By Stephen Gowans
August 23, 2012
He’s a virtual dictator who presides over a virtual one-party state controlled by his own ethnic minority. True, he has been elected multiple times, but he relies on violence and intimidation to win “mind-bogglingly one-sided elections.” (1) In the last election, his party won all but two of 546 seats in parliament. (2)
When opposition supporters objected to one of his improbable election victories, he ordered regime forces to open fire, “killing 193 and wounding hundreds. Thousands of opposition leaders and supporters were rounded up and detained.” (3) Opponents who weren’t jailed were denied food aid, jobs and other social benefits. (4)
A rebellion against his regime has been met by “brutal campaigns” involving rape and the killing of his own people. (5) Last year, he sentenced two Western journalists to 11 years in prison for reporting on rebel groups fighting to overthrow his tyrannical regime. (6) And in 2006, he sent his forces into a neighbouring country to occupy it militarily, because it was weak and unable to defend itself.
Syria’s Bashar al-Asad?
Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe?
The description fits the picture painted of these two leaders by the US State Department and its echo chamber, the Western mass media. But it is neither of these men. Both are reviled in Washington—and so automatically by the Western press—for reasons allegedly having to do with their bad attitudes to democracy and human rights and so it’s easy to believe the leader depicted above is one of them.
But the real reason the US State Department–and in train the mimetic Western media—treat these men as heinous criminals has to do with their attitudes to Western free enterprise and domination from abroad. Neither man has been willing to open his country to untrammelled exploitation by foreigners (or in Zimbabwe’s case to the descendants of settlers.) Neither votes in the United Nations as Washington directs, and neither is willing to act as a military proxy for the Pentagon.
But Meles Zenawi, the leader I’ve described above—the dictator you haven’t heard about—was willing to do all these things.
Meles, the prime minister of Ethiopia, died last Monday. An anti-Communist, he dropped out of medical school in the 1970s to fight Ethiopia’s then Marxist-Leninist government. As prime minister, he shepherded Ethiopia through a free-market, free-enterprise takeover that opened Ethiopia’s economy to foreign investors. (7) In 2006, when the United States asked him to invade neighbouring Somalia, Meles—the uncompromising local agent of US interests—was only too happy to comply.
For his services the Ethiopian strongman was showered with aid—$1 billion from Washington in 2010, and nearly the same amount last year. (8) And his “military and security services” are celebrated in Washington as “among the Central Intelligence Agency’s favourite partners…in Africa.” (9)
While Meles was of the kind of leader Washington professes to revile, there were no campaigns for Meles’s removal engineered by the US State Department, and then taken up by the compliant media, and from there by liberals, soft-leftists, non-violent pro-democracy activists, and “no-fly-zone-arms-to-the-rebels” Trotskyists. All of these forces were too busy trying to outdo each other in denouncing the rogue’s gallery of socialists and economic nationalists Washington trotted out for disdain, allegedly because they hate democracy and human rights, but actually because they hate foreign domination. Meles never made Washington’s list of rogues. Nor by consequence the Western mass media’s. Nor by consequence the aforesaid leftists’.
Writing Meles’ obituary, New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman felt moved to explain the gulf between Washington’s rhetoric about supporting democracy and human rights, and its practice of supporting their very enemies.
“Ethiopia,” wrote Gettleman, “is hardly alone in raising difficult questions on how the United States should balance interests and principles.” Contra Gettleman, the trouble here is that there is no balance between interests and principles. US interests—which is to say the interests of the one percent—vastly outweigh principles, which is why Washington continues to support leaders like Meles and tyrants in the Gulf. Principles are simply rhetoric to cover up the rape of other countries in the pursuit of profit.
“Saudi Arabia,” continued Gettleman, “is an obvious example (of interests trumping principles), a country where women are deprived of many rights and there is almost no religious freedom. Still, it remains one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East for a simple reason: oil.”
Right, but not oil, as a resource US consumers and industry depend on that can’t be obtained elsewhere. Indeed, the United States is one of the world’s top oil producers and more than half of US oil is sourced domestically. Neighbouring Canada supplies as much oil to the United States as do all of the oil producing countries in North Africa and the Middle East combined. (10) The loss of Saudi Arabia as an ally wouldn’t leave the United States short of oil. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia is a source of only a small part of the oil the United States consumes. But it is a source of gargantuan oil profits for US businesses, not only directly, but through the recycling of petro-dollars through US banks. Saudi Arabia remains one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East for a simple reason: not oil itself, but for what it delivers–immense profits.
Gettleman went on to point out that, “In Africa, the United States cooperates with several governments that are essentially one-party states, dominated by a single-man, despite a commitment to promoting democracy.” (11) But he didn’t say why. If it’s oil profits in Saudi Arabia, what is it in Africa? The Wall Street Journal is more forthcoming. Meles transformed a Communist-controlled economy by “loosening up of lucrative industries” and attracting “investment in agriculture and manufacturing.” (12) In other words, he helped make US investors—the one percent— richer.
Meanwhile, leaders who have resisted their country’s exploitation by the West’s one percent have been destabilized, sanctioned, bombed, and—with the help of plenty of leftists—tarred by the blackest campaigns of vilification.
1. Jeffrey Gettleman (a), “Ethiopian leader’s death highlights gap between U.S. interests and ideals”, The New York Times, August 21, 2012.
2. Peter Wonacott, “Ethiopia in flux after leader dies”, The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2012.
4. Gettleman (a)
5. Jeffrey Gettleman (b), “Ethiopian leader’s death highlights gap between U.S. interests and ideals”, The New York Times, August 21, 2012.
6. Gettleman (a)
9. Gettleman (a)
10. Danile Yergin, “America’s new energy security”, The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2011; Juliet Eilperin, “Canadian government overhauling environmental rules to aid oil extraction”, The Washington Post, June 3, 2012; Sheila McNulty and Ed Crooks, “US groups unlock secret recipe for oil”, The Financial Times, March 3, 2011.
11. Gettleman (b)