Shannon Airport, the Afghan War & the Fall of the US Empire

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Rev. Livingstone’s book on the history of Fermanagh included a chapter on the famine years when the population fell by 40,000. However if the research for the book had been restricted to the columns of the local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, it would have been difficult to know if there had been a famine.

Exactly the same applies to virtually our entire corporate media since the policy of Irish neutrality was terminated and millions of US troops land in Shannon Airport on their way to wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan where they are responsible for the death and injury of hundreds of thousands of people. While it is absolutely true that the corporate media is not a homogenous block and they take very different positions on a whole range of issues, apart from a handful of journalists when it comes to the these imperial wars, the entire Irish corporate media supports them. No Irish newspaper has called for the termination of the use of Shannon Airport by the US troops and the withdrawal of Irish troops from Afghanistan. When it comes to that issue, the vast majority of Irish journalists, columnists, economic and political commentators are little more than intellectual mercenaries for the neo-liberal militarist ideology that has dominated and continues to dominate Ireland. The media solve the problems arising from Ireland’s participation in wars, by giving them virtually no coverage, and all but ignore the Irish peace movement, which includes PANA, that opposes them.

The media could not ignore the 100,000 that marched against war on the 15th of February 2003, although the Sunday Independent did its best, as it headlined some story about President McAleese. In time, the demonstrations faded away and the media started to ignore the war. Before the last general election, PANA convinced that the people had not changed their minds, commissioned Lansdowne Market Research to carry out an independent survey on people’s attitude to the war. It showed that over 58% of people wanted the use of Shannon Airport by the US to be terminated. True to form, the media ensured the results were given little or no coverage and the use of Shannon by the US was not an issue in the 2007 election.

This process was repeated in the British 2010 election. Two newspapers, the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday commissioned a poll which showed that 77% of the British people wanted the British soldiers to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The issue was ignored by the rest of the media so the war in Afghanistan was not an issue in their election either. Like the use of Shannon in Ireland, it exposed the reality of what passed for democracy in Britain: that despite the results of the poll, most of the media and all the leaders of the three mainstream parties back the war.

The reality is of course is that the corporate media in Ireland is totally committed to the continuing dominance of the neo-liberal militarist ideology that justifies and supports these wars. It seeks to prevent any challenge by excluding, with rare exceptions, PANA and other anti imperialists access to the media. This is not a grip. It is a simple description of reality.
Ignoring reality however does not stop reality. The tide is coming in, as King Canute pointed out nearly 1,000 years ago, cannot be stopped by simply ignoring it.

The reality is that the US and its vassal states like Ireland and Britain do not have the resources to fight and win their imperial wars any longer.

The real facts are that the number of US citizens on food stamps has now reached a record 40 million. The number of US homeowners behind on their mortgage repayments is at record levels. One out of every ten missed a payment in the first quarter of this year. 3-5 million more foreclosures are predicted. 1 in every 5 US children is below the poverty line. Official unemployment figures in the US show there are 15 million US citizens out of work. US Banks will be seriously affected by the massive cut backs being planned in the EU. JP Morgan Chase, for example, has a $1.4 trillion exposure in Europe. In the US, the real personal loss of income means that annual income is $500 billion less than it was sixteen months ago. US state and local government have cut their workforces by on average 65,000 a month and the political elite voted not to extend unemployment benefit. In short, as Prof. Elizabeth Warren has pointed out in her studies, the middle class of the US is being destroyed by the neo-liberal militarist ideology of the Bush-Obama Presidencies.

The US deficit as a % of GDP is now nearly 100% (up from 57% in 2007) and the US national debt is $689,000 per family when the average annual income per family is $63,000. Despite this, President Obama is spending $1 million per soldier per annum on the Afghan War and has just got an extra $33 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The total annual US military expenditure is over $1 trillion, the same as the rest of the world combined, at a time when the total expenditure of the entire world per annum is $60 trillion.

In simple terms, the people of the US are becoming impoverished. They can no longer generate the taxable income to sustain the revenue needed to fund the US Empires massive military expenditure to fight wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and maintain over 700 military bases all over the world, a number that does not include the de facto US base, Shannon Airport. The American Republic is being destroyed by the
American Empire.

PANA in opposing the US Empire and the Bush/Obama Imperial wars is supporting the people of the US and their Republic in a struggle against their Empire. It makes PANA is one of the most pro-American groups in Ireland.

Instead of improving the quality of life of its own people the US Empire has borrowed the money from other states, for example, nearly 25% of its national debt is supported by the Chinese purchase of US Treasury Bonds.  Federal interest on the bonds will soon reach 1/8 of all annual US tax revenue. The continuous purchase of US Treasury Bonds by China, Japan and other states cannot and will not continue indefinitely especially as their own financial surpluses will have to be diverted to the economic needs of their own people.

At the same time, China must also not be too pleased by massive US arms sales to Taiwan despite the fact that the recent China agreement with Taiwan suggests that the Taiwanese sees their future with China and not as a vassal state of a declining Empire. The decision of the US to humiliate the Japanese Prime Minister and forcing him to resign over the issue of the continuing US base in Okinawa can hardly be popular with the people of Japan and they too are sure to envision the end to their vassal status.

