American Polynesia, Rising Seas and Relocation

January 6th, 2018 by Laray Polk

In the next 30 to 50 years, rising sea levels caused by global warming will subsume low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean. Inhabitants will have to relocate, but there are few choices. Among nations (with the exception of Fiji and New Zealand) there is little preparation for the inevitable migration of Pacific Islanders. Which nations should commit to the processes of equitable relocation?

The following article will address this question through historical context and colonial occupation; current legal debates surrounding climate change and maritime migration; and the potential rights of “deterritorialized” states, such as retention of exclusive economic zones. Historical context includes an examination of U.S. insular territories in the Pacific and the continued exercise of presidential authority over island possessions.

There are strong arguments to be made that the United States has ethical obligations to assist Pacific Islanders as sea levels continue to rise, with assistance taking many forms. The U.S. is obligated namely because it is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the largest carbon emitter historically; it has extensively tested atomic and hydrogen bombs and biochemical agents in the Pacific Ocean (Marshall Islands, Christmas Island, Johnston Atoll); has commercially profited from the Pacific ecosystem since the early days of whaling; and in addition to American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, possesses eight insular territories referred to as “United States Minor Outlying Islands.”1

The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands are Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. (A ninth minor outlying island, Navassa Island, is located in the Caribbean Ocean, near Haiti.) Around these insular territories is an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines the EEZ as “the zone where the U.S. and other coastal nations have jurisdiction over natural resources,” such as fisheries, energy, and other mineral resources.

When the zones of the eight minor outlying islands are combined with those of American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands, it forms a U.S. EEZ in the Pacific Ocean of 2.2 million square miles.2 The United States, seen in this light, is not a distant observer to the Pacific Islanders’ plight but an invested neighbor with shared history; a history defined in large part by commercial exploitation and continuing military entanglements.

Over-wash event, Ejit Island, Marshall Islands. (Photo courtesy of Alson Kelen)

American Polynesia

The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands in the Pacific are small, low-lying formations of more biological use to birds and sea turtles than humans, but they have considerable strategic value. The islands are often referred to militarily as “picket fence” outposts. Most have airstrips, three have seaports, and two have lagoons that can accommodate seaplanes.3 Seven of the eight territories, however, didn’t begin as military acquisitions; American citizens claimed them under the U.S. Guano Islands Act of 1856.4 In the beginning, what could be found on the surface of “guano islands” had economic value. In the 21st century, economic value is in the control of their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

The Guano Islands Act “legalized” the taking of islands by American merchants in search of seabird guano, a powerful fertilizer used to enrich depleted agricultural land in the United States.5 The best guano (huano) came from Peru’s Chincha Islands, but American entrepreneurs grew impatient with what they perceived as an unfair monopoly. The 1856 act supplied the means to bypass the Peruvian marketplace by allowing U.S. citizens, such as Alfred G. Benson and James W. Jennett, to create their own guano empires in the remote reaches of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. And it gave the U.S. President authority “to employ the land and naval forces of the United States to protect the rights of the discoverer or of his widow, heir, executor, administrator, or assigns.”

Sixty-four noncontiguous island territories in the Pacific were claimed under the act, which provided an opportunity to reinvent plantation culture abroad as disagreements over slavery were reaching a boiling point in the continental United States.6 Guano extraction on isolated islands was disproportionately performed by Pacific Islanders, and overseen by white supervisors. As Jimmy M. Skaggs writes in The Great Guano Rush, there was no 19th-century job “as difficult, dangerous, or demeaning as shoveling either feces or phosphates on guano islands.” Whether laborers were contracted, coerced or outright kidnapped, there was no means for escape once sequestered on remote islands. And while most “American guano mining operations were unquestionably more humane” than those on Peru’s Chinchas Islands, “none were pleasant.”7

Once divested of guano, some islands were planted with coconut palms for the production of copra, which went beyond the original intent of the act (i.e., allegedly to facilitate a supply of affordable guano for the benefit of American farmers). Over time these small insular possessions became stepping-stones for larger ambitions. According to Gregory T. Cushman in Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World,

U.S. claims under the 1856 Guano Islands Act represent an important landmark not only in the history of U.S. imperialism but also for the place of remote islands in global geopolitical history… In later years, these islands took on new geopolitical importance as coaling stations, relay points for undersea telegraph cables, and eventually as air bases.”

The United States is an Ocean Nation. The U.S. EEZ [shown in dark blue] is the largest in the world, spanning over 13,000 miles of coastline and containing 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean—larger than the combined land area of all fifty states. (Caption and map by NOAA)

“By the end of World War I,” writes Cushman, “nearly every insular territory in the Pacific Basin except on the southern rim was theoretically subject to some distant government.”8 The U.S. territorial realm, in this Pacific mosaic of foreign powers, is known as “American Polynesia.”9

In 1859, German geographer E. Behm named the U.S. territorial realm in the Pacific, “American Polynesia.” The term appeared in his article on guano island claims, published in Petermanns Mitteilungen.Two maps accompanying the article. The one above illustrates each foreign country’s possessions lassoed in a distinct color.(Permission to reprint courtesy Gotha Research Library of the University of Erfurt, SPA 4° 000100 005)

Detail of Behm’s map.

Guano to Nuclear Testing

The early annexation of guano islands by commercial interests explains why access to Christmas Island (Kiritimati) for testing nuclear weapons, first by the U.K., then the U.S., was easily facilitated. How economic rivalry in the 19th century turned to military alliance in the 20th century involves a more complex telling.

Americans and the British both mined islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act, though not simultaneously.10 If American interests didn’t continuously work or occupy islands they claimed title to, the British seized the territory for the Crown. American claimants would object, mainly from afar, while other objections were registered by a visit to the island from the U.S. Navy (none resulted in military confrontation of any real consequence).11 Ownership disputes over guano islands turned to partnership, however, in the late 1950s when the British government sought to conduct full-scale H-bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean.

In a post-Lucky Dragon world, there were few willing partners.12 Australia and New Zealand, both Commonwealth states, declined Britain’s request to use adjacent waters. Australia had a 50-kiloton limit on tests and an embargo on thermonuclear weapons. New Zealand rejected Britain’s use of the nearby Kermadec Islands because Prime Minister Sidney Holland feared it would be “a political H-bomb.”13

That left territories in the central Pacific: Christmas and Malden Islands. A.G. Benson’s U.S. Guano Company had claimed both islands in 1858. A few years later, the British took possession, leasing Christmas Island to Lever’s Pacific Plantations in 1902. Plantation workers, described by various sources as Tahitians (1937) and Gilbertese (1956), lived in two principal settlements on the island, named London and Paris, as well as “small camps scattered among the coconut groves.”14

On the basis of sovereignty disputes, the U.K. informed the United States in 1955 of its plans to use both islands to test megaton thermonuclear weapons, with Christmas Island serving as the main base. The U.S. had no objections. Likewise, the British wouldn’t object when the U.S. launched Operation Dominic in 1962, which included atmospheric testing at Christmas Island using U.K.-built infrastructure.15

Those not consulted were the Islanders themselves. During the British operation, codenamed Grapple, work in the coconut groves ceased and their labor subverted to jobs in support of military operations, in order “to allow more British military personnel to undertake tasks directly related to the nuclear weapons program.”16

Sovereignty disputes came to a partial resolution in 1979. That year, the Republic of Kiribati declared its independence from the U.K. and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Tarawa. The treaty relinquishes U.S. ownership of Christmas Island, now called Kiritimati, and 13 other islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act. While the treaty recognizes Kiribati’s territorial sovereignty of the islands, it comes with a caveat: “any military use by third parties of the islands…shall be subject to [U.S.] consultation.”

The treaty also leaves open the future construction of U.S. facilities on three of the surrendered islands: Canton, Enderbury, and Hull.17

Kiritimati Island (formerly Christmas Island) was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1777. The majority of the island’s inhabitants work on coconut plantations and in copra production. The island’s major airbase is on the northeast side of the island. Nuclear tests were conducted on Kiritimati Island by the British in 1957 and 1958 and by the United States in 1962. (Caption by CIA/Image by NASA)

Guano, Nuclear Testing, Chemical Weapons

Another guano claim converted for U.S. military use is Johnston Atoll (Kamala), located about 800 miles southwest of Honolulu. The atoll, claimed by the Pacific Guano Company in 1857, consists of four islands on a coral reef platform, all of which have been artificially expanded by blasting, dredging, and reconstruction programs. According to NOAA, the U.S. Navy began preparing the atoll for military operations in 1939 by enlarging the main island (also named Johnston). Construction lasted until 1942, followed by a second phase in 1963. That year, Johnston and Sand Islands were further enlarged and two artificial islands created, called Akau and Hikina. Johnston, by far the largest of the four, is 16 times its original size and resembles an aircraft carrier.18

One phase of expansion on Johnston Island involved construction of a launch pad for high-altitude missile tests for Operation Dominic in the 1960s. Two of the tests were aborted, with radioactive contamination falling on the runway. Forty years later, in 2002, the Air Force “finished burying thousands of cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste in a 25-acre landfill on the atoll.”19

Other uses of the atoll include open-air biochemical testing; chemical weapons storage; and destruction of nerve agents VX and Sarin, sulfur mustard gas, and Agent Orange. Stockpiles of chemical weaponry were transported from Okinawa, Germany, and the Solomon Islands and incinerated on site using the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS).20

Military operations on Johnston Atoll officially ceased in 2005. The atoll is now a designated wildlife refuge and national monument, with jurisdiction split three ways. The emergent lands of the atoll—that is, the four visible islands—are still under the administrative authority of the Air Force, while waters from 0 to 12 nautical miles (nm) seaward are protected as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From 12 nm to 200 nm seaward, NOAA manages fishery-related activities. At this writing, commercial fishing is not allowed.

The prohibition on fishing is due to President Barack Obama’s expansion of Johnston Atoll’s monument boundary in 2014. The new boundary includes “the waters and submerged lands to the extent of the seaward limit of the Unites States Exclusive Economic Zone up to 200 nautical miles.” That means the EEZ is essentially a conservation area where commercial fishing is off-limits. For this reason, the expansion of monuments in the Pacific Ocean is a contentious issue with the current U.S. president.21

Satellite photo of Johnston Atoll, about 1,390 km (860 mi) west of Hawaii. Four islands compose the total landmass of 2.6 sq km. Johnson and Sand islands are both enlarged natural features, while Akau and Hikina are two artificial islands formed by coral dredging. Johnston Island, by far the largest, contains an airstrip. (Caption by CIA/Image by NASA)

Guano, Nuclear Testing, Chemical Weapons, Monuments

Since the beginning of U.S. territorial expansion in the Pacific, the status of the guano islands has been a reflection of presidential priorities and world events involving commerce and war. The true value of these small islands and atolls is their malleability and adaptive uses, which includes utilization of the exclusive maritime zones that surround them and the airspace above them. The fluid conversion of insular possessions has historically been achieved through the singular authority of presidents. It remains true today.

As one example, Johnston Atoll became a designated U.S. Wildlife Refuge once it had been divested of guano and seabirds (Pres. Calvin Coolidge, 1926); placed under control of the Navy (Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1934); declared a naval defense sea area (Pres. Roosevelt, 1941); designated a national monument with a boundary of 50 nm (Pres. George W. Bush, 2009); monument boundary was increased to 200 nm (Pres. Barack Obama, 2014); and by executive order, was placed under review as a monument created since 1996 under the Antiquities Act (Pres. Donald Trump, 2017).

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, established by President Bush in 2009, includes Johnston Atoll and six other U.S. Minor Outlying Islands: Wake, Baker, Howland, Jarvis, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. The eighth minor outlying island, Midway, is included in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii. All of these islands, with the exception of Wake, were initially claimed under the Guano Islands Act.22

Several national monuments in the Pacific are currently under presidential review, along with stateside monuments of 100,000 acres or more created by presidential proclamation since 1996.But unlike those in the continental U.S., President Trump’s preoccupation with insular territories has little to do with land area, and everything to do with control of the surrounding waters, in particular, the 200 nm boundary designated as the EEZ. In a final report to the president, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommends revising the boundary of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to allow for commercial fishing. That is, trimming back Obama-era monument boundaries that currently serve as conservation areas.23

It’s worth noting that the establishment of an exclusive economic zone extending 200 nm from shore is an international standard set forth in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. The U.S. had a major hand in crafting the treaty, also known as the “constitution for the oceans,” and continues to benefit from its provisions. The U.S., however, has yet to ratified it.24

Marine National Monuments: Marianas Trench (blue), Pacific Remote Islands (green), Rose Atoll (red), and Papahānaumokuākea (purple). See this map for competing perspectives on marine monuments. (Map by Robert O’Conner, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office)

Guano Islands and Decolonization

It remains to be seen if Trump’s boundary revisions of monuments created and/or enlarged by other presidents will withstand legal challenge. Of course, the larger legal question in the Pacific is how these island possessions, now national monuments, have remained steadfastly in the hands of the U.S. at all. The process by which the bulk of islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act have been relinquished is instructive. There’s little evidence that the U.S. government has been self-compelled to return them, even when the language of the law makes it clear that the U.S. is in contravention of its own statute.

First, there is an abandonment clause in the Guano Islands Act (found in Title 48 of the United States Code). Chapter 8, section 1419 states there is nothing “obliging the United States to retain possession of the islands, rocks, or keys, after the guano shall have been removed from the same.” According to legal historian C.D. Burnett, “The aim of the Guano Islands Act was simple…[to] supply Americans with affordable guano, nothing more.” 25 Second, as outlined in section 1411, a U.S. citizen can take an island, rock, or key if it is “not occupied by the citizens of any other government.” In 1859, A.G. Benson claimed seven islands known to be inhabited by native populations: Penrhyn, Rierson, Humphrey’s, Danger, Duke of Clarence, Duke of York, and Swains.26

Benson’s claims didn’t meet the legal threshold for possession, but all seven were bonded, certified, and appeared on lists published by the U.S. Treasury Department.27 These claims remained on the books until eventually running aground of international efforts to decolonize the Pacific after World War II. Neither the claimant nor his heirs ever mined those islands, though British workers did.28 Six of the seven were incorporated into British colonies, and one made a part ofAmerican Samoa in 1925.

After World War II, the UN led efforts to create trusteeships that ideally would afford colonized peoples some measure of self-determination and independence.29As a result, U.S.-U.K. claims and counterclaims to guano islands loosened, with some formally surrendered by treaty. Between 1979 and 1980, the U.S. relinquished a total of 21 insular territories claimed under the Guano Islands Act. Fourteen islands were handed over to the independent Republic of Kiribati; three islands to the small island nation of Tokelau, a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand; and four atolls to the Cook Islands, a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand. The islands and atolls are as follows:

Treaty of Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati (signed 1979, ratified 1983)

  • Canton (Kanton)
  • Enderbury
  • Hull (Orona)
  • Birnie
  • Gardner (Nikumaroro)
  • Phoenix (Rawaki)
  • Sydney (Manra)
  • McKean
  • Christmas (Kiritimati)
  • Caroline
  • Starbuck
  • Malden
  • Flint
  • Vostok

Cook Islands-United States Maritime Boundary Treaty (signed 1980, ratified 1983)

  • Penrhyn (Tongareva)
  • Rierson (Rakahanga)
  • Humphrey’s (Manihiki)
  • Danger (Pukapuka)

Treaty of Tokehega, New Zealand (signed 1980, ratified 1983)

  • Duke of Clarence (Nukunonu)
  • Duke of York (Atafu)
  • Bowditch (Fakaofo)

Islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act that have not been surrendered are often identified on maps as “U.S.A. territory.” But that’s not the nomenclature the U.S. government uses. The United States Code defines “Guano Islands” as “possessions,” not territories.30 It’s an ambiguous term for an ambiguous future. As sea-level rise threatens to overtake low-lying islands and atolls, the international community will be watching to see what measures the U.S. may take in retaining control over its insular possessions and attendant 200 nm exclusive economic zones in the central Pacific Ocean.

Nationhood and EEZs

While the U.S. has flexibility in transforming the EEZ of its island possessions into proving grounds, strategic no-go zones, conservation areas and national monuments, island nations do not. The economies of most island nations are dependent on selling offshore fishing rights within their EEZ.

In the central and western Pacific Ocean, the tuna catch alone is worth $5.8 billion a year. In 2016, island nations and territories merged their estimated 6 million square miles of EEZs to form “the world’s largest tuna fishery bloc,” which helped negotiate the U.S. Tuna Treaty on favorable terms to Pacific nations. Sixteen Island parties signed the treaty, which allows U.S. vessels to fish their waters. By collectively negotiating fees and terms, territories disadvantaged by size, like Tokelau, can be assured yearly payments. Size is one element in the calculus of managing resources. Other considerations include how rich in tuna a given area might be, and what kinds of anchorage and facilities are located nearby. Tokelau has an abundance of tuna but no ports. Neighboring Samoa has ports and a processing plant. By pooling strengths and weaknesses, signatories to the treaty are bolstering one another’s economies.31

According to journalist Latif Nasser, the EEZ represents a valuable set of assets less visible than those attached to land. While the loss of land to sea-level rise is troubling, so too is the loss of surrounding waters. It’s a concern that has prompted Nasser and others to ask: “What will become of these gigantic ocean possessions [EEZs] when the tiny patches of land that anchor them disappear or become unlivable? The prospect is an unprecedented puzzle for the international community.”32

One piece of the puzzle is the legality of artificially modifying an island for the purpose of retaining an EEZ. It may seem complex in light of the vigorous debate over China’s island-building program in the South China Sea, but it’s not. The South China Sea dispute falls within the purview of general international law, not maritime law, because it’s first and foremost a sovereignty dispute (Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have competing claims to islands located there). A.H.A Soons, a scholar and practitioner of international law, provides a straightforward answer for small island nations who want to modify their emergent land: “Any coastal State (including small island nations) are allowed to artificially maintain/enlarge their islands.”33

Rate of Rising Seas

Pacific island nations and territories are at different stages of addressing the pressing issues of sea-level rise. Discussions involving retention of EEZs—and the rights and financial security maritime zones confer—represent the long game, and enters into a conceptual realm of “What is nationhood, if a nation no longer exists?” Legitimate answers to questions of this magnitude would require changes in international law, a notoriously slow process. As scientific data on climate change feedbacks demonstrate, island nations and territories need answers now.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the oceans will rise by between 11 and 38 inches by the end of the century, with the potential to submerge low-lying islands. A report from 2016, written by former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 co-authors, predicts that without serious mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level is likely to increase “several meters over a timescale of 50 to 150 years.”34 If less than one meter of sea-level rise has the potential to cause an island to disappear by 2100, then Hansen’s numbers portend something more urgent. The question, then, is not when will islands be submerged, but when will sea-level rise make life on low-lying islands impossible.

The answer to that question is close at hand for a number of Pacific islands. Sea-level rise increases both the frequency and magnitude of flooding caused by high tides and storms; saltwater intrusion destroys freshwater sources and the prospect of productive agriculture. Writer and filmmaker Jack Niedenthal, who lives in the Marshall Islands, says that on the island of Kili, “there have been huge changes since about 2011.” That was the first year the island was heavily flooded, and he says it’s happened every year since. Kili, which averages an elevation of 6 feet, is home to many displaced families originally from Bikini Atoll.35

The population there, he says, is trying to raise awareness of climate change with the rest of the world, but it’s challenging. “I find it stunning that there are still so many climate change deniers out there. In the Marshall Islands, we are building numerous seawalls, some very large, others are just building them with old tires and broken down cars.”

Future Proofing Islands

One concern discussed in the international community is the importance of delimiting islands before they physically disappear. Under the Law of the Sea Convention, or UNCLOS, the exclusive economic zone is measured seaward from the baseline. The baseline is measured along the coast of emergent land at the low-water mark. Consequently, if sea-level rise alters coastlines or overtakes emergent land permanently, what happens to the baseline? What happens to the corresponding EEZ? And to what extent will island nations retain control over their EEZs if an island is gone and its inhabitants dispersed?

Rosemary Rayfuse, a professor of international law at the University of New South Wales, specializing in maritime law and climate change, recommends island nations “future proof” their EEZs by establishing baselines now. On that front, she says there has been some movement, with “Australia helping some of the South Pacific Island States to rewrite their baselines legislation and delimit their maritime boundaries.”36

A.H.A. Soons has proposed rights for a “disappearing” state, and his paper from 1990 offers ways in which an emigrating population could retain its EEZ, and even use it to advantage in negotiating land on a neighboring island.37 The idea of legal status for disappearing or “deterritorialized” states, says Rayfuse, “is a controversial one that will undoubtedly take many years to gain any traction—if ever.”

If EEZs and other maritime zones disappear along with emergent land, there’s the real possibility those areas could become “high seas.” According to the Law of the Sea Convention, high seas is defined as “the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction” and considered “the common heritage of mankind.” In other words, it means areas of the ocean where both living and nonliving resources are fair game.38

Freedom and Fear in the High Seas

At a climate change symposium in 2015, Fiji’s Foreign Affairs secretary Esala Nayasi explained the dilemma of Islanders succinctly: “These are people who are on the verge of losing their land that they call home, losing their critical basic necessities and infrastructure, culture, identity and traditional knowledge. This is no longer a news story, it is happening now.”

Nayasi’s sense of urgency is reflected in policy. Among nations, the Republic of Fiji is in the vanguard of relocation efforts. In 2014, the government’s climate change program assisted the village of Vunidogolo in moving to higher ground and provided the means for economic transition. The new village includes “30 houses, fish ponds and copra drier, farms and other projects.” There are 34 more villages slated for relocation within in its territory.39 Because Fiji is a combination of high and low islands, it’s geographically advantaged (though not immune to climate disruption). For other nations such as Tuvalu, comprised of nine coral atolls with a mean elevation of 2 meters, all choices look the same.

The Republic of Fiji has both high and low islands. None of Fiji’s islands are impervious to the effects of climate change, such as increasingly destructive storms, higher rates of disease, and saltwater intrusion of farmland. (Image by NASA/Aqua-MODIS)

Options for relocation are limited in other ways, such as the exclusion of “climate change refugees” from the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under the convention, there are five grounds to qualify for refugee status and fleeing the catastrophic conditions caused by climate change is not one of them. It hasn’t stopped legal challenge in several recent cases in New Zealand. Asylum-seeker Ioane Teitiota from Kiribati lost his case, and was deported in 2015. Sigeo Alesana from Tuvalu had his asylum application declined, but he won his immigration case based partially on the “vulnerability of the couple’s children to illnesses as a result of poor water quality.” According to Radio New Zealand, it’s the first time climate change has been successfully used in an immigration case.40

Perhaps the biggest legal stride in New Zealand is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent announcement of plans for a special refugee visa for Pacific Islanders, starting with 100 places annually. “We are anchored in the Pacific,” Ardern told reporters. “Surrounding us are a number of nations, not least ourselves, who will be dramatically impacted by the effects of climate change. I see it as a personal and national responsibility to do our part.”41

Conclusions

Large nations with continental landmass are not immune to what worries small island nations and territories. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “As the planet heats up, seas are now rising at an accelerating rate—especially along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.” Investing in million-dollar seawalls—here or there—will not be enough; an even larger investment is needed. An investment that requires industrialized nations to do what is scientifically, technically and financially possible to mitigate the causes of sea-level rise, while also assisting in building a legal framework that provides peace of mind for Pacific Islanders. Currently the onus to adapt is on island nations. It is a suggestion disproportionally unjust. It is unjust not only since the “Pacific islands region as a whole accounts for 0.03% of the global emissions of COdespite having approximately 0.12% of the world’s population,”42 but because a significant part of the problem is that global warming is precipitated by the rich and powerful countries and the islands are among the poorest and least equipped places in the world to cope with the challenges of rising waters.

The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands—Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island—will suffer the same fate as neighboring islands with similar elevations. The loss of U.S. islands, however, will not be as traumatic. Four are uninhabited and three have a fluctuating population of 40 or less, made up of U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff and scientists. Wake Island, the most populous, has 100 U.S. military service members and contractors on premises. Under U.S. stewardship, none of these insular possessions, or other guano islands, has ever had an enduring human legacy tied with place beyond transient plantation or military culture.43

Data provided by U.S. Air Force and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2017)

The U.S. government, with the exception of the Pentagon, is in official denial concerning a major cause of climate disruption: the unabated burning of fossil fuels.44 The current administration has no interest in reducing CO2 emissions or admitting the country’s hand in environmental catastrophe. What will be of interest to U.S. policymakers when the low-lying islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean begin to disappear is likely to center on the retention of EEZs and other maritime entitlements associated with U.S. insular possessions. If there is to be any U.S. involvement in “adaptation” in this part of the world, preserving these zones is high on the list; Pacific island nations and territories should be included in those efforts. Subsequent to resource depletion, war, nuclear testing and contamination, engagement with the Pacific Ocean ultimately means taking care of the people who live there.

*

Laray Polk is an American writer and artist. In 2013, she co-authored a book with Noam Chomsky, Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe (Seven Stories Press). The title has been translated into Spanish, French, Turkish, and Japanese. She can be reached at [email protected].

Notes

1“United States Minor Outlying Islands” is the international designation (ISO 3166). The United States Code (48 U.S.C. sec. 1411) defines the islands as insular possessions “appertaining to the United States.”

2Calculations based on data from Marine Regions.

3CIA World Factbook.

4The act is at 48 U.S.C. sec. 1411-19.

5For a discussion of guano’s importance to 19th-century agriculture, see Richard A. Wines, Fertilizer in America: From Waste Recycling to Resource Exploitation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985).

6The actual number of islands resolves to 36 when duplicate claims and nonexistent islands are factored in. See “Places Claimed and/or Acquired under the U.S. Guano Islands Act,” in Jimmy M. Skaggs, The Great Guano Rush: Entrepreneurs and American Oversees Expansion (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 230-236.

7Ibid., 159. For a firsthand perspective of a guano laborer, see the letters of J.M. Kailiopio in Gregory Rosenthal, “Life and Labor in a Seabird Colony: Hawaiian Guano Workers, 1857-70,” Environmental History 17 (October 2012): 744-782.

8Gregory T. Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 82.

9E. Behm, “Das Amerikanische Polynesien und die politischen Verhältnisse in den übrigen Theilen des Grossen Oceans im J. 1859,” Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen 5 (1859): 173-194.

10Two islands claimed by both countries, Canton and Enderbury, were shared from 1939 to 1979 under an agreement called the Anglo & American Consortium. Both islands were relinquished when Kiribati declared independence from the U.K. and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Tarawa.

11See U.S.S. Narragansett visit to Christmas Island in Edwin H. Bryan, American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain, rev. and enl. ed. (Honolulu: Tongg Pub. Co., 1942), 139. Cf. to Benson ‘s Lobos Islands incident in Great Guano Rush, 21-32.

12Laray Polk, “Lucky Dragon,” CounterPunch, April 5, 2007.

13Nic Maclellan, Grappling with the Bomb: Britain’s Pacific H-Bomb Tests (Canberra: ANU Press, 2017), 36.

14American Polynesia, 140.

15For a complete history of this alliance see “The President—John F. Kennedy,” Grappling with the Bomb, 267-279.

16Ibid., 242.

17For residual problems with a similar treaty, the Treaty of Tokehega, see Gilbert Wong, “Swains Island Paradise Lost?” New Zealand Herald, November 10, 1990.

18Calculation based on the 1923 Tanager Expedition survey (41.32 acres), reproduced in American Polynesia, and median measurements from 2017 satellite imagery (662.59 acres).

19Katharine Q. Seelye, “Radioactive Dump on Pacific Wildlife Refuge Raises Liability Concerns,” New York Times, January 27, 2003.

20Jan TenBruggencate, “Army Completes Chemical Weapons Mission at Johnston,” The Honolulu Advertiser, April 11 2001; Jon Mitchell, “25,000 barrels of Agent Orange Kept on Okinawa, U.S. Army Document Says,” The Japan Times, August 7, 2012.

21For further complexity of the issue, see Fili Sagapolutele, “Gov. Lolo’s Letter to DOI Cites Trump’s ‘America First’ Policy as Hope for Our Tuna Industry,” Samoa News, July 17, 2017.

22According to some sources Midway Islands (Middlebrook Islands and Shoal) weren’t claimed under the Guano Islands Act. A summary of an expedition by Capt. Brooks, printed in the Polynesian, August 13, 1859, presents evidence to the contrary: “As an extensive deposit of guano was found on one of the islands, possession was taken of the group and notices left to that effect.” The Navy took formal possession of Midway on August 28, 1867.

23Juliet Eilperin, “Zinke Backs Shrinking More National Monuments and Shifting Management of 10,” Washington Post, December 5, 2017. See also Christopher Pala, “Loss of Federal Protections May Imperil Pacific Reefs, Scientists Warn,” New York Times, October 30, 2017.

24For obstacles to ratification, see Roncevert Almond, “U.S. Accession to the Law of the Sea Convention? A Challengefor America’s Global Leadership,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 15, vol.13, no.2 (July 2017): 1-11.

25C.D. Burnett, “The Edges of Empire and the Limits of Sovereignty: American Guano Islands.” American Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2005): 780.

26In 1862, chemist J.D. Hague recorded six of the seven as inhabited by native populations in his article, “On Phosphatic Islands of the Pacific Ocean,” Am. Journ. Sci., 2nd ser., vol. 34, no.101 (September 1862): 224-243.

27U.S. State Department, Office of the Legal Advisor, “The Sovereignty of Guano Islands in Pacific Ocean,” vol. 3, ed. E.S. Rogers and Frederic A. Fisher (Washington, D.C., 1933): 570-976. Available online from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.

28The British didn’t have a legal prohibition on mining inhabited islands, much to the detriment of Nauru and Ocean(Banaba) Islands. See Great Guano Rush, 137.

29The South Pacific Commission, now the Pacific Community, may have been more influential in post-war planning because it brought together Islanders “who accelerated regionalism’s emergence.” See Steven R. Fischer, The History of the Pacific Islands, 2nd rev. ed. (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2013), 221.

30Other territories defined as U.S. possessions include the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. See 10 U.S.C. sec.101 and 37 U.S.C. sec. 101.

31Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea Tauafiafi, “Pacific Celebrate U.S. Tuna Treaty Renewal: Why, How Much, and Who are the Winners?” Pacific Guardians, June 12, 2016; “Tokelau’s Tuna Success—Testament to Pacific Solidarity’s Multimillion Dollar Effect,” Pacific Guardians, August 12, 2016.

32Latif Nasser, “When Island Nations Drown, Who Owns Their Seas?” Boston Globe, October 19, 2014.

33Soons, email comm., December 28, 2017. For discussion of what constitutes an island or a rock under UNCLOS, see T.Y. Wang, “Japan is Building Tiny Islands in the Philippine Sea,” Washington Post, May 20, 2016.

34James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Paul Hearty, Reto Ruedy, Maxwell Kelley, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, et al., “Ice Melt, Sea-Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2 °C Global Warming Could be Dangerous,” Atmos. Chem. Phys. 16, (March 2016): 3762. 

35For more on the plight of Bikini Islanders, listen to Jack Niedenthal’s interview with Koro Vaka’uta, Radio New Zealand, March 26, 2015; and his interview with Jenny Meyer, Radio New Zealand, August 7, 2015.

36Rayfuse, email comm., May 7, 2017.

37 A.H.A. Soons, “The Effects of a Rising Sea Level on Maritime Limits and Boundaries,” Netherlands Intl. Law Review 37 (1990): 230.

38Law of the Sea Convention, Part VII, Sec. 1, Art. 87.

39Fiji presided over the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) held in Bonn, Germany in 2017. Serafina Silaitoga, “Villagers to Move into New Homes,” The Fiji Times, January 15, 2014.

40“Climate Change Part of Refuge Ruling,”Radio New Zealand, August 4, 2014. To read more about Alesana and his family, see Anke Richter, “Hell and High Water: When Climate Change Comes Lapping at Your Door,” North & South, June 2017 (posted online here).

41Jonathan Perlman, “NZ Plans Special Visa for Climate Refugees,” The Straits Times, December 11, 2017.

42Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation And Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. J. J. McCarthy, O. F. Canziani, N. A. Leary, D. J. Dokken, and K. S. White (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 867.

43Archaeological evidence suggests these islands were of significant cultural use by Polynesian long-distance voyagers. Bryan’s American Polynesia describes ruins and objects associated with individual islands: Howland (paths, pits); Washington (ruins, stone work, canoe); Fanning (ruins, adzes, fishhook); Christmas (ruins); Malden (platforms, grave, house sites); Caroline (graves, adzes, temple platform, marae); Nassua (shell adzes, pearl-shell breast ornaments); Hull (ruins); Phoenix (ruins); and Sydney (ruins).

44Christian Parenti, “Military Soothsayers,” Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (New York: Nation Books, 2011), 13-20.

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American Polynesia, Rising Seas and Relocation

January 6th, 2018 by Laray Polk

In the next 30 to 50 years, rising sea levels caused by global warming will subsume low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean. Inhabitants will have to relocate, but there are few choices. Among nations (with the exception of Fiji and New Zealand) there is little preparation for the inevitable migration of Pacific Islanders. Which nations should commit to the processes of equitable relocation?

The following article will address this question through historical context and colonial occupation; current legal debates surrounding climate change and maritime migration; and the potential rights of “deterritorialized” states, such as retention of exclusive economic zones. Historical context includes an examination of U.S. insular territories in the Pacific and the continued exercise of presidential authority over island possessions.

There are strong arguments to be made that the United States has ethical obligations to assist Pacific Islanders as sea levels continue to rise, with assistance taking many forms. The U.S. is obligated namely because it is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the largest carbon emitter historically; it has extensively tested atomic and hydrogen bombs and biochemical agents in the Pacific Ocean (Marshall Islands, Christmas Island, Johnston Atoll); has commercially profited from the Pacific ecosystem since the early days of whaling; and in addition to American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, possesses eight insular territories referred to as “United States Minor Outlying Islands.”1

The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands are Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. (A ninth minor outlying island, Navassa Island, is located in the Caribbean Ocean, near Haiti.) Around these insular territories is an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines the EEZ as “the zone where the U.S. and other coastal nations have jurisdiction over natural resources,” such as fisheries, energy, and other mineral resources.

When the zones of the eight minor outlying islands are combined with those of American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands, it forms a U.S. EEZ in the Pacific Ocean of 2.2 million square miles.2 The United States, seen in this light, is not a distant observer to the Pacific Islanders’ plight but an invested neighbor with shared history; a history defined in large part by commercial exploitation and continuing military entanglements.

Over-wash event, Ejit Island, Marshall Islands. (Photo courtesy of Alson Kelen)

American Polynesia

The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands in the Pacific are small, low-lying formations of more biological use to birds and sea turtles than humans, but they have considerable strategic value. The islands are often referred to militarily as “picket fence” outposts. Most have airstrips, three have seaports, and two have lagoons that can accommodate seaplanes.3 Seven of the eight territories, however, didn’t begin as military acquisitions; American citizens claimed them under the U.S. Guano Islands Act of 1856.4 In the beginning, what could be found on the surface of “guano islands” had economic value. In the 21st century, economic value is in the control of their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

The Guano Islands Act “legalized” the taking of islands by American merchants in search of seabird guano, a powerful fertilizer used to enrich depleted agricultural land in the United States.5 The best guano (huano) came from Peru’s Chincha Islands, but American entrepreneurs grew impatient with what they perceived as an unfair monopoly. The 1856 act supplied the means to bypass the Peruvian marketplace by allowing U.S. citizens, such as Alfred G. Benson and James W. Jennett, to create their own guano empires in the remote reaches of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. And it gave the U.S. President authority “to employ the land and naval forces of the United States to protect the rights of the discoverer or of his widow, heir, executor, administrator, or assigns.”

Sixty-four noncontiguous island territories in the Pacific were claimed under the act, which provided an opportunity to reinvent plantation culture abroad as disagreements over slavery were reaching a boiling point in the continental United States.6 Guano extraction on isolated islands was disproportionately performed by Pacific Islanders, and overseen by white supervisors. As Jimmy M. Skaggs writes in The Great Guano Rush, there was no 19th-century job “as difficult, dangerous, or demeaning as shoveling either feces or phosphates on guano islands.” Whether laborers were contracted, coerced or outright kidnapped, there was no means for escape once sequestered on remote islands. And while most “American guano mining operations were unquestionably more humane” than those on Peru’s Chinchas Islands, “none were pleasant.”7

Once divested of guano, some islands were planted with coconut palms for the production of copra, which went beyond the original intent of the act (i.e., allegedly to facilitate a supply of affordable guano for the benefit of American farmers). Over time these small insular possessions became stepping-stones for larger ambitions. According to Gregory T. Cushman in Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World,

U.S. claims under the 1856 Guano Islands Act represent an important landmark not only in the history of U.S. imperialism but also for the place of remote islands in global geopolitical history… In later years, these islands took on new geopolitical importance as coaling stations, relay points for undersea telegraph cables, and eventually as air bases.”

The United States is an Ocean Nation. The U.S. EEZ [shown in dark blue] is the largest in the world, spanning over 13,000 miles of coastline and containing 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean—larger than the combined land area of all fifty states. (Caption and map by NOAA)

“By the end of World War I,” writes Cushman, “nearly every insular territory in the Pacific Basin except on the southern rim was theoretically subject to some distant government.”8 The U.S. territorial realm, in this Pacific mosaic of foreign powers, is known as “American Polynesia.”9

In 1859, German geographer E. Behm named the U.S. territorial realm in the Pacific, “American Polynesia.” The term appeared in his article on guano island claims, published in Petermanns Mitteilungen.Two maps accompanying the article. The one above illustrates each foreign country’s possessions lassoed in a distinct color.(Permission to reprint courtesy Gotha Research Library of the University of Erfurt, SPA 4° 000100 005)

Detail of Behm’s map.

Guano to Nuclear Testing

The early annexation of guano islands by commercial interests explains why access to Christmas Island (Kiritimati) for testing nuclear weapons, first by the U.K., then the U.S., was easily facilitated. How economic rivalry in the 19th century turned to military alliance in the 20th century involves a more complex telling.

Americans and the British both mined islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act, though not simultaneously.10 If American interests didn’t continuously work or occupy islands they claimed title to, the British seized the territory for the Crown. American claimants would object, mainly from afar, while other objections were registered by a visit to the island from the U.S. Navy (none resulted in military confrontation of any real consequence).11 Ownership disputes over guano islands turned to partnership, however, in the late 1950s when the British government sought to conduct full-scale H-bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean.

In a post-Lucky Dragon world, there were few willing partners.12 Australia and New Zealand, both Commonwealth states, declined Britain’s request to use adjacent waters. Australia had a 50-kiloton limit on tests and an embargo on thermonuclear weapons. New Zealand rejected Britain’s use of the nearby Kermadec Islands because Prime Minister Sidney Holland feared it would be “a political H-bomb.”13

That left territories in the central Pacific: Christmas and Malden Islands. A.G. Benson’s U.S. Guano Company had claimed both islands in 1858. A few years later, the British took possession, leasing Christmas Island to Lever’s Pacific Plantations in 1902. Plantation workers, described by various sources as Tahitians (1937) and Gilbertese (1956), lived in two principal settlements on the island, named London and Paris, as well as “small camps scattered among the coconut groves.”14

On the basis of sovereignty disputes, the U.K. informed the United States in 1955 of its plans to use both islands to test megaton thermonuclear weapons, with Christmas Island serving as the main base. The U.S. had no objections. Likewise, the British wouldn’t object when the U.S. launched Operation Dominic in 1962, which included atmospheric testing at Christmas Island using U.K.-built infrastructure.15

Those not consulted were the Islanders themselves. During the British operation, codenamed Grapple, work in the coconut groves ceased and their labor subverted to jobs in support of military operations, in order “to allow more British military personnel to undertake tasks directly related to the nuclear weapons program.”16

Sovereignty disputes came to a partial resolution in 1979. That year, the Republic of Kiribati declared its independence from the U.K. and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Tarawa. The treaty relinquishes U.S. ownership of Christmas Island, now called Kiritimati, and 13 other islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act. While the treaty recognizes Kiribati’s territorial sovereignty of the islands, it comes with a caveat: “any military use by third parties of the islands…shall be subject to [U.S.] consultation.”

The treaty also leaves open the future construction of U.S. facilities on three of the surrendered islands: Canton, Enderbury, and Hull.17

Kiritimati Island (formerly Christmas Island) was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1777. The majority of the island’s inhabitants work on coconut plantations and in copra production. The island’s major airbase is on the northeast side of the island. Nuclear tests were conducted on Kiritimati Island by the British in 1957 and 1958 and by the United States in 1962. (Caption by CIA/Image by NASA)

Guano, Nuclear Testing, Chemical Weapons

Another guano claim converted for U.S. military use is Johnston Atoll (Kamala), located about 800 miles southwest of Honolulu. The atoll, claimed by the Pacific Guano Company in 1857, consists of four islands on a coral reef platform, all of which have been artificially expanded by blasting, dredging, and reconstruction programs. According to NOAA, the U.S. Navy began preparing the atoll for military operations in 1939 by enlarging the main island (also named Johnston). Construction lasted until 1942, followed by a second phase in 1963. That year, Johnston and Sand Islands were further enlarged and two artificial islands created, called Akau and Hikina. Johnston, by far the largest of the four, is 16 times its original size and resembles an aircraft carrier.18

One phase of expansion on Johnston Island involved construction of a launch pad for high-altitude missile tests for Operation Dominic in the 1960s. Two of the tests were aborted, with radioactive contamination falling on the runway. Forty years later, in 2002, the Air Force “finished burying thousands of cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste in a 25-acre landfill on the atoll.”19

Other uses of the atoll include open-air biochemical testing; chemical weapons storage; and destruction of nerve agents VX and Sarin, sulfur mustard gas, and Agent Orange. Stockpiles of chemical weaponry were transported from Okinawa, Germany, and the Solomon Islands and incinerated on site using the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS).20

Military operations on Johnston Atoll officially ceased in 2005. The atoll is now a designated wildlife refuge and national monument, with jurisdiction split three ways. The emergent lands of the atoll—that is, the four visible islands—are still under the administrative authority of the Air Force, while waters from 0 to 12 nautical miles (nm) seaward are protected as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From 12 nm to 200 nm seaward, NOAA manages fishery-related activities. At this writing, commercial fishing is not allowed.

The prohibition on fishing is due to President Barack Obama’s expansion of Johnston Atoll’s monument boundary in 2014. The new boundary includes “the waters and submerged lands to the extent of the seaward limit of the Unites States Exclusive Economic Zone up to 200 nautical miles.” That means the EEZ is essentially a conservation area where commercial fishing is off-limits. For this reason, the expansion of monuments in the Pacific Ocean is a contentious issue with the current U.S. president.21

Satellite photo of Johnston Atoll, about 1,390 km (860 mi) west of Hawaii. Four islands compose the total landmass of 2.6 sq km. Johnson and Sand islands are both enlarged natural features, while Akau and Hikina are two artificial islands formed by coral dredging. Johnston Island, by far the largest, contains an airstrip. (Caption by CIA/Image by NASA)

Guano, Nuclear Testing, Chemical Weapons, Monuments

Since the beginning of U.S. territorial expansion in the Pacific, the status of the guano islands has been a reflection of presidential priorities and world events involving commerce and war. The true value of these small islands and atolls is their malleability and adaptive uses, which includes utilization of the exclusive maritime zones that surround them and the airspace above them. The fluid conversion of insular possessions has historically been achieved through the singular authority of presidents. It remains true today.

As one example, Johnston Atoll became a designated U.S. Wildlife Refuge once it had been divested of guano and seabirds (Pres. Calvin Coolidge, 1926); placed under control of the Navy (Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1934); declared a naval defense sea area (Pres. Roosevelt, 1941); designated a national monument with a boundary of 50 nm (Pres. George W. Bush, 2009); monument boundary was increased to 200 nm (Pres. Barack Obama, 2014); and by executive order, was placed under review as a monument created since 1996 under the Antiquities Act (Pres. Donald Trump, 2017).

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, established by President Bush in 2009, includes Johnston Atoll and six other U.S. Minor Outlying Islands: Wake, Baker, Howland, Jarvis, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. The eighth minor outlying island, Midway, is included in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii. All of these islands, with the exception of Wake, were initially claimed under the Guano Islands Act.22

Several national monuments in the Pacific are currently under presidential review, along with stateside monuments of 100,000 acres or more created by presidential proclamation since 1996.But unlike those in the continental U.S., President Trump’s preoccupation with insular territories has little to do with land area, and everything to do with control of the surrounding waters, in particular, the 200 nm boundary designated as the EEZ. In a final report to the president, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommends revising the boundary of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to allow for commercial fishing. That is, trimming back Obama-era monument boundaries that currently serve as conservation areas.23

It’s worth noting that the establishment of an exclusive economic zone extending 200 nm from shore is an international standard set forth in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. The U.S. had a major hand in crafting the treaty, also known as the “constitution for the oceans,” and continues to benefit from its provisions. The U.S., however, has yet to ratified it.24

Marine National Monuments: Marianas Trench (blue), Pacific Remote Islands (green), Rose Atoll (red), and Papahānaumokuākea (purple). See this map for competing perspectives on marine monuments. (Map by Robert O’Conner, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office)

Guano Islands and Decolonization

It remains to be seen if Trump’s boundary revisions of monuments created and/or enlarged by other presidents will withstand legal challenge. Of course, the larger legal question in the Pacific is how these island possessions, now national monuments, have remained steadfastly in the hands of the U.S. at all. The process by which the bulk of islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act have been relinquished is instructive. There’s little evidence that the U.S. government has been self-compelled to return them, even when the language of the law makes it clear that the U.S. is in contravention of its own statute.

First, there is an abandonment clause in the Guano Islands Act (found in Title 48 of the United States Code). Chapter 8, section 1419 states there is nothing “obliging the United States to retain possession of the islands, rocks, or keys, after the guano shall have been removed from the same.” According to legal historian C.D. Burnett, “The aim of the Guano Islands Act was simple…[to] supply Americans with affordable guano, nothing more.” 25 Second, as outlined in section 1411, a U.S. citizen can take an island, rock, or key if it is “not occupied by the citizens of any other government.” In 1859, A.G. Benson claimed seven islands known to be inhabited by native populations: Penrhyn, Rierson, Humphrey’s, Danger, Duke of Clarence, Duke of York, and Swains.26

Benson’s claims didn’t meet the legal threshold for possession, but all seven were bonded, certified, and appeared on lists published by the U.S. Treasury Department.27 These claims remained on the books until eventually running aground of international efforts to decolonize the Pacific after World War II. Neither the claimant nor his heirs ever mined those islands, though British workers did.28 Six of the seven were incorporated into British colonies, and one made a part ofAmerican Samoa in 1925.

After World War II, the UN led efforts to create trusteeships that ideally would afford colonized peoples some measure of self-determination and independence.29As a result, U.S.-U.K. claims and counterclaims to guano islands loosened, with some formally surrendered by treaty. Between 1979 and 1980, the U.S. relinquished a total of 21 insular territories claimed under the Guano Islands Act. Fourteen islands were handed over to the independent Republic of Kiribati; three islands to the small island nation of Tokelau, a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand; and four atolls to the Cook Islands, a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand. The islands and atolls are as follows:

Treaty of Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati (signed 1979, ratified 1983)

  • Canton (Kanton)
  • Enderbury
  • Hull (Orona)
  • Birnie
  • Gardner (Nikumaroro)
  • Phoenix (Rawaki)
  • Sydney (Manra)
  • McKean
  • Christmas (Kiritimati)
  • Caroline
  • Starbuck
  • Malden
  • Flint
  • Vostok

Cook Islands-United States Maritime Boundary Treaty (signed 1980, ratified 1983)

  • Penrhyn (Tongareva)
  • Rierson (Rakahanga)
  • Humphrey’s (Manihiki)
  • Danger (Pukapuka)

Treaty of Tokehega, New Zealand (signed 1980, ratified 1983)

  • Duke of Clarence (Nukunonu)
  • Duke of York (Atafu)
  • Bowditch (Fakaofo)

Islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act that have not been surrendered are often identified on maps as “U.S.A. territory.” But that’s not the nomenclature the U.S. government uses. The United States Code defines “Guano Islands” as “possessions,” not territories.30 It’s an ambiguous term for an ambiguous future. As sea-level rise threatens to overtake low-lying islands and atolls, the international community will be watching to see what measures the U.S. may take in retaining control over its insular possessions and attendant 200 nm exclusive economic zones in the central Pacific Ocean.

Nationhood and EEZs

While the U.S. has flexibility in transforming the EEZ of its island possessions into proving grounds, strategic no-go zones, conservation areas and national monuments, island nations do not. The economies of most island nations are dependent on selling offshore fishing rights within their EEZ.

In the central and western Pacific Ocean, the tuna catch alone is worth $5.8 billion a year. In 2016, island nations and territories merged their estimated 6 million square miles of EEZs to form “the world’s largest tuna fishery bloc,” which helped negotiate the U.S. Tuna Treaty on favorable terms to Pacific nations. Sixteen Island parties signed the treaty, which allows U.S. vessels to fish their waters. By collectively negotiating fees and terms, territories disadvantaged by size, like Tokelau, can be assured yearly payments. Size is one element in the calculus of managing resources. Other considerations include how rich in tuna a given area might be, and what kinds of anchorage and facilities are located nearby. Tokelau has an abundance of tuna but no ports. Neighboring Samoa has ports and a processing plant. By pooling strengths and weaknesses, signatories to the treaty are bolstering one another’s economies.31

According to journalist Latif Nasser, the EEZ represents a valuable set of assets less visible than those attached to land. While the loss of land to sea-level rise is troubling, so too is the loss of surrounding waters. It’s a concern that has prompted Nasser and others to ask: “What will become of these gigantic ocean possessions [EEZs] when the tiny patches of land that anchor them disappear or become unlivable? The prospect is an unprecedented puzzle for the international community.”32

One piece of the puzzle is the legality of artificially modifying an island for the purpose of retaining an EEZ. It may seem complex in light of the vigorous debate over China’s island-building program in the South China Sea, but it’s not. The South China Sea dispute falls within the purview of general international law, not maritime law, because it’s first and foremost a sovereignty dispute (Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have competing claims to islands located there). A.H.A Soons, a scholar and practitioner of international law, provides a straightforward answer for small island nations who want to modify their emergent land: “Any coastal State (including small island nations) are allowed to artificially maintain/enlarge their islands.”33

Rate of Rising Seas

Pacific island nations and territories are at different stages of addressing the pressing issues of sea-level rise. Discussions involving retention of EEZs—and the rights and financial security maritime zones confer—represent the long game, and enters into a conceptual realm of “What is nationhood, if a nation no longer exists?” Legitimate answers to questions of this magnitude would require changes in international law, a notoriously slow process. As scientific data on climate change feedbacks demonstrate, island nations and territories need answers now.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the oceans will rise by between 11 and 38 inches by the end of the century, with the potential to submerge low-lying islands. A report from 2016, written by former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 co-authors, predicts that without serious mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level is likely to increase “several meters over a timescale of 50 to 150 years.”34 If less than one meter of sea-level rise has the potential to cause an island to disappear by 2100, then Hansen’s numbers portend something more urgent. The question, then, is not when will islands be submerged, but when will sea-level rise make life on low-lying islands impossible.

