Joe Biden in 2021. Photo: Flickr/Prachatai Joe Biden in 2021. Photo: Flickr/Prachatai

Lindsey German on rampant militarism and global disorder

The US is struggling to control its client states as war rages in Palestine and Ukraine. And this is a situation Joe Biden could not have anticipated at the beginning of the year. It threatens his own political future as he faces a resurgent Donald Trump in next year’s elections.

The biggest crisis from Biden’s point of view is what is happening in Gaza and the Middle East since October 7th. The brutal assault on Gaza by the Netanyahu government has been given the green light by the US, which regards Israel as its key ally in the region. But the scale of the carnage from Israel is such that even its closest ally is having to criticise what is happening. While UN general assembly votes are not binding, they do signify deep international dissatisfaction with the war crimes and ethnic cleansing being carried out against the Palestinian people. And last week’s vote calling for a ceasefire was overwhelming.

The British and German governments abstained on that vote but even they are being forced by events to issue calls for a ‘sustainable ceasefire’, as laid out by foreign secretary David Cameron and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock in a Sunday Times article. 

They reflect growing pressure sweeping the world to end the daily bombardment and collective punishment of civilians in Gaza and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank. Huge demonstrations in Britain speak to the discontent here and the opposition to our government’s refusal to call for a ceasefire. Biden faces similar levels of discontent. But he also faces a very difficult situation in which he cannot easily control what Netanyahu does.

In recent days the rift between the US and Israeli governments has grown. Netanyahu has made clear he has no intention of stopping his attacks. His is the most right-wing government in Israeli history, fully backing the illegal settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem, in hock to the far-right ministers who want to drive out all the Palestinians and determined to defy Biden’s attempt to reinvigorate the failed two state solution. 

Anyone who considers the facts for a moment knows Netanyahu’s war aim to eliminate Hamas is delusional – Hamas, like previous resistance movements, has arisen from the situation of occupation and repression in which the Palestinians find themselves. The elimination will be of the whole of Gaza and the population there and at huge cost. And of course the Palestinians and their allies will fight back. The boasts by the IDF that they have destroyed a lot of Hamas forces especially in the north are clearly untrue. Nine IDF soldiers were killed in an ambush last week, and the Israelis themselves shot three hostages in the same area. 

Events since October 7 mean that the process of so called ‘normalisation’ – of deals between Israel and the various Arab states which meant further marginalisation of the Palestinians – is dead in the Middle East. The corrupt monarchies and dictatorships know that they must distance themselves from Israel if they are to avoid turmoil and possible overthrow from their own citizens, as well as wider war in the Middle East. Despite the US main opponent in the region, Iran, agreeing not to escalate the conflict in the area, the signs are that restraint by movements in the Middle East are breaking down. Israel is threatening war in Lebanon unless Hezbollah moves from the south of the country (where it has mass support). The Houthis in Yemen, who are allied to Iran and who have fought against the Saudi Arabian bombardment in recent years, have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea if it has any connection with Israel. Giant shipping lines Maersk and Hapag Lloyd have said they will not be passing through the Suez Canal because of this. 

So Israel’s actions threaten to derail US policies in the Middle East, to do real damage to trade and oil exports in the region, and to widen the conflict. In addition it is very hard for the US and its allies to denounce Russia’s Vladimir Putin for war crimes and attacks on civilians in Ukraine while allowing Israel to act with impunity against the Palestinians. Hence the increasingly public disagreements between the governments including the call from Biden to get rid of the far-right ministers. But Netanyahu has his own electoral interests and part of his political strategy is to paint himself as the only one strong enough to stand up to the US. 

Biden could bring this to an end very quickly if his government refused to arm or fund Israel. But that isn’t going to happen. Israel remains a key ally in the Middle East and just because the watchdog is off the leash doesn’t mean the US will break with it in any fundamental way. Hence the dilemma for US imperialism.

And then there’s Ukraine, which the US and its allies projected as reshaping international politics in their favour, by defeating or greatly weakening Russia militarily and in turn gaining an advantage against its allies, from Iran to China. A declining US imperialism still massively outspends and outguns its rivals, and initially Biden’s strategy of fighting a proxy war through NATO with Russia in Ukraine appeared to have some success. 

It doesn’t look like that now. Despite huge amounts of military and logistical support being poured into Ukraine the promised spring 2023 counter offensive against Russia did not materialise and the war is definitely not being won by Zelensky and his troops. This has led to discontent at home – at the huge physical cost to Ukrainian troops, at the strategic direction of the war, and at Zelensky’s eternally optimistic view of what is happening. But it has also led to growing calls in the US and elsewhere not to keep funding the arms and aid which has been de rigeur for the past two years.

So in both the US Congress and in the EU expected packages have suddenly been delayed or unavailable. And whereas Zelensky was once the darling of Washington he cut a pathetic figure on a recent visit, as he discovered how fickle imperialist support is for its erstwhile allies. While Ukraine’s government has proved a loyal follower of the US, for example voting against the various UN resolutions on Gaza, and Zelensky himself has pledged his personal support for Netanyahu, there are signs of growing pressure on him to come to some sort of deal, one that the west urged him to reject back in April 2022.

It is hard to see how this won’t benefit Putin in the short term and be a blow to the interests of US imperialism, which has invested a great deal in this war but still wants to stop short of open warfare with Russia.

The mass movement in support of Palestine has proved a major force in opposing the Israeli agenda and the role of US and British imperialism. The surprise and consternation of the ruling classes in those countries at the level of the movement has been palpable. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine allowed the NATO powers to project themselves as opposing military might and dictatorship and supporting democracy and self-determination. That can’t happen over Israel. 

So instead the western ruling classes are trying to damage the movement – accusing it of being antisemitic, denying the right to chant certain slogans, trying to prevent students from solidarity by naming the wearing of badges, accusing them of hate speech or – in the case of the Free University in Berlin – arresting those who put on a conference in support of Palestine. 

As US imperialism declines it relies ever more heavily on military power, but we can see how dangerous this is in both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And it’s going to get even nastier domestically – attacks on free speech, the right to protest and the right to show solidarity with the Palestinians are all getting worse. Behind them lurk the increase in Islamophobia which is directly connected to the conflict in the Middle East. 

In a week when Rishi Sunak puts forward a law telling us that a country is safe if he says it is, then travels to Rome to speak about immigration at a far-right conference with the fascist Italian prime minister – who describes his visit as ‘a gift’ – you know the rot goes deep. 

This week: It’s supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill but far too many are suffering in wars, persecuted as refugees, experiencing hunger or homelessness. But in times of despair we also need hope that we can shape the future. So I will be supporting protests over Palestine and racism this week and trying to make 2024 a year where we push back against the warmongers and profiteers. I’ll be spending time with loved ones, and hope you can all have a good Christmas and happy new year. I’ll be back in January.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.