues to pour in for campaigns like the war in Afghanistan or the bombing of Iraq.

      Are We in a Safer World After 14 Years of the New Era of War and Occupation?
      But the destruction of the Middle East or North Africa has not made the world a safer place. It has destroyed millions of lives, torn apart countries and supported the development of extremism. I think today, for anyone really paying attention to what is going on in the world, the veil of humanitarian intervention and the war on terrorism has been lifted. Every day new evidence arises that these wars are not being fought in our interests, nor are they being fought in the interests of people in the countries under attack.

      An important question often arises when we are discussing the need to end these wars, however – the question of what is to be done in the many countries around the world where human and democratic rights are indeed lacking, even before they were invaded by the US and their allies. Unfortunately, I think the answer is at once simple and very, very complex. Ultimately, the only way countries in the third world – oppressed countries – will be able to progress, will be able to develop human rights and democracy, is to attain self-determination – that means no wars, occupations, or foreign meddling or interference. It is not a neat, quick or easy solution – but in the long run neither wars nor well-intentioned aid will solve any country’s problems. Self-determination for oppressed countries is the only solution which has the possibility to create a world which is peaceful and just for all.

      Unfortunately, these wars are not going to end just because we wish them to. It is essential that we educate ourselves and others about the truth behind these wars. We must then organize and mobilize against them, as we have done in forums like this, in rallies and pickets. It seems sometimes like we’re fighting a very uphill battle, maybe even sometimes it feels like a hopeless battle. As much as we struggle for a better world, nearly every day there is a new attack, a new war on another country. But we have to remember that mass mobilization and resistance, both in the U.S. and in Vietnam, were what ended the Vietnam War. The massive protest movement in the U.S. as well as the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people succeeded in ending a terrible and criminal U.S. war. People in the Middle East are resisting against the wars and occupations in their countries, and it is essential that we here support them. If we want to win, and bring peace to the world, we must unite with people all around the world to end this brutal new era of war and occupation. Thank you.

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