The answer to that question is close at hand for a number of Pacific islands. Sea-level rise increases both the frequency and magnitude of flooding caused by high tides and storms; saltwater intrusion destroys freshwater sources and the prospect of productive agriculture. Writer and filmmaker Jack Niedenthal, who lives in the Marshall Islands, says that on the island of Kili, “there have been huge changes since about 2011.” That was the first year the island was heavily flooded, and he says it’s happened every year since. Kili, which averages an elevation of 6 feet, is home to many displaced families originally from Bikini Atoll.35

The population there, he says, is trying to raise awareness of climate change with the rest of the world, but it’s challenging. “I find it stunning that there are still so many climate change deniers out there. In the Marshall Islands, we are building numerous seawalls, some very large, others are just building them with old tires and broken down cars.”

Future Proofing Islands

One concern discussed in the international community is the importance of delimiting islands before they physically disappear. Under the Law of the Sea Convention, or UNCLOS, the exclusive economic zone is measured seaward from the baseline. The baseline is measured along the coast of emergent land at the low-water mark. Consequently, if sea-level rise alters coastlines or overtakes emergent land permanently, what happens to the baseline? What happens to the corresponding EEZ? And to what extent will island nations retain control over their EEZs if an island is gone and its inhabitants dispersed?

Rosemary Rayfuse, a professor of international law at the University of New South Wales, specializing in maritime law and climate change, recommends island nations “future proof” their EEZs by establishing baselines now. On that front, she says there has been some movement, with “Australia helping some of the South Pacific Island States to rewrite their baselines legislation and delimit their maritime boundaries.”36

A.H.A. Soons has proposed rights for a “disappearing” state, and his paper from 1990 offers ways in which an emigrating population could retain its EEZ, and even use it to advantage in negotiating land on a neighboring island.37 The idea of legal status for disappearing or “deterritorialized” states, says Rayfuse, “is a controversial one that will undoubtedly take many years to gain any traction—if ever.”

If EEZs and other maritime zones disappear along with emergent land, there’s the real possibility those areas could become “high seas.” According to the Law of the Sea Convention, high seas is defined as “the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction” and considered “the common heritage of mankind.” In other words, it means areas of the ocean where both living and nonliving resources are fair game.38

Freedom and Fear in the High Seas

At a climate change symposium in 2015, Fiji’s Foreign Affairs secretary Esala Nayasi explained the dilemma of Islanders succinctly: “These are people who are on the verge of losing their land that they call home, losing their critical basic necessities and infrastructure, culture, identity and traditional knowledge. This is no longer a news story, it is happening now.”

Nayasi’s sense of urgency is reflected in policy. Among nations, the Republic of Fiji is in the vanguard of relocation efforts. In 2014, the government’s climate change program assisted the village of Vunidogolo in moving to higher ground and provided the means for economic transition. The new village includes “30 houses, fish ponds and copra drier, farms and other projects.” There are 34 more villages slated for relocation within in its territory.39 Because Fiji is a combination of high and low islands, it’s geographically advantaged (though not immune to climate disruption). For other nations such as Tuvalu, comprised of nine coral atolls with a mean elevation of 2 meters, all choices look the same.

The Republic of Fiji has both high and low islands. None of Fiji’s islands are impervious to the effects of climate change, such as increasingly destructive storms, higher rates of disease, and saltwater intrusion of farmland. (Image by NASA/Aqua-MODIS)

Options for relocation are limited in other ways, such as the exclusion of “climate change refugees” from the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under the convention, there are five grounds to qualify for refugee status and fleeing the catastrophic conditions caused by climate change is not one of them. It hasn’t stopped legal challenge in several recent cases in New Zealand. Asylum-seeker Ioane Teitiota from Kiribati lost his case, and was deported in 2015. Sigeo Alesana from Tuvalu had his asylum application declined, but he won his immigration case based partially on the “vulnerability of the couple’s children to illnesses as a result of poor water quality.” According to Radio New Zealand, it’s the first time climate change has been successfully used in an immigration case.40

Perhaps the biggest legal stride in New Zealand is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent announcement of plans for a special refugee visa for Pacific Islanders, starting with 100 places annually. “We are anchored in the Pacific,” Ardern told reporters. “Surrounding us are a number of nations, not least ourselves, who will be dramatically impacted by the effects of climate change. I see it as a personal and national responsibility to do our part.”41

Conclusions

Large nations with continental landmass are not immune to what worries small island nations and territories. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “As the planet heats up, seas are now rising at an accelerating rate—especially along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.” Investing in million-dollar seawalls—here or there—will not be enough; an even larger investment is needed. An investment that requires industrialized nations to do what is scientifically, technically and financially possible to mitigate the causes of sea-level rise, while also assisting in building a legal framework that provides peace of mind for Pacific Islanders. Currently the onus to adapt is on island nations. It is a suggestion disproportionally unjust. It is unjust not only since the “Pacific islands region as a whole accounts for 0.03% of the global emissions of COdespite having approximately 0.12% of the world’s population,”42 but because a significant part of the problem is that global warming is precipitated by the rich and powerful countries and the islands are among the poorest and least equipped places in the world to cope with the challenges of rising waters.

The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands—Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island—will suffer the same fate as neighboring islands with similar elevations. The loss of U.S. islands, however, will not be as traumatic. Four are uninhabited and three have a fluctuating population of 40 or less, made up of U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff and scientists. Wake Island, the most populous, has 100 U.S. military service members and contractors on premises. Under U.S. stewardship, none of these insular possessions, or other guano islands, has ever had an enduring human legacy tied with place beyond transient plantation or military culture.43

Data provided by U.S. Air Force and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2017)

The U.S. government, with the exception of the Pentagon, is in official denial concerning a major cause of climate disruption: the unabated burning of fossil fuels.44 The current administration has no interest in reducing CO2 emissions or admitting the country’s hand in environmental catastrophe. What will be of interest to U.S. policymakers when the low-lying islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean begin to disappear is likely to center on the retention of EEZs and other maritime entitlements associated with U.S. insular possessions. If there is to be any U.S. involvement in “adaptation” in this part of the world, preserving these zones is high on the list; Pacific island nations and territories should be included in those efforts. Subsequent to resource depletion, war, nuclear testing and contamination, engagement with the Pacific Ocean ultimately means taking care of the people who live there.

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Laray Polk is an American writer and artist. In 2013, she co-authored a book with Noam Chomsky, Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe (Seven Stories Press). The title has been translated into Spanish, French, Turkish, and Japanese. She can be reached at [email protected].

Notes

1“United States Minor Outlying Islands” is the international designation (ISO 3166). The United States Code (48 U.S.C. sec. 1411) defines the islands as insular possessions “appertaining to the United States.”

2Calculations based on data from Marine Regions.

3CIA World Factbook.

4The act is at 48 U.S.C. sec. 1411-19.

5For a discussion of guano’s importance to 19th-century agriculture, see Richard A. Wines, Fertilizer in America: From Waste Recycling to Resource Exploitation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985).

6The actual number of islands resolves to 36 when duplicate claims and nonexistent islands are factored in. See “Places Claimed and/or Acquired under the U.S. Guano Islands Act,” in Jimmy M. Skaggs, The Great Guano Rush: Entrepreneurs and American Oversees Expansion (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 230-236.

7Ibid., 159. For a firsthand perspective of a guano laborer, see the letters of J.M. Kailiopio in Gregory Rosenthal, “Life and Labor in a Seabird Colony: Hawaiian Guano Workers, 1857-70,” Environmental History 17 (October 2012): 744-782.

8Gregory T. Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 82.

9E. Behm, “Das Amerikanische Polynesien und die politischen Verhältnisse in den übrigen Theilen des Grossen Oceans im J. 1859,” Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen 5 (1859): 173-194.

10Two islands claimed by both countries, Canton and Enderbury, were shared from 1939 to 1979 under an agreement called the Anglo & American Consortium. Both islands were relinquished when Kiribati declared independence from the U.K. and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Tarawa.

11See U.S.S. Narragansett visit to Christmas Island in Edwin H. Bryan, American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain, rev. and enl. ed. (Honolulu: Tongg Pub. Co., 1942), 139. Cf. to Benson ‘s Lobos Islands incident in Great Guano Rush, 21-32.

12Laray Polk, “Lucky Dragon,” CounterPunch, April 5, 2007.

13Nic Maclellan, Grappling with the Bomb: Britain’s Pacific H-Bomb Tests (Canberra: ANU Press, 2017), 36.

14American Polynesia, 140.

15For a complete history of this alliance see “The President—John F. Kennedy,” Grappling with the Bomb, 267-279.

16Ibid., 242.

17For residual problems with a similar treaty, the Treaty of Tokehega, see Gilbert Wong, “Swains Island Paradise Lost?” New Zealand Herald, November 10, 1990.

18Calculation based on the 1923 Tanager Expedition survey (41.32 acres), reproduced in American Polynesia, and median measurements from 2017 satellite imagery (662.59 acres).

19Katharine Q. Seelye, “Radioactive Dump on Pacific Wildlife Refuge Raises Liability Concerns,” New York Times, January 27, 2003.

20Jan TenBruggencate, “Army Completes Chemical Weapons Mission at Johnston,” The Honolulu Advertiser, April 11 2001; Jon Mitchell, “25,000 barrels of Agent Orange Kept on Okinawa, U.S. Army Document Says,” The Japan Times, August 7, 2012.

21For further complexity of the issue, see Fili Sagapolutele, “Gov. Lolo’s Letter to DOI Cites Trump’s ‘America First’ Policy as Hope for Our Tuna Industry,” Samoa News, July 17, 2017.

22According to some sources Midway Islands (Middlebrook Islands and Shoal) weren’t claimed under the Guano Islands Act. A summary of an expedition by Capt. Brooks, printed in the Polynesian, August 13, 1859, presents evidence to the contrary: “As an extensive deposit of guano was found on one of the islands, possession was taken of the group and notices left to that effect.” The Navy took formal possession of Midway on August 28, 1867.

23Juliet Eilperin, “Zinke Backs Shrinking More National Monuments and Shifting Management of 10,” Washington Post, December 5, 2017. See also Christopher Pala, “Loss of Federal Protections May Imperil Pacific Reefs, Scientists Warn,” New York Times, October 30, 2017.

24For obstacles to ratification, see Roncevert Almond, “U.S. Accession to the Law of the Sea Convention? A Challengefor America’s Global Leadership,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 15, vol.13, no.2 (July 2017): 1-11.

25C.D. Burnett, “The Edges of Empire and the Limits of Sovereignty: American Guano Islands.” American Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2005): 780.

26In 1862, chemist J.D. Hague recorded six of the seven as inhabited by native populations in his article, “On Phosphatic Islands of the Pacific Ocean,” Am. Journ. Sci., 2nd ser., vol. 34, no.101 (September 1862): 224-243.

27U.S. State Department, Office of the Legal Advisor, “The Sovereignty of Guano Islands in Pacific Ocean,” vol. 3, ed. E.S. Rogers and Frederic A. Fisher (Washington, D.C., 1933): 570-976. Available online from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.

28The British didn’t have a legal prohibition on mining inhabited islands, much to the detriment of Nauru and Ocean(Banaba) Islands. See Great Guano Rush, 137.

29The South Pacific Commission, now the Pacific Community, may have been more influential in post-war planning because it brought together Islanders “who accelerated regionalism’s emergence.” See Steven R. Fischer, The History of the Pacific Islands, 2nd rev. ed. (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2013), 221.

30Other territories defined as U.S. possessions include the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. See 10 U.S.C. sec.101 and 37 U.S.C. sec. 101.

31Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea Tauafiafi, “Pacific Celebrate U.S. Tuna Treaty Renewal: Why, How Much, and Who are the Winners?” Pacific Guardians, June 12, 2016; “Tokelau’s Tuna Success—Testament to Pacific Solidarity’s Multimillion Dollar Effect,” Pacific Guardians, August 12, 2016.

32Latif Nasser, “When Island Nations Drown, Who Owns Their Seas?” Boston Globe, October 19, 2014.

33Soons, email comm., December 28, 2017. For discussion of what constitutes an island or a rock under UNCLOS, see T.Y. Wang, “Japan is Building Tiny Islands in the Philippine Sea,” Washington Post, May 20, 2016.

34James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Paul Hearty, Reto Ruedy, Maxwell Kelley, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, et al., “Ice Melt, Sea-Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2 °C Global Warming Could be Dangerous,” Atmos. Chem. Phys. 16, (March 2016): 3762. 

35For more on the plight of Bikini Islanders, listen to Jack Niedenthal’s interview with Koro Vaka’uta, Radio New Zealand, March 26, 2015; and his interview with Jenny Meyer, Radio New Zealand, August 7, 2015.

36Rayfuse, email comm., May 7, 2017.

37 A.H.A. Soons, “The Effects of a Rising Sea Level on Maritime Limits and Boundaries,” Netherlands Intl. Law Review 37 (1990): 230.

38Law of the Sea Convention, Part VII, Sec. 1, Art. 87.

39Fiji presided over the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) held in Bonn, Germany in 2017. Serafina Silaitoga, “Villagers to Move into New Homes,” The Fiji Times, January 15, 2014.

40“Climate Change Part of Refuge Ruling,”Radio New Zealand, August 4, 2014. To read more about Alesana and his family, see Anke Richter, “Hell and High Water: When Climate Change Comes Lapping at Your Door,” North & South, June 2017 (posted online here).

41Jonathan Perlman, “NZ Plans Special Visa for Climate Refugees,” The Straits Times, December 11, 2017.

42Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation And Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. J. J. McCarthy, O. F. Canziani, N. A. Leary, D. J. Dokken, and K. S. White (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 867.

43Archaeological evidence suggests these islands were of significant cultural use by Polynesian long-distance voyagers. Bryan’s American Polynesia describes ruins and objects associated with individual islands: Howland (paths, pits); Washington (ruins, stone work, canoe); Fanning (ruins, adzes, fishhook); Christmas (ruins); Malden (platforms, grave, house sites); Caroline (graves, adzes, temple platform, marae); Nassua (shell adzes, pearl-shell breast ornaments); Hull (ruins); Phoenix (ruins); and Sydney (ruins).

44Christian Parenti, “Military Soothsayers,” Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (New York: Nation Books, 2011), 13-20.

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Featured image: President Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sept. 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)

With the Trump and Netanyahu administrations now working in lockstep, U.S.-Israeli hostility towards Iran has now ripened into a plan to repeat what befell Syria over six years ago – the hijacking of minor protests and their transformation into the cover for a foreign-funded insurgency intent on toppling Iran’s elected government.

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Using the recent protests as cover, the governments of the United States and Israel are advancing a much larger plan for covert regime change against the Iranian government, one born out of the “secret deal” negotiated and signed between the two countries right before the widely covered but relatively small protests in Iran began in late December.

That deal, negotiated between National Security Adviser and neocon darling H.R. McMaster and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat, secured the full cooperation of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations in targeting Iran’s “threatening activities” through a series of “memorandums of understanding.” As the Times of Israel reported, such cooperation is ultimately expected to translate into “steps on the ground” — a vague way of implying that aggressive actions will soon target Iran, including potential military action.

Yet, since the agreement was announced in the press, the evidence seems to point to the development of a more covert operation that is set to begin with the assassination of a top Iranian general.

Reviving a once-thwarted assassination plan

In this Sept. 18, 2016 file photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is warning Islamic State militants that missile attacks launched into eastern Syria the previous day can be repeated if the extremists take action against Iran’s security. (Source: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

On Monday, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that an “American-Israeli agreement” had been forged that determined that Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force active in fighting the Wahhabist insurgency in Syria, is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” This understanding subsequently resulted in the U.S. government giving Israel the “green light” to assassinate Soleimani, a plan Israel had unsuccessfully attempted to carry out three years earlier. The Obama administration had thwarted that operation, when Israel was allegedly “on the verge” of killing Soleimani near Damascus, by warning the Iranian government of the plan.

However, the U.S.’ failure to enact regime change in Syria – a close ally of Iran – and the Trump administration’s close relationship with Israel have apparently led the U.S. government to openly voice its support for Israel to assassinate a top general of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a move that would likely embroil Iran and Israel – and perhaps the rest of the Middle East – in war.

Indeed, Soleimani’s force in Syria has been instrumental in aiding the Syrian government in eliminating the largely foreign-funded Wahhabist insurgency that was intended to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad from power, a key strategic goal of both the U.S. and Israel in the region.

Furthermore — with the disintegration of Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and, along with it, the disintegration of the U.S.-led coalition’s excuse for its illegal presence in Syria — Soleimani delivered a forceful message to the U.S. forces stationed in Northwest Syria. In that message, delivered to the U.S. via the Russian military, Soleimani warned the U.S. military command in Syria that it best remove all U.S. forces currently present in Syria “or the doors of hell will open up,” adding that “I advise you leave by your own will or you will be forced to.”

Russia later echoed Soleimani, albeit less forcefully, by advising that U.S. forces vacate Syria, as the terrorist threat has been largely eliminated and the U.S.’ continued presence in the country would be in violation of the Syrian government’s sovereignty.

However, the U.S. has made it clear that it has no plans to leave Syria anytime soon. Last Friday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis insisted that the “war is not over” in Syria or Iraq, as much works remain to be done to prevent a potential resurgence of Daesh. Mattis’ words came just days after reports surfaced alleging that U.S. forces in Northwestern Syria are retraining Daesh fighters from areas “liberated” by U.S. proxy forces.

The endgame of this U.S. operation is likely the exportation of insurgents from Northwestern Syria through Iraqi Kurdistan, where U.S. forces are still present, and into eastern Iran where the fomentation of an armed insurgency will be used to destabilize and hijack the protests currently taking place in Iran. Most of the recent growth in reported unrest has been concentrated in eastern Iran.

In order for such a program to achieve its goal, the U.S. must be able to continue illegally occupying northwestern Syria. With Soleimani out of the picture and the Quds Force in Syria thus weakened, that occupation would be significantly easier to prolong.

Building blocks of regime-change insurgency: sanctions, protests, “peaceful” uprising

While a U.S.-Israeli plan to create a terrorist pipeline from Syria to Iran has yet to be definitively established, regime-change plans specifically targeting Iran have included such strategies for toppling the Iranian government. For instance, the Brookings Institution — a prominent, hawkish U.S. think tank — published a manual in 2009 titled “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran.” The manual, divided into four parts, includes an entire section devoted to enacting regime change. This section includes three chapters, the first two of which focus on “supporting a popular uprising” and “inspiring an insurgency” by “supporting Iranian minority and opposition groups.”

When the protests against the neoliberal economic policies of the Rouhani-led government began just days ago, the U.S. and Israeli political establishments — and their supporters — quickly took advantage of the situation. Though the protests have been small in size, intentional misreporting from the corporate media and on social media has sought to combine these protests with regime-change aspirations while also exaggerating their size.

Both neocons and their liberal counterparts have posted publicly their support for the protests, claiming to support the Iranian people despite their past support for the sanctions that damaged Iran’s economy – the very factor that allegedly inspired the protests in the first place.

Though the plan to support a popular uprising depended on the organic emergence of some unrest, however minimal, within Iran, the plan to inspire an insurgency requires more careful preparation. Given the establishment of a new CIA “mission center” focused on “turning up the heat” in Iran last June — which has sought to make Iran “a higher priority target for American spies” — along with the U.S. operation in Syria, the groundwork for such an insurgency has now been laid.

Of particular concern is the fact that the CIA officer in charge of the center is Michael D’Andrea, a Wahhabist who has overseen the agency’s drone bombing program and was a key player in the CIA’s torture program. According to Moon of Alabama, he is believed to be the mastermind behind U.S. cooperation with extreme Wahhabi groups in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

In addition, Israel has openly worked with terrorist groups active in Iran in the past, namely the Jundallah terrorist group that Israeli Mossad hired to kill nuclear experts in Iran and for other tasks in its covert war against the Islamic Republic.

Arming the uprising

As the protests in Iran have unfolded, the increase in violent incidents suggests that U.S.-Israeli support for both a popular uprising and their support for a budding insurgency have merged and are taking place simultaneously. For instance, there has been a precipitous rise in the number of “armed protesters” since the ostensibly “peaceful” protests began, including a group of armed individuals that attempted to overtake government buildings and military bases.

Others have killed police and participated in the wanton destruction of property. Others still have shot innocent bystanders, who were then threatened into saying that the police had been the shooters. Eyewitness reports have claimed that many of the more violent protesters are “non-native” (i.e., foreign).

However, the most telling evidence has been the emergence of terrorist activity in eastern Iran. As the protests were beginning, a Sunni jihadist group known as Ansar al-Furqan exploded an Iranian oil pipeline in the Khuzestan province. The group — which, according to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, has ties to al-Nusra Front in Syria — claimed that it carried out the attack in order to “inflict losses on the economy of the criminal Iranian regime.”

Both the U.S. and Israel have close ties to al-Nusra Front in Syria. The U.S., for its part, funneled weapons to al-Nusra by continuing weapons shipments to Syrian opposition groups in Idlib even as they declared allegiance to al-Nusra en masse, and even took al-Nusra Front off the terror watch list after it changed its name. An al-Nusra Front commander also infamously claimed in 2016 that “the Americans are on our side.” Meanwhile, Israel’s long-standing commitment to aiding and funding the terrorist group, while also treating their wounded, has been an open secret for years.

In addition, the terrorist group Mujahideen-e-Khalq, popularly known as MEK in the West, has been active in the current protests as well. Despite its record of killing innocent civilians, Western media has cited MEK spokespeople and members in its reporting on the protests as “proof” that the Iranian people are calling for regime change, while ignoring the massive pro-government rallies that have coincided with the protests. Little mention has been made of the fact the MEK fighters have been trained by the U.S. military in the past and share connections with Israeli Mossad.

Conclusion: with Syria plan in tatters, U.S. and Israel roll it out again for Iran

The hostility of the U.S. and Israel towards Iran is well known. Yet, with the Trump and Netanyahu administrations now working in lockstep, that hostility has now ripened into a plan to repeat what befell Syria over six years ago – the hijacking of minor protests and their transformation into the cover for a foreign-funded insurgency intent on toppling the elected government of Iran.

Whether or not such an effort will be successful is yet to be seen. However, it’s unlikely that either Israel or the United States will be willing to accept another failure like their venture in Syria, lest they be forced to give up on their regional ambitions entirely.

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In The Road to Medicare for Everyone, Jacob Hacker is once again working to dissuade single payer healthcare supporters from demanding National Improved Medicare for All and use our language to send us down a false path. Hacker comes up with a scheme to convince people to ask for less and calls those who disagree “purists”. Hacker calls his “Medicare Part E” “daring and doable,” I call it dumb and dumber. Here’s why.

Hacker makes the same assertions we witnessed in August of 2017 when other progressives tried to dissuade single payer supporters.

He starts with “risk aversion,” although he doesn’t use the term in his article. Hacker asserts that those who have health insurance through their employers won’t want to give it up for the new system. Our responses to this are: there is already widespread dislike for the current healthcare system; people don’t like private insurance while there is widespread support across the political spectrum for Medicare and Medicaid; there is also widespread support for single payer; and those with health insurance can be reassured that they will be better off under a single payer system. It is also important to note that employers don’t want to be in the middle of health insurance. Healthcare costs are the biggest complaint by small and medium sized businesses and keep businesses that operate internationally less competitive.

Next, Hacker brings up the costs of the new system and complains that it will create new federal spending. He points to the failures to pass ‘single payer’ in Vermont and California. First, it must be recognized that the state bills were not true single payer bills, and second, states face barriers that the federal government does not, they must balance their budgets. Hacker ignores the numerous studies at the national level, some by the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office that demonstrate single payer is the best way to save money. Of course there would be an increase in federal spending, the system would be financed through taxes, but the taxes would replace premiums, co-pays and deductibles, which are rising as fast as health insurers can get away with. Hacker proposes a more complex system that will fail to provide the savings needed to cover everyone, the savings that can only exist under a true single payer system.

Hacker also confuses “Medicare for All” with simply expanding Medicare to everyone, including the wasteful private plans under Medicare Advantage. This is not what National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) advocates support. NIMA would take the national infrastructure created by Medicare and use it for a new system that is comprehensive in coverage, including long term care, and doesn’t require co-pays or deductibles. The system would negotiate reasonable pharmaceutical prices and set prices for services. It would also provide operating budgets for hospitals and other health facilities and use separate capital budgets to make sure that health resources are available where they are needed. And the new system would create a mechanism for negotiation of payment to providers.

Finally, Hacker tries to convince his readers that the opposition to NIMA will be too strong, so we should demand less. We know that the opposition to our lesser demands will also be strong. That was the case in 2009 when people advocated for the ‘public option’ gimmick. If we are going to fight for something, if we are going to take on this opposition, we must fight for something worthwhile, something that will actually solve the healthcare crisis. That something is NIMA. We are well aware that the opposition will be strong, but we also know that when people organize and mobilize, they can win. Every fight for social transformation has been a difficult struggle. We know how to wage these struggles. We have decades of history of successful struggles to guide us.

One gaping hole in Hacker’s approach is that it prevents the social solidarity required to win the fight and to make the solution succeed. Hacker promotes a “Medicare Part E” that some people can buy into. Not only will this forego most of the savings of a single payer system, but it also leaves the public divided. Some people will be in the system and others will be out. This creates vulnerabilities for the opposition to exploit and further divide us. Any difficulties of the new system will be blown out of proportion and those in the system may worry that they are in the wrong place. When we are united in the same system, not only does that create a higher quality system (a lesson we’ve learned from other countries), but it also unites us in fighting to protect and improve that system.

Hacker succeeded in convincing people who support single payer to ask for something less in 2009 and we ended up with a law that is further enriching the health insurance, pharmaceutical and private healthcare institutions enormously while tens of millions of people go without care. Now, Hacker rises again to use the same scare tactics and accusations that he used then to undermine the struggle for NIMA. This is to be expected. The national cry for NIMA is growing and the power holders in both major political parties and their allies in the media and think tanks are afraid of going against the donor class. Social movements have always been told that what they are asking for is impossible, until the tide shifts and it becomes inevitable.

Our task is to shift the tide. We must not be fooled by people like Jacob Hacker. We know that single payer systems work. We have the money to pay for it. We have the framework for a national system and we have the institutions to provide care. Just as we did in 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid were created from scratch, and without the benefit of the Internet, we can create National Improved Medicare for All, a universal system, all at once. Everybody in and nobody out.

We know that we are close to winning when the opposition starts using our language to take us off track. “Medicare Part E” is not National Improved Medicare for All, it is a gimmick to protect the status quo and convince us that we are not powerful. We aren’t falling for it. This is the time to fight harder for NIMA. We will prevail.

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Margaret Flowers is a medical doctor who is the director of Health Over Profit for Everyone a campaign to enact National Improved Medicare for All, a project of Popular Resistance.

Featured image is from Erik McGregor via Health Over Profit for Everyone.

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This is the second in a two-part article on the debt burden America’s students face. Read Part 1 here.

The lending business is heavily stacked against student borrowers. Bigger players can borrow for almost nothing, and if their investments don’t work out, they can put their corporate shells through bankruptcy and walk away. Not so with students. Their loan rates are high and if they cannot pay, their debts are not normally dischargeable in bankruptcy. Rather, the debts compound and can dog them for life, compromising not only their own futures but the economy itself.

“Students should not be asked to pay more on their debt than they can afford,” said Donald Trump on the presidential campaign trail in October 2016. “And the debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives.”

But as Matt Taibbi points out in a December 15 article, a number of proposed federal changes will make it harder, not easier, for students to escape their debts, including wiping out some existing income-based repayment plans, harsher terms for graduate student loans, ending a program to cancel the debt of students defrauded by ripoff diploma mills, and strengthening “loan rehabilitation” – the recycling of defaulted loans into new, much larger loans on which the borrower usually winds up paying only interest and never touching the principal. The agents arranging these loans can get fat commissions of up to 16 percent, an example of the perverse incentives created in the lucrative student loan market. Servicers often profit more when borrowers default than when they pay smaller amounts over a longer time, so they have an incentive to encourage delinquencies, pushing students into default rather than rescheduling their loans. It has been estimated that the government spends $38 for every $1 it recovers from defaulted debt. The other $37 goes to the debt collectors.

The securitization of student debt has compounded these problems. Like mortgages, student loans have been pooled and packaged into new financial products that are sold as student loan asset-backed securities (SLABS). Although a 2010 bill largely eliminated private banks and lenders from the federal student loan business, the “student loan industrial complex” has created a $200 billion market that allows banks to cash in on student loans without issuing them. About 80 percent of SLABS are government-guaranteed. Banks can sell, trade or bet on these securities, just as they did with mortgage-backed securities; and they create the same sort of twisted incentives for loan servicing that occurred with mortgages.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), virtually all borrowers with federal student loans are currently eligible to make monthly payments indexed to their earnings. That means there should be no defaults among student borrowers. Yet one in four borrowers is now in default or struggling to stay current. Why? Student borrowers are reporting widespread mishandling of accounts, unexplained exorbitant fees, and outright deception as they are bullied into default, tactics similar to those that homeowners faced in the foreclosure crisis. The reports reveal a repeat of the abuses of the foreclosure fraud era: many borrowers are unable to obtain basic information about their accounts, are frequently misled, are surprised with unexpected late fees, and often are pushed into default. Servicers lose paperwork or misapply payments. When errors arise, borrowers find it difficult to have them corrected.

Abuses and fraud in handling student loans have brought the Education Department’s loan contractors under fire. In January 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Navient, one of the largest contractors, alleging that the company “systematically and illegally [failed] borrowers at every stage of [student loan] repayment.”

Getting a Fair Deal

The federal government could relieve these debt burdens, given the political will. A stated goal of the changes being proposed by the Trump Administration is to simplify the rules. The simplest solution to the student debt crisis is to make tuition free for qualified applicants at public colleges and universities, as it is in many European countries and was in some US states until the 1970s. If the federal government has the money to lend to students, it has the money to spend on their tuition (capped to curb tuition hikes). It would not only save on defaults and collections but could turn a profit on the investment, as demonstrated by the seven-fold return from the G.I. Bill. (See Part 1 of this article.)

Alternatively, the government could fund tuition costs and debtor relief with a form of “QE for the people.” Instead of buying mortgage-backed securities, as in QE1, the Fed could buy SLABS and return the interest to students, making the loans effectively interest-free (as were the $16+ trillion in loans made to the largest banks after the 2008 crisis). QE that targeted the real economy could address many other budget issues as well, including the infrastructure crisis and the federal debt crisis; and this could be done without triggering hyperinflationSee my earlier articles herehere and here.

Needless to say, however, the government is not moving in that direction. While waiting for the government to act, there are things students can do; but first they need to learn their rights. According to a new survey reported in November 2017, students are often in the dark about key details of their student loan debt and the repayment options available to them. To get started, see here and here.

Under the Borrower’s Defense to Repayment program, you can get your loans completely discharged if you can prove they were based on deception or fraud. That is one of the alternatives the Administration wants to take away, so haste is advised; but even if it is taken away, fraud remains legal grounds for contract rescission. A class action for treble damages against offending institutions could provide significant financial relief.

Students also have greater bankruptcy options than they know. While current bankruptcy law exempts education loans and obligations from eligibility for discharge, an exception is made for “undue hardship.” The test normally used is that paying the loan will prevent the borrower from sustaining a minimum standard of living, his financial situation is unlikely to change in the future, and he has made a good faith effort to pay his loans. According to a 2011 study, at least 40 percent of borrowers who included their student loans in their bankruptcy filings got some or all of their student debt discharged. But because they think there is no chance, they rarely try. Only about 0.1 percent of consumers with student loans attempted to include them in their bankruptcy proceedings. (Getting a knowledgeable attorney is advised.)

For relief as a class, students need to get the attention of legislators, which means getting organized. Along with degree mill fraud and contract fraud, a cause of action ripe for a class action is the student exclusion from bankruptcy protection, a blatant violation of the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. If enough students filed for bankruptcy under the “undue hardship” exception, just the administrative burden might motivate legislators to change the law.

States to the Rescue?

If the federal government won’t act and individual action seems too daunting, however, there is a third possibility for relief – state-owned banks that cut out private middlemen and recycle local money for local purposes at substantially reduced rates. The country’s sole model at the moment is the Bank of North Dakota, but other states now have strong public banking movements that could mimic it. A November 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal reported that the BND was more profitable even than J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. The profits are used to improve education and public services.

According to its 2016 annual report, the BND’s second largest loan category after business loans is for education, with nearly a third of its portfolio going to student loans. As of December 2017, the BND’s student loan rates were 2.82% variable and 4.78% fixed, or about 2% below the federal rate (which ranged from 4.45% to 7% depending on the type of loan), and about 5% below the private rate (currently averaging 9.66% fixed and 7.81% variable interest). The BND also acts as the servicer of these loans, bypassing the third-party servicers abusing the system in other states.

In 2014, the BND launched its DEAL One Loan program, which offered North Dakota residents a unique option to refinance all student loans, including federal, into one loan with a lower interest rate and without fees. DEAL loans are fully guaranteed by the North Dakota Guaranteed Student Loan Program, which is administered by the BND.

The BND also makes 20-year school construction loans available at a very modest 2% interest. Compare that to the Capital Appreciation Bonds through which many California schools have been forced to borrow to build needed infrastructure, on which they have wound up owing as much as 15 times principal.

The BND’s loan programs have helped keep North Dakota’s student default rates and overall student indebtedness low. As of January 2017, the state had the second lowest student default rate in the country and was near the bottom of the list in student indebtedness, ranking 44th. Compare that to its sister state South Dakota, which ranked number one in student indebtedness.

The public banking movement is now gaining ground in cities and states across the country. A number of cities have passed resolutions to pull their money out of Wall Street banks that practice fraud as a business model. In New Jersey, Governor-elect Phil Murphy has made a state-owned bank the funding basis of his platform, with student loans one of three sectors he intends to focus on. If that succeeds, other states can be expected to follow suit.

We need to free our students from the system of debt slavery that has financialized education, turning it from an investment in human capital into a tool for exploiting the young for the benefit of private investors. State-owned banks can make the loan process fair, equitable and affordable; but their creation will be fought by big bank lobbyists. An organized student movement could be an effective counter-lobby. Historically, debt and austerity have been used as control mechanisms for subduing the people. It is time for the people to unite and take back their power.

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Ellen Brown is an attorney, chairman of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution. A thirteenth book titled The Coming Revolution in Banking is due out soon. Her 300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com.

An earlier version of this article was first published on Truthdig.org.

Featured image is from Joe Brusky / CC BY-NC 2.0.

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‘Focus’ on the Neo Nazi Revival

January 6th, 2018 by Philip A Farruggio

Please go and watch the 2001 film Focus, directed by Neal Slavin and starring William H. Macy and Laura Dern. It is based on the great playwright Arthur Miller‘s novel of the same name.

The film takes place in the waning months of WW2 when a man and his new wife are mistakenly identified as Jews by their anti-Semitic Brooklyn , N.Y.C neighbors. They soon become victims of religious and racial persecution. Many of us may not realize just how bad things were for Jews and Blacks during the WW2 years.

We have this illusion that ‘All for one and one for all’ was the motto of the day, as America fought off the German and Japanese threat of world domination. Well, as the movie revealed, even in Northern cities Jews were ‘Restricted’ from many jobs, housing and places for vacation. The employers of businesses and owners of housing and hotels actually used the word ‘Restricted’ in advertisements and billboards. For blacks up north just their color was enough to have them ‘Restricted’ from employment or housing… let alone a hotel accommodation. Jim Crow and Jim Cohen was not only in the south.

Focus poster.jpg

Many will state, and perhaps rightly so, that we have come a long way since the 40s, 50s and 60s. Yet, the hate is still there, engrained in the minds of white Christian Americans… or should I say Amerikans. It stays hidden from public view, reserved for private home conversations or whispered invectives and not so funny jokes.

Why? Well, our government has always taken the ‘high road ‘ officially and publically to condemn such behavior, even if not doing enough to stop it.. until now! What transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August let the proverbial ‘Neo Nazi  horse’ out of the barn of tolerance. Those mostly young men (some women too) who marched with the Nazi like torches that night in Charlottesville chanting “Jews won’t replace us” when factored in with Donald Trump saying later that some of them were ‘Nice people’ were the warning sign to alert us.

Mix in the virtual silence from the Israeli regime of Netanyahu and that of many Jewish members of the Trump cabinet and administration and of course those Jewish folks who support him, and we all better start worrying. Quite candidly, the Fourth Reich is upon us. Of course, when Trump and many of his lowly evolved followers (well educated or not) expressed their disdain for the Mexican and Central American undocumented, many decent thinking white fellow Americans thought of it as foolish rhetoric. When they pointed fingers at Muslims living or travelling here, we again shook our heads at such folly. But now…

We have seen the so called ‘Alt Right’ finally go beyond the pale. Now, the hatred is front and center, using Anti-Semitism as the focal point. This new Neo Nazi mindset has come ‘out of the closet’ and has the POTUS to legitimatize it. Folks, it’s just not simply about Donald Trump (who many historians claim had a father who actually was part of the new KKK in the 1920s). No, it is much bigger than that. This resurgence of the Alt Right (which has always been with us) is leading the way to much more heinous acts and justifications for such thought. Focus on that if you would.

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Philip A Farruggio is a son and grandson of Brooklyn , NYC longshoremen. He has been a free lance columnist since 2001, with over 300 of his work posted on sites like Consortium News, Information Clearing House, Global Research, Nation of Change, World News Trust, Op Ed News, Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, Activist Post, Sleuth Journal, Truthout and many others. His blog can be read in full on World News Trust., whereupon he writes a great deal on the need to cut military spending drastically and send the savings back to save our cities. Philip has a internet interview show, ‘It’s the Empire… Stupid’ with producer Chuck Gregory, and can be reached at [email protected])

Pakistan’s announcement that it will seek the expulsion of over 1.5 million Afghan refugees in the next 30 days is being tacitly justified by Trump’s tweet and channels his zero-tolerance stance towards immigration from “terrorist”-prone states, but it also represents the employment of reverse-“Weapons of Mass Migration” in pushing Kabul closer towards the edge of collapse and consequently filling the Taliban’s rank of supporters.

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Trump is going to soon regret what he tweeted about Pakistan on New Year’s Day in accusing it of “giving safe haven to terrorists”, since Islamabad is poised to hit Washington with an asymmetrical counterpunch that it surely won’t forget.

The Pakistani government just announced that over 1.5 million Afghan refugees must leave the country within the next 30 days, a plan that it’s been working on for a while but which just received a fresh impetus and internationally-acceptable justification with Trump’s tweet.

Had it not been for the American President’s zero-tolerance towards immigration from what his administration labels as “terrorist”-prone countries, which crucially includes Afghanistan for substantial and not political reasons (as the latter relates to Iran’s inclusion and Saudi Arabia’s exclusion), then Pakistan would have risked drawing heavy pressure from the State Department on exaggerated claims that it’s “violating the human rights” of the refugees.

Trump, however, said that Pakistan was “giving safe haven to terrorists”, and since the US formally regards Afghan refugees as being too much of a potential security hazard to allow into its own country, it’s forced to accept Pakistan’s expulsion of 1.5 million of them on the implicit basis that they also constitute a serious terrorist threat to the state such as the one that the President just tweeted about.

This isn’t at all what Trump meant when he issued his tweet, nor the reaction that he was expecting, but by cleverly exploiting the President’s own policies at home and the suggestion he was making towards Pakistan abroad, Islamabad found a creative way to asymmetrically strike back at Washington.

Not only could Pakistan soon rid itself of actual terrorist sleeper cells and societal malcontents who have long overstayed their welcome in the neighboring country, it will also be catalyzing a series of cascading crises for Kabul through the employment of what can be described as reverse-“Weapons of Mass Migration”.

To briefly explain, Ivy League researcher Kelly M. Greenhill introduced the concept of “Weapons of Mass Migration” in 2010 to describe the ways through which large-scale population movements — whether “naturally occurring”, engineered, or exploited — impact on their origin, transit, and destination societies, theorizing that this phenomenon can have a strategic use in some instances.

Of relevance, the influx of millions of Afghan “Weapons of Mass Migration” into Pakistan since 1979 had the effect of destabilizing the host country’s border communities and eventually contributing to the spree of terrorist attacks that have since claimed over 60,000 lives in the past 15 years, but now the large-scale and rapid return of these “weapons” to their country of origin will also inevitably destabilize Afghanistan.

The landlocked and war-torn country is utterly unable to accommodate for what amounts to a roughly 3% increase in its total population in the next 30 days, especially seeing as how the Kabul government exerts little influence beyond the capital and has no sway in the approximate half of the country that’s under the control of the Taliban.

The US-backed Afghan government is already failing its citizens as it is and that’s why so many of them have either joined the Taliban or sympathize with it in the first place, so the odds of the returned refugees successfully reintegrating into their homeland’s socio-economic fabric and becoming “model citizens” is close to nil, meaning that it should be expected that the vast majority of these 1,5 million people will more than likely come to side with the Taliban than Kabul and consequently make the country much more difficult for the US to control.

In essence, what Pakistan has done is throw Trump’s tweet right back at him by using it as the internationally plausible pretext for initiating this long-planned move that was originally predicated on solely apolitical security-centric domestic interests but has now pertinently come to embody geostrategic contours by powerfully turning the tables against the US in Afghanistan through the employment of reverse-“Weapons of Mass Migration”.

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Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare.

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On December 18, 2017, The Guardian issued a shoddily-penned hatchet piece against British journalist Vanessa Beeley, Patrick Henningsen and his independent website 21st Century Wire, Australian professor and author Tim Anderson, and myself.

Judging by the scathing comments on The Guardian’s Facebook post, the general public didn’t buy it either. The Guardian, like Channel 4 News and Snopeswhitewashes terrorism in Syria, employs non-sequitur arguments, promotes war propaganda, and simply gets the facts wrong: 

As the purported theme of The Guardian‘s story was the issue of rescuers in Syria, I’ll begin by talking about actual rescuers I know and worked with, in hellish circumstances in Gaza.

In 2008/9, I volunteered with Palestinian medics under 22 days of relentless, indiscriminate, Israeli war plane and Apache helicopter bombings, shelling from the sea and tanks, and drone strikes. The loss of life and casualties were immense, with over 1,400 Palestinians murdered, and thousands more maimed, the vast majority civilians. Using run-down, bare-bones equipment (as actual rescuers in Syria do), Palestinian medics worked tirelessly day and night to rescue civilians.

There was not a single occasion in which I ever heard the medics (in Sunni Gaza) shout takbeeror Allahu Akbar upon rescuing civilians, much less intentionally stood on dead bodies, posed in staged videos, or any of the other revolting acts that the White Helmets have been filmed doing in Syria. They were too damn busy rescuing or evacuating the areas before another Israeli strike, and usually maintained a focused silence as they worked, communicating only the necessities. The only occasion I recall of screaming while with the medics, were the screams of civilians we collected and in particular the anguished shrieks of a husband helping to put the body parts of his dismembered wife onto a stretcher to be taken to the morgue. The medics I knew in Gaza were true heroes. The White Helmets, not a chance. They are gross caricatures of rescuers.

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A White Helmets member. “Unnarmed and neutral”?

Reply to The Guardian 

In October, a San Francisco-based tech (and sometimes fashion) Guardian writer named Olivia Solon (visibly with no understanding of Middle East geopolitics) emailed myself and Beeley with nearly identical questions filled with implicit assumptions for a Guardian “story” we were to be imminently featured in. My own correspondence with The Guardian’s Olivia Solon is as follows:

In brief, I’ll address Solon’s emails, including some of her most loaded questions:

-Who is the “we”, Solon mentions? Her mention of “we” indicates this story isn’t her own bright idea, nor independently researched and penned. Parts of the article—including the title and elements I’ll outline later in my article—seem to be lifted from others’ previous articles, but that’s copy-paste journalism for you.

-It isn’t just that I believe the mainstream media narrative about the White Helmets is wrong; this narrative has been redundantly-exposed over the years. In September 2014, Canadian independent journalist Cory Morningstar investigated hidden hands behind flashy PR around the White Helmets. In April 2015, American independent journalist Rick Sterling revealed that the White Helmets had been founded by Western powers and managed by a British ex-soldier, and noted the “rescuers” role in calling for Western intervention—a No Fly Zone on Syria. (more on these articles below). This was months before Russian media began to write about the White Helmets.

Since then, Vanessa Beeley has done the vast amount of research in greater detail, doing on-the-ground investigations in Syria, including: taking the testimonies of Syrian civilians who had (often brutal) experiences with the White Helmets; establishing that the Syrian Civil Defense exists and has existed since 1953, but are not the White Helmets—which has misappropriated this name; establishing that the international body, the International Civil Defence organisation in Geneva, does not recognize the White Helmets as the Syrian Civil Defence; establishing that men now White Helmets members looted vehicles and equipment from the Syrian Civil Defence in Aleppo—and belongings from civilians; and establishing that White Helmets shared a building in Bab Al Nairab, eastern Aleppo with al-Qaeda and were present as al-Qaeda tortured civilians, among other points.

It is hard to believe that in the span of the two months between her contacting Beeley and myself that Solon, in her certainly deep investigations, has not seen this video, clearly showing uniformed White Helmets members with supporters of Saudi terrorist, Abdullah Muhaysini. Not quite “neutral” rescuers. But then, perhaps she did. She was willing to write off the presence of White Helmets members at execution scenes, standing on dead Syrian soldiers, and holding weapons, as a few bad apples sort of thing.

-As to The Guardian’s interest in my “relationship” to the Syrian government: No, I have not received payment, gifts or other from any government. To the contrary, I’ve poured my own money into going to Syria (and have fund-raised, and also routinely received Paypal donations or support on Patreon by individuals who appreciate my work). See my article on this matter.

As to how my visits to Syria and North Korea came about, this is another transparent attempt to imply that I am on the payroll of/receive other benefits from one or more of the governments in question.

One of The Guardian’s questions in the emails was regarding my following: “That you attract a large online audience, amplified by high-profile right-wing personalities and appearances on Russian state TV.” (emphasis added)

What following I do have began exactly one year ago, after I requested to speak in a panel at the United Nations, as the US Peace Council had done in August 2016. It is as a result of a short interaction between myself and a Norwegian journalist, which went viral, that my online audience grew. In fact, I deeply regret that what went viral was not the important content of the three other panelists and my own over twenty minutes report on conditions in Aleppo which was then still under daily bombardments and snipings by what the West deems “moderates”.

However, given that so many people responded positively regarding the interaction—which dealt with lies of the corporate media and lack of sources—it seems that the public already had a sense that something was not right with corporate media’s renditions on Syria.

The first person to cut and share the video clip in question (on December 10, one day following the panel) was Twitter profile @Walid970721. As I have since met him personally, I can attest he is neither Russian nor funded by the Kremlin, nor any government, and that he shared that clip out of his own belief that it was of interest. Otherwise, on December 10, before any major Russian media had, HispanTV also shared my words. Further, India-based internet media Scoop Whoop’s December 15 share garnered the most views (nearly 10.5 million by now). That Russian media later shared the clip and reported on the incident is neither my doing: thank you Russian media for doing what Western corporate media always fail to do.

-Regarding The Guardian Solon’s question: “That you think that Assad is being demonized by the US as a means to drive regime change.” Of course I do, as do most analysts and writers not blinded by or obliged to the NATO narrative. As Rick Sterling wrote in September 2016:

“This disinformation and propaganda on Syria takes three distinct forms. The first is the demonization of the Syrian leadership. The second is the romanticization of the opposition. The third form involves attacking anyone questioning the preceding characterizations.”

Boston Globe contributor, award-winning foreign correspondent and author, Stephen Kinzer wrote in February 2016:

“Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.”

Countering corporate media’s demonization campaigns, I’ve written on many occasions—notably including the words of Syrians within Syria—about the vast amount of support the Syrian president enjoys inside of Syria and outside.

In my March 7, 2016 article, I cited meeting with internal, unarmed, opposition members, including Kurdish representative, Berwine Brahim, who stated,

We want you to convey that conspiracy, terrorism and interference from Western countries has united supporters of the government and the opposition, to support President Bashar al-Assad.”

In that same article, I wrote:

“Wherever I’ve gone in Syria (as well as many months in various parts of Lebanon, where I’ve met Syrians from all over Syria) I’ve seen wide evidence of broad support for President al-Assad. The pride I’ve seen in a majority of Syrians in their President surfaces in the posters in homes and shops, in patriotic songs and Syrian flags at celebrations and in discussions with average Syrians of all faiths. Most Syrians request that I tell exactly what I have seen and to transmit the message that it is for Syrians to decide their future,that they support their president and army and that the only way to stop the bloodshed is for Western and Gulf nations to stop sending terrorists to Syria, for Turkey to stop warring on Syria, for the West to stop their nonsense talk about ‘freedom‘ and ‘democracy’ and leave Syrians to decide their own future.”

In my May 2014 article from Lebanon, having independently observed the first of two days of Syrians streaming to their embassy to vote in presidential elections, I cited some of the many Syrians there with whom I spoke (in Arabic):

“’We love him. I’m Sunni, not Alawi,’ Walid, from Raqqa, noted. ‘They’re afraid our voices will be heard,’ he said….’ I’m from Deir Ezzor,’ said a voter. ‘ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is in our area. We want Bashar al-Assad. The guy walks straight,’ he said, with a gesture of his hand.”

No one escorted me in a Syrian government vehicle to that embassy, by the way. I took a bus, and then walked the remaining many kilometres (the road was so clogged with vehicles going to the embassy) with Syrians en route to vote.

In June 2014, a week after the elections within Syria, I traveled by public bus to Homs (once dubbed the “capital of the revolution”), where I saw Syrians celebrating the results of the election, one week after the fact, and spoke with Syrians beginning to clean up and patch up homes damaged from the terrorist occupation of their district.

When I returned to Homs in December 2015, shops and restaurants had re-opened where a year and a half prior they were destroyed. People were preparing to celebrate Christmas as they could not do when terrorists ruled. In Damascus, attending a choral concert I overheard people asking one another excitedly whether “he” was here. The day prior, President Assad and the First Lady had dropped in on the practising choir, to their surprise and delight. And although the church was within hitting distance of mortars fired by the west’s “moderates” (and indeed that area had been repeatedly hit by mortars), the people faced that prospect in hopes of a re-visit by the President.

These are just some of many examples of the support Syria’s president sees and the attempts to vilify him and other Syrian leadership. Even Fox News acknowledged his support, referring to the 2014 elections:

…it underscored the considerable support that President Bashar Assad still enjoys from the population, including many in the majority Sunni Muslim community. …Without Sunni support, however, Assad’s rule would have collapsed long ago.”

Regarding war crimes, Syria is fighting a war against terrorism, but corporate media continues fabricating claims, and repeating those fabricated, uninvestigated, accusations. For example, the repeated claim of the Syrian government starving civilians. In my on the ground investigations, I’ve revealed the truth behind starvation (and hospitals destroyed, and “last doctors”) in Aleppo, in Madaya, in al-Waer, in Old Homs (2014). In all instances, starvation and lack of medical care was solely due to terrorists—including al-Qaeda—hoarding food (and medical supplies). Vanessa Beeley has in greater depth exposed those lies regarding eastern Aleppo.

Regarding chemical weapons accusations, those have long been negated by the investigations of Seymour Hersh (on Ghouta 2013; on Khan Sheikhoun 2017) and the UN’s own Carla Del Ponte who said:

“…there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.”

 

Regarding convoys allegedly bombed, see my own article on one such claim.

