The Panama Papers “leak” is blatantly a propaganda op, with ties to soft imperialism’s usual suspects — Open Society, USAID, the Ford Foundation etc — and leading off with the most crude attacks on Putin and Assad. It’s so blatant I found myself wondering if it were intentional but couldn’t imagine why. Is it to further normalize the credulous boobery of the knowing knowers who honed their belligerent stupidity on Snowwald? Whatever the case, it’s certainly fitting, and not at all surprising, that Snowden, the Way-Better-Than-Manning avatar of scare quote dissidence, was among the very first Twitter accounts to tweet out a link to The Biggest Most Important Leak ever, just after it went live.
These spectacles are useful in two ways: you get an idea of what’s bugging a certain segment of the ruling class, and you identify the biggest tools and operatives in media by the avidity with which they promote the show. An example of the latter is The Guardian which has, for the umpteenth time, made itself a complete laughingstock, with ham-fisted gems like this “video explainer” on how Putin allegedly offshored a billion dollars.
But if this is an op, why Iceland? A few commenters have dismissed the attack on Iceland as cover for the obvious targets — the U.S. State Department’s official bogeymen and Panama, the “problem child” impeding “global tax transparency plans.” But considering how much traction the Iceland scandal got in the media and how much Snowden and his ilk have been boosting it, this seems extremely unlikely. Certainly Iceland has been proportionally the country most affected by the leaks, with its Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, resigning today in the wake of a large protest rally calling for his ouster.
Corruption scandals are a tried and true method by which empire stokes instability and fosters regime change, but what had Iceland done that warrants a hit job? Well, one can only speculate, but my money is on the increasingly cozy relationship its current government has been cultivating with China.
Global warming has made Iceland extremely important strategically, by opening up new polar shipping routes that greatly reduce travel time, and providing access to previously unreachable resources, including huge reserves of oil and natural gas. By way of a trade agreement it signed with Iceland’s current leadership in 2013, China got its foot in the door for increasing its presence and influence in the region. This coincides with the diminishing influence of the United States in Iceland, where the last of its military aircraft were withdrawn in 2006.
All of this is spelled out in this 2013 New York Times Op-Ed by Einar Benediktsson, a former Iceland ambassador to the United States, NATO and the European Union, and Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Russia and the United Nations. The column conjures a China aggressively pushing its tentacles into the region and, with a great deal of urgency, calls on the United States to “take the changing situation more fully into account.” UPDATE: In February of this year, the US resumed the use of its Cold War air base in Keflavik, with the stated purpose of patrolling Russian submarines in the North Atlantic.
One certain outcome of the current scandal will be greatly increased political power for Iceland’s Pirate Party, which, in the four years since its founding, has become the most popular political party in the country. It only got three members into Iceland’s Parliament in 2013, but since mid-2015 it has consistently outpolled all other parties for the parliamentary election in 2017. In the wake of the Panama Papers, protestors are calling for early elections, which would give the Pirate Party a huge advantage in light of its high poll numbers and heady new car smell.
Assuming the U.S. is attempting to further its interests in Iceland, what does it get from an ascendant, nominally radical, political party with ties to Wikileaks that denounces the NSA and advocates for Snowden? Well, for starters, the Pirate Party was the only party to oppose the agreement with China, ostensibly out of human rights concerns. The Party’s rising star, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, one of the three party members in Parliament, bemoans China’s human rights trangressions a lot and seems in helpful alignment with U.S. foreign policy generally.
Jónsdóttir, who refers to herself as a “poetician,” called for no fly zones in Libya and Syria during campaigns for intervention in those countries. The present government, however, opposed military intervention in Libya, and when Obama fingered Syria for chemical weapons, and Jónsdóttir reflexively called for a no fly zone, Iceland’s foreign minister said he needed more evidence for Obama’s claims before he would support intervention.
In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Jónsdóttir and her party zealously joined the reactionary Je Suis Charlie campaign, and successfully sought repeal of Iceland’s 75-year-old anti-blasphemy law, so that the crucial speech act of anti-Islam provocation would be legal.
Pirate Parties vary widely, but clearly Iceland’s is one more expression of a “post-ideological” radicalism focused on democratic process, privacy, free speech, transparency, and “internet freedom”, that dispenses with even gestures toward that relic, socialism, or any other form of anti-capitalism. Of course, there is nothing post-ideological about any of this. It simply finds the common ground between leftists and reactionaries and leaves out the rest. This is undoubtedly why there is “a rabid and growing right-libertarian wing within [the Pirate Party’s] ranks” according to Vidar Thorsteinsson, an activist from Iceland, writing in Jacobin.
For Empire, what’s not to like about this radical party and its “anarchist” leadership? Very little, it seems, unless political asylum for Snowden is a dealbreaker, which I strongly doubt.
A number of people felt the impetus for the engineered ouster of Iceland’s prime minister was the hard line Iceland had taken against the bankers responsible for that country’s financial crisis. I discounted that initially, simply because The Pirate Party that is about to dominate Iceland’s politics is not likely to be any softer on the bankers than the current government.
However, I may have to reconsider that, because only days after Gunnlaugsson resigned, three of the bankers Iceland sentenced to prison were released after serving only one year of their five year sentences. The story is that newly enacted legislation about prison sentencing made this release possible, suggesting that the best way to speed up improvement in the penal system is to throw rich people in jail.
I still think empire’s enemies and the BRICS countries are mostly what this targeted anti-corruption campaign is about, but it’s unlikely those are the only things. Certainly the good example Iceland set with the banks is not something empire wants to see repeated anywhere else.
UPDATE (link to this update)