NATO in Chicago: A Meaningless Demonstration

Now that the NATO Summit has swept out of my city, the local press can’t stop fawning over the performance of the Chicago police – and gloating over how silly and meaningless the mass demonstrations turned out to be in the end.

Mission accomplished. With all of the focus on the Chicago streets, I guess we were successfully distracted from the truly meaningless demonstration that was the NATO Summit.

As for me, I’m in full agreement with Stephen Walt, who has correctly pointed out that this massive, fancy, expensive, city-paralyzing event was little more than a “fig-leaf” for NATO – a pageant designed to put a happy face on an Afghanistan war that is hugely unpopular and has suffered from ever-changing objectives from the very beginning.

Actually, Obama’s summit pledge “to responsibly wind down the war” by the summer of 2014 is worse than a fig leaf – it’s simply not true. Earlier this month, Obama visited Afghanistan and signed a pact with Afghan president Hamid Karzai that will ensure a US military presence in Afghanistan until at least 2024. (This agreement was first made in secret, then when the news leaked out, the administration vehemently denied it. Later they conceded it was true, making no attempt to explain why they lied in the first place.)

And please don’t be fooled by the explanation that NATO will be ending “combat operations” by 2014.  Officials have openly stated that these post-2014 “non-combat” troops will continue to launch “anti-terror” raids – which is simply just another way of saying they will continue to do what they’ve been doing all along.

But for the most powerful rejoinder to the farce that was NATO in Chicago, I strongly encourage you to read this important piece by Gary Younge, who pointed out the irony (or if you prefer, the utter hypocrisy) of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s boast that the summit was “an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.”

The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight.

This violence, be it at the hands of the state or gangs, is both compounded and underpinned by racial and economic disadvantage. The poorer the neighbourhood the more violent, the wealthier the safer. This is no coincidence. Much like the NATO summit – and the G8 summit that preceded it – the system is set up not to spread wealth but to preserve and protect it, not to relieve chaos but to contain and punish it…

The paradox inherent in a city like Chicago hosting a summit like this not only lays bare the brutal nature in which these inequalities are maintained at a global level, but it lends us an opportunity to understand how those inequalities are replicated locally.

Chicago illustrates how the developing world is everywhere, not least in the heart of the developed. The mortality rate for black infants in the city is on a par with the West Bank; black life expectancy in Illinois is just below Egypt and just above Uzbekistan. More than a quarter of Chicagoans have no health insurance, one in five black male Chicagoans are unemployed and one in three live in poverty. Latinos do not fare much better. Chicago may be extreme in this regard, but it is by no means unique. While the ethnic composition of poverty may change depending on the country, its dynamics will doubtless be familiar to pretty much all of the G8 participants and most of the NATO delegates too.

The gated communities – like the one in which Trayvon Martin was killed – have been erected on a global scale to protect those fleeing the mayhem wrought by our economic and military policies. This was exemplified last March when a boat with 72 African refugees fled the NATO-led war in Libya. When the boat found itself stranded it sent out a distress signal that was passed on to NATO which had “declared the region a military zone under its control”, and then promptly ignored it, as did an Italian ship. The boat bobbed around in the Mediterranean for two weeks. All but nine on board were left to die from starvation, thirst or in storms, including two babies.

A meaningless demonstration indeed…

6 thoughts on “NATO in Chicago: A Meaningless Demonstration

  1. I’m old enough to remember “Vietnamization” — which I can’t stop thinking about every time I hear a news story about security being “turned over” to the puppet government of South Vietnam, perhaps two years before the US fled in abject defeat.

  2. “massive, fancy, expensive, city-paralyzing event”….for those of us who have followed your posts on low-wage workers at downtown hotels, we should actually have more of those types of massive events so there is more need for employment at downtown hotels, and with more need for workers, wages should go up. Can NATO come back soon?

  3. An excellent article which has certainly enlightened me on the whole nato process and the protesters who were there to protest this.much more has to be exposed on a most pressing issue facing our Country.

  4. I wondered about who benefits from the circus. The people of Chicago, who expect to use the highways were denied them either entirely (LSD near downtown) or on demand (Kennedy) so that the motorcades of the 1% could pass freely from O’hare to downtown. Would this conference have taken place without Rahm in the mayor’s office? NATO is a good example of how large organizations just go on and on long after the reason they were created has been forgotten. I think of it as a military employment agency and handy political cover for the U.S. to make unilateral moves look like the wish of many countries – in that sense it still serves a purpose for administrations that shows no end in sight.

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