Regarding whether the White Helmets have done any good work rescuing civilians: they are working solely in areas occupied by al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists, so no one can prove whether they have actually done any rescue work of civilians. However, we have numerous on the ground witness testimonies to the contrary, that the White Helmets denied medical care to civilians not affiliated with terrorist groups.

In September 2017, Murad Gazdiev (instrumental in his honest reporting from Aleppo during much of 2016) documented how the White Helmets headquarters in Bustan al-Qasr, Aleppo, was filled with Hell Canons (used to fire gas canister bombs on Aleppo’s civilians and infrastructure) and remnants of a bomb-making factory. The headquarters was in a school.

Gazdiev’s reporting on the headquarters was preceded by French citizen Pierre Le Corf, living in Aleppo for over the past year, who visited the White Helmets headquarters in March 2017 (and again in April), documenting the al-Qaeda and ISIS linked flags, logos, and paraphernalia found inside the White Helmets headquarters, and that the White Helmets’ headquarters was next to a central al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) headquarters. Le Corf also wrote about his encounters with civilians from Aleppo’s east, and their take on the White Helmets:

“…the last two families I met told me that they helped the injured terrorists first and sometimes left the civilians in the rubble. When the camera was spinning everyone was agitated, as soon as the camera extinguished, the lives of the people under rubble took less importance…. all the videos you’ve seen in the media come from one or the other. Civilians couldn’t afford cameras or 3G internet package when it was already difficult to buy bread, only armed and partisan groups.”

Vanessa Beeley took testimonies from civilians from eastern, al-Qaeda-occupied Aleppo, in December 2016 when the city was liberated. Beeley later wrote:

“When I asked them if they knew of the “civil defence”, they all nodded furiously and said,“yes, yes – Nusra Front civil defence”. Most of them elaborated and told me that the Nusra Front civil defence never helped civilians, they only worked for the armed groups.”

Beeley also wrote of the White Helmets’ complicity in the massacre of civilians (including 116 children) from Foua and Kafraya in April 2017.

Credentials, Please: What Is Journalism?

Regarding The Guardian’s question on my competency as a journalist, I note the following.

I began reporting from on the ground in Palestine in 2007, first blogging and later publishing in various online media. 

In 2007, I spent 8 months in the occupied West Bank in occupied Palestine, in some of the most dangerous areas where Palestinians are routinely abused, attacked, abducted and killed by both the Israeli army and the illegal Jewish colonists. There, I began blogging, documenting the crimes in print with witness testimonies, first person interviews, my own eye-witness experiences, photos and videos.

After being deported from Palestine by the Israeli authorities in December 2007, in 2008 I sailed to Gaza from Cyprus and documented not only the daily Israeli assaults on unarmed male, female, elderly and child farmers and fishers, but also the effects of the brutal Israeli full siege on Gaza, Israel’s sporadic bombings and land invasions, and of course two major massacres (Dec 2008/Jan 2009 and Nov 2012).

In the 2008/2009 war against Palestinian civilians, I was on the ground in northern Gaza with rescuers—actual rescuers, no acting, no staging—under the bombings, and under heavy sniper fire. I was also on an upper floor of a media building in Gaza City that was bombed while I was in it. And otherwise, I remained in Gaza after the slaughter had ended, taking horrific testimoniesdocumenting Israel’s war crimes, including Israel’s: assassinations of children, widespread use of White Phosphorous on civilians; holding civilians as human shields; andtargeting (and killing) of medics.

See this link for a more detailed description of this documentation, with many examples, and my further documentation during the November 2012 Israeli massacre of Palestinians, as well as detailed accounts of my reporting from seven trips, on the ground, around Syria.

While questioning my credentials as an investigative reporter in the Middle East, The Guardian casually assigned the story to a San Fransisco based writer specializing in fluff piecesfashion and Russophobic analysis, who visibly has little to no understanding of what is happening on the ground in Syria.

Addressing “the propaganda that is so often disguised as journalism,”award-winning journalist and film maker, John Pilgersaid (emphasis added):

Edward Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, wrote about an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. He was referring to journalism, the media. That was almost 80 years ago, not long after corporate journalism was invented. It’s a history few journalists talk about or know about, and it began with the arrival of corporate advertising.

As the new corporations began taking over the press, something called ‘professional journalism’ was invented. To attract big advertisers, the new corporate press had to appearrespectablepillars of the establishmentobjectiveimpartialbalanced. The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalists. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media.

The whole thing was entirely bogus. For what the public didn’t know, was that in order to be professional, journalists had to ensure that news and opinion were dominated by official sources. And that hasn’t changed. Go through the New York Times on any day, and check the sources of the main political stories, domestic and foreign, and you’ll find that they’re dominated by governments and other establishment interests. That’s the essence of professional journalism.

On a publicly-shared Facebook post, journalist Stephen Kinzer wrote:

“I happen to agree with Eva’s take on Syria, but from a journalist’s perspective, the true importance of what she does goes beyond reporting from any single country. She challenges the accepted narrative–and that is the essence of journalism. Everything else is stenography. Budding foreign correspondents take note!!”

In The Guardian’s smear piece, Solon employed a tactic used to denigrate the credibility of an investigative journalist by dubbing he/she merely a “blogger”. In her story, Solon used “blogger” four times, three times in reference to Vanessa Beeley (who contributes in depth articles to a variety of online media).

In the latter case, she quoted executive director of the Purpose Inc-operated “Syria Campaign” PR project, James Sadri saying:

“A blogger for a 9/11 truther website who only visited Syria for the first time last year should not be taken seriously as an impartial expert on the conflict.”

Remind me when either Sadri or Solon was last there? Seems to be 2008 for Sadri, and never for Solon. But they are “credible” and someone like Beeley who has since her first 2016 visit to Syria had returned numerous occasions, in the country at pivotal times—like during the liberation of Aleppo, speaking with Syrian civilians from eastern areas formerly occupied by al-Qaeda and co-extremists—is not?

As for bloggers, there are many insightful writers and researchers self-publishing on blogs (for example,  this blog). However, that aside, it is amusing to note that Solon on her LinkedIn profile list her first skill as blogging. Is she a mere blogger?

oli blogging

Regarding Solon’s use of the “truthers” theme, did she recycle this from an article on Wired peddled eight months ago? Her use of “truthers” is clearly to paint anyone who investigates the White Helmets as Alex Jones-esque.

Is she capable of originality?

castello

Nov 4, 2016: Less than 100 metres away, the second of two mortars fired by terrorist factions less than 1 km from Castello Road on Nov. 4. The road and humanitarian corridor were targeted at least seven times that day by terrorist factions. Many of those in corporate media had retired to the bus, and donned helmets and flak jackets. I was on the road without such luxuries. Read about it here.

Guardian Uses CIA “Conspiracy Theory” Tactic

In addition to using denigrating terms, The Guardian threw in the loaded CIA term “conspiracy theorists”.

As Mark Crispin MillerProfessor of Media Studies and author, noted in a June 2017 panel (emphasis added):

“Conspiracy theory was not much used by journalist for the decades prior to 1967, when suddenly it’s used all the time, and increasingly ever since.

And the reason for this is that the CIA at that time sent a memo to its station chiefs world wide, urging them to use their propaganda assets and friends in the media, to discredit the work of Mark Lane… books attacking the Warren Commission Report. Mark Lane’s was a best seller, so the CIA’s response was to send out this memo urging a counter-attack, so that hacks responsive to the agency would write reviews attacking these authors as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and using one or more of five specific arguments listed in the memo.”

Guess Solon got the memo.

Professor James Tracy elaborated:

Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.”

Researcher and writer Kevin Ryan noted (emphasis added):

““In the 45 years before the CIA memo came out, the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times only 50 times, or about once per year. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, the phrase appeared 2,630 times, or about once per week.

“…Of course, in these uses the phrase is always delivered in a context in which ‘conspiracy theorists’ were made to seem less intelligent and less rationale than people who uncritically accept official explanations for major events. President George W. Bush and his colleagues often used the phrase conspiracy theory in attempts to deter questioning about their activities.”

In her piece for the Guardian, Solon threw in the Russia is behind everything clause.

Scott Lucas (whom Solon quotes in her own article) in August 2017 wrote (emphasis added):

“Russian State outlets have pursued a campaign — especially since Moscow’s military intervention in September 2015.”

Solon’s article? (emphasis added):

“The campaign to discredit the White Helmets started at the same time as Russia staged a military intervention in Syria in September 2015…”

But I’m sure this is a mere coincidence.

Initial Investigations Into The White Helmets Precede Russia’s 

As mentioned earlier in this article, in 2014 and early 2015, long before any Russian media took notice, Cory Morningstar and Rick Sterling were already countering the official story of the White Helmets.

Morningstar on September 17, 2014, wrote:

“The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices [3], The Syria Campaign [4] and March Campaign #withSyria. …The message is clear. Purpose wants the green light for military intervention in Syria, well-cloaked under the guise of humanitarianism – an oxymoron if there ever was one.”

This is where the White Helmets step in.

Rick Sterling’s April 9, 2015, article looked at the White Helmets as a PR project for western intervention in Syria. He wrote (emphasis added):

“White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria. Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.

Since her initial scrutiny into the White Helmets in September 2015, by October revealing their ties to executioners in Syria, Vanessa Beeley has relentlessly pursued the organization, and the lies and propaganda around it, their funding of at least over $150 million, far more than needed for medical supplies and high-tech camera equipment.

As 21st Century Wire pointed out (emphasis added):

“Note that The Guardian and Olivia Solon also claim that the White Helmets are only “volunteers” – a foundational misrepresentation designed to generate sympathy for their employees. One could call this a gross lie when you consider the fact the White Helmets are paid a regular salary (which the Guardian deceptively call a ‘stipend’) which is in fact much higher than the national average salary in Syria – a fact conveniently left out in the Guardian’s apparent foreign office-led propaganda piece:

Guardian informationists like Solon would never dare mention that the White Helmet’s ‘monthly stipend’ is far in excess of the standard salary for a Syrian Army soldier who is lucky to take home $60 -$70 per month.”

The Guardian Whitewashes the White Helmets

What are some things The Guardian could have investigated, had Solon’s story not been predetermined and had she approached with an honest intent to investigate the White Helmets?

-Solon very misguidedly chose to highlight the White Helmets’ “mannequin challenge” video, writing that the video was “stripped of its context”. What was the context? That the White Helmets, supposedly frantically, full-time rescuing civilians under the bombs, took time to make a video simulating a heroic rescue scene? The video reveals the patently obvious point that the White Helmets can clearly stage a very convincing “rescue” video. But Solon ignores this point, it doesn’t fit her factless, Russophobic story. Further, I cannot imagine any of the Palestinian rescuers I worked with wasting a moment of precious time for such an absurd video.

-That in spite of the White Helmets’ professed motto, “To save a life is to save all of humanity” they willingly participated in executions of civilians. But Solon wrote those extremist-affiliated White Helmets who hold weapons or stand on dead bodies or chant with al-Qaeda off as “isolated” and “rogue” actors, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Best part? It wasn’t Russia which photographed them, it was from their own social media accounts, where they proudly displayed their allegiance to terrorists.

In her attempt to defend the “rogue” assertion, Solon brings in White Helmets leader, Raed Saleh, who she doesn’t mention was denied entry to the US in April 2016, and deemed by the State Department’s Mark Toner to have ties to extremists.

Here’s one poignant example of a rogue actor who was dealt with by White Helmets’ leadership:

“Muawiya Hassan Agha was present at Rashideen, and he later became infamous for his involvement in the execution of two prisoners of war in Aleppo. For this rogue bad appleness he was supposedly fired from the White Helmets, although he was later photographed still with them. He has also been photographed celebrating ‘victory’ with Nusra Front in Idlib.”

-The soldiers which The Guardian calls “pro-Assad fighters” are actually members of Syria’s national army. Lexicon is important, and by denigrating members of the national army, The Guardian is playing a very old, and once again lacking in originality, lexicon card worthy of some UN member states who violate UN protocol and in the UN call the Syrian government a “regime” (as Solon also does…) instead of government.

-That it is not the entire UNSC which believes that Syria has committed the crimes Solon repeats, it is some members with an admitted vested interest in toppling the Syrian government.

The Chemical Card

In an attempt to validate the White Helmets, and delegitimize those who question them, The Guardian article presented as fact claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, that the White Helmets provided valuable documentation to the fact, and stated that Beeley and myself were some of the “most vocal sceptics” of the official narrative.

 

Amusingly, according to the article on the Qatari-owned channel, Al Jazeera, which The Guardian provided to back up their assertion of the Syrian government’s culpability (instead of providing the September 2017 UN report, itself questionable, and a much longer read for Solon), (emphasis added):

“All evidence available leads the Commission to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe Syrian forces dropped an aerial bomb dispersing sarin in Khan Sheikhoun.”

Reasonable grounds to believe is not exactly a confirmation of evidence, it’s just a belief.

The same article noted the investigators had not been to Syria and “based their findings on photographs of bomb remnants, satellite imagery and witness testimony.”

Witness testimony from an al-Qaeda-dominated area? Very credible. The White Helmet leader in Khan Sheikhoun, Mustafa al-Haj Yussef, is an extremist showing allegiance to the actions of al-Qaeda. As Vanessa Beeley wrote:

“Yussef has called for the shelling of civilians, the execution of anyone not fasting during Ramadan, the murder of anyone considered a Shabiha, the killing of the SAA and the looting of their property. …He clearly supports both Nusra Front, an internationally recognised terrorist group, and Ahrar Al Sham…Yussef is far from being neutral, impartial or humanitarian.

The initial analysis (of an April 2017 White House statement on Khan Sheikhoun) by Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, found (emphasis added):

“I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.

Postol’s analysis concludes that the alleged evidence

“points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4,” and notes that “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft.”

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh also looked at the official accusations, noting that claims made by MSF contradicted the official accusation of the Syrian government bombing the area with sarin. Hersh wrote (emphasis added):

“A team from Médecins Sans Frontières, treating victims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clinic 60 miles to the north, reported that ‘eight patients showed symptoms – including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation – which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.’ MSF also visited other hospitals that had received victims and found that patients there ‘smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.’ In other words, evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”

The second article to which Solon linked was a NY Times article which called the report a “politically independent investigation”. This should make readers pause to guffaw, as the investigating mechanism includes the questionably-funded OPCW, and among those which the investigators interviewed were al-Qaeda’s rescuers.

Regarding the report, Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli (founder and chairman of Swedish Professors and Doctors for Human Rights) in November 2017, refuted it as “inaccurate” and “politically biased”. Points he made included (emphasis added):

-“The same JIM authors acknowledge that rebels in Khan Shaykhun have however destroyed evidence by filling the purported impact “crater” with concrete. Why the “rebels” have done that – and what consequences that sabotage would have for the investigation of facts is not even considered by the panel.”

-“By acknowledging that Khan Shaykhun was then under control of al-Nusra, the JIM report exhibits yet another methodological contradiction: That would mean that al-Nusra and its jihadists allies, by having control of the area, they were also in control of the ‘official’ information delivered from Khan Shaykhun on the alleged incident. This would imperatively call for a questioning of the reliability/credibility (bias) of main sources that the panel used for its allegations.”

Twitter user @Syricide picked up on one of the JIM’s most alarming professed irregularitytweeting:

Syricide

Even the Nation in April 2017 ran a piece stressing the need for actual investigation into the chemical weapons claims, citing the research of Postol, as well noting the following (emphasis added):

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA case officer and Army intelligence officer, told radio host Scott Horton on April 6 that he was “hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available, who are saying the essential narrative we are hearing about the Syrians and Russians using chemical weapons is a sham.”

Giraldi also noted that ‘people both the agency [CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented’ what had taken place in Khan Sheikhun. Giraldi reports that his sources in the military and the intelligence community “are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the US media.”

The same article included the words of the former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who noted:

“It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no military advantage.” Ford said he believes the accusations against Syria are “simply not plausible.”

So, in fact, no, some of the most vocal and informed sceptics were neither Beeley nor myself, but MIT Professor Emeritus Theodore Postol, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, former UK ambassador Peter Ford, and former CIA and Army intelligence officer Philip Giraldi, not exactly “fringe” voices.

Investigative journalist Robert Parry in April 2017 wrote of a NY Times deflection tactic (one which Solon employed), emphasis added:

“Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.

To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.”

That sounds familiar. Solon wrote:

“Beeley frequently criticises the White Helmets in her role as editor of the website 21st Century Wire, set up by Patrick Henningsen, who is also an editor at Infowars.com.”

Infowars is Alex Jones’ site, and Henningsen is for many years no longer affiliated.

Solon followed this with another non sequitur argument about Beeley and the US Peace Council meeting with the Syrian president in 2016, a point irrelevant either to the issue of the White Helmets or the alleged chemical attacks. But irrelevance is what corporate media do best these days.

The Guardian story-writer has done literally zero investigative research into the fallacies she presents as fact in her article.

Integrity-Devoid Sources Solon Cited

In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, it is quite interesting to note some of the other sources Solon quoted to fluff her story:

Scott Lucas, whose allegiance to Imperialists is evident from his twitter feed, a textbook Russophobe, Iranophobe. Lucas relied on the words of terrorist-supporter, Mustafa al-Haj Youssef, for his August article on the White Helmets (the one Solon seemingly plagiarized from). Solon relied on Lucas’ smears to dismiss the work and detract from the integrity of those Solon attacked. That, and being a token professor to include in attempt at legitimacy, was Lucas’ sole function in the Guardian story.

-Amnesty International, the so-called human rights group which as Tony Cartalucci outlined in August 2012, is “US State Department Propaganda”, and does indeed receive money from governments and corporate-financier interests, including “convicted financial criminal” George Soros’ Open Society.

It’s not just “conspiracy theorists” like Cartalucci who have written on Amnesty’s dark side. Ann Wright, a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserve Colonel and a 16-year U.S. Diplomat serving in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, who “resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war,” and “returned to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2010 on fact-finding missions,” has as well. Her co-author was Coleen Rowley, “a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003, and a whistleblower “on some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures.” Together, in June 2012, they wrote about “Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars”.

Professor of international law, Francis Boyle, who himself was a member of the US board of Amnesty, wrote of the group’s role in shilling for war. In October 2012, he wrote of Amnesty’s war mongering regarding Iraq—endorsing the dead incubator babies story told by the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter—and his own attempts to inform Amnesty “that this report should not be published because it was inaccurate.” He noted:

“That genocidal war waged by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, inter alia, during the months of January and February 1991, killed at a minimum 200,000 Iraqis, half of whom were civilians. Amnesty International shall always have the blood of the Iraqi People on its hands!”

Boyle’s parting words included:

“…based upon my over sixteen years of experience having dealt with AI/London and AIUSA at the highest levels, it is clear to me that both organizations manifest a consistent pattern and practice of following the lines of the foreign policies of the United States, Britain, and Israel. …Effectively, Amnesty International and AIUSA function as tools for the imperialist, colonial and genocidal policies of the United States, Britain, and Israel.”

-Eliot Higgins, of whom award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote:

“Eliot Higgins is a non-resident fellow of the militantly anti-Russian, State Department-funded Atlantic Council, and has no technical expertise on munitions.

British journalist Graham Phillips wrote in February 2016 on Eliot Higgins. Answering his question on who is Eliot Higgins, Phillips wrote:

“He never finished college, dropping out of the Southampton Institute of Higher Education. When asked…what he studied at university, his answer was, Media…I think.’ Higgins has always been completely open about his lack of expertise.”

The Guardian’s Russia Obsession

 

By now it should be clear that the intent of Solon’s December 18th story was not to address the manifold questions (facts) about the White Helmets’ ties to (inclusion of) terrorists in Syria, nor to question the heroic volunteers’ obscene amount of funding from Western sources very keen to see Syria destabilized and its government replaced.

Rather, the intent was to whitewash this rescue group, and to demonize those of us highlighted, and especially to insert more Russophobia (although Russia’s military intervention in Syria is legal, unlike that of the US-led coalition, of which Solon’s UK is a part).

Since our last early October communication until the long-awaited publishing of her slander-filled piece, Solon produced (or co-produced) 24 stories for the Guardian, nine of which were blame-Russia! sort of stories, including such lexicon as “Russian operatives”, “Russian interference”, “Russian trolls”, “Russian propagandists”, and “Russian bots.

Is Baroness Cox, of the UK House of Lords, who recently spoke in support of Russia’s (invited) intervention in Syria, a “conspiracy theorist”, a Russian operative” or Kremlin-funded? She said (emphasis added):

“And the fourth point that I would like to make particularly to you is the very real appreciation that is expressed by everyone in Syria of the support by Russia to help get rid of ISIS [Daesh] and get rid of all the other Islamist religious groups.”

Cox, who went to Syria, is probably not a Kremlin or Assad agent. She probably just listened to the voices of Syrians in Syria, like the rest of us Russian propagandists who have bothered to go (repeatedly) to Syria and speak with Syrian civilians.

This is the first part of a longer article. Part II is forthcoming.

Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist with extensive experience in the Gaza Strip and Syria. Her writings can be found on her blog, In Gaza.

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Iran in 2018

January 6th, 2018 by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts

Featured image: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (Source: Fort Russ)

In 1953 Washington and Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a dictator to rule Iran for the benefit of Washington and the British. In declassified documents, the CIA has admitted its role in overthrowing the Iranian government. The overthrow pattern is always the same. Washington hires protesters, then introduces violence, controls the explanation, and unseats the government.

Ever since the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Washington-installed dictator in1979, Washington has been trying to regain control of Iran. In 2009 Washington financed the “Green Revolution,” which was an attempt to overthrow the Ahmadinejad government.

Today Washington is again at work against the Iranian people. It is difficult to believe that any Iranian, after watching what Washington-organized protests have done to Hondurus, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria, have attempted to do to Iran in 2009, and is attempting to do today to Venezuela, could possibly in good faith go out into the streets against their own government. Are these Iranian protesters utterly stupid or are they hired to commit treason against their country.

Why does Iran, like Venezuela, Ukraine, and Russia herself, permit foreign-funded operatives to attempt to destabilize the government? Are these governments so brainwashed by the West that they think that democracy means permitting foreign agents to attempt to overthrow the government?

Are governments so intimidated by the Western presstitutes that they find it challenging to defend themselves against foreign-paid provocateurs?

Having succeeded in causing violent protests in Iran, Washington now intends to use an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Iran in order to set the stage for more intervention against Iran. The Washington-incited violence has been turned into a “human rights issue” against Iran. Will Washington get away with it?

Iran’s fate is up to Russia and China. If Washington succeeds in destabilizing Iran, Russia and China are next. Russia seems to understand this. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said yesterday:

“We warn the US against attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Just as the Russian government comprehended that Russia could not permit Washington’s destabilization of Syria, Russia understands she cannot permit the destabilization of Iran.

The leader of Turkey has aligned with Russia, declaring “obviously some people from abroad are provoking the situation.”

That is obvious to everyone but Americans, who are constantly lied to by “their” government and by the presstitute lie factories such as CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC.

Trump and Haley are the type of loudmouths who are likely to break Washington’s power and influence over the world. They “take names,” admit that they bribe foreign leaders, and issue insane threats. If this doesn’t wake up the rest of the world, nothing will.

Organizing Resistance to Internet Censorship

January 6th, 2018 by World Socialist Web Site

On January 16, 2018, the World Socialist Web Site will video livestream a discussion on Internet censorship, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and WSWS International Editorial Board Chairperson David North. WSWS reporter Andre Damon will moderate the discussion.

The webinar will explore the political context of the efforts to censor the Internet and abolish net neutrality, examine the pretexts used to justify the suppression of free speech (i.e., “fake news”), and discuss political strategies to defend democratic rights. Hedges and North will also field questions from on-line listeners.

The webinar will be streamed live by the WSWS on YouTube and Facebook on Tuesday, January 16 at 7:00 pm EST (midnight in London, 1:00am in Berlin, 3:00am in Moscow and 11:00 am January 17 in Sydney. Full Time Zone Conversions).

Click on this link to register.

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Donald Trump has now informed the world that he has a bigger nuclear button than the leader of North Korea. It would be funny if the lives of millions were not at stake.

Trump either does not value, or does not understand, diplomacy. Perhaps our country can do better? We learned with happy surprise on Nov. 28, 2017 that our government will host a diplomatic initiative. Excitedly, many of us combed our news sources for the aims and details of this gathering. Thus far the fruits of our labour have been meagre. What will actually happen in Vancouver on Jan. 16?

To opt for diplomacy instead of military force is surely a good thing. And it has been encouraging to read about how Canada may be able to earn North Korea’s trust more easily than the U.S. The comment by one Canadian official that Canada is looking for “better ideas” than those currently before us is another positive sign, as is Trudeau’s suggestion that Canada’s relationship with Cuba might give us a channel through which to talk to North Korea.

But the Vancouver meeting also has unsettling characteristics.

First, Canada’s partner in organizing the gathering is the United States, an implacable foe of North Korea. Trump and his secretary of defence have recently threatened to commit genocide against the DPRK.

Second, most of the countries to be represented in Vancouver are those that sent troops in the Korean War to fight against North Korea. Might not the North Koreans see this meeting as a step in the formation of a Coalition of the Willing, similar to what preceded the invasion of Iraq in 2003?

Third, it appears North Korea will have no spokesperson in Vancouver. But the current crisis is a manifestation of an underlying conflict, and how can that conflict be solved without consulting one of the main antagonists? Will this be like the Bonn process of 2001 that sorted out the Afghan conflict without consulting the Taliban? That has not turned out well.

When Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland talks about the coming meeting she stresses its diplomatic nature, but U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has characterized it as a means to increase pressure on North Korea.

Pressure? The UN Security Council is already putting such extreme pressure on North Korea that its existence as an industrialized country is threatened and its people may face starvation. What state could survive a 90 per cent cut in its oil supply?

But if increasing pressure does not qualify as a “better idea,” what would?

Here are four ideas. We believe they offer the only realistic hope of a genuine peace.

  • Stop insulting North Korea. Banish the term “rogue state.” Forget about who has a bigger nuclear button. Treat the country’s leadership as sane, rational, and capable of being a partner in a peace process.
  • Build trust and confidence gradually through positive action. It is not necessary that all such action be economic, but there should certainly be relief from the current economic stranglehold. A series of symbolic exchanges, artistic and athletic, should be part of the plan.
  • Recognize that North Korea has valid security concerns and that the desire to have a nuclear deterrent grows out of these concerns. Remember that the country went through a devastating war, has suffered repeated provocations and threats, and has endured targeting by U.S. nuclear weapons for over 65 years.
  • Begin serious work toward a permanent peace treaty that will replace the ceasefire agreement of 1953. The U.S. must be a signatory of this treaty.

If we Canadians think a lasting peace with North Korea will be obtained by insulting and starving the population of that beleaguered country we are as foolish, and as heartless, as those who put their faith in bombs.

And if we can do no better in Vancouver than talk about “increasing the pressure” on North Korea the world may never forgive us for squandering our opportunity.

*

Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer on the list of defence counsel at the International Criminal Court. 

Graeme MacQueen is a former director of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University and has been involved in peace-building initiatives in five conflict zones.

Published by the Toronto Star, posted on Global Research with the permission of the authors.

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Don’t Get Too Excited About the Protests in Iran

January 6th, 2018 by Stephen Kinzer

Whenever trouble breaks out in Iran, adrenaline rushes through Washington. Hearts pound excitedly at the Pentagon, the CIA, the White House, and Congress. In recent weeks, reports of street protests in several Iranian cities have triggered this Pavlovian response. Once again, however, Americans who have spent decades hoping for an explosion in Iran are disappointed. “Regime change” is not imminent. More important, we should not wish for it. A sudden collapse of Iran’s governing system would be bad for us. It would set another Middle Eastern country aflame and feed the instability that breeds terror.

Iran-haters — meaning most of official Washington — cackled in delight at news of the protests. President Trump said they showed that Iranians were “finally getting wise.” His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, exulted that “the long-repressed Iranian people are now finding their voice.” Senator John McCain praised “the brave protesters who yearn for freedom.” None of these figures has been much of a defender of oppressed Middle Easterners. Concern for human rights is not what leads them to encourage upheaval in Iran. Their goal is to weaken America’s Middle East nemesis.

Leading figures in the Trump administration harbor extreme enmity for Iran. In a theatrical press conference last month, Haley stood in front of the body of a missile and a “kamikaze drone” that she said prove Iran is launching “direct military attacks” on pro-American forces. All three of the generals who are President Trump’s closest advisers served in the Middle East, where American and Iranian interests clash regularly. Defense Secretary James Mattis has famously listed America’s three greatest security threats in that region as “Iran, Iran, Iran.”

Anyone who believes this, and who sits at a pinnacle of power, might logically want to promote instability in Iran. That would be a mistake. If the United States is sending covert aid to the latest group of Iranian protesters, or considering doing so, it should stop.

Few peoples are as sensitive to foreign interference as the Iranians. In the 19th century Iran lost vast territories to Russia. Later the British brazenly looted Iran’s oil wealth. In 1953 US officials promoted a coup in which the country’s parliamentary democracy was overthrown. This history has left a residue of fierce independence. Iranians instinctively reject political movements that they see as tools of foreign power.

Few peoples are as sensitive to foreign interference as the Iranians. In the 19th century Iran lost vast territories to Russia. Later the British brazenly looted Iran’s oil wealth. In 1953 US officials promoted a coup in which the country’s parliamentary democracy was overthrown. This history has left a residue of fierce independence. Iranians instinctively reject political movements that they see as tools of foreign power.

Aid from the United States to any Iranian group would likely be uncovered. That would disqualify the recipient from further participation in Iranian public life. It would also highlight the hypocrisy of American outrage over Russian intervention in our own politics. American officials should not use this burst of protest in Iran as an excuse to intensify covert action there.

Contrary to our wishful delusions, Iran is a fully functioning state. It is not careening toward the abyss of instability. Street protests there draw our attention precisely because they are rare. The grievances behind them are genuine, but they have no central leadership and offer no coherent alternative to the religious regime.

In any case, Iranians have watched American intervention devastate several Middle Eastern countries, including their own. They have demonstrated no desire for the kind of “regime change” that Washington begins imagining every time a rock is thrown in Tehran.

Iran is the strongest counterweight to American power in the Middle East. It limits our ability to impose our will. From Washington’s perspective, that makes it an enemy. In fact, however, no vital interest requires the United States to help shape Iran’s future.

History decrees that any Iranian government must be strongly nationalist and a vigilant defender of Shiite Muslims everywhere, so the idea that “regime change” would produce a more pro-American Iran is a fantasy. The security of the United States will not be seriously affected by the course of Iran’s domestic politics.

Nor, despite what Mattis and others have said, will our security be affected by the results of Iran’s jostling with other powers in its neighborhood. The role Iran ultimately plays in Syria, the nature of its ties to Lebanon, the scope of its influence in Yemen — these disputes will drag on interminably. There is no need for the United States to take sides in any of them. Doing so is a guarantee of perpetual engagement.

In 1980 President Carter proclaimed that any challenge to American dominance of the Persian Gulf would be considered “an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America.” He was driven by the global imperatives of his era. Much of America’s oil came through the Persian Gulf, and the West could not risk losing it to Soviet power.

Today there is no Soviet Union, and we no longer rely on Middle East oil. Yet although the basis for our policy has evaporated, the policy itself remains unchanged, a relic from a bygone age. We still insist on dominating the Persian Gulf. It is time to let go. Resisting the temptation to meddle in Iran after this month’s protests would be a good way to start.

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Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

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With everyone talking about the Russia story again, fed by Michael Wolff’s bombshell new book on the Trump White House, it must be pointed out that the book documents that a foreign leader not Vladimir Putin pushed one of the Trump administration’s most grievous foreign policy moves, the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the supposed capital of the Jewish people. Benjamin Netanyahu influenced that decision, and so did Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. And they are also pushing Trump to end U.S. policy of opposing the Israeli occupation.

In his new book, Fire and Furyexcerpted in New York Magazine, Wolff reports on a meeting between Trump adviser Steve Bannon and the late Fox News boss Roger Ailes at a dinner party in Greenwich Village a year ago, during the transition after the 2016 election.

Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon” — Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender — “is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”

“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.

“He’s totally onboard.”

“I wouldn’t give Donald too much to think about,” said an amused Ailes.

Let’s be clear that this is a major change in U.S. policy they were talking about (and that Ailes raised an eyebrow about). This week brings new reports that the U.S. is not going to call the occupation an occupation– well, here are the fingerprints. Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly interfered in U.S. matters of state, without an outcry. Sheldon Adelson– who is very close to Netanyahu and a major player in Israeli politics– has been personally pushing the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty since Camp David threatened to divide Jerusalem, in 2000, and using his wealth to do so. George W. Bush reportedly put Adelson off his agenda at that time by saying that he supported Israel but he couldn’t be more Catholic than the pope.

The vision of the Middle East here is the neoconservative one supported by Israeli rightwingers: Let Jordan absorb Palestinian population areas in the West Bank, or encourage Palestinians to leave Palestine; let Palestinians vote in Jordan.

Sheldon Adelson crop.jpg

Sheldon Adelson (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Adelson’s influence reflects the fact that according to the Wolff book, he was willing to put more money on the possibility of a Trump presidency than Trump himself. Trump, a shrewd businessman, did not believe that he was going to win, and was reluctant to loan the campaign even $10 million, Wolff says. But Adelson is a fervent ideologue, far wealthier than Trump; and he and his wife spent upwards of $25 million on the Trump campaign and inauguration. So no wonder the embassy decision was announced…

No one gives Adelson credit for this influence because such reports would feed the idea that a rightwing militaristic Israel lobby is influencing U.S. policy in the Middle East, a supposed anti-Semitic canard. But that just happens to be true.

Consider Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s nutty full-page ad in The Washington Post, attacking the New Zealand singer Lorde as an alleged anti-Semite for choosing not to play Israel. However loony this ad is, it feeds the malignant characterizations of the boycott Israel movement; and who is behind Shmuley Boteach? Why– Sheldon Adelson. Though again, no one reports this. Here’s a shot of the Adelson Family Foundation’s federal tax reporting from 2016. Over $1 million to Rabbi Shmuley.

Sheldon Adelson’s contribution to Botech’s World Values Network, of over $1 million (Source: Mondoweiss)

Boteach praised Adelson’s wealth to his face at Yeshiva University four years ago:

Boteach: There has not been a Jewish philanthropist who bestrides the Jewish world as a colossus the way you do since the Rothschild family or maybe Moses Montefiore… there hasn’t been someone who has so dominated the field, becoming one of the top ten or so richest men in the world. Thank God. May you continue to prosper.

Adelson: It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

By the way, the Wolff book also speaks of cultural tensions in the White House involving Jews. Henry Kissinger saw a “war” between Jews and non-Jews in the White House. As the Forward notes:

Another big theme of the book is the bad blood between Bannon and the president’s family members, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

“It is a war between the Jews and the non-Jews,” said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about the White House.

But if that’s the case, we must ask, Who won? The answer is that Bannon is out, and whatever else he stood for, Bannon represented the antiwar strain in U.S. nationalist thinking. Note Bannon’s angry reference to neoconservative influence, also reported by Wolff. Bannon tells Ailes that it’s hard to find Republican advisers who are not pro-war:

 “When you take out all the Never Trump guys who signed all those letters and all the neocons who got us in all these wars … it’s not a deep bench.”

This is the great divide in U.S. foreign policy. Not over Russia; but over the extent of Israel’s influence. Realists and leftists are opposed to the Israel lobby. And realists are excommunicated by the Republicans, leftists by the Democrats.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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US Suspending Aid to Pakistan Benefits China and Russia

January 6th, 2018 by Stephen Lendman

Featured image: Khawaja Muhammad Asif (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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US geopolitics is unacceptably hostile.  On Thursday, the State Department “placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.”

A nation at war with Islam at home and abroad outrageously accused the country of religious violations – instead of taking steps to clean up its own vile agenda.

Separately on Thursday, the State Department said Washington is suspending at least $900 million in US military aid to Pakistan, accusing its government of failing to address sanctuaries in the country, allegedly used to attack Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Dawn broadsheet said Washington suspended all aid to the country, calling US policy a “condition and issue-based approach,” adding:

Aid will only be sent for specific strategic purposes, State Department spokeswoman Heather Hauert, saying the suspension remains in force until Islamabad “takes decisive action” against elements “destabilizing the region and targeting US personnel.”

The only destabilizing element is America’s presence, its endless war of aggression on Afghanistan, its enormous cross-border harm to Pakistan, its ruthlessness jeopardizing world security.

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif blasted Washington, saying “history teaches us not to blindly trust the US,” adding:

The Pentagon “carried out 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan from our bases. Your forces were supplied arms and explosives through our soil. Thousands of our civilians and soldiers became victims of the war initiated by you.”

The cost of his country’s alliance with America’s “war on terror” has been devastating for the country.

Asif hinted at a foreign policy shift toward China and Russia, saying

“China lives next to us and we have a common wall. Russia can also be our good friend.”

Islamabad must correct and improve its geopolitical relations, he stressed. His country suffers enormously from US aggression in Afghanistan.

“There is no end in sight,” Asif said. “We are looking for peace and harmonization in the region” – unattainable with America’s hostile presence.

Days earlier, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang defended Pakistan, saying:

The country “has made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism and made prominent contributions to the cause of international counterterrorism, and the international community should fully recognize this,” adding:

“We welcome Pakistan and other countries’ cooperation on counter-terrorism and in other fields on the basis of mutual respect and their joint commitment to the security and stability of the region and the world.”

“China and Pakistan have maintained the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership. China stands ready to further deepen cooperation with Pakistan in various fields to bring greater benefits to the two peoples.”

Islamabad appears willing and eager to strengthen bilateral ties. On January 2, the State Bank of Pakistan said it adopted the Chinese yuan as a currency for trade and investment, the bank saying:

“Both public and private sector enterprises (in Pakistan) are free to choose (the yuan) for bilateral trade & investment activities,” adding:

“Considering the recent local and global economic developments, particularly with the growing size of trade and investment with China under CPEC (the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor), yuan denominated trade with China will increase significantly, going forward; and will yield long term benefits for both the countries.”

Both countries agreed to multi-billion dollar deals under Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.

Trump administration hostility toward Pakistan pushes the country closer to China and Russia.

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Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the CRG, Correspondent of Global Research based in Chicago.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

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The year 2018 has opened with an international campaign to censor the Internet. Throughout the world, technology giants are responding to the political demands of governments by cracking down on freedom of speech, which is inscribed in the US Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and countless international agreements.

Bloomberg, the financial news service, published a blog post titled “Welcome to 2018, the Year of Censored Social Media,” which began with the observation, “This year, don’t count on the social networks to provide its core service: an uncensored platform for every imaginable view. The censorship has already begun, and it’ll only get heavier.”

Developments over the past week include:

  • On January 1, the German government began implementation of its “Network Enforcement Law,” which threatens social media companies with fines of up to €50 million if they do not immediately remove content deemed objectionable. Both German trade groups and the United Nations have warned that the law will incentivize technology companies to ban protected speech.
  • On January 3, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to introduce a ban during election cycles on what he called “fake news” in a further crackdown on free speech on top of the draconian measures implemented under the state of emergency. The moves by France and Germany have led to renewed calls for a censorship law applying to the entire European Union.
  • On December 28, the New York Times reported that Facebook had deleted the account of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, nominally because he had been added to a US sanctions list. As the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out, this creates a precedent for giving the US government essentially free rein to block freedom of expression all over the world simply by putting individuals on an economic sanctions list.
  • This week, Iranian authorities blocked social media networks, including Instagram, which were being used to organize demonstrations against inequality and unemployment.
  • Facebook has continued its crackdown on Palestinian Facebook accounts, removing over 100 accounts at the request of Israeli officials.

These moves come in the wake of the decision by the Trump administration to abolish net neutrality, giving technology companies license to censor and block access to websites and services.

In August, the World Socialist Web Site first reported that Google was censoring left-wing, anti-war, and progressive websites. When it implemented changes to its search algorithms, Google claimed they were politically neutral, aimed only at elevating “more authoritative content” and demoting “blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”

Now, no one can claim that the major technology giants are not carrying out a widespread and systematic campaign of online censorship, in close and active coordination with powerful states and intelligence agencies.

In the five months since the WSWS released its findings, Google’s censorship of left-wing, anti-war, and progressive web sites has only intensified.

Even though the World Socialist Web Site‘s readership from direct entries and other websites has increased, Google’s effort to isolate the WSWS through the systematic removal of its articles from search results has continued to depress its search traffic. Search traffic to the WSWS, which fell more than any other left-wing site, has continued to trend down, with a total reduction of 75 percent, compared to a 67 percent decline in August.

Alternet.org’s search traffic is now down 71 percent, compared to 63 percent in August. Consortium News’s search traffic is down 72 percent, compared to 47 percent in August. Other sites, including Global Research and Truthdig, continue to see significantly depressed levels of search traffic.

In its statement to commemorate the beginning of the new year, the World Socialist Web Site noted, “The year 2018—the bicentenary of Marx’s birth—will be characterized, above all, by an immense intensification of… class conflict around the world.” This prediction has been confirmed in the form of mass demonstrations in Iran, the wildcat strike by auto workers in Romania and growing labour militancy throughout Europe and the Middle East.

The ruling elites all over the world are meeting this resurgence of class struggle with an attempt to stifle and suppress freedom of expression on the Internet, under the false pretence of fighting “fake news” and “foreign propaganda.”

The effort to muzzle social opposition by the working class must be resisted.

On January 16, 2018, the World Socialist Web Site will host a live video discussion on Internet censorship, featuring journalist and Truthdig contributor Chris Hedges and WSWS International Editorial Board Chairperson David North.

The discussion will explore the political context of the efforts to censor the Internet and abolish net neutrality, examine the pretexts used to justify the suppression of free speech (i.e., “fake news”), and discuss political strategies to defend democratic rights. Hedges and North will also field questions from on-line listeners.

We urge all of our readers to register to participate in this immensely important discussion, and to help publicize it to friends and co-workers.

The webinar will be streamed live by the WSWS on YouTube and Facebook on Tuesday, January 16 at 7:00 pm ( EST). For more information, time zone conversions and to register, click here.

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Selected Articles: Nuclear Buttons versus Korean Diplomacy

January 6th, 2018 by Global Research News

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Parallel Worlds: Trump, Nuclear Buttons and Korean Diplomacy

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark, January 05, 2018

It all began, as it tends to do, with a goading remark from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  Evidently relishing an opportunity to give President Donald J. Trump a good new year’s poke, that man in Pyongyang informed the world that had had his nuclear button within easy reach on the table.

Trump Threatens North Korea with Nuclear War. My Nuclear Button is Bigger and it Works

By Peter Symonds, January 04, 2018

The Trump administration has begun the year with an open and reckless threat of nuclear war against North Korea—a conflict that would inevitably drag in other nuclear-armed powers, with catastrophic consequences for the world.

Trump Nuking North Korea Would “Make America Great Again”? Trump is a Modern-day Machiavelli Who doesn’t Care about Morals and Ethics

By Andrew Korybko, January 04, 2018

If Trump is willing to accept the enormous loss of American life — which are the only people that he cares about as the US President — then turning the Korean Peninsula into Asia’s nuclear panhandle would indeed “Make America Great Again” by permanently handicapping its Russian & Chinese geostrategic competitors as well as its Japanese & South Korean economic ones.

As North and South Korea Reciprocate Offers of Talks, Trump Responds: “I Too Have a Nuclear Button”

By Telesur, January 03, 2018

South Korea has responded to North Korean leader Kim Jong- un‘s diplomatic overture with an offer Tuesday to hold high-level talks between the countries on the border next week.

North Korea: A Threat or A Victim? Some Facts.

By Felicity Arbuthnot, December 26, 2017

If anyone is still wondering why North Korea was being “provocative” in missile tests and repeatedly declaring what would seem to be a daunting arsenal (although there is still no irrefutable, concrete proof of deliverable, long range nuclear weapons capability) here is just a small taste of what it’s southern neighbor, in cahoots with Godfather America, has planned.

The Real Reason Washington Is Worried About North Korea’s ICBM Test. An Effective Self-Defense?

By Stephen Gowans, July 05, 2017

With its ICBM test signaling its capability to retaliate against US aggression, North Korea has made clear that the United States’ seven decades long effort to topple its government may never come to fruition—a blow against US despotism, and an advance for peace, and for democracy on a world scale.

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Featured image is from Huffington Post.

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He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.

More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)

Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time — in October 2001, to be exact — Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy war against the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.

By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts.  By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray.  The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living.

It was, it seemed, all over but the cheering and, of course, the planning for yet greater exploits across the region.  The top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first order who couldn’t have had more expansive ideas about how to extend such success to — as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the 9/11 attacks — terror or insurgent groups in more than 60 countries.  It was a point President Bush would reemphasize nine months later in a triumphalist graduation speech at West Point.  At that moment, the struggle they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair.  They were, however, already deep into preparations to extend it in ways more radical and devastating than they could ever have imagined with the invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the domination of the oil heartlands of the planet that they were sure would follow.  (In a comment that caught the moment exactly, Newsweek quoted a British official “close to the Bush team” as saying, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)

So many years later, perhaps it won’t surprise you — as it probably wouldn’t have surprised the hundreds of thousands of protesters who turned out in the streets of American cities and towns in early 2003 to oppose the invasion of Iraq — that this was one of those stories to which the adage “be careful what you wish for” applies.

Seeing War

And it’s a tale that’s not over yet.  Not by a long shot.  As a start, in the Trump era, the longest war in American history, the one in Afghanistan, is only getting longer.  There are those U.S. troop levels on the rise; those air strikes ramping up; the Taliban in control of significant sections of the country; an Islamic State-branded terror group spreading ever more successfully in its eastern regions; and, according to the latest report from the Pentagon, “more than 20 terrorist or insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Think about that: 20 groups.  In other words, so many years later, the war on terror should be seen as an endless exercise in the use of multiplication tables — and not just in Afghanistan either.  More than a decade and a half after an American president spoke of 60 or more countries as potential targets, thanks to the invaluable work of a single dedicated group, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, we finally have a visual representation of the true extent of the war on terror.  That we’ve had to wait so long should tell us something about the nature of this era of permanent war.

America’s war on terror across the globe (from the Costs of War Project). Click on the map to see a larger version.

The Costs of War Project has produced not just a map of the war on terror, 2015-2017 (released at TomDispatch with this article), but the first map of its kind ever.  It offers an astounding vision of Washington’s counterterror wars across the globe: their spread, the deployment of U.S. forces, the expanding missions to train foreign counterterror forces, the American bases that make them possible, the drone and other air strikes that are essential to them, and the U.S. combat troops helping to fight them.  (Terror groups have, of course, morphed and expanded riotously as part and parcel of the same process.)

Marawi siege, Philippines (Source: Tony Cartalucci)

A glance at the map tells you that the war on terror, an increasingly complex set of intertwined conflicts, is now a remarkably global phenomenon.  It stretches from the Philippines (with its own ISIS-branded group that just fought an almost five-month-long campaign that devastated Marawi, a city of 300,000) through South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and deep into West Africa where, only recently, four Green Berets died in an ambush in Niger.

No less stunning are the number of countries Washington’s war on terror has touched in some fashion.  Once, of course, there was only one (or, if you want to include the United States, two).  Now, the Costs of War Project identifies no less than 76 countries, 39% of those on the planet, as involved in that global conflict.  That means places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya where U.S. drone or other air strikes are the norm and U.S. ground troops (often Special Operations forces) have been either directly or indirectly engaged in combat.  It also means countries where U.S. advisers are training local militaries or even militias in counterterror tactics and those with bases crucial to this expanding set of conflicts.  As the map makes clear, these categories often overlap.

Who could be surprised that such a “war” has been eating American taxpayer dollars at a rate that should stagger the imagination in a country whose infrastructure is now visibly crumbling?  In a separate study, released in November, the Costs of War Project estimated that the price tag on the war on terror (with some future expenses included) had already reached an astronomical $5.6 trillion.  Only recently, however, President Trump, now escalating those conflicts, tweeted an even more staggering figure: “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!” (This figure, too, seems to have come in some fashion from the Costs of War estimate that “future interest payments on borrowing for the wars will likely add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt” by mid-century.)

It couldn’t have been a rarer comment from an American politician, as in these years assessments of both the monetary and human costs of war have largely been left to small groups of scholars and activists.  The war on terror has, in fact, spread in the fashion today’s map lays out with almost no serious debate in this country about its costs or results.  If the document produced by the Costs of War project is, in fact, a map from hell, it is also, I believe, the first full-scale map of this war ever produced.

Think about that for a moment.  For the last 16 years, we, the American people, funding this complex set of conflicts to the tune of trillions of dollars, have lacked a single map of the war Washington has been fighting.  Not one. Yes, parts of that morphing, spreading set of conflicts have been somewhere in the news regularly, though seldom (except when there were “lone wolf” terror attacks in the United States or Western Europe) in the headlines.  In all those years, however, no American could see an image of this strange, perpetual conflict whose end is nowhere in sight.

Part of this can be explained by the nature of that “war.”  There are no fronts, no armies advancing on Berlin, no armadas bearing down on the Japanese homeland.  There hasn’t been, as in Korea in the early 1950s, even a parallel to cross or fight your way back to.  In this war, there have been no obvious retreats and, after the triumphal entry into Baghdad in 2003, few advances either.

It was hard even to map its component parts and when you did — as in an August New York Times map of territories controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan — the imagery was complex and of limited impact.  Generally, however, we, the people, have been demobilized in almost every imaginable way in these years, even when it comes to simply following the endless set of wars and conflicts that go under the rubric of the war on terror.

Mapping 2018 and Beyond

Let me repeat this mantra: once, almost seventeen years ago, there was one; now, the count is 76 and rising.  Meanwhile, great cities have been turned into rubble; tens of millions of human beings have been displaced from their homes; refugees by the millions continue to cross borders, unsettling ever more lands; terror groups have become brand names across significant parts of the planet; and our American world continues to be militarized.

This should be thought of as an entirely new kind of perpetual global war.  So take one more look at that map.  Click on it and then enlarge it to consider the map in full-screen mode.  It’s important to try to imagine what’s been happening visually, since we’re facing a new kind of disaster, a planetary militarization of a sort we’ve never truly seen before.  No matter the “successes” in Washington’s war, ranging from that invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to the taking of Baghdad in 2003 to the recent destruction of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq (or most of it anyway, since at this moment American planes are still dropping bombs and firing missiles in parts of Syria), the conflicts only seem to morph and tumble on.

We are now in an era in which the U.S. military is the leading edge — often the only edge — of what used to be called American “foreign policy” and the State Department is being radically downsized.  American Special Operations forces were deployed to 149 countries in 2017 alone and the U.S. has so many troops on so many bases in so many places on Earth that the Pentagon can’t even account for the whereabouts of 44,000 of them. There may, in fact, be no way to truly map all of this, though the Costs of War Project’s illustration is a triumph of what can be seen.

Looking into the future, let’s pray for one thing: that the folks at that project have plenty of stamina, since it’s a given that, in the Trump years (and possibly well beyond), the costs of war will only rise.  The first Pentagon budget of the Trump era, passed with bipartisan unanimity by Congress and signed by the president, is a staggering $700 billion.  Meanwhile, America’s leading military men and the president, while escalating the country’s conflicts from Niger to YemenSomalia to Afghanistan, seem eternally in search of yet more wars to launch.