This decline in support by the vassal states for the US Empire is beginning to accelerate. They have withdrawn all their troops from Iraq. In August the Dutch government in response to the wishes of their own people will start the withdrawal of their 2,000 troops from Afghanistan. The Canadians will withdraw their troops in 2011. With massive cut backs in social welfare throughout Europe well on the way, the people in the different states in Europe will hardly accept an increase in military expenditure. In face of major cutbacks, people are much more likely to demand, like the Dutch, the withdrawal of their troops.

There are other examples of the emergence of a multi-polar world such as when the US allies made it clear they would not support Georgia that seeks NATO membership when it attacked South Ossetia and was crushed by Russia. More recently Turkey, an existing NATO member supported the Gaza flotilla and together with Brazil sought a settlement with Iran and opposed sanctions.

We should however not underestimate the deep held imperialist values of the political elite of the EU/US/NATO including Ireland. In response to the economic crisis German Chancellor has called for a single European currency and a single Army and increased the number of German troops in Afghanistan even though poll show that 65% of Germans want their troops withdrawn. There is already a NATO led de facto European Army with over 30,000 troops taking part in the Afghan War. Albania, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden, and the UK all have troops there despite opposition from most of their own people.

There are seven Irish soldiers serving with NATO in Afghanistan. The government says the cost is only €470,000 a year. However since the cost of each US soldier is $1 million per annum, we should take that declared cost with a pinch of salt.

PANA in the last few months campaigned within the Labour Party and it has now called for the withdrawal of the Irish soldiers from Afghanistan. At their recent Party Conference, delegates warmly welcomed the reiteration of opposition to the use of Shannon Airport by US troops by its spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Michael D. Higgins. This means that the Labour Party together with Sinn Fein and other progressive groups agree. The recent Irish Times TSN/MRBI poll, which is far more accurate than the Red Sea poll, showed that a Labour Party/Sinn Fein/Independent Left government is an option. Now PANA can campaign for a government committed to the withdrawal of Irish troops from Afghanistan, the termination of the use of Shannon Airport by US troops in the war and the restoration of Irish neutrality
with evidence to show that this is a more realistic option that this can be achieved than it was at the last election. In truth, this opposition is as has been stated earlier, merely reflecting the growing global opposition the wars of the US Empire including among its vassals.

So while progress is being made among the opposition political forces, the same cannot be said of the existing government which is making no moves whatsoever to terminate the use of Shannon Airport in these wars or to withdraw troops.

There is however some evidence to show the ruling elite is divided. At a conference organised by the Finnish and Irish Departments of Foreign Affairs when it was pointed out that 77% of the British people wanted their troops to be withdrawn, while the EU military representative said public opinion did not matter, the representative of the Irish Dept. of Defence said a war could not be fought if their was no popular support.

At the same conference the issue of use the EU Battle Groups was discussed. It is clear that since the Finnish government is increasing the number of troops it is sending to Afghanistan and Irish taxpayers are going to spend an estimated €800,000 in 2010 to pay for Irish troops to have military training with the EU Nordic Battle Group
that there will be a growing demand that the Nordic Battle Group be sent to Afghanistan. Therefore for the Irish peace movement has to highlight the issue of the EU Battle Groups especially as the government is considering integrating the Irish Army into a 2nd EU Battle Group.

I have focused on the effects of the war on the peoples of the US and Europe. While they are on the receiving end of social welfare cuts they have not suffered as have the people of Afghanistan where 142 babies die out of every 1,000 before they reach their 1st birthday and 50% of the population earn less that $2 a day. Faced with such poverty they are turning to growing poppies. From 2004-2010 the estimated number of hectares growing poppies grew from 25 to 90,000. If only a fraction of the $1 trillion President Obama and his Empire spends on war was spent aid then Afghanistan could look to a better future.

Finally PANA held its first demonstration against the Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan wars at Shannon Airport in May 2002. If the demonstration PANA helped organise with the IAWM and the NGOPA in February 2003 had not been so large, there is little doubt that the Fianna Fail/PD government would have sent Irish troops to Iraq and there would be a large contingent of Irish troops now serving in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, so far we have failed to defeat the Irish political elite. Since 1996 PANA has opposed Ireland’s integration into the neo-liberal militarist ideology of EU/US/NATO structures. We see our struggle against the militaristion of the EU and Ireland’s participation in the Iraq and the AF/Pak war, let alone the elite’s support for the crushing of the people of Palestine, as witnessed by CRH’s investment in Israel, Ireland’s support for Israeli membership of the OSCE and the purchase by the Irish Army of Israeli weapons, as being totally interconnected.

However, their imperial world is coming to an end, not so much from our efforts, but from its own internal contradictions. Our task now is to seek to ensure that as coming disintegration and collapse of the EU/US/NATO axis accelerates, what emerges is not one base on racist and fascist values, a realistic possibility as can be seen from the recent election result in Hungary and Holland, but on national democracy and social justice. This is not an easy task and as a small country we can only play a marginal role in that process. But the interconnections between all the social and political groups in Ireland, Europe and the US that has been built up during our campaigns against imperialism since 1996 can stand the test of time and lay the foundation for victory. The establishment of a united independent democratic Irish Republic with its own independent foreign policy with positive neutrality as a key component pursued primarily through a reformed United Nations remains PANA’s objective. Its achievement will be our victory.

Roger Cole
Peace & Neutrality Alliance

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