Pointing to Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, for instance, Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller recently told U.S. troops in Norway to expect a “bigass fight” in the future, adding, “I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming.”  In December, National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster similarly suggested that the possibility of a war (conceivably nuclear in nature) with Kim Jong-un’s North Korea was “increasing every day.”  Meanwhile, in an administration packed with Iranophobes, President Trump seems to be preparing to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, possibly as early as this month.

In other words, in 2018 and beyond, maps of many creative kinds may be needed simply to begin to take in the latest in America’s wars.  Consider, for instance, a recent report in the New York Times that about 2,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security are already “deployed to more than 70 countries around the world,” largely to prevent terror attacks.  And so it goes in the twenty-first century.

So welcome to 2018, another year of unending war, and while we’re on the subject, a small warning to our leaders: given the last 16 years, be careful what you wish for.

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Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.  The map in this piece was produced by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

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The stick insect with pale lips, a jaunty manner, and the sense of still being attached to mummy gave a definitive statement of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.  “The plane cannot be located.”  It had a name; it had an identity. It was even registered on the screens of Zurich airport.  But everything else was, quite literally, up in the air.  In this day and age, a multi-million dollar commercial aircraft doing its rounds is bound to turn up on some scene, to urge itself into commercial and tangible existence.  Not so for Herr Stick Insect, who seemed determined to excite and concern his inquirers with dedication. 

And what of this ephemeral, invisible flight?  Instant fears are fired in the imagination: did the plane vanish into a legend, forever trapped in the gurgling fantasies of a deluded culture?  Did it suffer a terrible demise at the end of a faulty missile strike?

Humble flight JU 373 of Air Serbia was not going to disappear into the annals of flight martyrdom or conspiratorial mayhem.  There was nothing of the jitteriness of Malaysia Airlines here, the tragic doom, the murderous calamity.  No rocket was aimed; no mythological creature had made its presence felt. It was simply being incorrigible.

There were, however, initial reasons of concern.  It had rerouted to Stuttgart in a manner that seemed erratic, and had not, as it were, told the personnel at Zurich why.  This is the Serbian magic; remaining very much an enthusiast of Europe, it sings the tune from another, eclectic scoresheet.  We are happy to play with you, but in our way.

Passengers going to Belgrade from London on this flight were left perplexed.  Those waiting for JU 373 were huddled, oblivious and even, to some extent, obedient.  This was Switzerland, and back home, they knew that queues were as common as smoked grills and rakija. 

Queuing in the Serbian psyche has a near military quality to it, far more developed and essential than that of the English. The Englishman, as George Mikes claimed, could form a queue of one.  But for the Serbian sense of existence, the queue is the truest of collective affirmations, be it against injustice, infirmity, and plain incompetence.  They have seen it all, and they are promised to see more.  

Even in these circumstances of technical challenges and weather disruptions, the challenged machines that require tuning in the face of an indignant mother nature, cultural assumptions on the part of the Swiss gate keepers seem to dominate.  The Serbs, like bovine subjects awaiting their fate, sit there at a gate that has no flight, and promises none.  “We seriously lost them,” comes the stick insect about JU 373.  He doesn’t seem particularly concerned, and holds the Zurich airport line with stern officialdom.  “You simply have to wait.” 

To get to Belgrade today is proving to be quite a challenge.  Having ventured from London via the hub that is Zurich, gnomes and all, the weather has been furious and unrelenting.  The Piccadilly line from Hammersmith station was already taking a generous soaking, and the train was filled with glares and perfumed stares.  Bulky men sported suitcases a tenth their size.  Women, in distinction, had enormous expanses of luggage.  No one seemed particularly enticed by the prospect of having to venture through the monster that is Heathrow’s Terminal 2, named after the imperishable monarch that is Elizabeth II.   

In Zurich, the alternative options on offer for reaching Belgrade do little to inspire.  Each suggests terminal boredom, lounge torture, purgatorial torment.  Serbia remains an exotic territory, a vantage point of curiosity.  But more broadly speaking, if one is stranded, Frankfurt figures.  This offers a dreaded and draining option, the sort that you would happily scuttle and convey back to your less impressive acquaintances and enemies.  

The devil’s option of flying via bustling Frankfurt and losing several hours of your life before the next destination has a certain ominous power to it.  The cogs of European travel need oiling, the machines refuelling.  When there is a glitch, airport apparatchiks seem to speak in automated statements: “You shall go via Frankfurt.”  The central nature of the city in the European infrastructure is indispensable in that sense. 

It is very much a statement about air traffic on continental Europe and the bumbling confidence Frankfurt is exerting, all dominating and confident.  With the issue of Brexit pounding the British government into paltry dust; with companies relocating and readjusting assets, management staff and portfolios; with decisions being made for the new year, this is a city that is being bathed in mercantilist glory.  German financiers and planners are planning their raids and relocations, their next triumphant decisions that will lure the funds that have been seen to be the sacred preserve of Britannia.

JU 373 eventually materialises, if only several hours after time.  The stewardess, sharp neat uniform, a dream of geometry with a professionalised cut cap and a blue dotted scarf, large lips that seem to dance off her words as they escape to reach their target, and a voice that as smoked as the country’s cured meats, tells you to know the instructions well. You are in the exit row, and responsibility is heavy.  There is no other option:  you are not merely a guest of nature, but a guest of Air Serbia, so behave.

Her countrymen are also there to keep her busy.  The Serbian tendency to pounce mid flight, to leap to the storage areas and cabins with a growl and a cheer, and throw off the seat belts with the disdain of a liberated patient from a sanatorium speaks volumes.  Signs are there to be avoided; signals exist to be scorned.  “Please remain seated with fastened seatbelts!”  The bark is greeted with quiet refrain.  Everyone is tired.  The captain is unintelligible, his words an inscrutable slur.  But for those on this flight, the oak tree calls, its ancient message vast and deep; the solemnity of the Orthodox occasion signals and holds its followers.  They simply want to go home, and clap with furious delight on touching down.

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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: [email protected]

Featured image is from Wikimedia Commons.

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Climate Change: Saving the Planet, Saving Ourselves

January 5th, 2018 by Richard Gale

The year 2017 was a record-breaking year for extreme weather and environmental catastrophes since records started to be kept in the 19th century.  The Arctic experienced temperatures up to 70 degree F above normal.  Many countries were baked in unusual heatwaves killing thousands.  Incidents of droughts, extreme typhoons in the Pacific and hurricanes in the Atlantic, flash floods, and wildfires erupted daily in international news headlines. As recent as 2014, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), following an analysis of NASA satellite footage of carbon dioxide movement around the planet, concluded that our warming planet has entered “unchartered territory at frightening speed.”  But 2017 was also the year when the statistical figures came in for 2016. 

The WMO reported that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere rose at record speed. Currently it is at its highest level in 800,000 years.  If anyone held any doubt that climate change is unreal, a fiction or fantasy, 2017 should have been wake up call to the most obstinate denialist.  Scientists have warned about our current days of climate for several decades. For those who jumped on the bandwagon years ago when atmospheric and geological scientists voiced serious concerns about global warming and its dire consequences, it was a year with no huge surprises, except for the rapid acceleration of warming trends.

It is time that people, and more crucially our entire species, to accept the fact that climate change is the single most important threat to humanity’s survival.  Certainly, a nuclear confrontation with North Korea or Russia is a horrifying scenario that could eliminate tens or even hundreds of millions of people.  However, it is within humanity’s means to avoid nuclear war.

On the other hand it is highly improbable whether we can do much to deter climate change.  Natural forces are far beyond our technological know-how and methods to control powerful planetary forces regardless of how many efforts to advance geoengineering or a dramatic shift to renewable energies are made.  Perhaps it will slow the pace of global warming a little, but it too has its own destructive blowback. The Earth’s history is a long story of numerous species birthing, evolving and eventually going extinct.  There is no manifest destiny for our species. There is no divine promise that humanity may not in the future follow in the footsteps of the dinosaurs.  Our lives are not transcendent to Nature nor the multitude of other natural forces, animals, plants, microbes and other life forms and molecules upon which our existence depends.  This is a simple truth we must learn. And it must be learned quickly and without further delay.

Image result for Our Final Hour

In a July issue of New York Magazine, journalist David Wallace-Wells published a worst case, doomsday scenario of climate change’s impact upon human society and the environment before the end of this century.  His essay, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” was based upon many private interviews with unnamed scientists who were willing to voice their deeper concerns about catastrophic events and eroding conditions humanity will face unless a concerted global response to reduce greenhouse gases is not launched immediately.  Aside from several of Wallace-Wells’ factual errors, this was the first featured article to appear in a mainstream publication that focused on climate change’s darker side.  It became the most read article in New York Magazine‘s history.  However, earlier in 2003, Cambridge University astrophysicist and philosopher Martin Rees released his influential Our Final Hour warning that the pace of humanity’s destructive activities presents a 50:50 chance for our civilization to survive past the end of the 21st century. Carcinogenic and unhealthy foods and high levels of deadly toxic chemicals in common everyday products are only minor risks compared to many other postmodern technologies impacting our lives. Climate change, combined with the genetic engineering of new viruses, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, and rape of the planet for its last remaining natural resources, according to Rees, is a recipe for certain disaster and will likely end in the extinction of our species.  While many scientists and most of the general public who acknowledge the facts about anthropogenic climate change continue to hold enormous blind faith on human ingenuity and modern technology to prevent global warming’s “end game,” Rees and a distinguished, multi-disciplinary consortium of scientists at the Cambridge Center for the Study of Existential Risks acknowledge a darker side behind our over-reliance upon technological solutions–nuclear power, geoengineering, genetic manipulation of nature, etc.

Rees’s 50:50 survival prediction was largely ignored after its publication over a decade ago. Nobody wants to accept that our survival is predicated upon a flip of a coin. Today, his predictions are being reevaluated and his supporters are increasing. And this is why Wallace-Wells’ New York Magazine‘s article is so important.  There are more than ample reasons to fear the consequences of climate change on our health, food security, our livelihoods, well-being, and the survival of future generations, including our children. Extinction is forever, whether it be in a hundred, as the more pessimistic scientists suggest, or a thousand years or more. It is only a matter of time before killer heat waves become the norm, chemical-based industrial agriculture collapses, national economies are devastated, new plagues and health epidemics emerge, and climate and resource conflicts and wars increase.

All of these have been previously predicted over the years, and each is already starting to cast its shadow over the planet. Fear combined with hope is a powerful motivating factor to embrace change in personal habits and lifestyle. Therefore, it is critical today for humanity to become afraid, to become intensely afraid without becoming paralyzed. We condemn ourselves only by our failure to wake up while clinging to faux optimism, and by refusing to take upon ourselves the appropriate actions when confronted with an immediate emergency.

Climate change science poses certain obstacles difficult for the average person to accept.  Perhaps most evident is that the science and predictions appear too abstract. They can seem too foreign and impersonal. The calving of an enormous ice sheet in Antarctica or rapid Himalayan glacier melt do not set off alarm bells that threaten our cozy lives in American and European cities and suburbs. The events are too distant.  We know that sea levels are rising. Everyone in Miami is aware of this fact because flooded areas in the city are now commonplace. The citizens of the Maldives and Solomon Islands certainly know this because their nations are already sinking under rising sea levels. But to imagine one’s home or condominium along the coast being partially submerged permanently in the Atlantic Ocean is a time too far off to think about. Consequently, real estate developers continue their frenzy to build more residences up and down the Florida coast, and people continue to flock to the Sunshine State to purchase a sunny place to retire. It is almost obscene to imagine that four of the top ten cities witnessing the largest influx of migrants within the United States are also the most compromised by more immediate climate change and extreme weather conditions: Houston (No. 1), Miami (No. 2), Phoenix (No. 7) and Orlando (No. 10).  In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey submerged over 100,000 homes throughout the greater Houston metropolitan area. While the storm itself cannot be attributed to humanity’s contribution to global warming, the hurricane’s intensity and power is certainly related. Rising sea levels and warmer sea surface off the Texas coast — 7.2 degrees F above average making it the hottest spot of ocean surface in the world — are the two major factors that made Harvey so catastrophic and deadly.  And similar extreme tropic storms are only going to increase as the Earth gets warmer. As the planet’s surface heats further and sea levels rise, climatic events become increasingly more extreme. Consequently our lives become more stressed, miserable, insecure and uncertain.

The British philosopher poet G.K. Chesterton wrote,

“It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.”

Individually, nobody can initiate the kind of grand massive change in collective humanity’s relationship to the environment being demanded today. However, each of us can make determined and immediate changes in our personal lives and repair our personal rapport with the earth, nature, the ecology around our homes, neighborhoods and towns. No honor is gained by sitting and waiting for government to take concerted action to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and overhaul the federal regulatory system to hold private industries and polluters accountable. The corruption of Washington is beyond reform because government has itself become a private enterprise.  Likewise, Americans are waking up to the realization that their votes are useless. Those who need to change the most–elected officials and legislators, corporate CEOs and Chairmen, professional institutions– will not find the solutions until it is too late. In the meantime, they refuse to see the problem. And this is clearly evident by the fact that the fossil fuel industry is expanding rather than receding.

This chapter will lay out the fundamental problem humanity faces as climate change and global warming accelerate. Although a popular awareness of climate change is growing rapidly, most people still have difficulty connecting the dots between dramatic climate-related crises and calamities happening in far off regions of the planet and the impact these very same events have upon their personal lives.  Therefore, I will be presenting the climate science in simple lay language, providing crucial examples, in order to make global warming a more personal affair. Unless the threats the Earth faces are understood and perceived as a threat to our personal well-being and that of our immediate families, loved ones and friends, the constructive, necessary change so direly needed will not unfold. Nevertheless, we must begin with ourselves because each of us possesses in her or his power the capacity to live in harmony with life and the greater whole of Nature.  And then we must serve as an example of a conscientious, ecological lifestyle to those we meet.

In August 2017, the 900-plus foot tanker Christophe de Margerie set sail from Russia’s North Sea to South Korea. The cruise’s novelty was that for the first time in recorded history a sailing vessel crossed the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route without the need for icebreakers. The ship traveled freely, unencumbered across the broken, melting ice fields. This small incident regarding a tanker carrying natural gas half way around the world may seem incidental and insignificant, barely newsworthy. But for climatologists and Arctic ecologists it was an unexpected and disturbing event. It was another indication that the planet is racing faster towards an ice free Arctic. It was also a warning that global warming is accelerating beyond expectations. Back in 2013, the University of California was predicting that ships would be incapable of traveling freely across the North Pole before 2050. However, the Christophe’s passage over the Arctic’s southern frontier in under seven days holds a record. And this voyage would have never been possible without the acceleration of anthropogenic climate change.

As the Russian vessel made its way across the crown of the planet, at the opposite pole another surprising event occurred. On July 12, 2017, an iceberg, approximately 2,200 square miles or roughly the size of the state of Delaware, broke free from the Larsen C icesheet in Western Antarctica. This was the third gigantic Antarctic icesheet to collapse since 1995, and the largest to date. Glaciologists were startled because the speed of the sheet’s disintegration was miscalculated. Although the break, commonly known as “calving,” had been predicted several years prior, it was the suddenness that was disturbing.  A week later, glaciologists’ predictions were proven wrong a second time. It had not been a clean split as calculated earlier. Instead, like a stone hitting an auto’s windshield, the break triggered a network of fissures indicating that the entire icesheet was quickly fragmenting and more sheets would be calving in the near future. Antarctica is often viewed as the last place on Earth that will be touched by global warming due to human activity. However, 2016 observed a record low of sea ice, according to the University of Washington, and 2020 is now targeted as the turnaround point when the degradation of the southern polar icesheets will be directly the result of human activity. Already, atmospheric temperatures in the Antarctic have been rising annually by 4-6 C.  As warming seasons lengthen, ice sheets melt and calf faster and eventually the shelves thin further and disappear.

For the twenty-first century, these two geological events, and many others, are indicative of the greatest threat to humanity: global warming and climate change. For the first time in human history, our species has entered an era of extraordinary and anxious uncertainty. Many are bewildered when they hear about the loss of an Antarctic ice sheet, prolonged droughts, temperatures reaching above 50 degree Celsius, flash floods, and uncontrollable wildfires. What does it mean when we hear that 2016 was the third year in a row to set a new record for average global temperatures?  Is this simply a fluke? An aberration in the usual climate patterns we have become accustomed to? Will it continue or end?

The international scientific community is nearly unanimous in confirming that global warming is accelerating and human activity is its primary driving force. There is also near unanimous certainty the course we are following to reach catastrophic benchmarks is inevitable and completely outside our civilization’s control. Those scientists who resist the international consensus are far and few between. The majority of dissenters lack a professional background in the Earth and Space sciences, climatology, glaciology and other disciplines directly associated with measuring and observing changes in the atmosphere and the Earth’s geology. For several decades, scientists the world over have been running simulated climate models repeatedly to determine whether increased warming is anthropogenic or caused by human activity. And repeatedly whenever human-generated greenhouse gases–CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, dust, etc.– are removed from their equations, they are unable to account for the sudden rise in the Earth’s temperature as the result of natural phenomena alone. Already the Earth is warmer than it has been for the last 120,000 years. However, when these same models introduce greenhouse gases into their equations, they accurately correlate with the actual temperature trends being witnessed. Long-term, 90% of planetary warming is linked to the actions of our species. The remaining 10%, according to Konrad Steffen, director of the Swiss Polar Institute, is “unexplained.

It is not uncommon for climatologists to underestimate the swiftness of climate-related events. The statistical and computational models to portend timelines for certain climate tipping points, although highly sophisticated, are unable to account for all variables and trends, particularly unforeseeable catastrophes such as mammoth biomass emissions from wildfires and other natural and human calamities.  For example, researchers would not predictable calculate the explosion of BP’s Deep Horizon facility that discharged up to 520,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere, the equivalent of burning upwards to 3.1 million barrels of crude oil. Consequently dire findings are either found wanting or too sober as new observations upgrade earlier forecasts. Very soon the Arctic region will be ice free throughout the year.  Conservatively the Arctic will lose all its ice during the warmest months before 2030. We still don’t know precisely many of the long-term consequences to the polar region and the planet’s biosystems once this tipping point is reached. However, there are approximately four million people living along the Arctic Circle, including hundreds of thousands of indigenous people. Very likely, most of the coastal communities will be forced to migrate in the near future as shorelines dependent upon ice, freezing temperatures and colder seasons start to crumble and disappear.  Acceleration is also exasperated by the thawing permafrost and tundra, and the massive release of methane and nitrous oxide, in the Arctic North. In point of fact, the polar North is collapsing.

The loss of the Arctic’s albedo, the white world of ice that reflects the Sun’s radiation back into space, has already passed its tipping point.  For as long as humans have been on the third planet from the Sun, we will never return to a time when polar bears and seals thrived on frozen ocean surfaces. We can no longer prevent the Western Antarctic icesheets, including the Larsen and Ross sheets, from slipping away into the dark oceanic waters. The rush of fresh water from melting glaciers in Greenland are beyond our technological means to prevent the disruption in the Atlantic Ocean’s conveyor belt.  Based upon satellite data feeds, the Greenland sheets, according to David Barber at the University of Manitoba, are now melting six hundred times faster than the current modeling trends suggest.

Similarly, due to many complex and unknown factors, it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain exactly how high the oceans will rise if all Antarctic ice melts. For example, one of the largest Antarctic icesheets rests on solid ground below sea level. On the one hand, this makes the sheet far more unstable and geologists continue to try to determine its global impact following its last breath.  Nevertheless the loss of the Ross icesheet in West Antarctica alone could raise sea levels 10-13 feet (3-4 meters).  In 2014, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the University of California at Irvine determined that the loss of the West Antarctic sheet is unstoppable. The circulation of the ocean’s warmer waters beneath the ice continues to thin and melt the shelf. No technology nor even a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can prevent it. As if a warhead missile had already been launched, we can only sit and wait to experience the consequences befalling us upon impact.

For many years, scientists were not terribly concerned about a rapid melt of Antarctic icesheets.  The southern pole has always been thought to be the last place on earth to experience global warming. For the past 40 years, winter ice has actually increased–until recently. In 2016, University of Washington researchers noted a perfect storm of conditions that, if repeated annually, will increase Antarctic ice melts and possibly trend towards declining ice buildup during the winter months. One of the causes the university scientists identified was a change in El Nino patterns that are now reaching the Antarctic.

In May 2014, Climate Central provided a probable scenario of American land lost due to a 10 foot increase in sea levels.  Approximately 28,800 square miles of land mass would disappear with rising waters and force the dislocation of over 12 million people, primarily along the US eastern seaboard. Twenty-seven cities in Florida would be the most seriously affected. The report determined that the cost of lost property would be upwards to $950 billion–a very conservative figure. The majority of the loss would be in the southern states but also a third in New York and New Jersey.

The complete loss of 5 million cubic miles of ice now blanketing the Earth, including large mountain glaciers, could raise sea levels by 216 feet.  San Francisco Bay Area would be a cluster of small islands. Along with Los Angeles and San Diego, the American East Coast would vanish.  Bye bye London, Venice, Netherlands and most of Denmark. From Bangladesh across Southeast Asia to the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia, only small islets would remain. Mt Fuji would remain as a standing volcano bulging monolithically out of the Pacific. Four out of five Australians would be displaced and vast regions of Africa would be uninhabitable. Scientists are hopeful that a complete ice free planet is over a thousand years down the stretch.  But without doubt humanity has entered uncharted territory on the geological map. Our technological tools and modeling systems, albeit highly sophisticated, are still incapable of the daunting task to establish precise timelines.  Unpredictable events and catastrophes affecting feedback loops, such as wildfires, volcanic eruptions, oil fires or industrial plant explosions—such as the Arkema chemical plant explosion near Houston after Hurricane Harvey—and  the numerical increase in extreme weather events cannot be accurately calculated into greenhouse gas simulations. Harvey’s rainfall is estimated to have been the worst in US history and the most devastating storm to hit Houston. Nineteen trillion gallons of water. For five days, the “capitol” of America’s fossil fuel industry was flooded with torrential rains and wave surges, shutting down and damaging oil refineries and chemical plants along Texas’ eastern coast. Over one million pounds of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases were released. Such events fall outside the realm of computerized simulations and cannot be accurately included in predictive climate models.  For this reason, scientific conclusions are often far more conservative than the actual state of the planet. Therefore we must start to realize that there is no precedent on the Earth’s 4.6 billion year geological timeline to serve as a reliable baseline to accurately calculate climate-related events in the Anthropocene Age.

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The prospect of nuclear war with North Korea sits near the top of the list of unthinkably bad things about Donald Trump’s presidency. We all worry that a personal slight from Kim Jung Un could prompt Trump to do something horrific.

But the conflict with North Korea didn’t begin with Trump. It stretches back to World War II, and it includes all sort of US actions that are rarely discussed — from laying waste to North Korea during the Korean War to supporting military despotism in South Korea.

In the following interview — which first aired last month on Daniel Denvir’s Jacobin Radio podcast The Dig — veteran journalist Tim Shorrock details this often overlooked history and explains how it shapes the present standoff.

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Daniel Denvir: Donald Trump’s presidency has intensified many bad realities — many of which were expected. But during the campaign, a heated-up conflict with North Korea was not a major topic of discussion. Why has 2017 become the year that we suddenly feel we are so uncomfortably close to the prospect of catastrophic nuclear war?

Tim Shorrock: The current situation is directly related to the year 2006, which is when, during the Bush administration, North Korea exploded its first atomic weapon after agreeing to shut down their nuclear program under the Clinton administration. The agreement broke down under the Bush administration. North Korea threw out the inspectors who had been there and started to build a plutonium bomb.

Bush did try to negotiate with the six-party talks [a series of meetings with six participating states — North Korea, South Korea, Japan, the United States, China, and Russia — aiming to find a negotiated solution with North Korea]. The situation kept escalating partly because conservative governments in South Korea had taken power in 2007 and 2008. The situation continued to intensify during the latter years of Bush.

Obama’s policy was to hope that North Korea would collapse. It was called strategic patience. There were no negotiations with North Korea at that time. It just kept escalating. So Trump did inherit a very tense situation, but President Trump made it far worse by doing these open threats; by saying he was going to change the policy, but also threatening them with annihilation, feeding into the North Korean justification for having nuclear weapons and advanced missile capabilities, which is that the United States was going to attack them at any time.

DD: What do you see as the main forces within the Trump administration pushing such a confrontational line in North Korea and to what extent should we see this as being more pushed by Trump himself?

TS: The key person in Trump’s policy is H.R. McMaster, who is the national security adviser. He has been pushing this idea of what he calls “preventive war” which would basically involve preemptive strikes by the US military.

During the summer, information began to emerge in the media of Pentagon battle plans. There was one report on NBC that said that the Pentagon had plans, if ordered to, to destroy two dozen missile sites and nuclear sites in North Korea led by B1B bombers stationed in Guam that would lead air attacks in these sites. They would be flying in international skies which means that they could do a unilateral strike in North Korea without South Korea being involved at all.

Talk of a war — maybe they would call it a limited war — but talk about war really began to accelerate in Washington. Any forum you would go to people would say that we are at a 50 percent chance of a war. From all these think tanks to people in Congress, the talk was about what it will take to destroy these sites; there is very little talk of negotiation or the roots of the crisis or anything.

I think Trump sees himself as MacArthur or something like that and he wants to show the world American might can destroy a terrible enemy. He thinks he can build himself up that way.

DD: A combination of MacArthur and Pershing?

TS: He loves Pershing and the counterinsurgency. This is the militant imperialism that he represents. They’ve rejected “strategic patience.” The press backs them up on this. They say that North Korea just breaks every agreement. But agreements have been held for quite some time — particularly the agreement that was signed during the Clinton administration.

DD: Can we talk about this idea that the North Korean regime is unlike other regimes that are operating within the interstate global system?

TS: There is certainly nothing irrational about a country that wants to defend itself from an outside power that has threatened to destroy them. They are even quite predictable actually.

At the beginning of this year, Kim Jong Un said he wanted to complete his nuclear weapon development in a New Year’s address. That means nuclear development, completing their missile program, and building missiles. These would be ICBMs that can launch weapons to the United States or any other foreign target. They said they were going to do that and they proceeded to test and work on that program.

For a state trying to defend itself from an outside power, there is nothing irrational about that. They saw what happened. I mean the pretense of WMDs in Iraq is what led the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq. So, he sees nuclear weapons capable of being fired by an ICBM as his protection or deterrent from that attack from outside by the United States.

DD: The lesson for any rational actor, as twisted and dangerous as this is for the whole world, is that not having weapons of mass destruction means that the United States and its allies might try to overthrow your government.

TS: The Libya example is very pertinent. A couple of weeks ago, the highest level defector from North Korean government since 1979, Thae Yong Ho, the deputy ambassador to London for North Korea, gave a speech here at the Center for Strategic International Studies in which he talked about the impact of the US NATO intervention in Libya on Kim Jong Un.

He said, here was a country that agreed to stop building nuclear weapons that was essentially disarmed in that way, and then a few years later was overthrown by a coalition and US bombing campaign. Later, several groups in Libya overthrew him and he was murdered by these groups. Giving up nuclear weapons is not a very good idea in that context.

They also see, there’s this line under Kim Jong Un that has developed. It is the Byungjin line. This is the overriding philosophy behind what they are doing militarily. Nuclear development, nuclear weapons, missile technology, and long-range and short-range missiles development go together with the development of the economy. These high-tech missiles help the economy grow as well.

DD: In the most hawkish corners of US foreign policy establishment at present, preventive war is being touted as a solution to the North Korea nuclear weapons program. What you’ve laid out is a very clear track record of US preventative unilateral offensive war actually becoming a major driver of nuclear proliferation, so quite the opposite of what it purports to be a solution to.

TS: Yes, besides the fact that the United States has had nuclear weapons aimed at North Korea for sixty years.

North Korea began thinking about building its own nuclear weapons capability in the 1980s when the United States still had thousands of tactile nuclear weapons in South Korea. Those weapons were withdrawn in a unilateral move by President George H. W. Bush as part of a move to withdraw such weapons from countries around the world. But the United States has a vast armada of Navy ships that are based in Japan that carry nuclear weapons, and it also has B-52s that can carry them.

So the weapons have always been pointed there at North Korea, so they have felt under threat because of that. One of the drivers behind North Korean policy is these massive US–South Korean military exercises that take place twice a year. They run through training exercises of invading North Korea in what they call “decapitation strikes” to take out the North Korean leadership, including Kim Jong Un.

DD: Dress rehearsals for invasion. Not remotely provocative.

TS: They say this over and over in their statements: that is a key concern. The other day there was a statement put out by the North Korean government which said — of course, the first line was captured in the press, which is “they will not negotiate on nuclear weapons” — the second part is “until the United States and South Korea stop these provocative military exercises.” I think that’s where the grounds for some kind of negotiation and solution lie.

DD: I want to ask you now about South Korean politics because I think they are so often rendered invisible in the United States amid the conflict with North Korea. I think it’s important to highlight the historical context here before we get into Moon Jae-in and the present in South Korea. Can you sketch out the important contours of that history and how that led to the current moment?

TS: Well, in the 1950s right before and after the Korean War, South Korea was ruled by Syngman Rhee, an autocrat who was much hated for his repressive policies and was even despised by the United States because he talked about conquering North Korea and unifying Korea under his rule. After the Korean War, the United States did not want to have any part of that.

That’s when I was a kid and when Rhee was still president. Something I’ll always remember is that when I was in Korea in 1960, people were on the streets for days and people were shot by the police, but he was overthrown. There was this big push to get him out from all ages, from all classes really. This was at a time, 1960, when Korea’s fortune was not clear. A lot of people in the North and South wanted unification. They had been divided. There had been this terrible war. People wanted reconciliation and unification. There was talk of a united Korea being neutral between the Soviet Union and United States during the Cold War.

In that period from 1960 to 1961, there was a relatively liberal-left government in South Korea. There was a lot of turmoil politically. Actually, young students were going to the border and meeting with North Koreans. There was a big change afoot in South Korea and with its relationship with the United States.

This all ended in 1961, when this general, Park Chung-hee, took over in a military coup. He had been trained by the Japanese Imperial Army. He had actually served in Manchuria during World War II fighting Korean Communists who were fighting the Japanese.

DD: Who were led by Kim Il Sung?

TS: They were led by Kim Il Sung and others. So there is this dichotomy that defines Korean history right there. The Syngman Rhee government and the United States saw any move toward unification as a communist move.

Cold War thinking really descended on South Korea in the late forties, therefore any movement to unify the country was stifled by the South, and violently so. There were a lot of uprisings in South Korea in the 1940s that were brutally suppressed by the Korean military with the support of the United States. The United States and the South ruled through a military government, and the Soviet Union occupied the North.

The agreement by the United States and Soviet Union basically concluded that Korea by itself was incapable of ruling itself. It was incapable of self-rule or taking itself out of colonialism. So they thought they could occupy it for a while and then oversee the unification depending on what Koreans wanted.

But the Cold War thinking deepened division and of course led in the 1950s to all-out war. When North Korea decided it was time to liberate South Korea, Rhee came into South Korea to cut off North Korean forces and push them north. President Truman made a critical decision to keep it going. They called it rollback at the time. They invaded North Korea to try to make one Korea under Syngman Rhee, but that’s when the Chinese military came in with millions of soldiers to push the United States back with a tremendous loss.

DD: People forget that United States and Chinese forces actually traded fire with one another on the battlefield.

TS: Many people do. The Chinese haven’t forgotten that. Mao Zedong’s son lost his life in Korea. It’s also important for the US Marines. Generals like James Mattis, though he wasn’t there, certainly remembers this. It was a tremendous loss for the Marines. The US Marines led the push into North Korea. There were several divisions that went way up to the North. The idea was to get to the Yalu River in China. That is when the Chinese army surrounded them.

They had to withdraw in terrible conditions. Thousands died and froze to death. It was an unbelievable situation for the Marines. When they were negotiating a truce, during the last two years of the Korean War, the United States completely controlled the skies and just obliterated North Korea, there was nothing left.

DD: It was one of the most brutal bombing campaigns in world history.

TS: One of the worst because there was nothing left. I grew up in Japan during the 1950s, I can still remember seeing destruction from the bombing of Tokyo. The firebombing of Tokyo in April 1945 obliterated large parts of the city, just burned it down to cinders with napalm.

In North Korea, every single city and every single village was burnt down to the ground.

Of course, North Koreans never forgot that, and they don’t let their people forget it. From when you are a baby to when you are an adult, you are imbued in the terrible history of that war. You see Americans as people out to kill you. Part of the ruling ideology is this fear of another war. It’s really important for people to understand this very complex history. The Japanese collaboration part of it actually lasted for a long time in South Korea. South Korea became more democratic, but I wouldn’t call it fully democratic due to the national security law [established in 1948].

This national security law is still on the books and was never changed. The protests in the eighties were sparked by a young student being tortured to death. People had just had enough of this police state. Park Chung-Hee, the military dictator, was assassinated in 1979 in the midst of very widespread protests led by labor and by workers and by students. Then another general assumed control of the military and the government declared martial law.

DD: He was far more brutal than Park even.

TS: He was very brutal. There was an uprising in the city of Gwangju where they sent special forces who massacred people just standing up for democracy. People fought back with guns. The United States at that time decided to back the South Korean army to try to put down this uprising. This angered South Koreans and a lot of South Koreans have never forgotten that.

So Chun, the second general who was in power when people protested, forced a major change. They got the right to elect their own president as opposed to a parliament where one third of the members were picked by the dictators. There were popular elections.

In the late nineties, under Kim Dae-Jung, a longtime opposition leader who had almost been executed by the Chun government, South Korea opened up and started the so-called Sunshine Policy. They opened up to North Korea and Kim led this push to defuse tensions and build up trust through economic and political exchanges that lasted for quite a while.

DD: Could you explain a little bit about what the Sunshine Policy was?

TS: The policy came after President Clinton had negotiated an “agreed framework” with North Korea under which they decided to suspend their nuclear bomb program in 1994. There was an atmosphere already for defusing the crisis and ending the military standoff between the United States, North Korea, and South Korea.

Kim Dae-Jung expanded citizen exchanges, investment in North Korea by South Korean companies, sports teams, family visits by people who had not seen each other for decades. Also, ordinary citizens, people who are involved in academia, culture, music, and so on began to meet each other.

That was important for breaking down the idea of North Korea as an enemy. Getting back and meeting people, seeing North Koreans as ordinary human beings like you. It broke down a lot of animosity.

One of the lasting monuments to that period of time was this Kaesong Industrial Zone, built just north of the DMZ in North Korea where South Korean companies set up factories and North Korean workers made products for the world market. This was seen as helping North Korea with its technological development and employment. It was that kind of program that they thought would lay the seeds for a larger peace.

It must be said that at this time Kim Dae-Jung was often seen by US intelligence as a leftist and out of sync with long-range US policy. He was rumored to be a communist.

DD: Too conciliatory towards North Korea at the end of the day?

TS: Too conciliatory, and his roots were in the Left. His successor, Roh Moo-Hyun, was the same way. He was a human rights activist and had been very involved in the anti-dictatorship movement. He continued a lot of these policies, but they did come under tremendous pressure.

Kim Dae-Jung made a state visit to George W. Bush in 2001. He came here to get an official stamp of approval toward his Sunshine Policy and negotiating with North Korea. Bush completely turned his back on him and embarrassed Kim Dae-Jung, this courageous dissident leader. He came to Washington and Bush said, “We don’t trust North Korea, and we’re not going to negotiate with them and that’s that.”

DD: That’s a remarkable thing to say to a South Korean president given that it’s South Koreans who are sitting within range of a surreal amount of conventional weaponry that could destroy Seoul in a day.

TS: It’s their country, right? They have the right to talk to the North however they want. If they want to unify, it’s their country. The United States sees it as a protectorate that the United States controls. They expect South Korea to go along with whatever the US strategic policy is.

DD: Did the United States ultimately undermine the effectiveness of the Sunshine Policy?

TS: Actually, it worked to the Unites States’ advantage. The United States was able to negotiate with Kim Jong Il after the agreement was signed with Clinton. The United States and North Korea came very close to signing an agreement which would have ended North Korea’s missile production. They were very close in 2000, but the negotiations were never completed and the agreement was never signed.

Bush took over with the neocons and they were against the “agreed framework” from the beginning. They didn’t go along with Kim Dae-Jung’s sunshine policies. They accused North Korea of violating the agreement by trying to build a uranium route to the bomb. The North Koreans denied it; the North Koreans said they would be happy to negotiate because they thought they would have a right to such a uranium bomb, but they did not have a bomb at that time.

The Bush people that were sent there, sort of low-level diplomats of the State Department, had no authority to negotiate so they just delivered an ultimatum to North Korea saying you’re doing this, you’re violating this, and we’re ripping up the agreement. As I said at the beginning of this interview, that’s when this nuclear crisis really began.

DD: 2002 is when Bush labels North Korea part of the “axis of evil” as well.

TS: Exactly. As part of the nineties agreement, North Korea and the United States were pledged publicly to move as soon as possible to full political and economic normalization. In other words, recognizing each other, having embassies in each other’s capital, and so on. Starting a normal relationship.

When the agreement came under fire in Congress, North Koreans started seeing that the United States was pulling away from the agreement. A lot of analysts and people who were in the government at that time think that North Korea started this program as a hedge in case the United States did violate it.

At any rate, the agreement fell apart in 2002–3. In the latter part of the Bush administration, he started negotiating with North Korea again in the six-party talks — amazingly he opened negotiations with North Korea three weeks after they exploded their first nuclear bomb.

DD: Six-party talks included the United States, South Korea, Japan, China —

TS: And Russia. They made some progress there. That was when North Korea’s designation as a supporter of terrorism was dropped by the Bush administration. It was just renewed the other day by Trump. There were talks that were going on.

Roh Moo-hyun and Kwon Yang-sook at the 2006 APEC gala dinner with President Vladimir Putin of Russia (centre) and George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush (right) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At the time, Roh Moo-Hyun, the progressive in South Korea who was in favor of the Sunshine Policy and was still carrying it out, was president. That set the stage for negotiations with the North and these six-party talks because South Korea and North Korea were still talking and engaging in these measures both political and economic.

But in 2008, a right-winger was elected president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. That’s when the policy really changed. He ran, sort of like Bush did and the Republicans did, with a policy against the agreed framework and normalization of ties with North Korea. He did not like the Sunshine Policy.

DD: What popular conservative sentiment was he tapping into at the time that was hostile to these negotiations?

TS: There is a very strong conservative, anti-communist streak in South Korea. It’s older people, and there were economic issues that played into it as well. As they often do, the more progressive liberal candidates split.

Lee Myung-bak was against the negotiations with North Korea and the Sunshine Policy. He started making demands as part of the six-party talks that North Korea rejected. Those talks floundered as a result.

Under Park Guen-hye, negotiations got worse. When military tensions peaked a few years ago, the last remnant of the Sunshine Policy, the Kaesong Industrial Zone — which I used to call the canary in the Korean coal mine — was shut down. As long as that was open, I thought things would be okay. South Korean businesspeople were crossing the border to go to this industrial zone. A lot of people in South Korea also believed that it was holding up something with North Korea, some semblance of normalcy.

Obama’s policies really made things a lot worse. North Korea under Obama tested three more nuclear weapons. Obama’s advisers were pretty hardline on North Korea. I think it’s accurate to say that Trump inherited a tense situation that’s not of its own making, but as I said he’s making it much worse.

DD: To what extent did a collapse of the South Korean right allow Moon to win? And to what degree did his victory reflect growing popular support for both a more left-of-center domestic and economic program and growing support for renewed dialogue with North Korea?

TS: When he ran for president, his main focus was economic. In South Korea, there is a huge problem of youth employment. There is a serious problem of Walmart-like jobs where people don’t have full benefits and full pay. You work under contract from year to year and sometimes month to month.

DD: Highly flexible, casual workers?

TS: Casual workers. It’s a terrible situation for many Korean workers. That’s how many Korean conglomerates survive. They have this core of full-time workers and then they just employ at will when they need contract workers. It’s about 50 percent of the total Korean workforce.

That, combined with unemployment and people’s unhappiness with the previous Park Geun-hye government, is how Moon won. When I interviewed him two days before the election, when it was pretty much assured that he was going to win, he said that was basically the result of the “Candlelight Revolution” [the mass protests that forced Park Geun-hye’s impeachment].

He put the Candlelight Revolution in the long line of protest movements that led the way for democracy. Starting with the 1960 uprising against Syngman Rhee and the 1979 assassination of Park Chung-hee, which took place during a huge uprising in his own city of Pusan. Then the June uprising in 1987, the democratic uprising, and then the Candlelight Revolution. The way he sees it is the way a lot of South Koreans see it as well.

DD: What chance does Moon have to pursue a negotiation-based relationship, with Trump’s provocations on one side and Kim Jong Un’s provocations on the other?

TS: It’s made it very difficult obviously. He reached out immediately after becoming president, saying he wanted to have military-to-military and Red Cross talks with North Korea. North Koreans basically ignored him. They consider him and the South Korean government as tools of the United States. They don’t think that he has real independence.

They can point to some things that are true. For example, the South Korean and US military are joined in this Joint Military Command. It is now headed by a South Korean general, but during wartime the commander is a US general. If there is a war in Korea and the South Korean military is mobilized, it goes under a US general who is their commander. That is the only country in the world where a foreign general is in charge of their army during the war. How can South Korea really be a sovereign country in that situation?

DD: They are technically not.

TS: They are technically not.

DD: And so it’s rational for North Korea to say that if I have this belligerent enemy in the United States that is ultimately in charge of South Korea, then why am I going to talk to Moon when he, at the end of the day, cannot be the guarantor of anything?

TS: Exactly. His overtures have been largely rejected. Moon Jae-In on security and military issues didn’t really run as a conservative; he didn’t really run as a liberal. He has taken steps that the Korean left and the liberal middle support, like putting dialogue first with North Korea. He agreed to the deployment of THAAD, the theater anti-missile system installed by the United States that was agreed to by Park Geun-hye.

He has praised some of Trump’s hardline policies and statements. The day after Trump said that the United States will totally destroy North Korea if they continue to threaten the United States, Moon Jae-In complimented him on his speech in a meeting with Trump. They follow this very hardline sanctions-first policy of trying to isolate North Korea economically to force them into talks.

But he’s taken some very important steps independent of the United States. My latest in the Nation focuses on when Trump was in South Korea recently. Just before that Moon Jae-In took steps that were independent of what the United States wants. For example, they reached an agreement with China that normalized relations and put the issue of THAAD behind them. That was to get China to support negotiations.

He also flatly rejected the American push for a trilateral military alliance between the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Moon said that South Korea will take part with certain kinds of cooperation with the Japanese military, but they do not want to form an alliance. The next day, his foreign minister said that they are not going to join this US-Japan anti-missile defense system that has been set up in north East Asia.

He’s trying to play this in a way to be able to operate independently. He always stresses that we cannot have a war in South Korea. It is unthinkable. They went out of their way to show Trump when he was there that when he says to totally destroy North Korea what that could mean for South Korea. Trump flew over Seoul; he saw how close Seoul was to the DMZ. I’m sure he’s got plenty of intelligence that tells him where the artillery was and how much damage could occur in the next few hours and days if that happened. North Korea has massive amounts of conventional weapons on the border that could strike not only Seoul, and US bases in South Korea, but also bases in Japan and Okinawa as well, Guam even.

DD: Trump has massive amounts of intelligence, but not massive amounts of “intelligence.” That’s the problem. What does China want out of this?

TS: China does not want a unified Korea under South Korean–US control. They don’t want US troops on their borders. They don’t want a war and all the chaos that would result from a war. They are playing a pretty important role.

Both Russia and China have voted for these increased sanctions at the UN Security Council. They are trying to defuse the situation by trying to increase pressure on the DPRK and Kim Jong Un. During the UN debates, they push for negotiation. They pushed this proposal where North Korea would freeze their nuclear program and the United States and South Korea would freeze or scale back their military exercises. A lot of people think that’s the only way for there to be negotiations.

Moon Jae-In is trying to thread that needle. He continues to say that war is unthinkable. I think that was part of the reason for his visit to China. He has also had similar discussions with Russia and Putin’s government.

Trump’s hard line about trying to put them back on the terrorist list is only going to complicate things. North Korea is already very angry about that, and South Korea officially approved it. If you read between the lines in the Korean media, there is a lot of criticism of that too. How in the world do they expect to get negotiations going if they don’t give North Korea any type of off-ramp to exit this tense situation?

DD: What is the current state of the North Korean regime and how Kim Jong Un fits into his dynastic predecessors?

TS: North Korea has an incredibly repressive apparatus where even former ambassadors are recalled and put into prison for going against the political line of the day. It rules through a pervasive police state. This makes it very difficult for people to differ publicly with any kind of regime policy. They have an intranet in North Korea but it’s cut off from the world. The only information they get comes from electronic devices smuggled into South Korea. There is a lot of that going on.

On the other hand, it is not a backward country economically. Despite the controls and sanctions, you can see the results of it. A backward country cannot develop nuclear weapons and missile technology. You have ICBMs that could hit the United States. They have developed this pretty much on their own, with borrowed scientists from Russia, Pakistan, and possibly Iran. I think the idea is to build a deterrent against the United States and then negotiate from a position of strength. Then they want to focus on economic development.

Kim Jong Un is trying to use his nuclear prowess as a wedge to get the United States to negotiate; his father was negotiating out of a position of weakness. His father was trying to trade his nuclear and military program for a better relationship with the United States and countries in the region. Kim Jong Un is trying to project this idea of a very powerful North Korea able to hold the United States to a draw momentarily — which is foolish because he knows damn well that the United States could destroy North Korea, as Trump says.

There are all these predictions in the United States that the North Korean regime is coming apart, and they point to defectors like this high-level guy at the London embassy and others. They point to the alleged assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in the Malaysian airport as a sign that they are trying to destroy any dissidents within the North Korean regime. I don’t see any signs of mass revolt or anything. I don’t think there are grounds to say that it’s going to collapse in the next year. You can read fifty years of reporting that North Korea is going to collapse in the next two years.

It has strong internal cohesion partially due to the nature of its repressive police state apparatus. There is enough belief in the regime and economic developments. When there was famine and starvation in the 1990s, they came back from that. They’ve maintained this independence from China and Russia, these great powers. You can even see this in interviews with North Korean defectors. There is a certain respect for that ability to maintain that independence. People are unhappy about other things there. Deservedly so. It’s not going to collapse. The only way to have a solution is to negotiate with them and talk directly to them.

DD: Has the external pressure and bellicosity towards North Korea strengthened internal cohesion and could negotiations actually play a role in opening up North Korean society and in the long run potentially transforming it into something better?

TS: I think it could but it needs to be open-ended. After Otto Warmbier died [the American student who was imprisoned in North Korea], the US Congress passed a law outlawing travel to North Korea. They are trying to get all countries to cut off their ties. In South America, Central America, Asia, there are countries that are ending diplomatic relations with North Korea. They are further isolating them.

If you want North Korea to change, it has to talk to people from outside. If you completely cut them off, then things will not change. The United States does not have the right to change the regime because we don’t like it. I think change could come gradually if the United States would lessen its military involvement.

North and South Korea are totally capable of negotiating and working things out by themselves. It could happen. They’ve made progress in the past. I think it requires a major change in US policy and the region.

Ultimately, engagement is the way to change minds on both sides. When Dennis Rodman went over there, a lot of people made fun of him, but, for young North Koreans, who have been taught that Americans are devils and trying to kill them, to see NBA players laughing it up and hamming it up with Kim Jong Un changes their views of Americans. We need to have reciprocity with North Koreans. Ordinary North Koreans if possible.

I think engagement is the way to go. I just hope there can be a negotiated solution to this. I really do not think at this point that the United States is going to war. Trump is quite unpredictable. South Koreans are more worried about what Trump will do than what Kim Jong Un will do.

*

Tim Shorrock is a Washington-based journalist who grew up in Tokyo and Seoul. He has been writing about Korea, North and South, since the late 1970s. His reporting appears regularly in the Nation and Newstapa / The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism.

Daniel Denvir is a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project and the host of the Dig on Jacobin Radio.

Parallel Worlds: Trump, Nuclear Buttons and Korean Diplomacy

January 5th, 2018 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

It has been said that what is required in dealing with the Trump administration is less an army of diplomats than keen and attentive psychiatrists.  Those psychiatrists would have had dreams of splendour contemplating how a statement about having access to a nuclear button could quite become this. 

It all began, as it tends to do, with a goading remark from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  Evidently relishing an opportunity to give President Donald J. Trump a good new year’s poke, that man in Pyongyang informed the world that had had his nuclear button within easy reach on the table.

Trump duly went for the bait, claiming that his nuclear button “is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”  Was this a statement of his unfitness for office?  Not so, claimed White House spokesperson Sara Sanders.

“The president and the people of this country should be concerned about the mental fitness of the leader of North Korea.”

The nursery of politics is not a sophisticated place, and Sanders was keeping an appropriate front for the fiery show, suggesting that Trump was not a person who was “going to cower down and who’s not going to be weak and is going to make sure that he does, what he’s promised to do and that is stand up and protect the American people.”

All this talk about buttons has more cultural than substantive reality.  For one thing, those in circles in the know find any reference to a neatly defined button amateurish.

“The image of a leader with a finger on a button – a trigger capable of launching a world-ending strike,” writes Russell Goldman, “has for decades symbolised the speed with which a nuclear weapon could be launched, and the unchecked power of the person doing the pushing.”

The stress on symbolism is exactly the point. For one thing, procedure must still be complied with: the formation of a coherent order; communicating that order to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is duly relayed to US Strategic Command HQ in Nebraska for subsequent dissemination.  There is also the slim chance that the order in question might be disobeyed.

Notions of having that ease of access to a button, one that will incinerate enemy and earth at a moment’s notice, are stretched.  Political speak, however, has generated a mythology of buttons and triggers gazing at the summit of the apocalypse.  As President Lyndon B. Johnson told Barry M. Goldwater in an exchange in 1964, the leader had to “do anything that is honourable to avoid pulling that trigger, mashing that button that will blow up the world.”

Nuclear footballs (or the nuclear football in the case of the US presidency) would be more accurate, a creature of promised mayhem that never leaves the President’s side.  To keep that particular ball company is the biscuit, a card containing the relevant codes.  (The sense of the absurd is unavoidable before the enormity of possible catastrophe.)

Within that particular ball, far more accurately termed a briefcase, is essentially a package of war plans and communication tools.  It is carried by one of five military aides, with each branch of the armed forces represented.  Those plans are far from sophisticated, coming down to what former director of the White House Military Office Bill Gurley termed “rare, medium or well done.”

Such talk does resemble the triggers of a boy hood nightmare.  There is something of the disturbed in the articulations of the President.  “Little Rocket Man” sounds like a leitmotif for past familial abuse; references to matters of size and questionable potency suggest much the same: somewhere, in that dark subconsciousness, lie certain answers.

As the president fantasises about such adolescent competitiveness, the two Koreas have been getting busy in an unfussy way.  Fury in public; quiet deliberation behind the scenes.  This is a show that is of much interest, even if US officials might be looking at it with skewed eyes.  Kim has, for instance, expressed interest in re-opening channels of dialogue with South Korea, feeding on signals from Seoul about the possibility of Olympic diplomacy centred on the winter events.

According to North Korea’s KCNA news agency, making reference to Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland,

“We will try to keep close communications with the south Korean side sincere stand (sic) and honest attitude, true to the intention of our supreme leadership, and deal with the practical matters related to the dispatch of our delegation.”

The response from Seoul on Tuesday was swift: a proposal to open high-level discussions at the Korean border, followed by Wednesday’s reopening of a border hotline closed since October 2016.  Such small steps are to be viewed favourably, but the jaundiced in Washington only see wedge politics at work.  A continued insistence on all or nothing, and more to the point, all at once or nothing at all regarding the nuclear imbroglio, remains Washington’s continuing problem.

*

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: [email protected]

The People in Charge of the US Military

January 5th, 2018 by Adam Dick

Featured image: John Rood (Source: Lockheed Martin)

Fifty-seven years ago this month President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented this warning in his farewell address: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” That warning has largely fallen on deaf ears.

The United States government has in the decades since been participating, both directly and via third parties, in overt and covert military actions across the world, with very little of the violence even arguably justified as necessary to defend America. Yet, no matter the lack of defensive justification, companies and individuals in the military-industrial complex profit from the high military spending and the destruction wrought abroad.

President Donald Trump’s high-level military appointments exemplify the strong bond between the US military and companies that profit from military spending, war, and foreign intervention. As I noted in the September 2 episode of Five Minutes Five Issues, Trump chose James Mattis, who had been a board of directors member of major military contractor General Dynamics to be secretary of defense and chose Mark Esper, who over the prior 12 months had earned over 1.5 million dollars lobbying for Raytheon, another prominent military contractor, to be secretary of the Army. Esper’s nomination was since confirmed by the US Senate.

This week we saw a new example of a high-level employee at a military contractor moving over to the US Department of Defense. On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Trump’s nomination of John Rood to be under secretary for policy at the Defense Department. Travis J. Tritten reports at the Washington Examiner that Rood’s most recent job before being confirmed for “the Pentagon’s No. 3 position” was “as a Lockheed Martin vice president in charge of growing the defense giant’s international business in about 70 countries.”

North and South Korea to Hold Talks

January 5th, 2018 by Stephen Lendman

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stephenlendman.org 

(Home – Stephen Lendman). 

Contact at [email protected].

For the first time since December 2015, officials from both countries will meet in Panmunjom near the DMZ on January 9.

According to Seoul’s unification ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun, talks will focus on Pyongyang’s participation in the February Winter Olympics, along with ways to improve inter-Korean relations, adding:

His government’s position on denuclearizing the peninsula remains unchanged. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s day address called for reducing tensions between the two nations.

On Thursday, Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in postponed scheduled military exercises until after the Winter games conclude.

Pyongyang justifiably considers them provocative rehearsals for war. They’re unrelated to defending against possible DPRK aggression.

Trump “took credit” for upcoming North/South talks, tweeting:

“Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.”

38 North provides “analysis of events in and around the DPRK.” It’s a Johns Hopkins University Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies US-Korea Institute program – managed by former State Department official Joel Wit and USKI assistant director Jenny Town.

On January 4, it headlined “North Korea Likely Preparing for New Rocket Engine Test at Sohae,” saying:

“An examination of commercial satellite imagery from November 23, December 25 and December 31 shows no indications of preparations for a new satellite launch mission at Sohae, where all satellite launches have taken place since 2012,” adding:

“There are, however, several indicators that suggest preparations for an upcoming rocket engine test at the facility’s vertical engine test stand.”

“Both color and near-infrared imagery, however, show no indications that an engine test has taken place since November 23, suggesting that if the current activity is test related, it is likely preparations for a future test.”

Or perhaps they’re related to “normal maintenance and repair…”

Days earlier, Nikki Haley ranted about provocative reports of an upcoming DPRK missile test – highly unlikely ahead of upcoming talks with Seoul.

Hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a reliable US ally. At a time his nation faces no threats, he lied claiming otherwise, saying Japanese security is more endangered than any time since WW II – vowing to boost the country’s defenses, instead of reducing tensions by conciliatory outreach to North Korea.

In 2017, Tokyo increased its defense budget for the sixth consecutive year at a time its only enemies are invented ones.

Abe wants Japan’s pacifist constitution amended, aiming to loosen constraints on his regime’s militarism, something public sentiment in the country opposes.

Possible US aggression is the region’s only serious threat. It’s why Pyongyang continues developing its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities – strictly for defense, not offense, an agenda polar opposite Washington’s.

*

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the CRG, Correspondent of Global Research based in Chicago.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

Users of social media have been increasingly reporting that their accounts have been either censored, blocked or suspended during the past year. Initially, some believed that the incidents might be technical in nature, with overloaded servers struggling to keep up with the large and growing number of accounts, but it eventually emerged that the interference was deliberate and was focused on individuals and groups that were involved in political or social activities considered to be controversial.

At the end of last year a number of Russian accounts on Facebook and elsewhere were suspended over the allegations that social media had been used to spread so-called false news that had possibly materially affected the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Even though it proved impossible to demonstrate that the relatively innocuous Russian efforts had any impact in comparison to the huge investment in advertising and propaganda engaged in by the two major parties, social media quickly responded to the negative publicity.

Now it has been learned that major social media and internet service providers have, throughout the past year, been meeting secretly with the United States and Israeli governments to remove content as well as ban account holders from their sites. The United States and Israel have no legal right to tell private companies what to do but it is clearly understood that the two governments can make things very difficult for those service providers that do not fall in line. Israel has threatened to limit access to sites like Facebook or to ban it altogether while the U.S. Justice Department can use terrorist legislation, even if implausible, to force compliance. Washington recently forced Facebook to cancel the account of the Chechen Republic’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin loyalist that the White House has recently “sanctioned.”

Israel is not surprisingly most active in patrolling the Internet as it is keen to keep out any material sympathetic to the Palestinian cause or critical of Israeli treatment of Arabs. Its security services scan the stories being surfaced and go to the service providers to ask that material be deleted or blocked based on the questionable proposition that it constitutes “incitement” to violence. Facebook reportedly cooperates 95% of the time to delete material or shut down accounts. Palestinian groups, which use social networking on the internet to communicate, have been especially hard hit, with ten leading administrators’ accounts being removed in 2017. Israeli accounts including material threatening to kill Arabs are not censored.

Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all also under pressure to cooperate with pro-Israel private groups in the United States, to include the powerful Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL seeks “to engineer new solutions to stop cyberhate” by blocking “hate language,” which includes any criticism of Israel that might even implausibly be construed as anti-Semitism. Expanding restrictions on what is being defined as “hate speech” will undoubtedly become common in social media and more generally all across the internet in 2018.

The internet, widely seen as a highway where everyone could communicate and share ideas freely, is actually a toll road that is increasingly managed by a group of very large corporations that, when acting in unison, control what is seen and not seen. Search engines already are set up to prioritize information from paid “sponsors,” which come up prominently but often have nothing to do with what material is most relevant. And the role of intrusive governments in dictating to Facebook and other sites who will be heard and who will be silenced should also be troubling, as it means that information that would benefit the public might never be seen, particularly if it is embarrassing to powerful interests. And speaking of powerful interests, groups like the ADL with partisan agendas will undoubtedly be able to dictate norms of behavior to the service providers, leading to still more loss of content and relevancy for those who are looking for information.

All things considered, the year 2018 will be a rough one for those who are struggling to maintain the internet as a source of relatively free information. Governments and interest groups have seen the threat posed by such liberty and are reacting to it. They will do their best to bring it under control.

*

Philip Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest.

Featured image is from the author.

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Why There Won’t be a Revolution in Iran

January 5th, 2018 by Pepe Escobar

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did the right thing going on television and at least acknowledging popular anger over hard economic times. Inflation is high at 12% but down from 40% at the start of Rouhani’s first term. And the recent increase in fuel and food prices by up to 40% has hardly helped.

That was part of Team Rouhani’s 2018 budget, which cuts subsidies for the poor – a key feature of the previous Ahmadinejad administration.

Then there is youth unemployment, which hovers around the 30% mark. Similar figures recently came out of Spain, a member of the European Union. Of course, that explains why the bulk of the protesters are under 25 from working class backgrounds.

What Rouhani should have explained to Iranians in detail is the direct consequences of hard economic times and United States sanctions, which are affecting the country.

These were coupled with financial threats against western firms now back in business, or at least contemplating opening up operations, in Iran.

Rouhani did promise after signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, in the Austrian capital of Vienna in 2015 that it would lead to more jobs and stimulate the economy.

While that has not been the case, legitimate protests singling out economic problems have never gone away. In fact, they have been part of the Iranian picture for decades.

If we consider the Islamic Republic experiment, a sort of “theocracy with democratic characteristics,” the most striking element is how deeply rooted it is in the country.

I learned this during my many trips to Iran and it has a great deal to do with the basij, or voluntary militias. They have permeated all aspects of social life from unions to student bodies and civil servant groups.

In this respect, there is a strong similarity to China, where the Communist Party is embedded in the very fabric of society.

Talking to young people in places such as Kashan or Mashhad showed me how solid the popular base was behind the Islamic Republic experiment. It was certainly more thought-provoking than listening to ayatollahs in Qom.

Still, what is happening now in Iran is that legitimate protests related to economic hardships have been hijacked by the usual suspects in a move to influence the minority. After all, Rouhani’s administration is comparatively liberal compared to the populist Ahmadinejad government.

So, what we have is a concerted attempt to turn legitimate protests into a “revolutionary” movement with the aim of bringing about a regime change. In all practical purposes, this would be civil war.

Well, it will simply not work. Anyone familiar with Iran knows the country’s civil society is far too sophisticated to fall into such a crude and obvious trap.

For a clear take on the foreign influence angle, you should watch Professor Mohammad Marandi, of the University of Tehran, an academic of absolute integrity, arguing with a former BBC employee on the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera television network.

Indeed, what is certain is that foreign elements are acting as provocateurs to influence the protests. This “whole world is watching” tone is meant to intimidate Tehran’s response.

Yet there has to be a crackdown against the violence as Rouhani strongly hinted. Imagine the police response if the level of violence seen on Iranian streets was happening in France or Germany?

Regime change is unlikely but what is in play is setting the scene for a further renewal of economic sanctions against Iran. Possibly, in this case by the EU. Hopefully, it will not fall into this trap.

Anyway, Tehran is already gearing up to increase business across Eurasia through China’s new Silk Roads, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Eurasia Economic Union.

In the end, it is up to Team Rouhani to be creative in alleviating the burden on the economic front.

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Today, Donald Trump’s Department of the Interior released its draft five-year offshore drilling plan. In the largest expansion of offshore drilling ever, the plan would expand drilling off America’s coasts, including in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Arctic.

The current plan was finalized by the Obama administration in November 2016, excluding the Atlantic coast and nearly the entire Arctic Ocean. Following the release of the plan and in response to the calls of coastal communities and millions of Americans across the country, President Obama acted under his authority designated by Section 12a of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently protect parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from the threat of offshore drilling. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in May over Donald Trump’s executive order seeking to roll back these protections.

Expansion of offshore drilling faces strong, bipartisan opposition from coastal communities as well as from the governors of states including New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida.

In response, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune released the following statement:

Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters. Millions of Americans have raised their voices to send a message, loud and clear, that they do not want offshore drilling off our coasts, but rather than listen to the people they are supposed to work for, Trump and Zinke are listening to the industry that’s bankrolled their campaigns and filled their administration.

“Trump and Zinke are acting against the wishes of the American people in their attempt to expand offshore drilling and roll back permanent protections for America’s public waters. The Sierra Club will continue to stand with coastal communities in fighting back against this reckless plan, and we are currently examining our legal options to do so.”

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“2017 was a year of heroic struggle and great victory,” said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he began his 2018 New Year’s Day address, much anticipated by North Korea watchers around the world. His country, he said, has accomplished the cause of “perfecting the national nuclear forces” and “at last come to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse.” He then quickly moved on to discuss two other topics in great detail: the country’s five-year plan for economic development and the need for reconciliation between North and South Korea toward national reunification.

Two things stand out in Kim’s speech. One, North Korea looks back at 2017 as a year of struggle between itself in its drive to complete the construction of an effective nuclear deterrent versus the United States, determined to stop this from happening. And Kim Jong-un has effectively just said, “I win.” North Korea successfully tested what it called a hydrogen bomb in September 2017, then the Hwaseong 15, an intercontinental ballistic missile, in November 2017. Despite the Trump administration’s retaliation, including unprecedented UN sanctions and military exercises, Kim declared in his recent speech,

“Our country’s nuclear forces are capable of thwarting and countering any nuclear threats from the United States, and they constitute a powerful deterrent that prevents it from starting an adventurous war.”

Two, having gained confidence in its ability to defend itself from U.S. aggression, North Korea appears ready to move onto other important matters, like building its economy and improving relations with the South—two things that will likely be North Korea’s priorities this year.

Economic Development

Kim’s New Year address goes into minute detail about the country’s goals in all aspects of its economy, such as the metal industry, the chemical industry, agriculture, and light industry. The western media overlooks this section of the speech, perhaps because it appears to be about domestic affairs that don’t concern the west. But for North Korea, building a self-reliant economy is critical in its fight against U.S. aggression.

How is North Korea able to withstand so many years of sanctions and resist collapse? The only answer that western mainstream pundits can muster is China:

“Surely, it’s because China is not doing enough to isolate North Korea.”

But the real answer is in Kim’s speech, which outlines in great detail how to make all aspects of the country’s economy self-reliant: how to, for example, train and support scientists so the country can use its indigenous resources and know-how to build an economy independent from foreign powers.

Image result for kim jong un 2018 speech

If 2017 for North Korea was a year of struggle to complete its nuclear force to deter U.S. military threats, 2018, it seems, will be a year of struggle to undermine the power of U.S.-led sanctions—not through compromise and negotiations but, as Kim says in his New Year address, by concentrating “all efforts on consolidating the independence and Juche character of the national economy.”

Among the economic development goals outlined in Kim’s address are:

  • “Stepping up the establishment of the C1 chemical industry,” which involves gasifying coal—a resource that is abundantly available in North Korea—then converting gasified coal into other useful products, such as synthetic fuel and industrial chemicals;
  • Modernizing the machinery-building industry, including the Kumsong Tractor Factory and the Sungni Motor Complex, as well as equipment and production lines in light industry factories;
  • Procuring raw materials in a self-reliant manner;
  • Increasing livestock and the production of fruit, mushrooms, and fish—an indication that North Korea’s concern in the area of agriculture has moved beyond just producing enough to feed its people to diversifying their diet.

Improving North-South Relations toward Independent Reunification

“The United States and its vassal forces and their desperate manoeuvres to ignite a war” are obstacles to national reunification, according to Kim Jong-un.

And although the previous conservative administration in South Korea was ousted and replaced by another, thanks to the massive resistance of the South Korean people, he noted,

“nothing has been changed in the relations between the north and the south.”

On the contrary, he said, South Korean authorities are siding with the United States in its hostile policy towards North Korea and he wishes to “put an end to this abnormal situation.”

Kim then made two important gestures to South Korea. He declared North Korea’s doors open “to anyone from south Korea, including the ruling party and opposition parties, organizations and individual personages of all backgrounds, for dialogue, contact and travel.” As for the Winter Olympic Games, he said,

“We earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success and we are willing to send a delegation and the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon to discuss this.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has always wanted the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February to be an opportunity to showcase North-South unity and had repeatedly requested the North’s participation in the upcoming games.

Kim’s speech seems to indicate that with new found confidence in its ability to defend against U.S. aggression, North Korea is now ready to prioritize engagement with the new administration in the South. But its offer of detente is not without conditions. South Korea should, said Kim, 

“discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces” and “refrain from any acts of bringing in nuclear armaments and aggressive forces from the United States.”

This echoes the spirit of the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration, signed by former leaders Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il in 2000—which states the question of Korea’s reunification should be resolved “independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people.” (Read: Without the United States.)

At Moon Jae-in’s request, the United States agreed today to delay the joint military exercise that normally takes place in the Spring to avoid a flare-up of military tension during the Olympics. On Wednesday, North and South Korea reopened a communication channel in the truce village of Panmunjeom after it had been shut down for two years since ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye unilaterally closed down the inter-Korean industrial zone in Kaesong in February 2016.

Rather than celebrating recent developments as breakthroughs toward peace, U.S. pundits were quick to pooh-pooh them. If South Korea “runs off the leash,” said Daniel R. Russel, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration, to the New York Times,

“it will exacerbate tensions within the alliance.”

He added, 

“It is fine for the South Koreans to take the lead, but if they don’t have the U.S. behind them, they won’t get far with North Korea.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted the United States should skip the Winter Olympics if North Korea attends:

“I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.”

Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations chimed in and called Kim Jong-un’s offer of detente a “trap” in The Atlantic:

“Now [Moon Jae-in] faces the added problem that his own near-term political goals could trap him into concessions that might weaken South Korea’s alliance with the United States.”

Why is the prospect of peace in Korea so threatening to those vested in maintaining the US-ROK alliance? U.S.’ alliance with South Korea—and Japan—is critical to its strategic interests in Asia, a region that the previous administration had identified as the center of this century’s global economy in its “pivot to Asia” doctrine. In Northeast Asia, the United States has invested billions of dollars to construct a trilateral missile defense system with South Korea and Japan to curtail China’s power in the region. To U.S. military strategists, South Korea, with a ‘real live enemy’ to its north, provides an ideal training ground for its forces, which routinely conduct massive exercises that simulate real war scenarios and involve tens of thousands of troops from the region as well as the continental United States.

South Korea is also among the top purchasers of U.S. weapons, a major source of earning for the United States. In the past decade, the United States sold more than $30 billion worth of weapons to South Korea. For the U.S. military industrial complex, a divided Korea perpetually threatened by war is a bonanza. And the continued division of the peninsula is critical to keep it that way. In short, what the United States seeks, in the name of the “US-ROK alliance,” is to turn the Military Demarcation Line that separates North and South Korea into a permanent border. Even as Moon and Kim take cautious steps to resume North-South contact, we can be sure that the wheels are already turning in Washington to undermine this effort.

Former human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in has said he wants South Korea to be “able to take the lead on matters on the Korean Peninsula.” 2018 will be a test of his determination to see his vision through. The South Korean people, who, just one year ago, took to the streets in the bitterest winter months to say, “Basta ya!” accomplished something no one had previously imagined possible: the ouster of the dictator’s daughter, Park Geun-hye. They can, once again, achieve what had once seemed out of reach by pressing the Moon Jae-in government to fulfill his vision—use the Winter Olympics as an opportunity for a breakthrough toward lasting peace and national reconciliation in defiance of the U.S. military industrial complex. To that end, peace and anti-war forces in the United States, too, need to press their own government to give South Korea the room to chart its own course.

*

This article was originally published by Zoom in Korea.

Featured image is from KCNA.

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A new round of political warfare has been ignited in Washington by the impending publication of a behind-the-scenes tell-all volume written by journalist Michael Wolff, based largely on interviews with former Trump counselor Stephen Bannon.

Several anti-Trump media outlets carried excerpts of the book, Fire and Fury:Inside the Trump White House, in advance of its planned publication next week. The Guardian highlighted Bannon’s comment that the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top campaign aides and a Russian delegation was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” as well as monumentally stupid.

New York magazine published a full chapter of the book, detailing the shock felt by Trump, his wife and closest aides on election night when the Republican ticket unexpectedly prevailed over the heavily favored Democrat Hillary Clinton. Fully expecting to lose, Trump hoped to profit from his increased celebrity to launch a new television network. Top aides had their own next ventures in the planning stages, not anticipating the debacle of the Democratic campaign.

The response of the White House to the publication of Fire and Fury was full-on hysteria. Trump personally denounced Bannon as having “lost his mind,” while declaring that his former campaign chairman and White House counselor had rarely even been in one-on-one meetings with him.

Attorneys for Trump sent “cease-and-desist” letters to Bannon and to the book’s publisher, Henry Holt & Co. The letter to Bannon demanded that he stop violating the confidentiality agreement he signed when he became an employee of the Trump campaign in August 2016. The clear implication of such a demand, however, is that Bannon is telling the truth in the comments quoted by Wolff.

The letter to Holt demanded that the book—already printed and sent to bookstores—should not be made available for sale. In response, the publisher moved up the date for general sale from January 9 to this morning, Friday, January 5. The book is already number one in presale orders in the US market, according to Amazon, and Trump’s public attacks assure it wide circulation.

Bannon responded in a conciliatory fashion to Trump’s diatribe, praising Trump’s political record during an appearance on his Breitbart News radio program, and telling a caller that he continued to support the president. Despite such reassurances, there is no question that the new book has dealt a significant political blow to the White House, which Trump may not survive.

Opponents of Trump among congressional Democrats and Republicans and in the bulk of the corporate-controlled media seized on the book to give a new blast of publicity to the Russia investigation, which is largely driven by foreign policy differences within the US ruling elite.

Congressional opponents also cited the portrait of the president given by Wolff throughout the volume to support claims that Trump is mentally unfit and could be subject to removal from office, either through impeachment or use of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

Such suggestions have nothing in common with the deep-seated opposition to the policies of the Trump administration in the working class, and among youth and immigrants. They reflect concerns in sections of the ruling elite, including both Democrats and a growing number of leading Republicans, that Trump’s erratic and provocative conduct will trigger a mass popular movement that would threaten the bourgeois order as a whole.

Bannon’s opposition to Trump has a somewhat different character from other factions of the ruling elite. He has long been identified with the project of building a mass fascist movement in the United States, and for a number of years has focused his efforts on transforming the Republican Party into an ultra-right nationalistic organization on the model of the French National Front or the Alternative for Germany.

Bannon was ousted from the White House as part of its reorganization under retired General John Kelly, brought in as chief of staff in July to impose greater control by the military over the crisis-ridden administration. Since then, Bannon has openly denounced the Republican congressional leadership and backed a series of ultra-right challengers to sitting Republican senators, most notably Roy Moore in Alabama, who was defeated December 12 in a special election by Democrat Doug Jones.

In service of the creation of an ultra-right “populist” movement, Bannon has advocated a combination of racist and anti-immigrant provocations, like the Charlottesville riot and widespread deportations, with demagogic sallies against the “Eastern establishment” and even Wall Street (although Bannon is himself a veteran of Goldman Sachs and the principal backer of his Breitbart News is hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer).

Trump has rebuffed Bannon’s approach in favor of a full-scale embrace of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and even cuts in the estate tax, while offering nothing to working people and targeting popular social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for budget cuts.

It is noteworthy that the Wolff book, for which Bannon was the principal source, has gone to press only days after Trump signed the tax cut legislation into law.

Their current conflict by no means rules out a rapprochement between Trump and Bannon at some further stage, particularly in the event of the outbreak of social struggles in the United States where the White House may feel the need for a new round of populist demagogy.

That said, the Wolff book underscores not merely the “unfitness” of Donald Trump, but the unfitness of the entire class in whose interests he rules America.

What can be gleaned from the excerpts published so far is a portrait of a man who is profoundly, willfully ignorant about anything that does not touch directly on his own ability to make money and his own personal comfort: in other words, a figure quite representative of the worst traits of the American corporate elite.

Trump spends his entire day in phone calls with a narrow circle of cronies and watching cable television, interrupted by occasional meetings with his staff and cabinet, during most of which Trump talks and does not listen. In a particularly lacerating passage, Wolff writes:

“Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate. He trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do.”

Trump’s supporters, particularly in Fox News, pointed to Wolff’s admission that many of the episodes he describes were based on conflicting accounts by rival White House aides, not on his direct observation. They have not explained what possessed Trump to approve the Wolff book, which he apparently expected to be a glowing portrait of the first 100 days of the new administration.

Wolff is the author of a previous gossipy volume (2008) about Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. Murdoch, like Trump, had agreed to be the subject in the expectation of a puff piece, then fired a top aide when the book turned out to be less than flattering.

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Iran at a Dangerous Crossroads

January 5th, 2018 by Peter Koenig

On 21 September 2017, the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, spoke to the head and the members of the Assembly of Experts with kind of a State of the Nation Speech.

He addressed many issues from internal affairs, competing factions within the Islamic Revolution, to external relations – and the economy. He also referred to The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly called the Iran Nuclear Deal, the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, reached in Vienna, Austria, on 14 July 2015. The accord is barely two and half years old and already breached by one of the five main-sponsors, the United States of America. The agreement also refers to the P5+1, meaning the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States – plus Germany and, of course Iran. The European Union was also part of the agreement in an observer function.

With regard to the JCPOA, the Ayatollah said

The problem that I had and continue to have with the nuclear negotiations – I have discussed this matter in private and in public with officials – is this: what I am saying is that it was alright to negotiate, there was nothing wrong with negotiating, but those negotiations should have been conducted with care and precision so much so that every short move by us will not be considered as the violation of the Bar-Jaam [the JCPOA], while this is not the case for every wrong move that the other side makes! This is wrong! This should not happen. This happens due to lack of trust in and attention to domestic power. This state of affairs happens due to reliance on the other side and on foreign elements.

I will tell you that we should not pin our hopes on foreigners. We should work with the world and I am not opposed to this. Working with the world naturally has certain requirements. We accept these requirements and we shoulder them, however we are not relying on foreigners. This is because our enemies are too many outside the environment of society and the country. There is a front of enemies against us. Well thankfully, we have delivered blows to this front until today. We have defeated it and pushed it back and this will be the case from now on too, but we should know that we are not faced with a single enemy, rather we are faced with a front of enemies.”

The Supreme Leader clearly refers to the non-trustworthiness of the US of A and her vassal allies, i.e. the European Union and her member countries, foremost, Germany, France and the UK. And he is of course right. Western ‘partners’ are almost unilaterally not reliable. Washington, especially Trump and his generals, directed by their Deep State handlers, the most prominent of whom is Netanyahu, the Zionist-in-chief and close buddy of the Donald, actually so close that he and his cronies decide on US foreign policy, i.e. that Iran is a terror state and has to be ‘neutralized’. This means the nuclear deal negotiated under Obama should be declared nil. Trump has been doing this ever since he ascended to the throne, and even before, during his campaign.

Without the Zionists money (i.e. Wall Street), it may have been difficult for Trump’s dark handlers to catapult him into the Oval Office. In his Tweet-manners, Trump issues threats after absurd threats to Iran, all baseless and outright lies. Wake up, world, for those who still read and believe in Trumps unfounded accusations, be it on Iran, North Korea, Syria or Venezuela – and in fact many more – tweet back, asking warrior Donald to stop his aggressions and seek peace instead. If We, the People, the 99.9%, send him this massive message, he may reconsider sending his “fury and fire” message around the globe, boasting of having his finger on the red nuclear trigger bottom. In reality, he doesn’t want to see himself and his multi-billion fortunes going up in flames. Yet, calling these threats ‘kindergarten speek’ would be dangerous, because this madman, much-much madder than the “Rocketman”, is totally unpredictable. Just listen to his speech at the UN’s General Assembly of last September and to the senseless utterings of his incompetent UN-delegate, Nikki Haley. Iran knows it. Hence, the Ayatollah’s call for caution, not just for Iran, but for the rest of the world, should be taken seriously.

Another important point the Ayatollah makes in his address to the Assembly of Experts is on Iran’s economy.

The issue of paying attention to reliance on domestic hands for the sake of solving the problems of the country should turn into a well-established idea in the people’s minds. This should be repeated, explained and clarified so many times until it turns into a definite discourse.

We have motivated youth and skilled individuals. We have good producers, good entrepreneurs, good laborers, good farmers, good teachers and good professors. Tasks should be improved by such individuals. It is these individuals who should eliminate the problems of the country. It is also they who should solve economic problems and various other problems related to business.

I am not saying that you should break off your relations with the world. This is not my opinion in any way. From the beginning of the Revolution, I have been among those individuals who insist on establishing relations – relations with the world. In the present time too, I have the same belief, but the point that I want to raise is this: we should not exchange our own powerful natural legs for a foreigners’ cane. If we rest on a foreigner’s cane instead of standing on our own feet and relying on ourselves, this is wrong.”

This is a clear reference to an “Economy of Resistance” which Iran has embarked on during the past couple of years, including the principles of import substitution, local investments with local money, local research and development, trading with friends and neighbors, and – especially decoupling from the western dollar-economy which will also be a protection from US imposed sanctions.

These unfounded and totally illegal economic punishments by any standards of international law, should have been lifted after the nuclear accord. This was part of the deal. But they were not lifted. To the contrary, Washington under Trump and under Netanyahu’s direction, enforced them for no other reason than an absolutely groundless allegation, “Iran is funding terrorism throughout the world.”

For once, the EU and especially the EU leaders, Germany, France and the UK, did not heed Trump’s call for continued sanctions on Iran. Instead, especially France and Germany signed bilateral trade and technology exchange agreements with Iran in the billions of euros. But make no mistake, they wouldn’t have signed them, if they weren’t on the winning side of the deals. That’s predatory capitalism at its worst. That’s what the west knows best. The only good thing for Iran about these agreements is that they cement the nuclear deal. Money – billions of dollars – is stronger for the neoliberal capitalists than Trump’s toothless threats.

However, these deals with the west bear the danger and risks associated with further exposure to the western monetary system, further vulnerability to western threats and sanctions, as all international transactions in western currencies have to transit the US banking system – and can be stopped by a US judge, practically at will. Argentina is a case in point, when in 2014 US District judge, Thomas Griesa in Manhattan, stopped an Argentinian payment to creditors of US$ 500 million, blackmailing Buenos Aires into paying an illegal debt of US$ 1.6 billion to Paul Singer’s predatory Elliott hedge fund. – Iran beware of such risks!

Sanctions of the past, nonetheless have left a dent in Iran’s economy. They contributed to inflation and to shortages of mostly foreign goods – which in turn, combined with unemployment, may have been the main reason for last week’s non-violent protests that started on 28 December in Iran’s second largest city Mashhad. They then spread across the country and, inspired by outside forces, became violent, claiming the lives of at least 21 people. They are the most violent protests since those following the 2009 elections, disputing the victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They were then said to be officially inspired by opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, but, in fact, they were largely influenced and promoted by Washington’s secret services.

Image result for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in speech september 2017Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 1 January, according to Reuters, blamed Iran’s foes for fomenting the unrest. Though he didn’t specify who they were, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia were behind the riots. He could have added Israel. There is no doubt, he is right on the dot. The insurrections appear like well-orchestrated western Color Revolutions, or Arab Spring type upheavals, aiming at Regime Change – what else? Similar cases abound throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.

It is true that neoliberal factions in Iran – the fifth column – is an instrument of the west, a driving force to keep Iran within the orbit of western influence and especially the western monetary system. Iran’s leadership better be aware – this can be fatal. It will likely bring more economic strangulations as similar dependencies have brought to other nations that wanted to preserve their sovereignty instead of bending to the empire. People living under economic hardship can easily be manipulated and mobilized to raise against their government.

Iran has to walk a fine line. The Resistance Economy may require some initial sacrifices and may take time to take hold. But eventually it will. Russia has applied it fully, after the ‘western sanctions’. President Putin has repeatedly said that these sanctions where the best thing that could have happened to Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, because they have prompted Russia to revive its agricultural sector, as well as industry and scientific research. He even said so to the Ayatollah during his last November visit to Iran, suggesting that de-dollarization of Iran’s economy might be a good thing.

Indeed, after Russia went through a couple of economically hard years, she is now on an ascending curve. This is witnessed by two years in a row as the world’s largest grain exporter – a renewed, modernized industrial park, largely replacing what Ukraine produced for Russia in the past, increased trade with the Central Asian former Soviet Republics – and especially, an economy almost completely decoupled from the dollar, working with China and the rest of the SCO on an own currency and trade exchange system, i.e. the petro-yuan, convertible in gold.

Iran could do the same, without bending over to France and Germany (and others in the corrupt EU) for billion dollar / euro trade and technology deals. France is not trustworthy, neither is Germany, they are just out there to take advantage – see Germany’s strangulation of Greece. They are vassals in Washington’s pockets. Their ‘leaders’ were put in place by Washington’s propaganda, Wall Street money and election manipulations.

My humble advice, if I may, to the Government of Iran for 2018 and beyond:

Continue pursuing the path of “Resistance Economy”, concentrating on “local production for local markets, with local currency and through local state-owned or public banking for the benefit of the national economy”. This is one of the principles of “Economy of Resistance”. – It includes ‘import substitution’ at a large scale, including using Iran’s own science, i.e. ‘research and development’ (R&D) capacity.

Refrain to the extent possible from seeking trading / business / banking relations with the west – and stay away from the IMF and the World Bank.

Instead focus on the east, on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and on some of the BRICS countries for external business and trade, and on the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) for development assistance. The future is definitely in the East, and as a member of the SCO, Iran is already part of the East – China’s One Belt Initiative (OBI) includes Iran – it is a multi-trillion-dollar (equivalent) program that will dominate economics in the coming centuries.

Use your own money, not western currencies, especially not the US dollar or its off-spring, the euro. Follow the de-dollarization example of Russia and China, if need be, develop a national cryptocurrency, controlled by the government for external trade, to circumvent western sanctions – see Venezuela.

Finally, be always aware that Washington, masterminded by “the Deep Zion-State” – will never let go. This doctrine is engraved in the PNAC (Plan for a New American Century), largely conceived by Washington’s Zionist think-tanks. Once they decided on a target, like the Ayatollah so eloquently says, i.e. Iran, Syria, Lebanon — and in Asia, North Korea and China, they will not let go. No matter whether there is a peace agreement, or whether they have made a promise, – nothing, but nothing that Washington says, signs and promises can be trusted. – The war in Syrian, for example is not ”over’’ as Mr. Putin has made believe, when he said Russia will pull out their troops. Just look at the US military base at Al-Tanf in Syria – a US base established fully illegally in Syria. The US was never invited to set foot in Syria. Yet, they not only are enhancing their base, they are also training new Daesh / ISIS terror groups to fight Damascus.

Iran will prevail. Iran is not alone. Iran has a mighty eastern alliance, including Russia and China. Trump and his handlers know it.

*

Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a former World Bank staff and worked extensively around the world in the fields of environment and water resources. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for Global Research, ICH, RT, Sputnik, PressTV, The 21st Century (China), TeleSUR, The Vineyard of The Saker Blog, and other internet sites. He is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe. He is also a co-author of The World Order and Revolution! – Essays from the Resistance.

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On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, delivered a rather ambiguous threat in response to a question on the maintenance of the US level of funding to the UN Palestinian refugee programme.

She replied: “The president has said that he doesn’t want to give any additional funding or stop funding until the Palestinians are agreeing (sic) to come back to the negotiating table.”

President Trump himself tweeted the following threat to UNRWA:

“But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Funding withdrawal

Ambiguous threats and foreign policy statements are not a new phenomenon for the Trump administration, and whilst UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness maintains they have not been informed of any change in US policy, the consequences of potential funding withdrawal from the agency must also be considered in all seriousness.

UNRWA was established in 1950 in order to provide relief services for the 700,000 Palestinian refugees who had been expelled from Palestine following the establishment of Israel. It operates in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and provides Palestinians with primary and secondary education, health services as well as various camp infrastructure projects.

Although millions of Palestinians rely on its services, UNRWA is also sometimes criticised for perpetuating the conflict and footing the bill that Israel should be paying.

The US is UNRWA’s biggest donor with last year’s donation totaling $368m, nearly 30 percent of its total funding. In the past, when UNRWA has had a funding shortfall they have suspended programmes or certain aspects of them.

In 2015 it came close to delaying the start of the school year for nearly half a million Palestinian children. Luckily, it managed to overcome the $100m deficit after an urgent appeal by former UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon.

However, a total US funding cut would mean a serious reduction in services and the complete halt of many of the education and health programmes.

In other words, schools and health clinics would close leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees across the region without schooling, health care, jobs, making their situation even more dire.

Indeed, if it is left to function at two thirds of its capacity, the viability of the agency as a whole would be called into question.

On the other hand, if the Palestinian Authority is forced to return to US mediated negotiations in exchange for the continuation of funding, UNRWA’s basic services would be left tainted with the political demands of an administration that is determined to defy international consensus.

This is particularly problematic in light of Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, defying international law.

Aid and politics

This too, however, is not new, with aid and development in Palestine long being held captive to politics. In a recent piece for MEE, Alaa Tartir explained:

“Aid flows over the decades resulted in entrenchment of aid dependency…which stripped the Palestinian people of power to resist colonialism, apartheid and oppression”.

The political strings attached to aid, and Palestinian dependency on it, are among the main reasons that have kept Palestinians from developing a sustainable resistance to the Israeli settler colonial regime. Indeed, UNRWA, and other international agencies, are paying the bill for Israel’s military occupation and thus are huge factors in maintaining the status quo.

Should UNRWA cease its operations, the gap will have to be filled by someone else. This is an important detail which seems to have escaped President Trump.

It’s not yet clear whether the Trump administration’s threats are directed towards UNRWA or the PA and it is very likely that the administration itself is also unsure of the recipient of these threats.

What is clear, however, is that if the threats were directed at the former, the Palestinian refugees will once again be the ones who suffer for the political decisions of a leadership that refuses to fight for their fundamental right to return home.

If it was directed at the latter, the PA is left with very few cards to play especially with its legitimacy among the Palestinian people dwindling.

*

Yara Hawari is the Palestine Policy Fellow for Al Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD at the University of Exeter in Middle East politics and frequently writes for various media outlets. 

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This article first appeared on GR in July 2017.

A number of countries have recently tested ballistic or cruise missiles and a handful, not least Russia and China, possess nuclear-tipped ICBMs capable of striking the United States. And yet the missiles and nuclear weapons program of only one of these countries, North Korea, arouses consternation in Washington.

What makes tiny North Korea, within its miniscule defense budget, and rudimentary nuclear arsenal and missile capability, a threat so menacing that “worry has spread in Washington and the United Nations”? [1]

“The truth,” it has been said, “is often buried on the front page of The New York Times.” [2] This is no less true of the real reason Washington frets about North Korea’s missile tests.

Image result for David E. Sanger

David E. Sanger (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In a July 4, 2017 article titled “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” reporter David E. Sanger, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the unofficial think-tank of the US State Department, reveals why Washington is alarmed by North Korea’s recent test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“The fear,” writes Sanger, “is not that [North Korean leader] Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the North’s 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival.”

Washington’s alarm, according to Sanger, is that “Mr. Kim [now] has the ability to strike back.” In other words, Pyongyang has acquired the means of an effective self-defense. That, writes Sanger, makes North Korea “a dangerous regime.”

Indeed, to a world hegemon like the United States, any renitent foreign government that refuses to place itself in the role of vassal becomes “a dangerous regime,” which must be eliminated. Accordingly, allowing pro-independence North Korea to develop the means to more effectively defend itself against US imperialist ambitions has no place in Washington’s playbook. The United States has spent the past 70 years trying to integrate the tiny, plucky, country into its undeclared empire. Now, with North Korea’s having acquired the capability to retaliate against US military aggression in a manner that would cause considerable harm to the US homeland, the prospects of those seven-decades of investment bearing fruit appear dim.

US hostility to North Korean independence has been expressed in multifarious ways over the seven decades of North Korea’s existence.

A three-year US-led war of aggression, from 1950 to 1953, exterminated 20 percent of North Korea’s population and burned to the ground every town in the country [3], driving the survivors into subterranean shelters, in which they lived and worked. US General Douglas MacArthur said of the destruction the United States visited upon North Korea that

“I have never seen such devastation…After I looked at the wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.” [4]

A vicious seven-decades-long campaign of economic warfare, aimed at crippling the country’s economy, and engendering attendant miseries among its people, has conferred upon North Korea the unhappy distinction of being the most heavily sanctioned nation on earth. Nestled among the tranches of US sanctions are those that have been imposed because North Korea has chosen “a Marxist-Leninist economy,” [5] revealing what lies at the root of US hostility to the country.

For decades, North Koreans have lived under a US nuclear Sword of Damocles, subjected repeatedly to threats of nuclear annihilation, including being turned into “charcoal briquettes” [6] and “completely destroyed,” so that they “literally cease to exist” [7]—and this before they had nuclear weapons and the rudimentary means to deliver them. In other words, in threats to vaporize North Koreans, Washington has threatened to make them the successors to aboriginal Americans as objects of US perpetrated genocides.

We should remind ourselves why North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the first place. As University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings writes, for North Korea the nuclear crisis began in late February 1993, when

General Lee Butler, head of the new U.S. ‘Strategic Command,’ announced that he was retargeting strategic nuclear weapons (i.e., hydrogen bombs) meant for the old U.S.S.R, on North Korea (among other places.) At the same time, the new CIA chief, James Woolsey, testified that North Korea was ‘our most grave current concern.’ By mid-March 1993, tens of thousands of [US] soldiers were carrying out war games in Korea…and in came the B1-B bombers, B-52s from Guam, several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles, and the like: whereupon the North pulled out of the NPT.” [8]

Two and half decades later the B1-B bombers and several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles—this time, US ‘power-projecting” aircraft carriers—are back.

Last month, Washington sent not one, but two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, to the waters between Japan and Korea, to conduct “exercises,” “a show of force not seen there for more than two decades,” reported The Wall Street Journal. [9]

At the same time, the Pentagon sent B1-B strategic bombers, not once, but twice last month, to conduct simulated nuclear bombing runs “near the Military Demarcation Line that divides the two Koreas;” in other words, along the North Korean border. [10]

Understandably, North Korea denounced the simulated bombing missions for what they were: grave provocations. If the communist country’s new self-defensive capabilities spurred consternation in Washington, then Washington’s overt display of its offensive might legitimately enkindled alarm in Pyongyang. The Wall Street Journal summed up the US provocations this way: the “U.S. military has conducted several flyovers near the Korean Peninsula using B-1B [i.e., nuclear] bombers and directed a Navy aircraft carrier group to the region—all to North Korea’s consternation.” [11]

Robert Litwak, director of international security studies for the Wilson Center, explains the reason for Pyongyang’s consternation, if it’s not already blindingly obvious. US-led war games “[may look] like a defensive maneuver for us, [but] from North Korea‘s perspective, they may think we’re preparing an attack when you start bringing B2 fighters.” [12]

In January, North Korea offered to “sit with the U.S. anytime” to discuss US war games and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang proposed that the United States “contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.” [13]

The North Korean proposal was seconded by China and Russia [14] and recently by South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in. [15] But Washington peremptorily rejected the proposal, refusing to acknowledge any equivalency between US-led war games, which US officials deem ‘legitimate’ and North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, which they label ‘illegitimate.” [16]

US rejection of the China-Russia-South Korea-backed North Korean proposal, however, is only rhetorically related to notions of legitimacy, and the question of legitimacy fails to stand up under even the most cursory examination. How are US ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons legitimate and those of North Korea not?

The real reason Washington rejects the North Korean proposal is explained by Sanger: an agreed freeze “essentially acknowledges that the North’s modest arsenal is here to say;” which means that Pyongyang has achieved “the ability to strike back,” to stay the US hand, and deter Washington from launching a regime change aggression in the manner of wars it perpetrated against Saddam and Gaddafi, leaders who led pro-independence governments which, like North Korea, refused to be integrated into the informal US empire, but which, unlike North Korea, relinquished their means of self-defense, and once defenseless, were toppled by US-instigated aggressions.

“That is what Mr. Kim believes his nuclear program will prevent,” writes the Council on Foreign Relations member, referring to the US effort to bring the United States’ seven-decades-long campaign of regime change against Pyongyang to a head. And he may, Sanger concedes, “be right.”

Anyone concerned with democracy should take heart that North Korea, unlike Gaddafi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq, has successfully resisted US predations. The United States exercises an international dictatorship, arrogating onto itself the right to intervene in any part of the globe, in order to dictate to others how they should organize their political and economic affairs, to the point, in North Korea, of explicitly waging economic warfare against the country because it has a Marxist-Leninist economy at variance with the economic interests of the upper stratum of US society whose opportunities for profit-making through exports to and investments in North Korea have been accordingly eclipsed.

Those countries which resist despotism are the real champions of democracy, not those which exercise it (the United States) or facilitate it (their allies.) North Korea is calumniated as a bellicose dictatorship, human rights violator and practitioner of cruel and unusual punishment of political dissidents, a description to a tee of Washington’s principal Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, a recipient of almost illimitable military, diplomatic and other favors from the United States, showered on the Arabian tyranny despite its total aversion to democracy, reduction of women to the status of chattel, dissemination of a viciously sectarian Wahhabi ideology, an unprovoked war on Yemen, and the beheading and crucifixion of its political dissidents.

If we are concerned about democracy, we should, as Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues, also be concerned about democracy on a global scale. The worry that has spread in Washington and the United Nations is a worry that democracy on a global scale has just been given a boost. And that should not be a worry for the rest of us, but a warm caress.

Notes

1. Foster Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim, “North Korea’s nukes are not on negotiation table: Kim Jong-un,” Reuters, July 5, 2017.

2. This may be attributable to Peter Kuznick, co-writer with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States.

3. According to US Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, cited in Medi Hasan, “Why do North Koreans hate us? One reason—They remember the Korean War,” The Intercept, May 3, 2017. LeMay said, we “killed off…20 percent of the population…We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

4. Glen Frieden, “NPR can’t help hyping North Korea threat,” FAIR, May 9, 2017.

5. “North Korea: Economic Sanctions,” Congressional Research Service, 2016.

6. Colin Powell warned North Korea that the United States could turn it into a “charcoal briquette.” Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.

7. US General Wesley Clark, quoted in Domenico Losurdo, Non-Violence: A History Beyond the Myth, Lexington Books, 2015, Clark said, “The leaders of North Korea use bellicose language, but they know very well that they do not have a military option available…Were they to attack South Korea, their nation would be completely destroyed. It would literally cease to exist.”

8. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.

9. Gordon Lubold, “North Korea, South China Sea to dominate Defense Secretary’s Asia Trip,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2017.

10. Jonathan Cheng, “U.S. bombers fly near North Korean border after missile launch,” The Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2017.

11. Jonathan Cheng, “North Korea compares Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2017.

12. “US experts argue in favor of scaling down S. Korea-US military exercises,” The Hankyoreh, June 20, 2017.

13. Korean Central News Agency, January 10, 2015.

14. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile launch threatens U.S. strategy in Asia,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2017.

15. David E. Sanger, “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” The New York Times, July 4, 2017.

16. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile launch threatens U.S. strategy in Asia,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2017.

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This article first appeared on GR in June 2017.

Since 2010, Father Daniel Maes (78), from the monastery of Postel in Belgium, has been a resident of Syria’s sixth-century Mar Yakub monastery in the city of Qara, 90 kilometers north of the capital Damascus. He has returned to his home country several times in the intervening years to give seminars, but remains living in Syria.

I interviewed Father Daniel recently. The following is his story. He told me why he went to Syria in 2010, and how he experienced a culture shock when he first arrived there. He also explained that there never was a civil uprising in Syria, touched on the propaganda surrounding chemical attacks, relayed heartbreaking stories from Syrians themselves and praised the great support they receive from Hezbollah, the Syrian Army, and Russia.

A harmonious society

During one of the international ecumenical gatherings, I met Mother Agnes-Mariam, the founder of the Mar Yakub monastery – which once was one of the most famous monasteries of the Middle East. I was very impressed by her modesty and work, and I invited her to come to speak in Belgium several times after that. Her talks were very successful. At one point, she asked me:

I have visited you so many times. When will you visit us?

And that’s when I decided to go to Syria.

I had never had any contact with an Arabic country, so I had many prejudices. I thought that one had to be very careful in a Muslim country. To describe my experience in just a few words: It was nothing less than a culture shock to me. The hospitality that I experienced there was amazing, and the majority of youth, and the different kinds of people, from all walks of life and religions – Shiite, Sunni, Orthodox, Catholic, any possible religion – were all united. Regarding the country as a whole, life was harmonious; I have never seen such a harmonious society.

Hospitality was not only shown to Christians; there was no distinction made between Muslims and Christians. In all of Damascus, I think, there was not even one door that was locked. On a certain evening, I met a Christian woman who has a tourist office in Damascus. She told me:

I’ve been in many countries, and places. I’ve been in Brussels, I’ve been in Paris, and there is no other city like Damascus, where you can go out at night in safety.”

She was a beautiful lady, and she could safely walk the streets. In addition, treatment at hospitals was free, except medicines (all made in Syria!), and following a program of study at the university cost around 20 euros. On the whole, I witnessed a prosperous, safe, hospitable, and harmonious society. And refugees, about one million from Iraq and some from Bosnia, were treated as their own citizens.

Monastery Deir Mar Yaqoub in Qara, Syria

No civil uprising took place in Syria

As soon as the lies started pouring in, I started my fight against those lies with the truth. One journalist claimed that when he was in Syria, he “asked for bread, but received bullets instead” – as if to prove that there was a civil uprising. Let me tell you, when I was in Syria before the war, 10 loaves cost 10 cents – a tenth of a euro. What nonsense this journalist was spouting. That has been my battle; against those lies. The West was trying to ‘find’ any reason to murder that country.

On a Friday evening we went to the priest in Qara. We would occasionally go out here and there to Christian families to pray for those who were ill. At some point we went to the presbytery to get food, we were walking, and on the street there was the main mosque, where we saw a group of young people.

They were screaming, yelling and held anti-Assad and anti-Syria banners. The priest told us later on that they were not Syrians. They came from abroad. They were filming their ‘demonstration’ and were paid generously by Al Jazeera for that. That was the so-called civil uprising. Thankfully, that was still at the very beginning, otherwise we would not be alive today. It was a very unpleasant feeling as we walked by those people to go to the presbytery.

At the time we didn’t know it was so organized. We heard from friends that the same occurred in other places. Since troublemakers are not wanted in any of our villages, this group of young people were not supported by anyone in the village. Still, they managed to grow. It grew to arson attacks and armed violence. The priest was also attacked, robbed, and was able to barely escape from strangulation by masked men with strange accents.

The organized and armed ‘opposition’ were now calling the shots. In Homs and Quosseir, children from Christian families and moderate Muslim families were threatened or even killed if they refused to participate in anti-government demonstrations. As the local archbishop, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, said:

If the people of Aleppo had not resisted these armed gangs energetically, and helped the army, the city would’ve been taken by rebels in a single day.

There was NO uprising, or so-called ‘civil war’; from within, there was no reason for it.

The great majority of Syrians continue to support their democratically elected President, as well as the Syrian Army.

Chemical attack propaganda

The story surrounding the chemical gas attack in August 2013 was a disgrace. Not a single journalist reported on the irregularities, and didn’t ask any critical questions. In early August 2013, 11 villages were attacked in Lattakia. People were killed and homes destroyed, and many children were kidnapped. We tried to help find them. A list was compiled with their name, gender, and a note on whether they were missing, had been kidnapped or were murdered. There was not a word on this from the media.

Obama had announced in 2012, under intense media interest, that the use of chemical weapons was a ‘red line’. In other words, a reason to invade or attack Syria militarily, which the ‘international community’ was impatiently waiting for. Syria gave the UN and its agencies dozens of letters with evidence of chemical attacks by rebels, which was confirmed by nuns at a hospital in Aleppo. Not one letter has been answered and not a single attack has been investigated.

An official commission of inquiry was sent to Damascus and, while they arrived safe and sound, a massive chemical poison attack took place in nearby Ghouta under their noses. Western heads of state immediately expressed their horror at the atrocity, which they assumed had been ordered by Assad, and before the commission even began investigating it. In addition, the heads of state gave very different figures, ranging from 200 to 1,000 deaths. Apparently, they were better at agreeing amongst themselves who the culprit was (Assad) than they were regarding the number of victims.

The 35 professional videos, published right after the attack, showing a great number of dying children, went around the world. Left out was key context; that region had long been abandoned by families because of the fighting. And nowhere was a mother or an elder to be seen! Parents from Lattakia recognized their kidnapped children. Some were lying in different positions in the pictures.

How is it possible that no parents were present in those photos and footage? How could they even publish all that documentary evidence so soon after the attack? Why were the bodies of those innocent children neatly put together in one room? And that in a Middle Eastern village which was already emptied – how could there have been children there to begin with? Instead of asking these questions, accusations were thrown around before any investigation took place, making it clear to me that it was a set-up.

In my efforts against the lies, I try to make it clear that what people say or think is not neutral. It is important to ask: Are you standing side-by-side with the murderer or do you stand on the side of truth and the innocent victims?
Also, everybody should know by now that the WMDs story of Iraq was nothing but a lie: there were no WMDs. Now they’re telling us that Assad is killing his people? Everyone who has even a bit of a brain will understand immediately that all this is a set-up, that these allegations do not hold water.

The Syrian people know who their killers are; the terrorists – and they know who their protectors are, the Syrian army and their allies. So I can’t help but ask journalists: are you so stupid to think that the people here are too stupid to know who the murderers and saviors are?

To this day, there are posters and pictures up all over Syria praising Assad and Putin – that is the reality.

While Western nations continue to lie, Russia tells the truth

Heartbreaking stories

I have many stories from Syria. I will tell you a couple. In early May 2016, dozens of Syrians and Lebanese came together at a festive meeting for martyrs. There were such touching stories. A woman with a baby in her arms was there, with a tear in her eye and a smile. Her loved one was killed by the terrorists. These people greeted me kindly as a European foreigner, but you can’t help but feel ashamed.

There was also the Muslim family of Fawad. The Christian neighborhoods of Homs were the first ones the media reported as ‘freed’ by the so-called rebels, who had murdered, plundered, and destroyed. 130,000 Christians were expelled, and Muslims also suffered a lot due to the horrors of the ‘liberation’. Fawad’s father told how his only son was a student at the University of Homs. On a certain day, he didn’t come home; he had been kidnapped. All searches were in vain.

After some time, the parents received a phone call: “Would you like to see your son again?” The father promised to give everything or do anything in order to get his son back. A couple of days later, someone rang their doorbell. They opened the door and they saw a picture of their son on a plastic bag, after which a car drove away quickly. In the bag was the body of their son, in pieces. At first the father was furious. Later he was present at the Musalah meeting. The father continues to speak with great conviction:

We forgive those who killed our son. Let us forgive on behalf of Fawad and on behalf of God. That is the price we have to pay for peace.

They felt so lost, and so tired of suffering.

Before and after pictures of Syria. Do people truly think ‘rebels’ have Syria’s best interests at heart?

Our experience in Qara, liberated by Syrian Army and Hezbollah

Since 2012, our town of 25,000 residents quickly grew to 80,000 with strange bearded and heavily-armed men. Tens of thousands of armed terrorists attacked Qara and used it as a base from which to carry out attacks. However they were only able to carry out two or three small attacks from there.

Together with Muslim families, including children, we hid in the basement of the church, not giving away any signs of life. Muslims took care of us and we took care of them, while we entertained their children as best we could. We all had our hands full to keep them busy. Also, to keep them from being afraid, while for us there was no time to be afraid.

We moved some furniture inside, and behind the furniture the Muslim women slept. We slept on the other side. For a whole week, we had no water, but luckily there was snow. We had a garden which provided us with some almonds, cherries, figs and grapes. We also had bags of corn in the basement, which we ate from. It was an eye-opening experience, living together.

On a Sunday morning, the door was opened, a man came in and said, “It’s over“. His name was Ruah Allah, i.e. ‘Spirit of God’!

Hezbollah helped a lot in fighting off those terrorists in Qara. They were the first to provide help; along with the Syrian army, they protected and saved the people of Syria. The fact that we’re still alive is otherwise inexplicable. Qara was very dangerous in November 2013.

Hezbollah was originally set up because Zionists murdered their wives and children and destroyed their homes. They’re young idealists who joined Hezbollah as resistors, who want to serve and protect their people, but also, as it were, have sworn to help those who are similarly being threatened by the same kind of brutal aggression. And, if Syria would fall, then Lebanon wouldn’t survive more than a few days after that, either. The idealism of those young people was inspiring. As Shiites they work together with Syrian soldiers, most of whom are Sunni. They also work well together with Christians. It was a pleasant experience. They continue to protect the population and therefore us.
Near the end of 2013, the army and Hezbollah cleared the town of terrorists. One after another terrorist group fled. We don’t know how exactly it happened, but the Syrian army and their allies had the upper hand. There were still some small groups of rebels left at the time. But, soon after, some residents returned, shops and business re-opened and the spirits of the people were lifted. Some residents came back to help to rebuild. Our garden has been more or less damaged, but we are working on restoring it.

Brave Hezbollah soldiers, putting their lives in danger to protect the Syrian people.

Enter Russia

We are also very thankful to Russia. If Russia didn’t come in 2015, then we would not be here today and Syria would not exist anymore. Russia says what it does and does what it says. We haven’t had direct interaction with Russians. Northern Aleppo had more contact with them. But we have seen trucks full of humanitarian supplies from Russia. A lot was organized.

Certainly, the Russians have their own reasons for being there. Just as the US is there to serve its own agenda, which wants to achieve it by destroying Syria and putting puppets in charge there, as they have done to other countries in the past 25 years, with 20 million deaths as a result. Russia on the other hand wants to do anything it can to create stability for the country, and also for its own safety.

They support the idea that the country itself should choose its own government and president. They want to protect the stability, integrity and sovereignty of the country. And if Russia has some kind of an agenda in all of this as well, well, then my choice regarding whether I’d want the US or Russia here has been made quickly. We have nothing more than appreciation for the Russians. As I said, we didn’t have personal contact with them. But based on what I’ve seen and heard from Syrian citizens, I know enough.

And you have to admit, Putin sure is an artist. Russia put up no-fly zones, against the US! It is exactly the opposite of what the US wanted to do: to provide no-fly zones in favor of the terrorists, not in favor of the Syrian army. And, while the so-called international coalition has more military power, Russia manages to do so much more. Russia is four times better than all those who protect and transport ISIS puppets to serve their political interests.

Syrians feel immense gratitude towards Russia and President Putin.

Situation now in Qara: Help from the community and the church

Since the beginning, Mother Agnes-Mariam established three centers: in Jerama (Damascus), Qara (the Monastery) and Tartous. We’re receiving many containers, but you can’t do anything with those supplies if they aren’t organized. There are a lot of medical supplies for many hospitals, everywhere people need medical help. We work day and night on organizing these supplies, and other kinds of supplies. We receive medical supplies, clothes, and food at our storage room, then we select and organize them. We quickly first take food out from the containers (due to their expiration date). We put everything neatly in boxes, and write down what and how much is in each box. These boxes are then sent out.

It’s tragic. The terrorists are very well cared for and armed by their sponsors, while Syrians are in need of medical help. Terrorists destroyed many hospitals, a whole series of hospitals in fact. Thankfully, in cooperation with the Red Crescent, Sweden has offered us a big hospital including all equipment. It’s a perfect and modern clinic, which we are very thankful for. And since the beginning, we received very great help from the Dutch organization Dorcas.

In addition, Mother Agnes-Mariam, with the help of hundreds of volunteers and some paid workers, have been providing warm meals in Aleppo since September last year. 25,000 warm meals, five days a week, for two months, using products from the region – which also supports the work of the region. The miracle is that it was foreseen happening for two months but continues to this today!

There’s been much emphasis on rebuilding. This month I went back to help do that. Families with children have moved elsewhere, they said they want a future, certainty and safety. However, others have stayed, especially a group of enthusiastic young people, who have many ideas and provide much work and effort in rebuilding Qara. And every day, one of our sisters sets up creative knitwork for 35 women in the village, which the women receive an income from. The knitwork is sold, given or sent to friends abroad. Many have thanked us for our work.

We also grow mushrooms, and there are many other small activities that help people earn an income. There were people with a handicap in the town because they had isolated themselves, but we invited them to the monastery for Easter; it was a unique experience for all of us. They then felt part of the community and have started working also; they have now been integrated into society. We’re also working on a carpet factory, where people can work on making carpets. The population is probably not waiting for carpets! But we will try to sell them outside to help citizens gain an income. We have to truly be thankful for what we have.

We’ve also worked on restoring our gardens and orchards. This area has the best cherries in the whole world. They used to sell containers full of cherries to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, much have been destroyed. But we have planted thousands of tiny plants and small trees.

‘If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.’ (Lev 26:3-4) – Cherry trees in Qara.

Hope for Syria

The country has become much more united. During the festive meeting of martyrs, one could clearly see the unity of the people, between Alawites, Catholics, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians… We have become one family, that continues to become bigger and stronger. Certain people can murder, kill, destroy infrastructure, but bringing a country to its knees will not happen.

Figure this: Alawites are probably ‘worse’ for Muslims than Christians, as the Alawites haven’t taken anything from Islam. And it is this man, President Assad, who is being supported by all, including the 70% Sunni Syrian population. We live together as one family. We work together towards the same society – and that is very strong.

There is hope. Solidarity will grow, and the harmonious connection is still there. Every country has its shortcomings, but in all of the misery, there are heroes. There are heroes and there are holy men. Amongst Muslims and others.

We can also see that there is a move from a unipolar world to a multipolar world, and I hope that for Syria this year we’ll continue to make progress. We’ve been through many years of war, but our unity has only become stronger.

Father Daniel lastly thanked me for the opportunity to speak about what he has experienced in Syria. He recalls two journalists who visited him in Qara. One of them started with the question: “Are you a fan of Assad?” To which he answered:

If I publicly say that I am against terrorists killing our Belgian Prime Minister Michel, then does that make me a fan of Michel or a paid fan of the Belgian regime?

Journalists also tend to ask about the ‘civil war’, to which he replies that there never was one.

They want to paint a certain picture. They want to hear stories of the brutal dictator. I’m pretty certain those interviews were never broadcasted,” he told me with a laugh. He didn’t give the answers they wanted to hear. He told the truth.

Originally from Afghanistan, Bahar Azizi lives in Europe, holds an MA in psychology, is an instructor in Éiriú Eolas meditation, and is a keen animal lover. Bahar has been a contributing writer and editor at SOTT.net since 2012 and occasionally co-hosts the ‘Behind the Headlines’ show on ‌the Sott Radio Network.

All images in this article are from the authors.

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The Trump administration has begun the year with an open and reckless threat of nuclear war against North Korea—a conflict that would inevitably drag in other nuclear-armed powers, with catastrophic consequences for the world.

In a New Year’s speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered talks with South Korea to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula but warned the US he was ready to defend North Korea. The entire US mainland, he declared, was “within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office.”

US President Donald Trump fired off a derogatory and provocative tweet:

“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

The remarks further inflame an extremely tense situation and undermine the meeting between North and South Korea scheduled for next Tuesday. In an earlier tweet, Trump was decidedly cool toward the prospect of such talks, saying:

“Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not—we will see!”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders faced hostile questioning over Trump’s tweet, with one journalist asking: “

Should Americans be concerned about the President’s mental fitness that he appears to be speaking so lightly about threats regarding a nuclear button?”

Sanders responded by questioning North Korean leader Kim’s mental fitness, then aggressively defending Trump’s threat.

“This is a president,” she declared, “who’s not going to cower down and he’s not going to be weak, and is going to… stand up and protect the American people.”

Sanders attacked the previous Obama administration for failing to tackle North Korea and declared that the Trump administration was going to continue its strategy of “maximum pressure” on the Pyongyang regime. Trump has insisted he will not allow North Korea to build a nuclear missile capable of reaching continental America and will, if necessary, use military force to prevent it.

Trump came under fire from several congressional Democrats, with Ro Khanna calling for new legislation restricting the president’s ability to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike without authorisation. Jim Himes expressed the fear that Trump’s tweet could result in a fatal miscalculation with North Korea, warning:

“That would get real very quickly.”

These reactions reflect sharp divisions in ruling circles in Washington over Trump’s confrontational policies toward North Korea and China, which have produced mounting calls for the president’s removal.

“This Tweet alone is grounds for removal from office under the 25th Amendment. This man should not have nukes,” Richard Painter, a lawyer who worked for President George W. Bush commented.

Under the 25th amendment, the vice-president and a majority of cabinet can dismiss a president deemed to be unfit to hold office.

The bitter factional disputes in Washington are tactical in character. The political establishment as a whole has backed a succession of criminal wars of aggression over the past 25 years and would not hesitate to back the use of nuclear weapons to defend US economic and strategic interests. Those opposed to Trump, however, view Russia rather than China as the most immediate threat to be dealt with.

Trump’s bellicose threats to use the huge US nuclear arsenal are not just aimed at North Korea. They are designed to send a warning to any country that poses a challenge to American global hegemony. Trump has continued President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” against China that includes a huge military build-up in the Asia Pacific region in preparation for war.

The Trump administration has exploited the supposed North Korean threat to justify huge joint military exercises with South Korea and pressure China to impose crippling sanctions on the Pyongyang regime. The Chinese leadership is clearly concerned at the danger of war, including nuclear war, in its backyard, but also reluctant to provoke a crisis in North Korea that could be used to install a pro-US regime in Pyongyang.

An editorial in the state-owned Global Times yesterday expressed alarm at Trump’s tweet, declaring that “vying for who has a bigger, more powerful nuclear button is definitely not a solution” to the confrontation.

The editorial warned that the standoff on the Korean Peninsula could not continue.

“It will get better, or get worse. If there is no major turnaround, a horrible situation might not be so far away,” it stated.

The Trump administration has repeatedly rejected Chinese proposals for negotiations with North Korea.

The terrible scale of destruction that even a limited war on the Korean Peninsula, or restricted nuclear exchange, was outlined in a lengthy essay entitled “The Korean Missile Crisis: Why Deterrence Is Still the Best Option” in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs.

The author Scott Sagan, who is highly critical of Trump, warned that the current confrontation with North Korea was more dangerous than the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, during which the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. He argued for a policy of containment and deterrence of a nuclear-armed North Korea, akin to US strategy during the Cold War.

The alternative, Sagan explained, would be horrendous.

“According to NUKEMAP, a single 100-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated above the port city of Busan, in South Korea… would kill 440,000 people in seconds. A weapon of that size detonated over Seoul would kill 362,000; over San Francisco, the number would be 323,000.”

These estimates did not include deaths from fires and nuclear fallout.

A nuclear war would kill millions, even if it did not involve other nuclear-armed powers such as Russia and China. Yet that is exactly what Trump is threatening. Using the United Nations as a world stage last year, he belligerently declared he would “totally destroy” North Korea if it posed a threat to the US.

Sagan’s assessment was echoed this week by former US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen who warned that the world was “closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we have ever been.” Mullen was pessimistic about any peaceful solution, saying:

“I don’t see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.”

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In 2003, the war on Iran project was already Déjà Vu. It had been on the drawing board of the Pentagon since the mid-nineties. 

Since the launching of the Theater Iran Near Term (TIRANNT) war games scenario in May 2003 (leaked classified document), an escalation scenario involving military action directed against Iran and Syria had been envisaged, of which Syria was the first stage in 2011.  

The initial invasion of Iraq under “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was launched on March 20, 2003, April 9 marks the Fall of Baghdad;  officially the invasion was completed on May 1st, 2003.

In May 2003, immediately following the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the TIRANNT (Theater Iran Near Term) war games scenario were carried out as revealed by William Arkin, a former US intelligence analyst:

“In early 2003, even as U.S. forces were on the brink of war with Iraq, the Army had already begun conducting an analysis for a full-scale war with Iran. The analysis, called TIRANNT, for “theater Iran near term,” was coupled with a mock scenario for a Marine Corps invasion and a simulation of the Iranian missile force. U.S. and British planners conducted a Caspian Sea war game around the same time. And Bush directed the U.S. Strategic Command to draw up a global strike war plan for an attack against Iranian weapons of mass destruction. All of this will ultimately feed into a new war plan for “major combat operations” against Iran that military sources confirm now exists in draft form. [This contingency plan entitled CONPLAN 8022 would be activated in the eventuality of a Second 9/11, on the presumption that Iran would be behind it]  (William Arkin, Washington Post, 16 April 2006)

Screenshot of WPo article, opinion section

“Theater Near Term”, a scenario of waging a war against Iran following the defeat of Iraq was the unspoken concept. Under the auspices of US Central Command, TIRANNT focussed on both “Near Term” (i.e. following the Iraq war) as well “Out-Year” (signifying the subsequent year) scenarios for war with Iran ” …including all aspects of a major combat operation, from mobilization and deployment of forces through postwar stability operations after regime change.” (Ibid)

The core TIRANNT effort began in May 2003, when modelers and intelligence specialists pulled together the data needed for theater-level (meaning large-scale) scenario analysis for Iran. TIRANNT has since been updated using post-Iraq war information on the performance of U.S. forces. Meanwhile, Air Force planners have modeled attacks against existing Iranian air defenses and targets, while Navy planners have evaluated coastal defenses and drawn up scenarios for keeping control of the Strait of Hormuz at the base of the Persian Gulf.

A follow-on TIRANNT Campaign Analysis, which began in October 2003, calculated the results of different scenarios for action against Iran to provide options for analyzing courses of action in an updated Iran war plan. (Ibid)

Needless to say, the “Near Term” plans formulated in 2003 had been postponed.

USCENTCOM’s “Dual Containment”. First Iraq, then Iran

The 2003 decision to target Iran under TIRANNT  as well as all subsequent endeavors and “secret plans” were part of the broader Middle East military roadmap. Already during the Clinton administration, US Central Command (USCENTCOM) had formulated in 1995 under the doctrine of “Dual Containment” “in war theater plans” to invade first Iraq and then Iran:

“The broad national security interests and objectives expressed in the President’s National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Chairman’s National Military Strategy (NMS) form the foundation of the United States Central Command’s theater strategy. The NSS directs implementation of a strategy of dual containment of the rogue states of Iraq and Iran as long as those states pose a threat to U.S. interests, to other states in the region, and to their own citizens. Dual containment is designed to maintain the balance of power in the region without depending on either Iraq or Iran. USCENTCOM’s theater strategy is interest-based and threat-focused. The purpose of U.S. engagement, as espoused in the NSS, is to protect the United States’ vital interest in the region – uninterrupted, secure U.S./Allied access to Gulf oil.”

USCENTCOM, http://www.milnet.com/milnet/pentagon/centcom/chap1/stratgic.htm#USPolicy

emphasis  added, the original document of USCENTCOM is no longer available)

The Role of Israel. “Doing the Bombing For Us”

The TIRANNT (2003) scenario was followed by a series of military plans pertaining to Iran. Numerous post 9/11 official statements and US military documents had pointed to an expanded Middle East war, involving the active participation of Israel.

Broadly, what characterizes U.S. foreign policy is to encourage America’s allies “to do the dirty work on our behalf”.

At the outset of Bush’s Second Term, Vice President Dick Cheney dropped a bombshell, hinting, in no uncertain terms, that Iran was “right at the top of the list” of the rogue enemies of America, and that Israel would, so to speak, “be doing the bombing for us”, without US military involvement and without us putting pressure on them “to do it”.

In contrast, under the Trump administration, according to Professor James Petras, Israel and the Zionist Lobby are playing an active role, pressuring President Trump to take the first step:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Presidents of the 52 Major Jewish American Organizations are leading President Trump, like a puppy on a leash, into a major war with Iran. The hysterical ’52 Presidents’ and ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu are busy manufacturing Holocaust-level predictions that a non-nuclear Iran is preparing to ‘vaporize’ Israel, ,  The buffoonish US President Trump has swallowed this fantasy wholesale and is pushing our nation toward war for the sake of Israel and its US-based supporters and agents. (James Petras, Global Research, October 27, 2017)

Who are the Main Actors?

Political rhetoric is often misleading. Israel is America’s ally. Military operations are closely coordinated. Tel Aviv is however subordinate to Washington. In major military operations, Israel does not act without the Pentagon’s approval.

Barely acknowledged by the media, the US and Israel have an integrated air defense system, which was set up in early 2009, shortly after the Israel invasion of Gaza under “Operation Cast Led”.

The X-band radar air defense system set up by the US in Israel in 2009 would “integrate Israel’s missile defenses with the U.S. global missile detection network, which includes satellites, Aegis ships on the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and land-based Patriot radars and interceptors.”  (Sen. Joseph Azzolina, Protecting Israel from Iran’s missiles, Bayshore News, December 26, 2008). )

What this means is that Washington calls the shots. Confirmed by the Pentagon, the US military controls Israel’s Air Defense:

”This is and will remain a U.S. radar system,’ Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. ‘So this is not something we are giving or selling to the Israelis and it is something that will likely require U.S. personnel on-site to operate.’” (Quoted in Israel National News, January 9, 2009, emphasis added).

At the outset of  Obama’s Second Term, the US and Israel initiated discussions pertaining to a “US personnel on site” presence in Israel, namely the establishment of a “permanent” and “official” military base inside Israel. And on September 17, 2017, a US Air Defense base located in the Negev desert was inaugurated. According to the Israeli IDF spokesperson, the objective is to send a “message to the region, ” including Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

Israel would not be able to act unilaterally against Iran, without a green light from the Pentagon which controls key components of Israel’s air defense system.

In practice, a war on Iran, were it to occur would be a joint US-Israeli endeavor, coordinated by US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with America’s allies playing a key (subordinate) role.

The Evolving Structure of Military Alliances

Since the formulation of USCENTCOM’s “in war theater” plans in the mid-nineties, and more specifically since the onslaught of the war on Syria in 2011, the geopolitics of the broader Middle East Central Asian region has evolved dramatically with Russia and  China taking on a major role.

In this regard, the shift in the structure of military alliances has served to weaken US influence. Iran is now supported by a powerful China-Russia block. In turn, Pakistan and India have joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which has contributed to undermining US-Pakistani relations.

In turn, Iran’s bilateral relations with China including strategic oil, gas and pipeline deals (as well as military cooperation) have developed since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012.

Moreover, while Tehran has reached a “pact of convenience” with Ankara, the unity of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is now in jeopardy, with Qatar, Oman and Kuwait building an alliance with Iran, to the detriment of  Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Since the war on Syria, Iran has not only established a strong bilateral relationship with Syria, it has also reinforced its ties with Lebanon and Yemen.

In other words, US hegemony is threatened in the broader Middle East Central Asian region. The structure of alliances and “cross-cutting coalitions” in 2018 does not favor a US-led military operation against Iran.

  • The Atlantic Alliance is in crisis and so is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
  • The US and Turkey are clashing in Northern Syria, where Turkey is fighting US sponsored Kurdish rebels.
  • Turkey, which constitutes NATO’s heavyweight (in terms of conventional forces) has acquired Russia’s S400 air defense system. Does this signify that Turkey (as a member state of the Atlantic Alliance) no longer fully shares the US-NATO-Israel defense system?
  • Another consideration is Turkey’s rapprochement with both Russia and Iran.

presidents Putin and Erdogan (right)

Demise of the “Triple Alliance”: US, Israel, Turkey

How does Turkey’s “pact of convenience” with Iran affect the Israel-Turkey  Security and Secrecy Agreement (SSA) launched by the Tansu Çiller government in 1994?

The SSA agreement was a carefully designed instrument of US foreign policy (sponsored by the Clinton administration) which set the stage for a firm and close Israel-Turkey relationship in military and intelligence cooperation, joint military exercises, weapons production and training.

The SSA largely served US strategic interests in the Middle East. The intent of the SSA Israel-Turkey bilateral military-intelligence agreement was to create a triangular relationship between the US, Israel and Turkey. This de facto (rather than de jure) “triple alliance”, under the helm of the Pentagon, was intended to integrate and coordinate military command decisions (as well as intelligence) between the three countries pertaining to the broader Middle East.

From a strategic standpoint, the Pentagon was intent upon “using” both Israel and Turkey in Middle East military operations (i.e to act on our behalf).

The “Triple alliance” was based on close (bilateral) military ties respectively between Israel and Turkey with the US, coupled with a strong bilateral military relationship between Tel Aviv and Ankara.

In turn, Israel signed a far-reaching military cooperation protocol with NATO in March 2005 in Jerusalem.  Under this agreement, Israel had become a de facto member of NATO. The 2005 Israel-NATO bilateral military cooperation agreement was viewed by the Israeli military as a means to “enhance Israel’s deterrence capability” against Iran, which has recently entered into an alliance of convenience with Turkey, a NATO member state.  Sounds contradictory?

It is also worth noting Israel’s longstanding membership in NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue together with six other non-NATO member states: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Recently, these six countries have taken a stance against Israel in the wake of Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

It was no coincidence that the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) was launched in the same year as the Israel-Turkey SSA agreement (1994).

  • Is the Israel-Turkey SSA agreement currently in jeopardy?
  • Following Trump’s Jerusalem Statement, the Mediterranean Dialogue is also in crisis, to the detriment of Washington.
  • How can joint military and intelligence operations directed against Iran be carried out when Turkey (a NATO member state and an ally of Israel) is  “in bed with the enemy”?
  • Another consideration is the de facto demise of GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova), a loose US-NATO sponsored military alliance of five former Soviet republics created in 1999, slated to be used against Russia and Iran.

For the above reasons, the Pentagon’s TIRANNT “Near Term” scenario of a conventional war against Iran at this juncture is unlikely.

While a conventional war on Iran is currently on hold, the US has indelibly opted for nonconventional warfare including destabilization, economic sanctions, infiltration, cooptation and regime change.

The Pentagon, nonetheless retains its longtime strategic option of inducing its closest allies including Saudi Arabia and Israel to “wage war on its behalf”.

We are nonetheless at a dangerous crossroads in our history. While Pentagon analysts are fully aware that the US cannot win a conventional war against Iran, a first strike tactical nuclear weapons attack is still “on the table”. So are intelligence ops, the recruitment of hired “jihadist” terrorists, the funding of insurgencies, etc. (not to mention the use of a panoply of nonconventional weapons systems including electromagnetic, chemical and biological weapons).

***

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Michel Chossudovsky

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The US has embarked on a military adventure, “a long war”, which threatens the future of humanity. US-NATO weapons of mass destruction are portrayed as instruments of peace. Mini-nukes are said to be “harmless to the surrounding civilian population”. Pre-emptive nuclear war is portrayed as a “humanitarian undertaking”.

While one can conceptualize the loss of life and destruction resulting from present-day wars including Iraq and Afghanistan, it is impossible to fully comprehend the devastation which might result from a Third World War, using “new technologies” and advanced weapons, until it occurs and becomes a reality. The international community has endorsed nuclear war in the name of world peace. “Making the world safer” is the justification for launching a military operation which could potentially result in a nuclear holocaust.

original

America’s hegemonic project in the post 9/11 era is the “Globalization of War” whereby the U.S.-NATO military machine —coupled with covert intelligence operations, economic sanctions and the thrust of “regime change”— is deployed in all major regions of the world. The threat of pre-emptive nuclear war is also used to black-mail countries into submission.

This “Long War against Humanity” is carried out at the height of the most serious economic crisis in modern history.

It is intimately related to a process of global financial restructuring, which has resulted in the collapse of national economies and the impoverishment of large sectors of the World population.

The ultimate objective is World conquest under the cloak of “human rights” and “Western democracy”.

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Giving War Too Many Chances

January 4th, 2018 by Nicolas J. S. Davies

Featured image: Warships of the U.S. Navy. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

I met John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Christmas Eve in 1969.  I joined them and a small group of local peace activists in a Christmas fast for world peace in front of Rochester Cathedral in England, a short walk from where I lived with my family in Chatham Dockyard.  I was 15 years old, and my father was the dockyard medical officer, responsible for the health and safety of the dockyard workers who maintained the U.K.’s new fleet of nuclear submarines.

John and Yoko arrived before midnight mass.  We were all introduced and went in for the service.  By the time we came out, thousands of people had heard John was there.  He was still a Beatle and he was mobbed by a huge crowd, so he and Yoko decided they couldn’t stay with us as planned.  While most of our little group helped John back to their iconic white Rolls Royce, I and another boy not much older than me were left to shepherd a panicking Yoko back through the crowd to the car.  They both made it, and we never saw them again.  The next morning a florist came by with a huge box of white carnations, and we spent the rest of our Christmas and Boxing Day handing flowers to passers-by and getting to know each other – the birth of what became the Medway and Maidstone Peace Action Group.

While the U.K. was not openly involved in the Vietnam War, it was deeply involved in the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, and watching the U.K.’s closest ally destroy Vietnam led many of my generation to question the Cold War assumptions about “good guys” and “bad guys” that we’d been raised on.  John and Yoko became the de facto leaders of the peace movement, and their song “Give Peace a Chance” was a simple unifying anthem.

After two world wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War, we all wanted peace, but it seemed to be the one thing our leaders were not willing to try, claiming that the Cold War justified an endless arms race, and wars and coups wherever U.S. and British leaders thought they’d spotted a Red under somebody’s bed.  That included many countries whose experiments with socialism were less advanced than in the U.K., where I grew up with a cradle to grave healthcare system, free education through university, a comprehensive welfare state and state-owned utilities, railways and major industries.

The peace dividend vs the power dividend

Once the Cold War ended, the justification for 50 years of massive military spending, global warfare and coups was finally over.  Like U.S. allies, enemies and neighbors around the world, Americans breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the “peace dividend.”  Robert McNamara and Lawrence Korb, former cold warriors of both parties, testified to the Senate Budget Committee that the U.S. military budget could be cut in half from its FY1990 level over the next 10 years.  Committee chairman Senator Jim Sasser hailed “this unique moment in history” as “the dawn of the primacy of domestic economics.”

But the peace dividend was short-lived, trumped by what Carl Conetta of the Project for Defense Alternatives has dubbed the “power dividend,” the drive to exploit the end of the Cold War to consolidate and expand U.S. military power.  Influential voices linked to military industrial interests had a new refrain, essentially “Give War a Chance.”  But of course, they didn’t put it so plainly:

  • After the First Gulf War in 1991, President Bush I celebrated “kick(ing) the Vietnam syndrome,” and deployed U.S. pilots directly from Kuwait to the Paris Air Show to cash in on the marketing value of a war that had just killed tens of thousands of people in Iraq.  The next 3 years set a new record for U.S. arms sales. The Pentagon later admitted that only 7% of the bombs and missiles dropped on Iraq were the “precision-guided” ones they showcased to TV viewers, and only 41% to 60% of those “precision” weapons hit their targets anyway.  Iraq was ruthlessly carpet bombed, but we were sold a high-tech dog and pony show.
  • Despite surely being well aware of the reality behind the propaganda, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz crowed to General Wesley Clark, “With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity.”
  • As the Clinton administration took over the reins of the U.S. war machine in 1992, Madeleine Albright challenged General Colin Powellon his “Powell Doctrine” of limited war, asking him, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
  • Albright was appointed Secretary of State in 1997, mainstreaming new political pretexts for otherwise illegal wars such as “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect.”  But despite the steady diet of war propaganda, Albright was drowned out by protests from the audience when she threatened war on Iraq at a town hall meeting in Columbus in 1998.
  • Clinton’s 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review declared, “When the interests at stake are vital… we should do whatever it takes to defend them, including, when necessary, the unilateral use of military power.  U.S. vital national interests include, but are not limited to… preventing the emergence of a hostile regional coalition… (and) ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.”  But as the U.K. Foreign Office’s senior legal adviser told his government during the Suez crisis in 1956, “The plea of vital interest, which has been one of the main justifications for wars in the past, is indeed the very one which the UN Charter was intended to exclude as a basis for armed intervention in another country.”
  • After a failed CIA coup in 1996 betrayed every CIA agent in Iraq to the Iraqi government, precluding a second coup attempt, the newly formed neoconservative Project for the New American Century began pushing for war on Iraq.  The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, threatening “regime change” through the use of military force, passed Congress with only 38 Nays in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate.
  • When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright his government was having trouble “with our lawyers” over NATO’s illegal plan to attack Yugoslavia and annex Kosovo, she told him it should just “get new lawyers.”
  • Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations a few weeks before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000, Hillary Clinton derided recent U.S. wars in Panama, Kuwait and Yugoslavia as “splendid little wars” and called for what a banking executive in the audience described as a “new imperialism.”
  • Samantha Power popularized the idea that the use of U.S. military force could have prevented the genocide in Rwanda, an assumption challenged by experts on genocide (see “A Solution From Hell”) but which has served ever since as a powerful political argument for the U.S. uses of military force.

Afghanistan

After pleading with the American people to “Give War a Chance” for a decade, U.S. political leaders seized on the crimes of September 11th, 2001 to justify an open-ended “global war on terror.”

U.S. Marines leaving a compound at night in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. (Source: Defense Department)

Many Americans approved of attacking Afghanistan as an act of self defense, but of course it was not Afghanistan or the Taliban that committed the crimes of September 11th.  As former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR at the time, “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”

Sixteen years later, 16,500 U.S. troops soldier on through the graveyard of empires, while U.S. warplanes have dropped 3,852 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan since Mr. Trump took office.  No serious study has been conducted to estimate how many hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been killed since 2001.

As Matthew Hoh wrote in his resignation letter as he quit his post as the U.S. Political Officer in Zabul Province in Afghanistan in 2009,

“The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies.   …I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.”

Or as an Afghan taxi driver in Vancouver told me, “We defeated the Persians in the 18th century, the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th.  Now, with NATO, we’re fighting 29 countries at once, but we’ll defeat them too.”  Who would doubt it?

Today, after 16 years of occupation by up to 100,000 U.S. troops, thousands of deadly “kill or capture” night raids by U.S. special operations forces and over 60,000 bombs and missiles dropped on Afghanistan on the orders of 3 U.S. presidents, the corrupt U.S.-backed government in Kabul governs less territory today than at any time since before the U.S. invasion.

The U.S. war on Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history.  There must be U.S. troops in Afghanistan today whose fathers were fighting there 16 years ago. This isn’t giving war a chance.  It’s giving it a blank check, in blood and money.

Iraq

When President Bush II unveiled a “national security strategy” based on a flagrantly illegal doctrine of preemptive war in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it a “call for 21st century imperialism that no other country can or should accept.”  The rest of the world rejected the U.S. case for war on Iraq in the UN Security Council and 30 million people took to the streets in the largest global demonstrations in history.  But the U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq anyway.

U.S. Army forces operating in southern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Apr. 2, 2003 (Source: U.S. Navy)

The U.K.’s role in the invasion was thrown into limbo when Admiral Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defense Staff, told his government he could not give orders to invade Iraq without written confirmation that it would be legal.  It took Tony Blair and his cronies five full days of grappling with their legal advisers before one of them, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, who was not even an international lawyer, was willing to contradict what he and all the U.K.’s legal advisers had consistently and repeatedly told their government, that the invasion of Iraq would be a criminal act of aggression.

Four days later, the U.S. and U.K. committed the war crime of the new century, unleashing a war that has killed a million innocent people and left Iraq mired in bloody violence and chaos for 14 years and counting.

When the people of Iraq rose in resistance to the illegal invasion and occupation of their country, the U.S. launched a bloody “counterinsurgency” campaign.  As U.S. forces destroyed Fallujah and Ramadi, U.S. officials in Baghdad recruited, trained and ran Interior Ministry death squads who tortured and assassinated tens of thousands of men and boys to ethnically cleanse Baghdad and other areas on a sectarian basis.

The most recent U.S. atrocity in Iraq was the massacre of an estimated 40,000 civilians in Mosul by U.S., Iraqi, French and other “coalition” forces.  The U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria has dropped 104,000 bombs and missiles since 2014, making it the heaviest U.S. bombing campaign since the American War in Vietnam.  Iraqi government death squads once again prowl through the ruins of Mosul, torturing and summarily executing anyone they identify as a suspected Islamic State fighter or sympathizer.

In Iraq, “Give war a chance” does not mean, “It didn’t work here. Let’s try it somewhere else.”  It means, “Keep bombarding Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul and massacring their people over and over again until there is nothing left but rubble and graveyards.”  That is why 9,123 U.S. troops remain deployed in a land of rubble and graveyards in the 15th year of an illegal war.

Somalia

Independent Somalia was formed from the former colonies of British and Italian Somaliland in 1970.  After initially investing in literacy and infrastructure, Said Barre and his government built the largest army in Africa, supported first by the U.S.S.R. and then by the U.S., as it waged a long war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden, an ethnically Somali region of Ethiopia.  In 1991, Barre was ousted in a civil war and the central government collapsed.  UN and U.S. military interventions failed to restore any kind of order and foreign troops were withdrawn in 1995.

For the next 11 years, a dozen warlords ruled small fiefdoms while the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government, hunkered down in Baidoa, the sixth largest city.  But the country was not as violent as some other parts of Africa.  Somalia is an ancient society and some order was preserved by traditional systems of law and government, including a unique system of customary law called Xeer, which has existed and evolved in Somalia since the 7th century.

In 2006, these various local authorities came together and formed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  With the support of one of the strongest warlords, they defeated other warlords, including ones backed by the CIA, in fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and soon controlled the southern half of the country.  People who knew Somalia well hailed the ICU as a hopeful development and tried to reassure the Bush administration that it was not a danger.

But the threat of peace breaking out in Somalia was too much for the “give war a chance” crowd to stomach.  The U.S. backed an Ethiopian invasion, supported by U.S. air strikes and special operations forces, plunging Somalia back into violence and chaos that continues to this day.  The Ethiopian invaders drove the ICU out of Mogadishu, and it split into factions, with some of its leaders going into exile and others forming new armed groups, not least Al-Shabaab [an offshoot of Al Qaeda], to resist the Ethiopian invasion.

After Ethiopia agreed to withdraw its forces in 2008, a coalition government was formed by TFG and ICU leaders but did not include Al-Shabaab, which by then controlled large areas of the country.  The government has been fighting Al-Shabaab ever since, supported by an African Union force and currently at least 289 U.S. special operations forces and other U.S. troops.  The government has made gains, but Al-Shabaab still controls some areas.  As it has been pushed back militarily, Al-Shabaab has launched devastating terrorist attacks in Somalia and Kenya, where the U.S. now also has 212 troops deployed.  Neighboring Djibouti hosts 4,715 U.S. troops at the largest U.S. base in Africa.

The U.S. is doggedly expanding its militarized counterterrorism strategy in Africa, with at least 7,271 U.S. troops in 47 countries as of September 30th.  But a new body of research has confirmed what independent analysts have long believed, that it is precisely these kind of operations that drive civilians into armed resistance in the first place.  A recent survey of 500 African militants by the UN Development Program found that the “tipping-point” that decided 71% of them to join a group like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram or Al Qaeda was the killing or detention of a family member or friend in U.S.-led or U.S.-model “counterterrorism” operations.

So the circular logic of U.S. counterterrorism policy uses the emergence and growth of groups like Al-Shabaab as a pretext to expand the operations that are fueling their growth in the first place, turning more and more civilians into combatants and their homes and communities into new U.S. battlefields, to “give war a chance” in country after country.

Honduras

On June 28th 2009, President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was woken in the early hours of the morning by soldiers in combat gear bursting into his official residence.  They hauled him away at gunpoint in his pajamas, bundled him into a car and onto a plane to Costa Rica.  President Obama immediately called the coup a coup and reaffirmed that Zelaya was still the democratically-elected president of Honduras, appearing to adopt the same position as every government in Latin America, the European Union and the UN General Assembly.

But, in the coming days, as Hillary Clinton has since admitted, she went to work to push for a new election in Honduras that would, as she put it, “render the question of Zelaya moot,” by making the coup against him a fait accompli and allowing the coup regime of Roberto Micheletti to organize the new election.

Despite Obama’s statement and Wikileaks’ release of cables in which the U.S. Ambassador also called this an illegal coup, the U.S. never officially recognized that a coup had taken place, avoiding the cut-off of military aid to the post-coup government that was required under U.S. federal law and any further action to restore the democratically-elected president.  In the coming years, Honduras, which was already the murder capital of the world, became even more dangerous as labor organizers and activists of all stripes were killed with impunity by the post-coup government’s death squads.  Environmental activist Berta Cáceres’ murder caused worldwide outrage, but she is one of hundreds of activists and organizers killed.

The role of Secretary Clinton and the U.S. government in consolidating the results of the coup in Honduras should be seen in the context of the U.S.’s dominant historic role in Honduras, the original “banana republic,” 70% of whose exports are still sold to the United States.  Honduras currently hosts 529 U.S. military personnel, far more than any other country in the Western hemisphere, and they are deeply embedded with the Honduran military which committed the coup.

In the 1980s, under Ambassador John Negroponte, who eventually became Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa reportedly hosted the largest CIA station in the world, from where the CIA ran its covert war against Nicaragua, death squads that killed even American nuns with impunity in El Salvador and an outright genocide in Guatemala.  With this history of U.S. military and CIA involvement in Honduras, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the CIA was secretly involved in planning the coup against Zelaya.

The 2009 coup in Honduras has now come home to roost, as even the historically U.S.-controlled Organization of American States has demanded a rerun of the latest rigged election and Honduras’s feared Cobra paramilitary police have refused to repress pro-democracy protesters.  The opposition party, the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, which appears to have won the most votes in the election, is a coalition of left and right against the post-coup government.  How far will Trump and the U.S. go to rescue Clinton’s 2009 campaign in Honduras?  Will it ask us to “give war another chance?”

Yemen

From 897 (not a typo) until 1962, most of Yemen was ruled by the Zaidi Imams.  The Zaidis follow a branch of Shiite Islam, but in Yemen they coexist and worship in the same mosques as Sunnis.  The Houthis, who rule most of Yemen today, are also Zaidis.  The last Zaidi Imam was overthrown by a republican coup in 1962, but, with Saudi support, he fought a civil war until 1970.  Yes, you read that right.  In the 1960s, the Saudis backed the Zaidi royalists in the Yemeni civil war.  Now they call the Zaidis apostates and Iranian stooges and are waging a genocidal war to bomb and starve them to death.

A neighborhood in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa after an airstrike, October 9, 2015. (Source: Wikipedia)

At the peak of the previous civil war, 70,000 Egyptian troops fought on the republican side in Yemen, but the 1967 Arab-Israeli War changed the priorities of Arab countries on both sides.  In February 1968, royalist forces lifted their siege of Sana’a and the two sides began peace talks, which led to a peace agreement and international recognition of the Yemen Arab Republic in 1970.

Meanwhile, also in 1967, a popular armed rebellion forced the U.K. to withdraw from its colony in Aden, which formed the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, a Marxist state and Soviet ally.  When the Cold War ended, the two Yemens merged to form a united Republic of Yemen in 1990.  Ali Abdallah Saleh, the president of North Yemen since 1978, became president of the united Yemen and ruled until 2011.

Saleh’s repressive government alienated many sectors of Yemeni society, and the Zaidi Houthis launched an armed rebellion in their northern homeland in 2004.  The Zaidis and other Shia Muslims make up about 45% of the population and Zaidis ruled the country for centuries, so they have always been a force to be reckoned with.

At the same time, the new Obama administration launched a campaign of cruise missile and drone strikes and special forces operations against the fledgling Al Qaeda faction in the country and increased military aid to Saleh’s government.  A U.S. drone strike assassinated Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, and another strike two weeks later murdered his American son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman.  Like militarized U.S. counterterrorism campaigns in other countries, U.S. attacks have predictably killed hundreds of civilians, fueling the growth of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Arab Spring protests and political turmoil forced Saleh to resign in November 2011.  His deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, was elected in February 2012 to head a unity government that would draw up a new constitution and organize a new election in two years.  After Hadi failed to hold an election or step down as president, the Houthis invaded the capital in September 2014, placed him under house arrest and demanded that he complete the political transition.

Hadi and his government rejected the Houthis’ demands and simply resigned in January 2015, so the Houthis formed a Revolutionary Council as an “interim authority.”  Hadi fled to Aden, his hometown, and then to Saudi Arabia, which launched a savage bombing campaign and naval blockade against Yemen on Hadi’s behalf.  The U.S. provides most of the weapons, munitions, satellite intelligence and in-air refueling and is a vital member of the Saudi-led coalition, but of course U.S. media and politicians downplay the U.S. role.

The Saudi-U.S. coalition’s bombing campaign has killed at least ten thousand civilians, probably many more, while a naval blockade and the bombing of ports have reduced the population to a state of near-starvation.  Hadi’s forces have recaptured Aden and an area around it, but they have failed to defeat the Houthis in the rest of the country.

U.S.-made bombs keep hitting markets, hospitals and other civilian targets in Yemen.  Western military trainers regard the Saudi armed forces as more or less untrainable, due mainly to Saudi Arabia’s rigid class and tribal hierarchy.  The officer corps, some of whom are members of the royal family, are beyond criticism, so there is no way to correct mistakes or enforce discipline.  So Saudi pilots bomb indiscriminately from high altitude, and will keep doing so unless and until the U.S. stops selling them munitions and withdraws its military and diplomatic complicity in this genocidal war.

Aid agencies keep warning that millions of Yemenis are close to starvation, but neither Saudi nor U.S. officials seem to care.  The normalization of war and the culture of apathy nurtured by 16 years of American wars that have killed millions of people in a dozen countries have left U.S. officials supremely cynical, but their cynicism will be tested in 2018 as the predictable results of this “made in the U.S.A.” humanitarian catastrophe unfold.  The U.S. propaganda machine will also be tested as it keeps trying to pin all the blame on the Saudis.

Libya

Muammar Gaddafi was a favorite villain of the West and an ally of the U.S.S.R., Cuba, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, the PLO, the IRA and the Polisario Front in Western Sahara.  Gaddafi created a unique form of direct democracy, and he used Libya’s oil wealth to provide free healthcare and education and to give Libya the 5th highest GDP per capita in Africa and the highest development rating in Africa on the UN’s HDI index, which measures health and education as well as income.

Gaddafi also used Libya’s wealth to fund projects to give African countries more control of their own natural resources, like a Libyan-funded factory in Liberia to manufacture and export tire grade rubber instead of raw rubber.  He also co-founded the African Union in 2002, which he envisioned growing into a military alliance and a common market with a single currency.

Militant Islamists within the military tried but failed to assassinate Gaddafi in 1993.  The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), formed by Libyans who had fought with CIA- and Saudi-backed forces in Afghanistan, was paid by the U.K.’s MI6 intelligence agency and Osama Bin-Laden to also try to kill him in 1996.  The U.K. gave asylum to some of LIFG’s members, most of whom settled among the large Libyan community in Manchester.

The U.K. banned LIFG in 2005 and confiscated its members’ passports due to its links with Al Qaeda.  But that all changed again in 2011, their passports were returned, and MI6 helped many of them travel back to Libya to join the “NATO rebels.”  One LIFG member, Ramadan Abedi, took his 16-year old son Salman with him to Libya.  Six years later, Salman struck his own blow for his family’s Islamist ideology, carrying out a suicide bombing that killed 23 young music fans at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May 2017.

Western leaders’ eagerness to overthrow Gaddafi led France, the U.K., the U.S. and their NATO and Arab royalist allies to exploit a UN Security Council Resolution that authorized the use of force to protect civilians in Libya to overthrow the government, rejecting an African Union initiative to resolve the crisis peacefully.

The UN resolution called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Libya, but also authorized a “no-fly zone,” which became a pretext for bombing Libya’s military and civilian infrastructure with 7,700 bombs and missiles, and secretly deploying CIA officers and British, French and Qatari special operations forces to organize and lead Libyan rebel forces on the ground.

Qatar’s Chief of Staff, Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya, told AFP,

“We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were in the hundreds in every region.  Training and communications had been in Qatari hands.  Qatar… supervised the rebels’ plans because they are civilians and did not have enough military experience. We acted as the link between the rebels and NATO forces.”

Qatari forces were even spotted leading the final assault on Libya’s Bab al-Aziziya military headquarters in Tripoli.

After taking Tripoli, NATO and its Libyan and Qatari allies cut off food, water and electricity to the people of Sirte and Bani Walid as they bombarded them for weeks.  The combination of aerial, naval and artillery bombardment, starvation and thirst on these civilian populations made a final, savage mockery of UNSCR 1973’s mandate to protect civilians.

Once the U.S. and its allies had destroyed Libya’s government, they abandoned it to chaos and civil war that still rage on six years later.  Two competing governments control different parts of the country, while local militias control many smaller areas.  Since 2011, human rights groups have reported that thousands of black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans have suffered arbitrary detention and appalling abuse at the hands of the Libyan militias that the U.S. and its allies helped to take over the country.  News reports of Africans being sold in slave markets in Libya are only the latest outrage.

As Libya struggles to dig its way out of the endless chaos the U.S. and its allies plunged it into, the U.S. has more or less washed its hands of the crisis in Libya.  In 2016, U.S. foreign aid to Libya was only $27 million.

Syria

The U.S. role in the civil war in Syria is a case study in how a CIA covert operation can fuel a conflict and destabilize a country to create pretexts for U.S. military intervention.  The CIA began organizing the transport of fighters and weapons from Libya to Turkey in late 2011, as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were militarizing an uprising in Syria that grew out of Arab Spring protests earlier in the year.  British and French special operations forces provided military training in Turkey, and the CIA managed the infiltration of fighters and the distribution of weapons across the Syrian border.

A protest placard in the Kafersousah neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, on Dec. 26, 2012. (Source: Freedom House Flickr)

The Syrian government’s repression contributed to the transition from peaceful protests to an armed uprising.  But the primarily leftist groups that organized the political protests in 2011 were committed to opposing violence, sectarianism and foreign intervention.  They have always blamed Syria’s descent into war mainly on the foreign powers who supported the small Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and funneled more extreme foreign-based Islamist forces and thousands of tons of weapons into the country to ignite a full-scale civil war.

In 2012, as Kofi Annan tried to negotiate a ceasefire and a political transition in Syria, the U.S. and its allies poured in foreign fighters and heavier weapons and pledged even greater support to rebel forces at three Orwellian “Friends of Syria” conferences.  One of these was timed to coincide with the date when Annan’s ceasefire was to take effect, and their new pledges of weapons, money and support for the rebels were a flagrant move to undermine the ceasefire.

After Annan eventually got all sides to agree on a peace plan in Geneva on June 30th 2012, on the understanding that it would then be codified in a UN Security Council Resolution, the U.S. and its allies went back to New York and inserted new conditions and triggers for sanctions and military action in the resolution, leading to a Russian veto.  Annan’s Geneva Communique has been eclipsed by 5 more years of war and equally fruitless Geneva II, Geneva III and Geneva IV peace conferences.

Annan quit a month later and was characteristically guarded in his public statements.  But UN officials told the Atlantic in 2013 that Annan blamed the U.S. government for the failure of his mission.

“The U.S. couldn’t even stand by an agreement that the Secretary of State had signed in Geneva,” said one of Annan’s closest aides. “He quit in frustration.”

After shipping at least 2,750 tons of weapons from Libya to Turkey in 2011 and 2012, including howitzers, RPGs and sniper rifles, the CIA began scouring the Balkans for weapons left over from the wars in the 1990s that the Saudis and Qataris could buy to flood into Syria through Turkey and Jordan.  They shipped in up to 8,000 tons of weapons on flights from Croatia by March 2013.

Since then, the Saudis have bought more weapons from 8 different Balkan countries, as well as 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles directly from the U.S. for $1.1 billion in December 2013.  That was despite U.S. officials admitting as early as October 2012 that most of the weapons shipped into Syria had gone to “hardline Islamic jihadists.”  Investigators in the Balkans report that the Saudis made their largest purchases ever in 2015, including brand new weapons straight off the production line.  Only 60% of these weapons had been delivered by early 2017, meaning that the flood of weapons will continue as long as the CIA keeps facilitating it and U.S. allies like Turkey and Jordan keep acting as conduits.

The main innovation in U.S. war-making under the Obama administration was a doctrine of covert and proxy war that avoided heavy U.S. casualties at the expense of a reliance on aerial bombardment, drone killings, a huge expansion of deadly special forces operations and the use of foreign proxy forces.  In every case, this fueled the global explosion of violence and chaos unleashed by Bush, and the main victims were millions of innocent civilians in country after country.

U.S. support for Al Qaeda splinter groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (now rebranded Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and Islamic State turned the U.S. “war on terror” on its head.  Only ten years after September 11th, the U.S. was ready to support these groups to destabilize Libya and Syria, where the CIA was looking for pretexts for war and regime change.  The U.S. only reverted to its “war on terror” narrative after U.S. and allied support had built up these groups to the point that they could invade Iraq and take over its second largest city and a large swath of the country.

The U.S. covert proxy war in Syria led to the heaviest U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam, which has reduced several cities in Iraq and Syria to rubble and killed tens of thousands of civilians; a civil war in Syria that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians; and a refugee crisis that has overwhelmed U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe.  After 6 years of war, Syria remains fragmented and mired in chaos.  The Syrian government has regained control of many areas, but the future remains very dangerous and uncertain for the people of Syria.  The U.S. currently has at least 1,723 troops on the ground in Syria, without any legal basis to be there, as well as 2,730 in Jordan and 2,273 in Turkey.

Ukraine

President Yanukovych of Ukraine was overthrown in a violent coup in February 2014.  Originally peaceful protests in the Maidan, or central square, in Kiev had gradually become dominated by the extreme right-wing Svoboda Party and, since November 2013, by a shadowy new group called Right Sector.  These groups displayed Nazi symbols, fought with police and eventually invaded the Ukrainian parliament building, prompting Yanukovych to flee the country.

On February 4th, 2014, leaked audio of a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland revealed U.S. plans for a coup to remove Yanukovych and install U.S. favorite Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister.  Nuland and Pyatt used language like, “glue this thing,” “midwife this thing” and “we could land jelly side up on this thing if we move fast,” as well as the more widely reported “Fuck the EU,” who they didn’t expect to support their plan.

On February 18th, Right Sector led 20,000 protesters on a march to the parliament building.  They attacked police with Molotov cocktails, stormed and occupied government buildings and the police attacked the protest camp in the Maidan.  As running battles with the police continued over the next few days, an estimated 75 people were killed, including 10 police and soldiers.  Mysterious snipers were reported firing from Philharmonic Hall and a hotel overlooking the Maidan, shooting at police and protesters.

Screen shot of the fatal fire in Odessa, Ukraine, on May 2, 2014. (From RT video)

Yanukovych and his government held meetings with opposition leaders, and the EU sent the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland to mediate the crisis.  On February 21st, Yanukovych agreed to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of the year.

But the protesters, now led by Svoboda and Right Sector, were not satisfied and took over the parliament building.  Right Sector had broken into an armory in Lviv and seized assault rifles and pistols, and the police no longer resisted.  On February 22nd, the parliament failed to make a quorum (338 of 447 members), but the 328 members present voted to remove Yanukovych from office and hold a new election in May.  Yanukovych issued defiant statements and refused to resign, then fled to Russia.

Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine refused to accept the results of the coup.  The Crimean parliament organized a referendum, in which 97% voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, which Crimea had been part of since 1783.  As an administrative matter, Kruschev had placed Crimea within the Ukrainian SSR in the 1950s, but when the USSR broke up, 94% of Crimeans voted to become an autonomous republic and 83% voted to keep dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship.

Russia accepted the result of the referendum and now governs Crimea.  The greatest dangers to Russia from the coup in Kiev were that Ukraine would join NATO and Russia would lose its most strategic naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea.  NATO issued a declaration in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO.”  Also in 2008, Ukraine threatened not to renew the lease on the base at Sevastopol, which was due to expire in 2017, but it was eventually extended to 2042.

The UN has not recognized Russia’s reintegration of Crimea, and the U.S. has called it a violation of international law.  But given the history and autonomous status of Crimea, and the importance of Sevastopol to Russia, it was an understandable and predictable response to the illegal U.S.-planned coup in Ukraine.  It is the height of hypocrisy for U.S. officials to suddenly pose as champions of international law, which U.S. policy has systematically ignored, violated and undermined since the 1980s.

Russian-speaking majorities in Eastern Ukraine also declared independence from Ukraine as the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and appealed for Russian support, which Russia has covertly provided, although the extent of it is hotly debated.  There were also large protests against the coup in Odessa on the Black Sea, and 42 protesters were killed when a Right Sector mob attacked them and set fire to the Trades Union building where they took refuge.

With the Ukrainian military unable or unwilling to launch a civil war against its Russian-speaking compatriots in the East, the post-coup government recruited and trained a new “National Guard” to do so.  It was soon reported that the Azov Battalionand other National Guard units were linked to Svoboda and Right Sector, and that they were still displaying Nazi symbols as they assaulted Russian-speaking areas in Eastern Ukraine.  In 2015, the Azov Battalion was expanded to a 1,000-strong Special Operations Regiment.

The civil war in Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people.  The Minsk agreements between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in September 2014 and February 2015 established a tenuous ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides, but the political problems persist, fueling outbreaks of fighting.  The U.S. has now agreed to send Ukraine Javelin anti-tank missiles and other heavier weapons, which are likely to reignite heavier fighting and complicate political negotiations.

Giving Peace a Chance?

Giving war a chance has not worked out well, to put it mildly, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Honduras, Yemen, Libya, Syria or Ukraine.  All remain mired in violence and chaos caused by U.S. invasions, bombing campaigns, coups and covert operations. In every case, U.S. policy decisions have either made these countries’ problems worse or are entirely responsible for the incredible problems afflicting them.  Many of those decisions were illegal or criminal under U.S. and/or international law.  The human cost to millions of innocent people is a historic tragedy that shames us all.  In every case, the U.S. could have made different decisions, and in every case, the U.S. can still make different decisions.

As an American general once observed, “When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”  The allocation of most of our federal budget to military spending both deprives the U.S. of other “tools” and creates political pressures to use the one we have already paid so much for, as implied in Albright’s question to Powell in 1992.

In Mr. Trump’s new national security strategy, he promised Americans that he will “preserve peace through strength.”  But the U.S. is not at peace today.  It is a nation at war across the world.  The U.S. has 291,000 troops stationed in 183 foreign countries, amounting to a global military occupation.  It has deployed special operations troops on secret combat and training missions to 149 countries in 2017 alone.  It has dropped 39,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan since Trump took office, and the U.S.- and Iraqi-led assault on Mosul alone killed an estimated 40,000 civilians.  Pretending we are at peace and vowing to preserve it by diverting more of our resources to the military industrial complex is not a national security strategy.  It is an Orwellian deception taken straight from the pages of 1984.

At the dawn of 2018, nobody could accuse the American public of not giving war a chance.  We have let successive presidents talk us into war over each and every international crisis, most of which were caused or fueled by U.S. aggression and militarism in the first place, in the belief that they may have finally found an enemy they can defeat and a war that will somehow make life better for somebody somewhere.  But they haven’t.

As we look forward to a new year, surely it is time to try something different and finally “Give Peace a Chance.”  My 15-year old self was willing to spend Christmas fasting on the cold steps of a church to do that in 1969.  What can you do to give peace a chance in 2018?

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Nicolas J. S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

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Yemen Is Today’s Guernica

January 4th, 2018 by Dr. Cesar Chelala

On the market day of April 26, 1937, at the bequest of General Francisco Franco, a bombing of the Basque town of Guernica took place. It was carried out by Spain’s nationalistic government allies, the Nazi German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria. The attack, under the code name Operation Rügen, in which hundreds of people died, became a rallying cry against the brutal killing of innocent civilians.

80 years later, however, an even more criminal action is carried out against Yemeni civilians by Saudi Arabia, with the complicity of the United States. 2018 has begun with the usual deadly Saudi strikes. Recent ones in the city of Hodeida have killed 23 people and Yemenis live in fear of new strikes that do not show respect for civilians, including children.

The Yemeni civil war began in 2015 between two factions that claim to represent the Yemeni government. Houthi soldiers clashed with forces loyal to the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched military operations against the Houthis, and the U.S. provided logistical and military support for the campaign.

The Houthi rebels make up almost a third of Yemen, and have ruled the country for hundreds of years. Since the beginning of the hostilities, the Houthis advance to the south of Yemen has met with the constant bombardment by Saudi Arabia and its allies, resulting in a dramatic humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, and thousands more have been forced to leave their homes and are desperately trying to find food and potable water.

Contaminated water as a result of an almost total sanitation breakdown has provoked a cholera outbreak considered the worst in history. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases and 2,156 deaths. At the current rate of infection, experts estimate that the number of cases will reach seven figures by the end of the year. Presently, almost 20 million Yemenis –more than two-thirds of the population- do not have access to clean water and sanitation.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the emergency health-care needs of the population have been so great that health care workers are unable to provide even basic medical care. When fighting intensified in some areas, there were no formal rescue services so residents and relatives had to dig out their loved ones from the rubble of damaged buildings.

An Amnesty International report, “Yemen: The Forgotten War” describes the consequences of the attacks carried out by Saudi Arabia’s coalition: more than 4,600 civilians killed and over 8,000 injured; three million people forced out of their homes, 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, fuel and sanitation and two million children out of school.

The flow of arms however, continues, unabated

. “The irresponsible and unlawful flow of arms to the warring parties in Yemen has directly contributed to civilian suffering on a massive scale,” declared James Lynch, from Amnesty International.

As Iran continues its support of the Houthis’ ragtag army, reports indicate that Saudi Arabia will purchase $7 billion worth of arms from the U.S.

Human Rights Watch has documented that the Saudi-led coalition was using internationally banned cluster munitions in at least 16 attacks that targeted populated areas, killing scores of civilians including women and children.

Last February, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, “to launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia” because of its conduct against civilians in Yemen.

In the meantime, health facilities continue to be hit by bombs and health and humanitarian workers are increasingly targeted. In a scene out of Guernica, Amal Sabri, a resident of Mokha, a port city on the Red Sea coast of Yemen, described a Saudi Arabia airstrike which killed at least 63 civilians,

“It was like something out of Judgment Day. Corpses and heads scattered, engulfed by fire and ashes.”

In Yemen today, world powers have not yet learned the lesson from Guernica.

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Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a winner of several journalism awards.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Featured image is from UNICEF Yemen.

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VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: 

stephenlendman.org 

(Home – Stephen Lendman). 

Contact at [email protected].

Former allies are now enemies – Trump sharply at odds with his former White House chief strategist Bannon.

Comments he made, quoted by Michael Wolff in his upcoming book, titled “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” didn’t go down well with Trump, his sharply worded statement reported by his press secretary Sarah Sanders, saying in part:

Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

“Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.”

It was a rogue gallery of aspirants, nearly all neocon extremists, resembling an FBI’s most wanted list.

Bannon joined Trump’s campaign as chief executive officer in August 2016, leaving his White House position a year later, saying he “declared war” on the establishment GOP at the time.

He’s a right-wing extremist like most others in Washington, many undemocratic Dems as hardline as Republicans on major issues – notably supporting imperial wars of aggression and corporate empowerment at the expense of peace and the general welfare – anathema notions in the nation’s capital.

An excerpt from Wolff’s book published by New York magazine called Trump’s campaign headquarters “a listless place…until the last weeks of the race” – expecting to lose, not win.

Wolff: The campaign’s “unexpected adventure would soon be over. Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be,” adding:

“As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had never been to win. ‘I can be the most famous man in the world,’ he had told” an aide by running and being in the spotlight for months.

Wolff described Trump’s first few months in office as a “slapdash (campaign) transition to the disarray in the West Wing…chaos and dysfunction” to follow throughout “his first year in office.”

The rest of the excerpt continues lots of juicy inside baseball stuff if it’s accurate. Perhaps we’ll never know for sure unless individuals quoted corroborate what Wolff wrote.

The book became Amazon’s top non-fiction bestseller before publication. It’s due out next week.

Bannon was over-the-top reportedly calling Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting with private citizen Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, unconnected to the Kremlin, “treasonous,” adding:

“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic…and I happen to think it’s all of that,” the FBI should have been informed “immediately.”

On leaving the White House last August, Trump praised him for his work, adding he “may be even better than ever before” in his private sector endeavors.

According to the Hill, Trump’s lawyers sent “a cease-and-desist letter to…Bannon Wednesday ordering him to refrain from making ‘disparaging statement(s)” about Trump and his family.”

Trump attorney Charles Harder reportedly accused him of breaching a non-disclosure agreement, saying:

“You have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and (the Trump campaign), disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members,” adding

“(R)emedies for your breach of the agreement include but are not limited to monetary damages.”

“On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent.”

After leaving the White House, Bannon returned to Breitbart News as chairman. He also hosts a daily Breitbart News radio program.

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Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the CRG, Correspondent of Global Research based in Chicago.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

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Because he was not a partisan in the Cold War between the U.S./NATO and the U.S.S.R, Albert Camus was an oddball.  As a result, he was criticized by the right, left, and center.  His allegiance was to truth, not ideologies.  He opposed state murder, terrorism, and warfare from all quarters.  An artistic anarchist with a passionate spiritual hunger, an austere and moral Don Juan, this sensual man of conscience and honor earned his reputation by a lifelong literary meditation on death in all its guises: disease(he was constantly threatened by tuberculosis), murder, suicide, capital punishment, war, etc.; deaths both “happy” and absurd, sudden and slow.  His enemy was always injustice and those powerful ones who thought they had the right to make others suffer and die for their perverted purposes.  An artist compelled by history to enter the political arena, he spoke out in defense of the poor, oppressed, and powerless.  Among his enemies were liberal imperialism and Soviet Marxism, abstract ideologies used to enslave and murder people around the world. 

Popularly known for his writing about absurdity (which for him was but a necessary step toward revolt), when he died on January 4, 1960 in a car crash on a straight country road in France with an unused train ticket in his pocket, the press played up the absurd nature of his death.  They still do.  But was it such?

In 2011, the media were abuzz with a report out of Italy that, rather than an accident, Camus may have been assassinated by the Soviet KGB for his powerful criticism of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, their massacre of Hungarian freedom fighters, and for his defense and advocacy of Boris Pasternak and his novel, Doctor Zhivago, among other things.  These reports were based on an article in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, and were based on the remarks of Giovanni Catelli, an Italian academic, Slavic scholar, and poet.  Catelli said that he had read in a diary, published as a book, Celyzͮivot, written by Jan Zábrana, a well-known poet and translator of Doctor Zhivago, the following:

I heard something very strange from the mouth of a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources.  According to him, the accident that had cost Albert Camus his life in 1960 was organized by Soviet spies.  They damaged the tyre on the car using a sophisticated piece of equipment that cut or made a hole at speed.

This claim was quickly and broadly rejected by Camus’ scholars and it just as quickly disappeared from view.

But in 2013 Catelli published a book on the case, Camus deve morire (Camus Must Die), that, oddly enough considering its explosive claims, has not been published in English (or French, as far as I know).I have recently read an English translation kindly provided to me by Catelli, and while I am still studying and researching his thesis, I will say that there may be more to it than those early dismissals of the Corriere della Sera report indicate. One has only to harken back to the 2013 mysterious death of journalist Michael Hastings in the United States when his car accelerated to over 100 miles per hour and exploded against a tree on a straight road in Los Angeles to make one think twice, maybe more.  Tree lined straight roads, no traffic, outspoken writers, anomalous crashes, and different countries and eras – tales to make on wonder.  And probe and research if one is so inclined.

Whatever the cause of Albert Camus’ death, however, it is clear that we could use his voice today.  I believe we should honor and remember him on this day that he died, for as an artist of his time, an artist for our time and all time, he tried to serve both beauty and suffering, to defend the innocent in this murderous world.  Quintessentially a man of his age, he was haunted by images that haunt us still, in particular those of being locked in an absurd prison threatened by madmen brandishing weapons small and large, ready to blow this beautiful world to smithereens with weapons conjured out of their hubristic,́ Promethean dreams of conquest.

This world as a prison is a metaphor that has a long and popular tradition.  In the past hundred or more years, however, with the secularization of Western culture and the perceived withdrawal of God, the doors of this prison have shut upon the popular imagination, with growing numbers of people feeling trapped in an alien universe, no longer able to bridge the gulf between themselves and an absent God.  Death, once the open avenue to the free life of eternity, has for many become the symbol of the absurdity of existence and the futility of escape.  Camus was haunted by these images, intensified as they were by a life of personal isolation beginning with the death of his father in World War I when he was a year old and continuing throughout his upbringing by a half-deaf, emotionally sterile mother.  His entire life, including his tragic art, was an attempt to find a way out of this closed world.

FirstMan.jpg

That is why he continues to speak today to those who grapple with the same enigmas, those who strive to find hope and faith to defend the defenseless and revel in the glory of living simultaneously.  Not absurdly, he left clues to that quest in his briefcase on the road where he died – the unfinished manuscript to his beautiful, posthumously published novel, Le Premier Homme (The First Man).  It was as if, whether he died in an accident or was murdered, the first man was going to have the last word.

One can imagine Camus saying with Hamlet:

Oh, I could tell you –

But let it be, Horatio, I am dead;

Thou livest; report to me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied.

Let us do just that.

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Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely.  He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

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If Trump is willing to accept the enormous loss of American life — which are the only people that he cares about as the US President — then turning the Korean Peninsula into Asia’s nuclear panhandle would indeed “Make America Great Again” by permanently handicapping its Russian & Chinese geostrategic competitors as well as its Japanese & South Korean economic ones.

The war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald J. Trump has suddenly taken a very foreboding turn, with both men now talking about “nuclear buttons” and openly hinting at the prospects of carrying out a preemptive first strike against the other.

The first thing to remember is that Trump is dead serious (pun intended) about his desire to “Make America Great Again”, and that he will stop at nothing to see his vision fulfilled in the future, including if he has to use nuclear weapons to make it happen.

Normative objections like arguing about how “terrible” and “evil” this is have absolutely no effect on Trump, who has come to be the literal embodiment of the “Mad Man Theory” and cares nothing about such concerns, ruthlessly viewing the world through a Neo-Realist prism where everything revolves around power.

If there’s any “emotional” point that would give Trump pause to think, then it’s about the lives of the nearly quarter-million Americans (including servicemen and their families) living in South Korea who could easily be killed in the opening days of a Korean Continuation War, and this is the only reason why Trump has yet to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.

Right now the President whose opponents label as a “heartless psychopath” is actually very concerned about the moral responsibility that he would have to forever shoulder in potentially sacrificing so many Americans, but if he ever surmounts his conscientious objections to this or is misled by the “deep state” into believing that North Korea is in the imminent process of launching its own preemptive strike (or is provoked by the military to already do so), the he might “make peace with himself” in the “comfort” that “only” 250,000 Americans had to die (notwithstanding the millions of Asians that he doesn’t care about) in order to “Make America Great Again”.

Brutally speaking, the only real consequence that the US would suffer from nuking North Korea is the death of its South Korean-based compatriots as “collateral damage”, and the possibility of a Chinese military response to America’s brazen bombing(s?) could be avoided if Washington provokes Pyongyang into striking first because of Beijing’s previous pledge not to intervene if its wayward “ally” is the one most directly “responsible” for reigniting hostilities.

US bases in South Korea

Source: Oriental Review

Accepting that the US would quickly emerge as militarily victorious in this conflict, it’s now time to examine how the destructive consequences of nuking North Korea would actually “Make America Great Again” from Trump’s “Kraken”-like Neo-Realist perspective.

To begin with, almost all of North Korea’s territory could be rendered inhospitable depending on the scale and scope of the US’ nuclear arms use, thus turning it into the ultimate “buffer zone” and therefore making the decades-long question of whether the (now-former) country would be occupied by Chinese or American-South Korean troops after a speculative continuation war moot.

Secondly, the atmospheric aftereffects of America’s nuclear weapons use are difficult to precisely predict and should be left to more competent experts to comment upon in detail, but it can confidently be presumed that this would affect South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia, up to and including making some of their territory also inhospitable.

Not only that, but Seoul and even Tokyo could be wiped out if Pyongyang is successful in nuking them in its final moments, and even if they’re not destroyed, then the resultant nuclear atmospheric damage to South Korea and Japan would devastate these once-strong Asian economies and reduce them to uncompetitive “Third World” states.

The same can also happen to a large chunk of China in its rustbelt “Manchurian” region of the Northeast, as well as the base of Russia’s Pacific Fleet and its “Window to Asia” in Vladivostok, though the exact consequences are again subject to the atmospheric ramifications resulting from the scope and scale of any speculative American nuclear bombing of North Korea.

One of the relevant tangential developments that could unfold is that China’s domestic agricultural industry could collapse, and this could combine with the widespread fear resulting from the nearby radioactive panhandle to produce unpredictable socio-political consequences in the People’s Republic.

Furthermore, the nuclear destruction of North Korea and the attendant apocalyptic aftereffects that this would have for Northeast Asia would for all intents and purposes remove each of these victimized nation-states from the geopolitical game except for perhaps Russia, seeing as how they’d all be wreaked with internal turmoil in dealing with the long-term radioactive fallout of what happened, thus restoring the US to its immediate post-World War II “glorious” position in recapturing the majority of the global economy and literally “Making America Great Again”.

It’s precisely this “reward” that is so tempting to Trump and why his finger is itching to press the nuclear button, but then again he’s still held back by the thought of the quarter-million American lives that might have to be sacrificed as a result, though he might “console” himself with the “excuse” that this was “necessary” in order for the remaining 320+ million to “rule the world”.

As for the millions upon millions of Asians who would surely die in this scenario, Trump would “rationalize” it by convincing himself that he was taking North Korean “slaves” “out of their misery” and that all the others who allowed Kim Jong Un to “get out of control” and launch what the Pentagon might provoke to be Pyongyang’s first strike “deserved it”, shedding all personal responsibility for this by claiming that he “inherited an impossible mess” from his hated predecessors who already made its dynamics “irreversible” and therefore its conclusion “inevitable”.

The only realistic chance that Trump can be stopped from nuking North Korea in the event that he “gets over” the potential deaths of a quarter-million Americans (considering that the deaths of Asians aren’t anything that he cares about) and/or is misled into thinking that North Korea is on the cusp of launching its own imminent first strike (or was provoked into doing so) is if Russia and China convey the message to the US — whether openly or discretely — that they will respond with nuclear weapons if Washington dares to use them.

This brinksmanship would be very dangerous because there’s no telling whether Kim Jong Un would introduce nukes into any forthcoming conflict first, though from Pyongyang’s perspective it would have to in order to ensure its survival or “go out with a bang” like it’s been threatening, resultantly giving the US a semi-“plausible” right to respond in kind, albeit much more disproportionately.

However much some people may wish, it is unlikely that Russia and/or China would go to nuclear war against the US over North Korea, especially in the event that Pyongyang used nukes first (whether justifiably or not), and in spite of the long-term radioactive fallout that could devastate their two countries (China much more so than Russia in this case).

In addition, it can be assured that any US nuclear (counter-)attack against North Korea would be preceded by the scrupulous monitoring of all Chinese nuclear assets “just in case”, meaning that Washington would be on “red alert” to nuke China if Washington thought that Beijing was about to bomb its overseas bases or homeland in preemptive response for the deadly radioactive future that the US would be giving it, thus representing an unimaginably dangerous situation fraught with the risk of even the smallest misstep leading to a nuclear war between the US and China and further diminishing the chance that Beijing would strike back.

All in all, Trump is proving himself to be the consummate risk-taker who’s not afraid to up the stakes in any situation, and a thorough read of his personality proves that he wouldn’t shy away from using nuclear weapons against North Korea, deeply believing that it’s the key to “Make America Great Again” even if this would run the chance of a nuclear war with China too.

Trump is a modern-day Machiavelli who doesn’t care about morals, ethics, and principles when it comes to advancing his country’s grand strategic interests on the world stage, but it’s because of the little bit of “humanity” that’s still left within him in caring about the fate of a quarter-million Americans that he has yet to push the nuclear red button that’s sitting so tantalizingly close on his desk.

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Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare.

This article was originally published by Oriental Review.

Featured image is from Unz Review.

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Protests have been reported across several cities in Iran over the last  several days of December 2017. Protesters allegedly decry Iran’s economy as well as the nation’s involvement in nearby Syria.

The Western media has attempted to cultivate two narratives – one focused on portraying the protests as widespread, spontaneous, and having focused first on “economic grievances” before becoming political – another narrative openly admitting to US involvement and praising US President Donald Trump for “standing up” to the “Iranian regime.”

Of course, neither narrative is even remotely grounded in reality.

US Meddling in Iran Stretches Back Decades 

US regime-change operations targeting Iran stretch back decades and have continued within a singular geopolitical strategy, regardless of who has occupied the White House, including under the more recent US administrations of George Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump.

While pro-war circles in the US claim the 1979 Iranian Revolution was an instance of Iran drawing first blood, the revolution was in fact a direct response to then already decades of US meddling in Iran stretching back as early as 1953 with the US Central Intelligence Agency’s Operation AJAX.

Regarding Operation AJAX, in an entry on the CIA’s own website titled, “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror,” it admits (emphasis added):

The target was not an oppressive Soviet puppet but a democratically elected government whose populist ideology and nationalist fervor threatened Western economic and geopolitical interests. The CIA’s covert intervention—codenamed TPAJAX—preserved the Shah’s power and protected Western control of a hugely lucrative oil infrastructure. It also transformed a turbulent constitutional monarchy into an absolutist kingship and induced a succession of unintended consequences at least as far ahead as the Islamic revolution of 1979—and, Kinzer argues in his breezily written, well-researched popular history, perhaps to today.

The article – a review by the CIA’s own history staff of a book regarding Operation AJAX – admits that US policy regarding Iran merely picked up where the British Empire left off in an effort to reassert rapidly-slipping Western control over the globe. In no way was US efforts to undermine and control the government of Iran described in terms of protecting US national security or promoting democracy – and in fact was characterized instead as undermining Iranian self-determination.

It is this admission that reveals the core truth of today’s tensions between Iran and the United States. The West still seeks to reassert itself and its economic interests in the Middle East. Notions of “freedom,” “democracy,” as well as threats of “terrorism,” “nuclear holocaust,” and even the ongoing conflict with nearby Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf States are but facades behind which this self-serving neo-imperial agenda is pursued.

Today’s Protests Openly Plotted by US Policymakers for Years   

The Brookings Institution in its 2009 “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran,” report dedicated an entire chapter to plotting the overthrow of the Iranian government.

Titled, “THE VELVET REVOLUTION: Supporting a Popular Uprising,” the policy paper lays out (emphasis added):

Because the Iranian regime is widely disliked by many Iranians, the most obvious and palatable method of bringing about its demise would be to help foster a popular revolution along the lines of the “velvet revolutions” that toppled many communist governments in Eastern Europe beginning in 1989. For many proponents of regime change, it seems self-evident that the United States should encourage the Iranian people to take power in their own name, and that this would be the most legitimate method of regime change. After all, what Iranian or foreigner could object to helping the Iranian people fulfill their own desires?

The paper then admits:

The true objective of this policy option is to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran and see it replaced, hopefully, by one whose views would be more compatible with U.S. interests in the region. 

In essence, Brookings quickly admits that its “velvet revolution” would be the fulfillment of Washington’s desires, not the Iranian people’s – pursued merely under the guise of helping Iranians fulfill their own desires. As the CIA itself admits in its own historical records that US “interests in the region” are based on economic exploitation and the enrichment of Wall Street and Washington, not lifting up, empowering, or enriching the Iranian people.

It is an open admission regarding US designs for Iran demonstrated on multiple occasions elsewhere from Iraq to Libya to Syria to Ukraine and Yemen – what is promoted as progressive political revolution supported by the “democratic” West is in fact the destruction and subjugation of a nation, its people, and its resources at the cost of global peace and prosperity.

Creating an Opposition from Whole Cloth 

The Brookings paper openly states (emphasis added):

The United States could play multiple roles in facilitating a revolution. By funding and helping organize domestic rivals of the regime, the United States could create an alternative leadership to seize power. As Raymond Tanter of the Iran Policy Committee argues, students and other groups “need covert backing for their demonstrations. They need fax machines. They need Internet access, funds to duplicate materials, and funds to keep vigilantes from beating them up.” Beyond this, U.S.-backed media outlets could highlight regime shortcomings and make otherwise obscure critics more prominent. The United States already supports Persian language satellite television (Voice of America Persian) and radio (Radio Farda) that bring unfiltered news to Iranians (in recent years, these have taken the lion’s share of overt U.S. funding for promoting democracy in Iran). U.S. economic pressure (and perhaps military pressure as well) can discredit the regime, making the population hungry for a rival leadership.

It should be noted that economic and military pressure were both cited by the BBC and other Western news sources as “grievances” by the so-called “opposition” amid Iran’s most recent protests.

Brookings lists “intellectuals,” “students, labor, and civil society organizations” under a subsection of the chapter titled, “Finding the Right Proxies.”

Under a subsection titled, “Military Intervention,” Brookings admits:

…if the United States ever succeeds in sparking a revolt against the clerical regime, Washington may have to consider whether to provide it with some form of military support to prevent Tehran from crushing it. 

The report continues by stating:

…if the United States is to pursue this policy, Washington must take this possibility into consideration. It adds some very important requirements to the list: either the policy must include ways to weaken the Iranian military or weaken the willingness of the regime’s leaders to call on the military, or else the United States must be ready to intervene to defeat it. 

Armed with this knowledge, Iranian protests quickly turning violent due to mysterious gunmen and nebulous armed groups that suddenly appear can be viewed instead through the more realistic prism of pre-positioned US-armed gangs rolled out to expand unrest and hinder security operations aimed at pacifying US-organized mobs.

Step 2: Armed Insurrection

Considering Brookings’ realization that any mob the US stirs up in Iran is likely to be simply swept off the streets – it followed its “Velvet Revolution” chapter with one titled, “INSPIRING AN INSURGENCY: Supporting Iranian Minority and Opposition Groups.”

Here, an important admission is openly made and extensively built upon – the arming and backing of terrorist organizations with American blood on their hands – a causal “option” shamelessly considered by American policymakers in 2009 that would become a matter of fact during the 2011 “Arab Spring” and the subsequent US-fueled wars from Libya and Syria fought via Al Qaeda and the myriad of franchises it inspired.

Brookings unabashedly admits:

As much as many Americans might like to help the Iranian people rise up and take their destiny in their own hands, the evidence suggests that its likelihood is low—and that American assistance could well make it less likely rather than more. Consequently, some who favor fomenting regime change in Iran argue that it is utopian to hold out hope for a velvet revolution; instead, they contend that the United States should turn to Iranian opposition groups that already exist, that already have demonstrated a desire to fight the regime, and who appear willing to accept U.S. assistance.

Among the groups considered, Brookings admits:

Perhaps the most prominent (and certainly the most controversial) opposition group that has attracted attention as a potential U.S. proxy is the NCRI (National Council of Resistance of Iran), the political movement established by the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq). 

Of the MEK, Brookings admits (emphasis added):

…the MEK remains on the U.S. government list of foreign terrorist organizations. In the 1970s, the group killed three U.S. officers and three civilian contractors in Iran. During the 1979-1980 hostage crisis, the group praised the decision to take American hostages and Elaine Sciolino reported that while group leaders publicly condemned the 9/11 attacks, within the group celebrations were widespread. Undeniably, the group has conducted terrorist attacks—often excused by the MEK’s advocates because they are directed against the Iranian government. For example, in 1981, the group bombed the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party, which was then the clerical leadership’s main political organization, killing an estimated 70 senior officials. More recently, the group has claimed credit for over a dozen mortar attacks, assassinations, and other assaults on Iranian civilian and military targets between 1998 and 2001. At the very least, to work more closely with the group (at least in an overt manner), Washington would need to remove it from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. 

It was no coincidence that while Brookings penned its 2009 report, efforts were already well underway to remove MEK from the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations – and was fully removed from the list by 2012, according to the US State Department itself.

Many of President Donald Trump’s political supporters played a direct role in lobbying to get terrorist organization MEK off the US State Department’s FTO list. Their work began under Bush and continued under Obama. It was in fact under Obama’s administration when MEK was finally delisted. 

It is telling that MEK only found itself removed from a list of terrorist organizations because the US required it for a terror campaign of its own design against Tehran – the organization itself having reformed itself in no shape, form, or way and intent – by Brookings and other US policymakers’ own admissions – to carry on further atrocities – simply in the name of US regime change in Iran.

MEK is joined by other terrorist organizations the US has cultivated along Iran’s peripheries since 2011 and America’s multiple proxy wars in the region. These include Al Qaeda, Kurdish militias, and the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS).

Brookings lays out under a subsection titled, “Finding a Conduit and Safe Haven,” that:

Of equal importance (and potential difficulty) will be finding a neighboring country willing to serve as the conduit for U.S. aid to the insurgent group, as well as to provide a safe haven where the group can train, plan, organize, heal, and resupply…

…without such a partner, it would be far more difficult for the United States to support an insurgency. One thing that the United States would have in its favor when searching for a state to play this role is that many of Iran’s neighbors dislike and fear the Islamic Republic.

Since 2009, the US has secured for itself multiple conduits and safe havens – which has been the primary reason Iran has been involved so deeply in Syria since the 2011 war erupted. Western Syria now hosts multiple US military bases as well as a large proxy contingent made up of Kurdish militias and extremists from Al Qaeda/ISIS being retrained by the US for redeployment in continued proxy wars across the region.

Had Iran failed to prevent the entire overthrow of the Syrian state, the nation would have been transformed into a single springboard for Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Kurdish militants to invade and decimate Iran before moving on to southern Russia.

It should be noted that Brookings – among its conclusions regarding the creation of an “insurgency” against Iran – states:

Properly executed, covert support to an insurgency would provide the United States with “plausible deniability.” As a result, the diplomatic and political backlash would likely be much less than if the United States were to mount a direct military action. 

Of course, Brookings’ own publicly-published conspiracy coupled together with the US’ demonstrated use of proxies in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and now Iran, lays bare this strategy and mitigates whatever “plausible deniability” Washington hoped to maintain.

Regardless, the West, through its formidable influence in the media, will attempt to maintain plausible deniability regarding US involvement in Iranian unrest until the last possible moment – not unlike how it hid its role in executing the so-called “Arab Spring” during its opening phases despite plotting and organizing the mayhem years in advance.

US Hopes to Break Iran, Would Settle for Setting it Back

Just as the US hoped for speedy regime change in Syria in 2011, but settled for the destruction of the nation, the division of its territory, and the weakening of the Syrian military, the US likewise has primary and secondary goals already laid out for regime change plans versus Iran.

The Brookings report admits:

…even if U.S. support for an insurgency failed to produce the overthrow of the regime, it could still place Tehran under considerable pressure, which might either prevent the regime from making mischief abroad or persuade it to make concessions on issues of importance to the United States (such as its nuclear program and support to Hamas, Hizballah, and the Taliban). Indeed, Washington might decide that this second objective is a more compelling rationale for supporting an insurgency than the (much less likely) goal of actually overthrowing the regime.

In other words, US regime change again is openly admitted as an act of geopolitical coercion, not self-defense. The strategy laid out by Brookings is more than mere “suggestions.” It is an enumerated list of prescribed actions that have demonstrably been executed since in Syria, Libya, and Yemen and are now manifesting themselves in nearby Iran.

In the world of geopolitical analysis, it is not often that a signed and dated confession can be cited when describing conspiracies against another nation-state. In the case of US meddling in Iran, Brookings provides just such evidence – nearly 200 pages long – detailing everything from fabricated opposition, US sponsorship of terrorism, and even engineered provocations by the US and Israel to trigger a full-scale war.

As the West probes Iran and stories of “unrest” make headlines, looking past the Western media’s diversions, excuses, and outright lies, toward the engineered nature of this conflict helps quickly decipher the truth, assign blame, and reveal deceivers and collaborators in yet another campaign of Western aggression thousands of miles from American shores to be fought with US taxpayers’ money and perhaps even the blood of US soldiers.

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Tony Cartalucci is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” where this article was originally published.

All images in this article are from the author.

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Featured image: Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria. (Source: Violaine Martin/ UN Geneva)

The Syrian Red Crescent, a branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has confirmed that 29 critically ill persons were evacuated from East Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria on Friday. The 29 evacuated included 17 children, 6 women and 6 men. A crucial part of this deal included the release of 29 civilians who had been kidnapped from Adra by The Army of Islam in December 2013.

The deal was between the Syrian government and the terrorists, with oversight by the Syrian Red Crescent.

The Army of Islam, also known as Jaish Islam, is a Radical terrorist group which professes the Salafist ideology. It is supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and was headed by the Syrian terrorist Zahran Alloush, who was killed in December 2015.  The Army of Islam is the main fighting group in East Ghouta. The Army of Islam shares the same ideology as ISIS, however, the western media often labels them as rebels.

The 29 civilians hostages released were part of a much larger group of hostages captured by The Army of Islam in a massacre at the industrial city of Adra, north of Damascus, in December 2013. The exact number of hostages being held for four years is unknown, but they include children, women, men, and some are family groups. These hostages were living in a workers compound, with families together in living facilities, while the adults worked in various industries, such as a cement factory. Some of the civilians were living and employed in the area in service jobs; such as shop keepers and bakers. Adra was a thriving community of workers and their families, not far from the Syrian capital.

The Army of Islam, along with other armed terrorists of similar ideology, swept into Adra and went house to house slaughtering people, in some cases entire families. The massacre continued for two days, while the terrorists were singing battle songs about cleansing Syria from all Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. The attack and massacre was carried out for sectarian reasons against minorities. A Christian physician named George was beheaded. The bakery workers resisted having their equipment vandalized and were baked alive in their own ovens. The terrorists had captured so many hostages that they could not handle the numbers, and they released 5,000 persons initially, who were later rescued by the Syrian military. However, the terrorists took hostages which they have held now for 4 years.

Zahran Alloush became famous for taking some of those hostages and parading them around in cages, reminiscent of circus cages, in December 2015, shortly before his death. He also ordered women hostages to be driven around the area on a cage on the back of a truck. He and his group have used civilians as human shields for years, which is a war crime.  According to Human Rights Watch, the practice constitutes hostage-taking and an outrage against their personal dignity, which are both war crimes.

Zahran Alloush’s brother Mohamed is the leader of the political arm of The Army of Islam and has participated in many of the UN sponsored Geneva meetings, as a formal representative of the Syrian opposition, in their negotiations for the purpose of bringing an end to the suffering in Syria.

The UN’s humanitarian co-coordinator, Jan Egeland has criticized the deal made for the swap of 29 civilian hostages from Adra, in exchange for 29 ill civilians from inside East Ghouta, which is under the control of the terrorists who originally massacred and kidnapped the civilians in Adra.   Mr. Egeland called the deal ‘bad’ when interviewed by the BBC. He said the ill patients deserved medical treatment without being part of a swap. The families of the 29 hostages released after 4 years of torture, deprivation and suffering might not agree with Mr. Egeland’s assessment. They might well ask, how could an international humanitarian official deem one child suffering an illness, but who belongs to the terrorist’s community, as more deserving than a child who has suffered capture for 4 years? Suffering on both sides of the Syrian conflict has been felt for 7 years.

Western leaders, western officials and the western media have come under criticism for consistently highlighting the plight of the terrorists and their supporters, who are under threat from attacks by the Syrian government forces. However, the plight of the millions of Syrian civilians living in Damascus, and facing at times a daily barrage of rockets and missiles into residential neighborhoods, which originate from East Ghouta, is rarely focused on. Syrian military airstrikes against terrorist positions and enclaves are reported by the western media in detail, including amateur videos uploaded by the terrorists themselves and considered as ‘news’. There has been an unbalanced story-line fed to the international audience: even though the terrorist groups in Syria would be hunted down and killed if they were in USA, UK, Europe, Canada or Australia, the media spins the story as if they are ‘rebels’ fighting for political change in Syria, with full support from the Syrian people. The UN’s humanitarian co-coordinator, Jan Egeland would seem to be reinforcing this unbalanced view in his comparison of the two sides in the swap.

The Russian government has tried to convince the UN Security Council to designate The Army of Islam as a terrorist group; however, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Ukraine have refused this designation. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said,

“We have called for this and submitted a relevant proposal to the sanctions committee, so that they [the groups] would be added to the list of terrorist organizations, but so far, our Western partners are not ready for this.”

The conflict in Syria has entered into its last stage. Western leaders demanded a political settlement to the war, all the while supporting the militants on the ground. It would appear that a military solution will be the end of the war in Syria. The armed men supported by the US-NATO and Arab countries of Persian Gulf alliance have lost the war, and are in their final days. All eyes are now on the next monumental meeting at Sochi, and the opposition will try to negotiate their defeat.

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Steven Sahiounie began writing political analysis and commentary during the Syrian war, which began in March 2011. He has published several articles, and has been affiliated with numerous media. He has been interviewed by US, Canadian and German media.

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Featured image: Graphic: March 1981 City Council Campaign flyer

Burlington’s Neighborhood Planning Assemblies are back in the local spotlight, and likely to be a contentious issue in the 2018 race for mayor of Vermont’s largest city this March.

Last Fall, an “assembly of the assemblies” demanded a formal role in deciding the future of Memorial Auditorium, a major local venue for 90 years. Since then, Infinite Culcleasure, one of two Independents challenging Mayor Miro Weinberger, has announced that “more public investment should be made to strengthen existing neighborhood assemblies.” And Progressive-backed Independent Carina Driscoll says,

“We need to empower our Neighborhood Planning Assemblies so that they may again be actively involved with public engagement, city planning and prioritizing city resources.”

NPAs, as they have become known over the years, officially became part of Burlington city government in the summer of 1983. The idea had been percolating for a while and didn’t become reality without some struggle, then and afterward. But during an “assembly of the assemblies” at City Hall in late June that year, about 100 people successfully discussed and largely agreed on basics like how often to meet, the rules for making decisions, and whether NPAs should operate exclusively on a ward level.

These volunteer founders had gathered, in ward groups, then as a committee of the whole, to hammer out long-delayed bylaws. It was a rare moment. People from competing political factions were sitting face-to-face, conversing civilly with neighbors. Surprisingly, there were few serious disputes, and more areas of agreement than expected.

Pressure to create neighborhood assemblies had been building for years. In 1976, while I was the city’s Youth Coordinator, they were proposed as a way to coordinate social services. In 1981, neighborhood power was part of the Citizens Party platform and became an issue in the elections that gave Bernie Sanders his first victory. The top issue in my own City Council campaign was neighborhood participation in city planning, specifically “formal review of grants and the municipal development plan by neighborhood groups.”

Shortly after Bernie’s election as mayor, a conference of independent local groups proposed that neighborhood assemblies be formally established within local government.

Decades after they became part of local government, NPAs continued to host forums for mayoral candidates, including the author, in 2015.

Bylaws were supposed to be drafted during planning sessions that began in early 1982. But debates over priorities for community development funds, not to mention political infighting and campaign fever, pushed the process back. Lack of coordinators or established procedures also didn’t help, making it difficult for neighborhoods to call their own meetings. Meanwhile, both the Planning Commission and Mayor’s Office convened selected NPAs to act as sounding boards for issues on their agendas.

Haggling between the Old Guard-dominated Planning Commission and newly created Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) further complicated the process. In Spring 1983 the Planning Commission, still dominated by allies of the previous administration, put forward a structure proposal that would restrict NPAs to quarterly meetings and keep them under firm control. But CEDO, initially developed as a means to divert funds and power from the Commission, also succeeded in assuming responsibility for coordination of NPA activities. By then several had already begun to set their own agendas, pass motions, and provide advice on city projects. Now they would have $15,000 each to use or invest in neighborhood improvement projects.

Just two years earlier, Vermont’s largest city basically had a one-party political system controlled by a Democratic clan with a small group of developers and merchants. Now it was in the midst of a social and political realignment. An independent socialist mayor was in his second term and the City Council operated with a fragile three-party balance of power.

The new political environment had sparked a renaissance in public participation, which in turn was producing programs for youth, women and the elderly. About 50 percent more people had voted in the recent local elections than had turned out just two years earlier, and Mayor Sanders received 52 percent in a three-way race. Meanwhile, dozens of Town Meetings across Vermont adopted resolutions to freeze nuclear weapons, legislate peace conversion, cut off aid to El Savador, and regulate nuclear waste shipments. To date, 184 of the state’s 245 towns had gone on record to freeze nuclear proliferation.

In Burlington, independent neighborhood groups that focused on issues from road-building to crime and housing conditions had already changed the relationship between local citizens and their representatives. Now the question was whether these self-organized vehicles of popular power would or should become a formal part of the city planning process.

Some who attended the founding congress were suspicious about an apparent lack of publicity prior to the event. But two pro-Assembly City Councilors in the room — Maurice Mahoney, a Ward 1 Democrat, and Terry Bouricius, a Ward 2 Sanders ally and Citizens Party member of the City Council — offered assurances that the Council was eager to see these “mainly advisory” bodies operate “efficiently.” Anarchist thinker Murray Bookchin also attended. He was skeptical, but wrote a draft preamble for the bylaws that was adopted with few changes.

Working in Ward subgroups, participants in the assembly congress made preliminary decisions that day about who could participate (any voter registered in the ward), how often they would meet, and what constituted a quorum. Agreement also emerged that NPAs should set their own agendas, but remain responsive to mayoral or council requests, and that their purview could stretch from down-to-earth projects like tree planting to review of Master Plan revisions.

Many things remained undefined and unclear at this point. But the experience of working together for a day, determining how they would function, tended to convince most people who attended that NPAs would at least not be easy for any one faction to manipulate. In fact, when newly elected Assembly coordinators sat around the Council’s horseshoe table to deliver status reports at the end of the evening, some in the audience publicly speculated , hoped or feared that it might evolve into a second City Council.

The list of coordinators read like a roster of upcoming local leaders. Judy Stephany had been the Democrat’s candidate for mayor the previous March. Two other coordinators were recent City Council candidates. And Tim McKenzie, who had run for the state legislature, currently headed Sanders’ Progressive Coalition.

The plan was to have these coordinators meet to follow up on their wards’ proposals, then convene the assemblies again to ratify the final document. Once that was done, NPAs would operate with relative independence, guiding community developments and responding to official requests.

Despite the cooperative atmosphere in which NPAs were born, there were obvious lingering questions and reasonable concerns. In the long term, for instance, would they be representative, or become tools for outside interests to engineer consent? What would happen to attendance as time passed? And if they proved effective, would their powers expand?

Mayor Sanders certainly had doubts. Specifically, he was hesitant to empower groups that might not have a progressive character or could be overtaken by opponents. Others on the left, notably Bookchin, wondered instead whether they would evolve as proactive, popular organs or become institutionalized and reactive.

The Sanders administration ultimately decided to embrace the NPAs, offering money and a limited decision-making role. Basically, it gave them some room to grow. But their status, advisory bodies operating under the auspices of a city office, meant that much of their time and energy would be spent evaluating proposals from the administration and large local institutions.

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This essay appeared in the December 2017 issue of 05401 PLUS, a Lake Champlain region magazine.

Greg Guma participated in the development of NPAs and attended the founding congress. He is a long-term Burlington resident and author of Dons of Time, Spirits of Desire, Uneasy Empire, and The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution.

This article was originally published by The Vermont Way.

All images are from the author.

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Jewish identity politics complicate the Palestinian response to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Sometimes it seems impossible to address the crux of the matter, the Jewish state Nakba in Palestine, without being subjected to attacks one way or another.

On the last day of 2017, I posted a meme on my Facebook wall that provoked a long and heated argument.

The meme went like this:

LAST YEAR WE RESOLVED TO STOP SUBSTITUTING ‘OCCUPATION’ FOR ‘ZIONISM’.
In 2018, we’ll stop substituting ‘settlers’ for ‘Jews’.

The year 2017 saw activist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the US Campaign against the Occupation (now named the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights) make a shift in the tactics they used. They explicitly adopted all the goals of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

BDS goals are:

Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

In practical terms, and regardless of the political arrangement required to implement these goals (one state or two), complying with international law regarding BDS goals means dismantling Zionism — i.e. dismantling Israel as a Jewish state.

However, the nature of Israel as a Jewish state is still being “contested” (for lack of a better word), as if concepts such as ethnicity and religious difference are still determining factors in people’s lives today and not a matter of choices, but of essences. Standing in the way of the achievement of BDS goals, among a host of other challenges, is Jewish identity politics.

In references to Jewish identity in connection with Israel, we are pushed by anti-Zionist proponents to understand that settlements in Palestine are inhabited by settlers or, at best, Jewish settlers (colonial settlers who just happen to be Jewish in religion), but not by Jews as a people in the tribal (national) sense. The Jewish Virtual Library defines Judaism as being “simultaneously a religion, a nationality and a culture.”

Jewish identity politics (especially in the US) includes the secular strand that marginalizes Zionist Jewish thought as “not really Jewish” — as though Zionism is not rooted in the Jewish religious idea of exile and return — and the religious strand (the Judaic rather than Jewish strand) that outlaws the Zionist notion of “return” for not being coupled with the coming of the messiah.

However, both these strands of Jewish identity representation account for a tiny minority of Jews worldwide. Most Jews support the racist, Apartheid Jewish state and its so-called “right” to exist as such.

Millions of religious and secular Jews continue to define themselves the way Israel identifies them. And, more importantly, most states in the world also continue to identify Jews as Israel identifies them.

As Harry Clark explains in the Facebook discussion I mention above:

Zionism isn’t simply “settler colonialism” or even Jewish S-C, it is “the Jewish people”, eternally separate, distinct, unassimilable. It shares this view of “Jews” with racialist anti-semitism, which explains their partnership, down to and including Nazism. Zionism was begun, not simply to colonize Palestine, but to preserve “the Jewish people” against liberalism and assimilation. There is no such thing as a “Jewish people”; it is historical fiction, Jewish race doctrine.[See The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand]

It is only relatively recently, because of anxiety that the illegal residency of Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank (i.e. the march toward one democratic state) would topple the shaky foundation on which the Jewish state rests, that “settlers” in the West Bank among immigrant Jews to Israel have been singled out for criticism, albeit mild, in the mainstream media.

One interlocution in the Facebook thread goes like this:

Lisa Kosowski: … the world, and the int’l Jewish community in particular, see settlers as somehow being separate & apart from the Jewish community & therefore have an excuse to avoid responsibility. Even worse, many mainstream Jewish organizations support the settlements financially and in other ways — like by their silence to acts of terrorism perpetrated by settlers. And the Israeli gov’t protects the settlers through the use of their military which is subsidized with American tax dollars. So time to end the subterfuge: if ISIS & the like are “Islamic terrorists,” then white supremacists & abortion clinic bombers are “Christian terrorists,” and settlers, IDF soldiers & border guards who commit violence are “Jewish terrorists.”

I believe strongly that it is important to address the nature of Israel as a Jewish state without obfuscation, because the beginning of Palestinian self-determination is the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Without that end, there is not ever going to be a beginning for us.

Zionism is not run-of-the-mill settler-colonialism. Had this been the case, Palestine would by now have liberated itself, as so many colonial states already have (Interestingly, as of 2012, 16 territories are deemed still to be under colonial rule and are labeled by the United Nations as “non-self-governing territories  — NSGTs) — the Palestinian territory is not on the list). It is certainly not for lack of courage, steadfastness or resolve that Palestinians continue to have a boot over their necks almost 70 years after the Nakba.

In having to battle a Jewish state, Palestinians are up against a formidable foe — not only because of the considerable achievements of Jews on the world stage in almost every field of endeavor, but also because of the persecution Jews have historically experienced and Western guilt associated with that tragic history.

Another huge obstacle for us has been Zionist propaganda which has penetrated thousands of synagogues worldwide, complicating the distinctions between Judaic and Jewish.

Zionism in Palestine has been slowly but surely turning into a religious conflict. There is no doubt that among Palestinians themselves today, the strongest force driving Palestinian self-determination is Islam. We cannot and must not pretend the religious side of the struggle for liberation is nonexistent — Jew against Muslim and vice versa; Christian against Jew and Evangelical Christian for Jew.

So, what do we do? I think the first order of business is finding clarity in what has become a morass of myths, half-truths and deflections — we must open the door for discussing and understanding the complicated issue of Jewish identity as it has emerged in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.

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During the U.S. government’s decade-long support of the Contra rebels who waged an armed campaign against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista regime in the 1980s, the CIA funneled all manner of assistance to the anti-socialist “freedom fighters,” from training and financial assistance to covert operations. The original “advise and assist” mission was a disaster in retrospect, spurring all manner of human rights violations as well as the modern crack cocaine scourge. But the CIA aid program’s most fascinating product might be the batshit crazy psychological warfare manual cooked up for the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries. 

First described to the Associated Press by the House Intelligence Committee in October 1984, the guide to “psychological operations in guerrilla warfare” was whittled down to 38 pages and released on Dec. 16 in responseto a Freedom of Information Act request from Muckrock national security reporter Emma Best. The guide covers all sorts of weird topics, from the development of “armed propaganda teams” to engaging would-be socialists in an impromptu game of Model UN. The manual says it was designed specifically with “the Christian and democratic crusade being conducted in Nicaragua by the Freedom Commandos” in mind — and it is fucking bonkers. Here are some highlights:

Book-of-the-month clubs 

The CIA manual emphasizes from the beginning that every successful warfighter “must be highly motivated to engage in propaganda face to face”: no Facebook ads or “Cuban Twitter” here. And that means it’s book-group time, y’all!

CIA psyops manual Nicaragua contras

An excerpt from the psychological warfare manual produced by the CIA for Nicaraguan rebels in the late 1970s or early 1980s (Photo via MuckRock/FOIA)

Isn’t this wasting time that could be spent fighting down-and-dirty against the tenets of socialism? Probably, but who cares?

Make people comfortable with your brandished weapons

In any guerrilla conflict, especially in urban centers, the imminent nature of armed violence is always a pressing concern for civilian populations. For the CIA, this poses an interesting challenge: How do we make locals OK with our heavily-armed bandits, but wary of other heavily-armed bandits? Behold “armed propaganda,” which, according to the manual, “improves the behavior of the popular towards its author, and it is not achieved by force.”

CIA psyops manual Nicaragua contras

An excerpt from the psychological warfare manual produced by the CIA for Nicaraguan rebels in the late 1970s or early 1980s (Photo via MuckRock/FOIA)

The end goal is “to create an identification of the people with the weapons and with the guerrillas who carry them, so that the population feels that those weapons are, indirectly, the weapons that will protect them and help them in their struggle against an oppressive regime,” per the CIA manual. Translation: The only way to stop bad guys with guns is lots and lots of good guys with guns — even if that isn’t a totally true statement.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Especially if actual training and experience isn’t a concern beyond “persuasive powers.”

CIA psyops manual Nicaragua contras

An excerpt from the psychological warfare manual produced by the CIA for Nicaraguan rebels in the late 1970s or early 1980s  (Photo via MuckRock/FOIA)

Beware of social justice warriors

I’m not even kidding: The CIA has seen “social crusaders” as useful idiots to be exploited for decades.

CIA psyops manual Nicaragua contras

An excerpt from the psychological warfare manual produced by the CIA for Nicaraguan rebels in the late 1970s or early 1980s (Photo via MuckRock/FOIA)

Free assembly is for sheep

But it’s a great chance to spark chaos!

CIA psyops manual Nicaragua contras

An excerpt from the psychological warfare manual produced by the CIA for Nicaraguan rebels in the late 1970s or early 1980s (Photo via MuckRock/FOIA)

“Support for local contacts who are rooted in reality”

This one is my favorite, hands down. Despite the emphasis on promoting a positive perception of the Contras in Nicaragua’s shaky political environment, the goal of the CIA psyops was a long-term undermining of the very perception of reality. A successful psyops mission ends with the creation of “propagandist-combatant guerillas” who champion a chosen ideology as warriors against a repressive regime:

CIA psyops manual Nicaragua contras

An excerpt from the psychological warfare manual produced by the CIA for Nicaraguan rebels in the late 1970s or early 1980s (Photo via MuckRock/FOIA)

Chilling stuff. Sounds familiar, right? It should.

Read the whole CIA training manual below:

Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare by Jared Keller on Scribd

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Featured image: Ilya Kabakov The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment 1985 Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de Création industrielle. Purchase, 1990 (Source: Ilya & Emilia Kabakov)

Installation art deserves its reputation in many quarters as trumped up and pretentious, an exaggeration dressed up as a profound truth.  History is ignored, and all is deemed modern and defiant.  It also seems, often, to be a terrible misuse of gallery space. 

Such accusations are impossible to level at Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, whose exhibition at the Tate Modern Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future crushes its visitors with its vision of bleakness and cruelty that marked the Soviet experiment.  In various measures, it also furnishes the viewer with abundant playfulness as it draws out the condition of the unbearably absurd.

Ilya Kabakov, as with others of his ilk, pokes fun at the ideologically approved art programs of the Soviet state, complexes that crush cosmopolitanism and variety.  He weaves in a narrative of mocking and teasing into his work. Not being with the socialist realist in-crowd, he is rooting for the common man who has, supposedly, been raised to the level of titans, warriors in a social experiment costing millions of lives and untold suffering.  In truth, such a being is merely a guinea pig, an experimental being.

Progress brings with it mounting casualties, plentiful gore. These are written, painted or drawn away, in portrayals of glorious revolutionary fervour, in dispatches of distorting denials and affirmations.  The language of Socialist Realism supplies such an alibi, its sheer banality irrepressible in what it doesn’t say.

“We wanted to,” Ilya explains, “analyse the language of Soviet civilisation”.

And what a language, having within it the most glorious sense of constant delusion. Tested! (1981), featuring a condemned woman of the revolution forgiven by the good grace of party officialdom (her party card is officiously returned to her), remains unbearable for its joyful faces, the portraits of falsely benevolent Politburo leaders, the atmospherics of mendacity.

Such complexes inspire the Kabakovs to work on relative perspectives, drawing out unseen, parallel worlds. There is that of the invisible, the small, the midgets, tiny figures who feature in Trousers in the Corner (1989) and I Catch the Little White Men (1990).  There are the giants and the subterranean subjects in the modelsWhere is Our Place? (2002/2017) and The Vertical Opera (Guggenheim) (1998/2008).

The installation Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future is deliciously ironic and grim.  On the train of history and memory, who will be left behind?  Inspired by his essay on Kazimir Malevich by the same name, memories of bright art students being selected to go to the Young Pioneer camp come to mind.

Envisaged by both Ilya and Emilia in 2001, a train at one end of the room is departing with inexorable gloominess.  Behind it lie forlorn canvasses, the unchosen, the detritus of forgotten artistry.  To be forgotten is not always a case of being less of a talent: it bespeaks to being one not approved of, the outsider always peering into the establishment of power.

For Ilya, the sense of being ignored, forgotten or buried by the approved and the anointed is palpable.  It supplies the asphyxiating material of conformity, thereby placing the artist in an untenable situation: to obey, and ingratiate, or to toil in obscurity.

March Chagall, during a visit to Moscow in 1973, had advised a young artist who had posed the question on whether the non-conformist artist should remain in the Soviet Union, clinging to circles that would be ignored, if not condemned, or emigrate. The answer was unequivocal: emigrate.  Not so, Ilya, who admitted that he would have remained in the USSR “forever if Perestroika hadn’t come”.

Not all the works at this exhibition are despairing. There is an escape, though such systems can only conjure up exits of the mind.  In a piece that heralded Ilya’s pioneering concept of total installation art, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment (1985) envisages an evacuation into the cosmos from drudgery typified by the poor furnishings of a communal Soviet apartment.  Soviet life is collaged within the setting, replete with glorious images of the worker’s idyll.  There are beaming faces, optimistic glances into the future.  The viewer is then greeted by an aperture in the ceiling, an ominous gash suggesting that the occupant, desperate to flee, burst through it.

One such person who could not flee was Ilya’s mother, who features in Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album) (1990). The installation is itself an experiment in promoting the inescapable life: the communal flat with poor lighting, shabby living, heart wrenching bleakness.  Pictures taken by Ilya’s uncle, accompanied by text from the memoir of his mother, Bertha Urievna Solodukhina, speak of misery, transient lodgings, indifferent landladies, and a loveless marriage:

“When I think about that world in which my mother’s life passed, what arises in my imagination is a long and semi-dark corridor which is twisted like a labyrinth, where behind each new turn, behind each bend, there is not a bright exit glimmering in the distance, but just the same grubby floor, the same grey, dusty poorly painted walls illuminated by weak, 40-watt light bulbs.”

The effect is so striking it torments viewers, who can only tolerate one stretch of the corridor before hurrying along, cursorily gazing at the photographs and barely mindful of the text.  Eyes begin to hurt in the poor light; claustrophobia begins its march.  The misery is brilliantly overwhelming.

As irony is a mechanism that, in time, can consume its user, Ilya Kabakov and his official collaborator and wife Emilia now find themselves on the train of history rather than off it.  There are not the ones to be abandoned, let alone forgotten.  In 2004, he exhibited in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.  In 2008, he exhibited his installation Gate in a room at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.  From powerlessness, the Kabakovs have come into power, embracing their own form of authorial dictation and authority.

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Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: [email protected]

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The USA’s use of soft power has been effective with many worldwide, presenting an illusion of a free society (‘liberating minds’) and reinforcing a consumerist culture and the political regimes which collude with it.

On this site in 2015 there was an account of soft power – money and commodities poured from the United States into the Middle East. In the name of normality and freedom, all but the strongest young people are being remade in the image of the Western consumer whereas hard power is exerted by financial inducements, invasion and remote killing by drone.

One actor in the North Korean soft power drive is the Human Rights Foundation, whose approving Wikipedia entry emphasises its insistence on ‘economic freedom’. In Central and South America and the Middle East it has paved the way for the overthrow of regimes which would not play that game.

In North Korea jeans and pop music, though still part of the scene, have been supplemented by hydrogen balloons packed with DVDs, dollar bills and propaganda leaflets. Drones now drop USB flash drives full of news bulletins and documentaries aim to counter NK’s state propaganda with that of the United States; American movies and television shows to spread pro-Western sentiment were called “flash drives for freedom”. See Business Insider’s  informative account of this, published last year.

With the help of defectors USB-sticks are smuggled through towns on China’s border with North Korea and sold in the flourishing black market for goods and information. The Human Rights Foundation “has financed balloon drops of pamphlets, TV shows, books and movies over a course of several years”.

Its founder Thor Halvorssen, according to Joakim Mollersen a Norwegian economist and journalist, also set up the Oslo Freedom Forum whose  story, he says in some detail, is one  of US right-wing sponsorship, lack of transparency and “heroes of human rights” involved in supporting serious human rights violations.

State propaganda is ardently supplemented by this foundation which paid for a balloon drop of 10,000 copies of an edited version of the movie The Interview, and North Korea’s move towards becoming a denuclearized ‘democracy’, following its leader’s assassination.

In 2014, HRF hosted the world’s first hackathon for North Korea at Code for America’s offices in San Francisco. According to the Wall Street Journal,

“about 100 hackers, coders and engineers gathered in San Francisco to brainstorm ways to pierce the information divide that separates North Korea from the rest of the world.”

Alex Gladstein, HRF’s chief strategy officer calls this an ‘information war’ – the only way to inspire change:

“a third way . . .to liberate minds  . . . Given the history of Eastern Europe, I hope that people can think about the potential of information rather than reckless conflict and provocation and totally failed diplomacy”.

These soft power illusions of American normality, freedom and prosperity are confidence tricks. The unmentioned features of the USA, a country which young people have been led, by soft power, to admire as ‘an ideal state of freedom’, are extremes of economic inequality, youth unemployment, high cost housing, military aggression, pollution, gun slaughter, child abuse, violent pornography, and inequality.

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Featured image is from Civilisation 3000.

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Syria Redux in Iran?

January 3rd, 2018 by Mark Taliano

The external expressions of Western-orchestrated Regime Change War are now surfacing in Iran. None of this is surprising since the war plans have been publicly available for years.[1]

Peaceful protests are being co-opted, and now displaced by violent actors. No doubt Western intelligence agencies and their operatives are “destabilizing” the protests. We’ve seen this before, most recently in Syria and the Ukraine.  Snipers will shoot both security personnel and protestors to create chaos and mayhem.  Reportedly, “protestors” have already killed a police officer  – and a number of protestors have also been killed.[2]

Already propaganda outlets are at work. Ken Roth of the discredited Human Rights Watch is playing the very fraudulent “democracy and freedom” card.

Source: Tim Anderson

We can expect more violence and Iranian government atrocity stories soon. Fake news outlets (ie CNN and all Western media) will soon be screaming that the “brutal Iranian dictator is killing his own people”. It’s a time-honored formula, no sense reinventing the wheel. Fake pretexts of “going after terrorists” will soon be evoked, and the propagandists will start selling the notion that Western bombing campaigns are necessary for humanitarian reasons. The will of the Iranian people will be displaced by Western terrorism, just like Syria.

Weapons shipments are likely already on site, and sectarian mercenary terrorists are likely on the sidelines, well-paid and ready to go.

Once the destabilization escalates, the Western-created and sustained holocaust will deepen.

Western populations have yet to realize that they too are being victimized by the warmongers and their agencies.

We can hope that Western populations will awaken from their state of mass indoctrination and mass political infantilization. But this is not likely.

Notes

[1] Prof Michel Chossudovsky, “Global Warfare. Preparing for World War III, Targeting Iran.” Global Research. 1 August, 2010. (https://www.globalresearch.ca/preparing-for-world-war-iii-targeting-iran/20403). Accessed 1 January, 2018.

[2] Paul Antonopoulos,”Breaking!!! “Protesters” shoot dead Iranian police officer, injure another 3.” Fort Russ News

1 January, 2018. (http://www.fort-russ.com/2018/01/breaking-protesters-shoot-dead-iranian.html?m=1) Accessed 1 January,  2018.

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The new tax law is NOT principally a handout, motivated by corporate greed—although greedy hands are seeking to maximize and game its benefits, which are utterly skewed to the wealthy. This tax bill is a conscious and strategic move to deal with economic contradictions and imperialist great-power needs. 

Yes, the tax bill will accelerate the upward redistribution and concentration of income and wealth. The Tax Policy Center has calculated that by 2025, the top one percent of households would receive nearly 85 percent of the total tax reduction.

This upward redistribution and concentration of wealth is a phenomenon, a pattern, of the last few decades. Countless studies on inequality (most famously Thomas Piketty’s work) have demonstrated this trend in the imperialist countries, with the U.S. the leader in inequality.

But the tax bill is not in essence a con game to rob the poor and large sections of the middle class, although people will suffer greatly. There are larger economic pressures and compulsions at work. And there are imperialist great-power needs, specifically the Trump/Pence regime’s global agenda.

The companion piece to this article deals with some of the fascist political and ideological implications of the Trump/Pence tax law, and the truly vicious economic attacks on the masses. These are indeed critical. But there is a deeper logic setting the context for all that.

The article “The New Tax Law: Cementing Policies and Politics of Cruelty” addresses some of the fascist political and ideological implications of the Trump-Pence tax law, and the truly vicious economic attacks on the masses. These are indeed critical. But there is a deeper logic setting the context for all that. 

1. There is a “logic,” a capitalist-imperialist geostrategic logic, to the Trump agenda. 

The Trump economic strategy has four main elements:

a) rewriting regulations and the tax code;

b) further slashing social spending;

c) expanding energy (fossil fuel) production, both to spur profits and to enhance U.S. global economic strength, competitiveness, and leverage (over world oil prices and over oil-producing regimes the U.S. deems as enemies, like Iran); and

d) remaking global trade rules and agreements to give greater immediate advantage to certain sections of U.S. capital, to further subordinate “partners” like Mexico.

The world capitalist economy has been undergoing major changes in the balance of strength of rival imperialists. In particular, capitalist China has emerged as a global rival to U.S. imperialism, and China has over the last 20 years been growing rapidly and extending its global reach and influence.

There is a view on the part of advisers in the Trump regime that the U.S. has more economic leverage… to leverage. As they seem to see it, other countries are more dependent on the U.S. for export markets (to sell their goods) than the U.S. is on their markets. And so, in this view, the U.S. can create obstacles to these countries’ ability to sell their goods in the U.S. (like imposing tariffs, a kind of tax, on products coming into the U.S.) and the U.S. can absorb retaliatory economic measures that these countries might take against the U.S.—and can also bully other countries into submitting to U.S. economic dictate.

This is a dangerous game to play, especially with China, where U.S. capital has huge investments. And China is actually financing much of the U.S. government deficit through its purchase of debt (bonds) issued by the U.S. Treasury.

But more than economics is involved. China in particular is expanding its military capabilities and Trump is pushing for a massive military buildup and military modernization, including and especially nuclear weapons.

The new U.S. national security document issued by the Trump/Pence regime on December 18 should be taken very seriously. It was apparently drawn up by the so-called “adults in the room,” notably National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster (at least in reports circulating).

The document is highly militaristic and full of threatening rhetoric—describing China and Russia as “revisionist powers” and “hostile competitors” seeking to “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.” It calls for the U.S. to prepare to militarily “overmatch” its rivals. The U.S. already has enormous military advantage, but this document is arguing for even greater advantage, buildup, and readiness. The Trump regime has been calling for the U.S. to be oriented to wage far larger wars than those of the last few decades. 

The Trump economic program is aimed at shoring up and bolstering the domestic economic base of the U.S. empire—energy, sectors of manufacturing, the industrial base for the military. This economic program is in the service of an aggressive, hyper-nationalist economic and strategic agenda that is “chauvinist globalist” (America First). 

2. A structural problem of the U.S. economy has been low rates of capital investment. The new tax law aims in part to deal with that—but whether it can is far from certain.

The competitive drive to invest, to expand, to exploit labor on an ever more technologically advanced foundation for profit and more profit is taking place in a more intensely competitive global environment. But capital investment in the U.S. in recent years has been low by historical standards. This is so despite the fact that the U.S. economy has been growing and business spending has picked up some in the last year. “Capital investment” (or capital formation) refers to business spending on new factories and structures, equipment, technology, etc., to boost productivity and expand and cheapen production.

One of the goals of the tax cut is to stimulate capital investment. Job creation is neither the goal nor the necessary result of capital investment: on the one hand, much capital investment has been and will continue to be labor-replacing technology; and, on the other, U.S. multinational corporations depend for the profitability on overseas cheap-labor investment, outsourcing, global supply chains, etc.

Could such a tax cut stimulate investment? Yes, but not necessarily. There is no established connection between low taxes and high investment, high growth, and job creation. But trapped by their ideological illusions and capable of all manner of lying, the proponents of the tax bill are half believing and half deceiving. 

The laws of capital operate behind the capitalists’ backs. It is not tax levels but the underlying profitability of capital that sets the terms of investment. And this the capitalists cannot control. Profitability is determined by the complex, competitive struggle and interactions of capitals, by technological change, by wage rates, by international factors, and other things as well.

The facts: corporate earnings have been very high in recent years. But this has not translated into major new rounds of capital investment. There are various reasons for this, but a critical factor is that the return on investment is not sufficiently high to draw forth new spending on a scale that would ramp up productiveness of labor and competitiveness.

And, so, many U.S. corporations are sitting on large hoards of cash. These can be seen as competitive war chests for future investment, to wage the battle to beat competitors and gain market share. Lower corporate taxes might simply add to capital that is not being actively, productively invested. In the recent past, corporations have used extra profits from paying less tax to buy back their own stock (to boost stock prices) or to purchase financial assets and property. In other words, lower corporate taxes can simply lead to more financial manipulation and gain, not real investment. This is all part of the anarchy and parasitism of capitalist-imperialism. 

3. Taxes on corporations are necessary to underwrite the capitalist-imperialist state; the capitalist state safeguards and advances the strategic interests of imperialist capital; but this is full of contradiction. The slash in corporate tax rates is an attempt to deal with those contradictions. Yet these contradictions are potentially explosive.

The cornerstone and centerpiece of the just-passed tax bill is the large reduction of corporate tax rates from 35 to 21 percent. The official tax rate (35 percent) with state taxes added in brings the top rate to 39 percent. This would make the U.S. corporate tax rate the third highest in the world. But this is highly misleading. When you factor in various exemptions and allowances, and other special provisions, the corporate tax rate washes out at about 27 percent. That level fits with the global average. And there have been blatant instances in the last six years when some large U.S. corporations have avoided paying any taxes. 

But this “average” tax rate is a constraint on some sections of U.S. capital in the particular conditions of the world-capitalist economy—with shifts in global economic power and heightened global competition.

In this light it is extremely useful to review Bob Avakian’s article “‘Preliminary Transformation into Capital’…And Putting an End to Capitalism.” In examining the dynamics of capitalism, government spending, and the taxes and borrowing required to finance state expenditure—Avakian points out that “taxes are in fact in conflict with profitability for discrete, individual aggregations of capital.” Taxes are a deduction from surplus value (profit)—which comes from the exploitation of wage-labor.

Now the capitalist state is indispensable to the functioning of the system. It acts to safeguard the larger strategic interests of the national capitalist-imperialist formation, like the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, Russia, etc. The imperialist state provides the repressive and military support for capital. This means, for instance, contending for domination of different parts of the globe through military and other means. The capitalist state also takes measures to facilitate the more profitable functioning and expansion of capital, like building roads and transport, investing in research, etc.

But this “greater capitalist interest” is itself fought out and fought over by different sections/wings of the ruling class. The benefits from expanding exploitation around the world, or building new infrastructure, will accrue to some sections of capital more than others, and they will fight with each other over this. And taxes still reduce the pool of surplus value available to individual capitals. This is true even as these individual capitals require the capitalist state to assure the political and economic conditions necessary for profitable capitalist production to take place. So, again—the whole thing is full of contradiction. The slash in corporate tax rates is a key way that the now politically dominant sections of the imperialists in the U.S. see dealing with those contradictions. But these cuts will also result in declining revenues for the government that could lead to ballooning budget deficits—between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by most estimates—and create major financial strains on the economy (and be a “rationale” for social spending cuts). 

By way of conclusion…

In short: the main purpose of this tax law is to strengthen certain sectors of the U.S economy as part of the “America first” economic-military agenda. But there is no guarantee that lower corporate taxes will in fact stimulate major new investment. The “tax reform” will, however, lead to greater income and wealth inequality, and new hardships on the poor and many in the middle strata. The fascist regime’s gamble here is that they will be able to ram through to a more dominant role in the world economy; that they can kick-start higher levels of capital investment; and that they will succeed in jamming these vicious attacks on living standards down the throats of the masses. Whether this gamble succeeds, at a huge and perhaps truly catastrophic cost, or whether it fails… the main implication is clear: prepare for struggle.

*

Raymond Lotta is a political economist and writer for revcom.us / Revolution newspaper where this article was originally published.

Featured image is from The Libertarian Republic.

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The two Koreas have agreed to hold talks next Tuesday after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in a New Year’s speech his country could send a team to the Winter Olympics, due to be held in South Korea next month. Kim also suggested he was open to dialogue to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came to power last year advocating dialogue with North Korea, reportedly ordered his staff to act quickly on Kim’s offer. Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed a high-level meeting at the border village of Panmunjom for January 9.

“We expect to sit down with North Korea face to face and frankly discuss mutual interests aimed at better inter-Korean relations,” Cho said. “We look forward to Pyongyang’s positive reaction to this.” The meeting would be the first between the two Koreas since 2015.

The proposal for talks came amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula after bellicose threats by the Trump administration to “totally destroy” North Korea if it refuses to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. The US has also pressured the UN Security Council to impose harsh sanctions on North Korea that are crippling its economy and generating considerable hardship.

Kim’s New Year speech was pitched at South Korea, declaring:

“North and South must work together to alleviate the tensions and work together as a people of the same heritage to find peace and stability.”

He called for talks “as soon as possible” to discuss North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics.

While adopting a conciliatory tone toward South Korea, Kim warned the Trump administration that the entire US mainland was “within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office.” This was “not a threat but a reality,” he added.

The North Korean leader called for a halt to joint US-South Korean military exercises. Over the past year, these joint drills, which are scarcely concealed rehearsals for war with North Korea, have markedly increased in scale. Last month, the war games included a major air force drill, as well as special forces exercise to practice for a military intervention into North Korea.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho said the offer of high-level talks with North Korea had been discussed with the US. He added that a decision was pending on whether to delay large-scale joint war games until after the Winter Olympics.

China and Russia have previously advocated a halt to the US-South Korean military exercises in return for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests as a means of starting negotiations. The US has repeatedly ruled out any such plan.

Moreover, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, last month suggested on Fox News that the US was considering not sending a team to the Winter Olympics. It was an “open question,” she said, as to whether American athletes would compete, citing security issues.

Speaking yesterday, Haley emphatically rejected any compromise with Pyongyang, saying the US “will never accept a nuclear North Korea.” She warned:

“As we hear reports that North Korea might be preparing for another missile test—I hope that does not happen, but if it does—we must bring even more measures to bear on the North Korea regime,” she said.

While not rejecting talks between North and South Korea outright, President Donald Trump was rather dismissive, implying that North Korea was simply responding to US-led sanctions and pressure. Using his derogatory term for Kim Jong-un, Trump tweeted:

“Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not—we will see!”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declared that the US policy on North Korea “hasn’t changed at all. The United States is committed and will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearises the Peninsula. Our goals are the same, and we share that with South Korea.”

South Korean President Moon has made clear that his administration would work in close consultation with allies in any talks with North Korea. He stressed that improvements in inter-Korean relations were not separate from “the issue of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.” In other words, Pyongyang must be compelled to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Since coming to office, Moon has followed the US in applying intense pressure on North Korea, including in allowing the full deployment of a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system. On Sunday, South Korean authorities announced the seizure of a second ship allegedly involved in transferring oil products to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions.

Trump’s aggressive confrontation with North Korea has generated sharp divisions in US ruling circles amid fears of a catastrophic war. In a high-profile interview on ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen gave a scathing assessment of Trump’s foreign policy over the past year. Mullen declared it had been “incredibly disruptive, certainly unpredictable in many, many ways” to established relationships and alliances in the post-World War II period.

Mullen warned:

“An incredibly dangerous climate exists out there… and one in particular that is [at the] top of the list is North Korea. We’re actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we have ever been. And I just don’t see how—I don’t see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.”

The standoff between the US and North Korea is rapidly coming to a head. Trump has insisted since coming to office that he will not tolerate North Korea having the ability to strike continental United States with a nuclear weapon. Trump officials have repeatedly warned that time is running out for any peaceful resolution. At the same time, North Korea has declared time and again that it will not give up its nuclear weapons without security guarantees from the United States.

It is in this context that the two Koreas plan to meet next week.

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Featured image is from KCNA.

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Selected Articles: Iran War: “Color Revolution” as First Step?

January 3rd, 2018 by Global Research News

You can help Global Research by forwarding this selection of articles on US-Israel war plans directed against Iran.

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The US and Israel’s New “Secret” Anti-Iran Plans

By Abdel Bari Atwan, January 02, 2018

While Russia strives to move Syria on from a stage of war and bloody anarchy to one of peace, stability and reconstruction — by inviting all parties to next month’s Sochi conference to agree a roadmap including a new constitution and presidential and parliamentary elections – the US and Israel are drawing up plans to detonate the region and plunge it into new wars on the pretext of confronting the Iranian threat.

Foreign Intervention Behind Iran Protests. CIA Instigated Street Violence?

By Stephen Lendman, January 02, 2018

Lethally shooting around 20 or Iranians through New Year’s day, including at least one policeman, suggests foreign interference.

What’s going on resembles March 2011 protests in Daraa, Syria. US-supported armed protesters fired on police, instigating conflict.

Global Warfare. Preparing for World War III, Targeting Iran

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky, December 31, 2017

The setting up of new US military bases, the stockpiling of advanced weapons systems including tactical nuclear weapons, etc. were implemented as part of the pre-emptive defensive military doctrine under the umbrella of the “Global War on Terrorism”.

What Is Happening in Iran? Is Another “Color Revolution” Underway?

By Brandon Turbeville, December 31, 2017

A familiar sight is taking place across Iran tonight and it has been for the last three days. Protests are taking place in numerous cities citing grievances and demanding that the Ayatollah and Iranian President step down. For a few days, the protests remained non-violent but now violence has indeed flared up as protesters have laid waste to a number of government properties and those belonging to “pro-government militias.”

U.S. and Israel Sign Secret Plan to Take on Iran. Report

By Ali Nejad, December 31, 2017

An Israeli TV report details that the U.S. and Israel have signed a far-reaching joint memorandum of understanding to counter Iranian activities across the Middle East. U.S. and Israeli officials said the joint understandings were reached in a secret meeting between senior Israeli and U.S. delegations at the White House on December 12th.

The US Persistently Seeks to Destabilize Iran. Why is Washington So Deeply Concerned about Tehran’s Regional Influence in the Middle East?

By Farhad Shahabi, November 16, 2017

Thirty eight years ago, in 1979, a revolution against a client regime installed and propped up by the United States succeeded in Iran. This was followed by the establishment of an independent state, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Ever since, the US’s presence, plans and attempts to maintain, deepen and expand its dominance throughout the Middle East has been seriously challenged  and thwarted.

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Trumpeting Hostility Toward Pakistan

January 3rd, 2018 by Stephen Lendman

Featured image: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (Source: India Today)

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Post-9/11, Bush/Cheney deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage warned then-Pakistani president Musharraf his country would be “bombed back to the stone age” if he didn’t ally with Washington’s imperial agenda – its war OF terror, not on it.

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, costing Pakistan threefold or more than it got in US aid, given solely to serve its imperial interests.

Assistance given should help both countries. One analyst called Washington’s strategic relationship with Pakistan “muddled, deceptive, complicated and dangerous” – pre-and-post-9/11, especially in its aftermath.

Aid has gone largely to its military and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to help America’s war OF terror – massacring civilians and causing vast destruction on the phony pretext of combating terrorism.

The bilateral relationship harms Pakistan more than helping it.  Straightaway in the new year, Trump tweeted:

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

In response to Trump’s insult, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi convened an emergency cabinet meeting.

America’s ambassador David Hale was summoned to explain Trump’s hostile remarks. Last week, Pakistan’s Senate passed a resolution, calling for Islamabad to demand compensation from Washington for slaughter and destruction caused by US drone attacks on its territory – largely killing civilians.

PM Abbasi and other Pakistani officials are well aware of Trump’s loosened combat restrictions, delegating authority to hawkish generals and field commanders, letting them operate unrestrained.

According to Reprieve human rights lawyer Jen Gibson, Pakistan is heavily pressured to served US interests. Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastagir slammed Washington, saying US administrations “have given us nothing but invective and mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis.”

In early December, Pakistan’s air force chief Marshal Sohail Aman addressed the issue of his country’s security, saying

“(w)e will protect the sovereignty of the country at any cost.”

He warned Washington its drones operating in Pakistani airspace without permission will be shot down.

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Nuzhat Sadiq said

“(i)t is the policy of the government not to allow any more US drone strikes on our soil, and the air chief has effectively conveyed it to the Americans.”

She indicated foreign policy changes in bilateral relations with Washington are coming.

Post-9/11, US drones killed thousands of Pakistani nationals, largely civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Retired General Talat Masood warned that

“the superpower is not going to digest this change in policy easily.”

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif slammed Trump, tweeting:

“We will reveal the truth to the entire world. We will separate fact from fiction.”

He accused Washington of aiding terrorists, not combatting them.

 

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Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the CRG, Correspondent of Global Research based in Chicago.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

South Korea has responded to North Korean leader Kim Jong- un‘s diplomatic overture with an offer Tuesday to hold high-level talks between the countries on the border next week.

On New Year’s Day, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un announced that the country will seek participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea between Feb. 9-25, foretelling 2018 as a “year of reconciliation” even as he noted that he now had a “nuclear button” on his desk, referring to the country’s now-powerful nuclear deterrence and weapons delivery system.

In a Twitter message posted Tuesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump, referring to Kim, said:

“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

The former reality television personality regularly pokes fun at his North Korean counterpart on Twitter, issuing various missives that have worried U.S. commentators due to their inflammatory and non-diplomatic nature. Kim has refused to back down, calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, however, welcomed Kim’s New Year address and asked his government to move as quickly as possible to bring North Korea to the Olympics, but he stressed that an improvement in inter-Korean relations “cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear program.”

South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon said the offer for high-level talks next Tuesday had been discussed with the United States. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was not aware if the matter had been discussed in advance of the South Korean response.

Cho suggested the talks be held at the truce village of Panmunjeom in the De-Militarized Zone on Jan. 9, and said they should be focused on North Korea’s participation at the Olympics, but other issues would likely arise, including the denuclearization of North Korea.

“I repeat: The government is open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form,” Cho said.

Should the talks be held, it would be the first such dialogue since a vice-ministerial meeting in December 2015.

Moon Jae-In has long been an advocate of the so-called “Sunshine Policy” introduced in 1998 by South Korea’s then-President Kim Dae-Jung called for a slow process of confederated reunification and resulted in a blossoming of North-South relations, including large shipments of food aid to the North and a lifting of restrictions on joint business ventures.

The South Korean leader, who eventually earned a Nobel Peace Prize, even urged the U.S. to lift its embargo on the North. Pyongyang had, for the first time, established official ties with various European states while holding talks with the U.S. and Japan.

The policy broke down amid threats by the United States, whose then-President George W. Bush said that Pyongyang was a part of the “Axis of Evil” including Iraq and Iran.

The White House is lukewarm to the idea of the two Koreas holding talks, responding with a mixture of doubt and the usual sarcasm that has marked Trump’s attitude toward to diplomacy.

“Our policy on North Korea hasn’t changed at all. The United States is committed and will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearizes the peninsula,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Our goals are the same and we share that with South Korea, but our policy and our process has not changed.”

The State Department’s Nauert couldn’t help but express misgivings about potential talks, saying that North Korea might be “trying to drive a wedge of some sort” between the United States and South Korea and added that while it was up to Seoul to decide who it talked to:

“We are very skeptical of Kim Jong Un’s sincerity in sitting down and having talks.”

China, which has consistently expressed hopes that diplomacy be used to ease tensions, said the positive comments from the Koreans was a good thing.

“China welcomes and supports North Korea and South Korea taking earnest efforts to treat this as an opportunity to improve mutual relations, promote the alleviation of the situation on the Korean peninsula and realize denuclearization on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Since the end of the Second World War and the creation of the Republic of Korea under the supervision of the U.S. postwar occupation, Seoul has been a crucial linchpin of the U.S. Asia-Pacific security infrastructure.

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Featured image is from Global Balita.

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There is something really quite worrying happening to Britain. We now have the most draconian state surveillance powers ever devised hanging over the entire population. Just six billionaires now run over 80 percent of the media where true editorial independence simply doesn’t exist and where corporate advertising revenue leads to censorship of their awful behaviour. Internet service providers and search engines now have the power to censor any information at will and given the scale of complaints globally by independent media outlets, they are using that capability to the full. In the meantime, the British government continues its assault on press freedom and by implication – democracy itself. There’s a reason.

We have known for years that the British intelligence services manipulate the press. Roy Greenslade, who has been a media specialist for both the Telegraph and the Guardian, said:

Most tabloid newspapers – or even newspapers in general – are the playthings of MI5.”

What is worse though than blatant propaganda is that press freedom in the UK is plummeting and doing so by design. This is confirmed by the fact that the UK has fallen two places to 40th out of 180 countries, down 12 places in the past five years alone. We lag well behind countries such as Ghana (26th), Namibia (24th) and Surinam (20th). At this rate, Tonga and even Botswana will be ahead of Britain in just two years time! In one example, the Botswana government stands accused of conducting a vicious cyberattack last year against an independent newspaper that destroyed more than a decade’s worth of its archived data. Botswana also remains without access to information laws and press freedom and neither is guaranteed in its constitution. But Botswana will have more press freedom than Britain does soon.

Other leading democracies have also fallen. It is not surprising that the US fell to 43rd – in a year in which the new president and leader of the (so-called) free world – called the press an “enemy of the American people” and anything he does not agree with as ‘fake news’.

The 2017 Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF) were pulling no punches when it came to describing why Britain is doing so badly.

A heavy-handed approach towards the press – often in the name of national security – has resulted in the UK slipping down the World Press Freedom Index. Parliament adopted the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history, the Investigatory Powers Act, with insufficient protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources, posing a serious threat to investigative journalism. Even more alarming, the Law Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ would make it easy to classify journalists as ‘spies’ and jail them for up to 14 years for simply obtaining leaked information. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 remains cause for concern – in particular, the law’s punitive cost-shifting measure that could hold publishers liable for the costs of all claims made against them, regardless of merit. The seizure by UK border authorities of a Syrian journalist’s passport at the request of the Assad regime sent the worrying signal that critical foreign journalists traveling to the UK could be targeted by their own governments.”

Just two years earlier RSF voiced their concerns over the rapidly declining levels of press freedom and state surveillance by the police, GCHQ and other government departments, along with many other issues (which you can read here). All of this is happening through a rather vague but real threat of terrorism, or national security, which is itself allowing the long-established values of freedom of speech to be weakened. This gives rise to the suspicion that our government is not as honest as it should be as it instead uses ‘national security’ as a shield against proper accountability.

However, the story of what is really happening starts to emerge when you combine a rapidly declining environment of press freedom, in conjunction with reductions of civil liberties and human rights along with the alarming rise of foreign billionaires, typically American ones, intervening in Britain’s most important political decisions, in this case, the EU referendum.  You would be forgiven for thinking that we are in fact entering some form of dismal imaginary place of the future.

Alex Younger, head of MI6, said in December, 2016″ acknowledges this point by saying:

“The connectivity that is the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims.[…] The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty.” 

Younger was right. Foreign billionaires, home grown politicians and transnational corporations are now teaming up against social democracy and civil society, in fact democracy in general in Britain. The Guardian found out to its cost recently in its publishing of such details – and reporting it has led to a nasty legal fight designed to intimidate news outlets and commentators – national or otherwise.

In today’s Britain we have legislation to silence charities from criticising government, massively increased public space protection orders to inhibit legitimate public protest, provided police unprecedented powers of surveillance, expanded secret courts and given all sorts of agencies the use of terror laws to chase fines and overdue payments. It all feels like we are being prepared or ‘managed’ for something much worse.

Freedom of the press is one aspect of our lives, it was born in an environment of liberal democracy. It is confirmation that our democracy is in fact functioning as it should. But something very unsettling is beginning to emerge from all of this.

Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK bureau director, said this year’s press freedom ranking would have actually been worse were it not for a general decline in press freedom around the world.

Quite unbelievably, for a so-called democratic nation like Britain, making journalists in Britain only comparatively better off than those in countries such as Turkey and Syria (said RSF) should be something of a national scandal prompting serious public protest.

Donald Trump’s rise to power in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom was marked by a high-profile and highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation and fake news,” RSF said in a statement.

The organisation’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire, added:

The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed.”

Deloire included Britain in that statement – that a tipping point is close. RSF points to the “token resistance within parliament, despite giving UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world.” They made comment that a “death sentence” (their words not mine) had been passed to investigative journalism in Britain, owing to its lack of protections for whistleblowers, journalists and their sources.

Politicians put up no resistance whatsoever with the new espionage act. What this does is classify investigative journalists in the same threat groups as foreign spies.

Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said –

“The government failed to protect journalists when it passed the Investigatory Powers Act. Now, the Law Commission has proposed to send them to prison if they so much as handle official data – this is a deeply worrying trend that needs to be addressed.”

What is really worrying is the reason why Britain is going in this direction right now. Extreme surveillance powers are now slowly being matched by restrictions on press freedom just as the country enters a critical political point in its history – Brexit.

For instance, Liam Fox’s trade department quietly released an exchange of letters between the UK and the office of the US trade representative agreeing to mark exchanged information, papers and discussions as either “sensitive” or “confidential”, with both sides also agreeing to keep the information “held in confidence” for four years after the conclusion of the Brexit trade talks. In other words, to report any leaked information of US/UK Brexit talks that will affect everyone in Britain is now an offence equivalent to a foreign operative attacking Britain’s national security.

During an interview with the BBC’s Today programme on November 7th, Fox said he intended to learn the lessons of the backlash against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal, better known as TTIP.  It was negotiated between the EU and US amid heavy secrecy. Talks subsequently failed amid massive high-profile public protests, where millions of citizens suddenly became activists in defence of their rights.

Fox went on to state that he and the American negotiating teams did not want to complete a “huge amount of work, only to find the public won’t accept it.”

Fox also knows that Britain will get a really poor deal with the Americans. Greenpeace reported on December 20th that “letters were also signed less than two weeks after Unearthed revealed through information obtained through US Freedom of Information (FOI) laws that Fox’s 27-strong UK delegation to the first US-UK working group meeting was lacking in any experts with substantial trade discussion experience. In contrast, the US team was 77 people strong and included at least 20 officials with direct experience of negotiating and enforcing trade deals.”

Why Liam Fox is so loyal to the Americans and so disloyal to his own country is a mystery. But one only has to read this article dating back to 2011 to be appalled by his association with the think tank Atlantic Bridge, his scandal involving Adam Werrity (an issue of national security) and connections to Donald Trump’s US Republican party. Fox has connections with ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a political pressure group that forces the free market on health and education, whose Neo-Cons destroyed the Middle East and peace across the world in favour of the military industrial complex.

Soon, there will be serious consequences for criticising the government on matters such as Brexit. Then, it will be too late. This is the reason why press freedom in Britain is rapidly falling. But it does so in an environment where citizens rights are being dramatically eroded.

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Featured image is from the author.

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Trump Threatens to Cut US Funding for Palestinian Refugees

January 3rd, 2018 by Stephen Lendman

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On Tuesday, US neocon UN envoy Nikki Haley said Trump “doesn’t want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table…”

She lied claiming

“(w)e’re trying to move for a peace process, but if that doesn’t happen, the president is not going to continue to fund” the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Washington provides over $300 million annually to the agency, pocket change for a nation wasting trillions of dollars on militarism and endless wars of aggression.

Last August, an unnamed UN mission to the UN official said

“America has long been committed to funding UNRWA’s important mission, and that will continue.”

Former State Department official Ilan Goldenberg earlier said

“(a)s with all issues involving the Palestinians, there is a combination of public railing against UNRWA with the public reality of continuing to fund it.”

Established in 1949, it provides vital aid for millions of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948, others in 1967, including their descendants and adopted children, dispossessed from their land, property, livelihoods, and fundamental rights.

UNWRA provides education, healthcare, and other vital social services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) aids other refugees worldwide, including Palestinians displaced outside the above areas.

Funding shortfalls hamper UNWRA’s work, agency spokesman Chris Gunness earlier saying additional funds are “urgent(ly) required to avoid impacting our services.”

The agency faces annual funding shortfalls, at times aided by nations willing to contribute added amounts.

Since Trump took office, UNWRA’s financial situation is more precarious than ever, given his rage to cut foreign aid and domestic social justice programs for greater militarism, warmaking, corporate handouts and tax cuts for the rich.

His Jerusalem declaration, complicit with Netanyahu, showed they reject peace, want continued occupation harshness and Palestinian subjugation. Claims otherwise are pure subterfuge.

Commenting on his threat to cut UNWRA aid (through Haley), PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashwari blasted him, saying:

“By recognizing Occupied Jerusalem (al-Quds) as Israel’s capital, Donald Trump has not only violated international law, but he has also singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace and condoned Israel’s illegal annexation of the city.”

“We will not be blackmailed,” she stressed, adding “Palestinian rights are not for sale.”

Trump “sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice. Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!”

Hopefully enough other PLO executive committee members are with Ashwari in standing up against US bullying.

In a series of disgraceful Tuesday tweets, showing contempt for Palestinian rights and common decency, Trump said Washington gives “the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year” and yet gets “no appreciation or respect.”

“But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he asked.

Trump disgraces the office he holds. He’s a warrior, not a peace president, deploring the notion – indifferent to human suffering, contemptuous of democratic values, rule of law principles, and governance of, by and everyone equitably.

He risks catastrophic nuclear war on one more countries. As long as neocons infest his administration, humanity is threatened by endless aggression.

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Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the CRG, Correspondent of Global Research based in Chicago.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

Dispelling the Iranian Terrorism Myth

January 3rd, 2018 by Dr. M. Reza Behnam

Some ideas take on a character akin to sacred texts whose validity is rarely questioned. One such belief is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the biggest threat to the Middle East and the United States. The threat narrative has become required foreign policy catechism in Washington, D.C.

Menacing stereotypes and bellicose rhetoric are the standards by which Iran has come to be judged. It has been in the crosshairs of American administrations since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The process by which a country is determined a terrorist state is highly subjective and politicized, with the United States assuming the singular role of terrorism arbiter. After only weeks in office, the Trump administration resurrected the “Iran the terrorist state” mantra.

The unpredictability of the Trump White House and volatility of the Middle East makes it vital to understand the nature of Washington’s anti-Iran bias, how and why Iran has come to be cast as an international sponsor of terrorism, and most importantly, examine why the characterization is false.

The 1979 revolution freed Iran from its obsequious relationship to Washington. Its regional influence spread not in terms of conquered territory; rather, its revolutionary ideology gave voice to Shi’ites living in oppressive Sunni majority-ruled countries.

The Islamic Republic presented a dilemma for Washington, accustomed to dealing with Middle East autocrats. To counter the revolution’s influence, Washington manufactured a narrative depicting Iran’s leaders as irrational religious fanatics in charge of a dangerous state that acted contrary to traditional state behavior. America’s attitude hardened with the takeover of the U.S. embassy in 1979, shaping the negative lens through which Iran would be viewed thereafter.

The trauma inflicted by the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) deepened Iran’s distrust of Washington. America’s support for Saddam’s aggression was seen as an attempt to restore the monarchy and to destabilize the nascent government. The post-revolution 1980s were filled with uncertainties and excesses as Tehran struggled to survive its war with Iraq – a war subsidized by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States.

In the 1990s, Iran endeavored to shed its hard-line image, favoring integration into the international community. Tehran sought to build constructive ties to the West. Although Iran opposed the attack on Afghanistan in 2001, the goal of fighting terrorism and toppling the Taliban regime – driven from power in November 2001 – united the two countries in perhaps the most constructive period of U.S.-Iranian diplomacy.

General Colin Powell, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, waves from his motorcade during the Persian Gulf War Welcome Home Parade in New York City. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At a December 2001 meeting in Bonn, Germany, Secretary of State Colin Powell credited Iran with being particularly helpful in establishing an interim Afghan government, following the American invasion. It was Javad Zarif, then Iran’s U.N. ambassador, who mediated a compromise over the composition of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government, ultimately leading to an agreement. And it was Iran that insisted that the agreement include a commitment to hold democratic elections in Afghanistan.

A burst of diplomatic talks between Iranian and American officials took place from 2001 through May 2003. Topics included cooperative activities against their mutual enemies: Saddam, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Meetings resumed even after President George W. Bush listed Iran among the “axis of evil” countries in his 2002 State of the Union address.

Tehran’s final attempt to normalize relations with the United States came in May of 2003 in what became known as the “grand bargain.” Calling for broad dialogue “in mutual respect,” Iran suggested that everything was on the table, including full cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program, and assistance in helping stabilize Iraq.

Convinced that the Iranian government was on the brink of collapse, and emboldened by its perceived victory in Iraq in March 2003, Bush administration officials belittled the initiative.

Washington’s imperious posture and failure to build on Iran’s cooperation in Afghanistan, led senior officials in Tehran to conclude that America’s goal was regime change.

Bush strategists had another objective in ousting Saddam – to isolate and increase the military and political pressure on Iran, and on the government of President Bashar al-Assad. A frequent refrain of administration officials was, “Today Baghdad, tomorrow Damascus, and then on to Tehran.”

To curb Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq after the 2003 US invasion, Bush launched an unprecedented financial war against Iran. A list of strategies developed in 2006 by Stuart Levy – the first undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department – were implemented to drive Iran out of the global economy.

Congress defines an international sponsor of terrorism as a country whose government supports acts of international terrorism. Tehran does not support “international” terrorism, but it does provide material support to regional movements that it calls the oppressed, whose battle is directed toward the state of Israel – Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. These groups have used violence against Israel to end the brutal occupation of their land, and Tehran insists it is not terrorism.

Iran’s leaders believe that Israel’s long-term goal is to weaken the Islamic world, eliminating all resistance, in order to carry out its expansionist designs. The Israeli government has relentlessly pushed the idea that Iran is the greatest threat to peace and stability in the region and world. It has successfully sold this provocative idea in the United States. Many senior Israeli security officials have refuted the assertion that an Iranian nuclear weapon would threaten Israel, fully aware that Israel enjoys a huge military and technical advantage in the region, and that it possesses an arsenal capable of deterring any nuclear aggression.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s motives for vilifying Iran are many, but it serves to distract international attention as his government continues settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Syrian Golan Heights.

Saudi Arabia, like Israel, has been relentless in insuring that the United States remains engaged in the Middle East, and that the United States continues to do its heavy lifting. Saudi rulers believe that the Assad government is pivotal to Iranian influence in the region, and have been encouraging Washington to get rid of him for years.

The intense focus on Iran as a menace does not correspond to its capabilities, intent or danger. A 2017 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report stated that Iran’s national security policy involves protecting itself from American or others’ efforts to intimidate or change the regime. According to the 2014 U.S. Defense Department Annual Review of Iran, “Iran’s military doctrine is defensive.”

Forty-five US military bases encircle Iran, with over 125,000 troops in close proximity. The CRS asserted that Tehran allocates about 3 percent of GDP to military spending, far less than what its Persian Gulf neighbors spend.

Iran’s nuclear program has cultivated scientific innovation and national pride. It required pragmatic leadership to accept the constraints of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement subjects Iran to greater restrictions and more intrusive monitoring than any state with nuclear programs – while its neighbors, Pakistan and Israel, possess unlimited nuclear programs and weapons. According to the IAEA and the US State Department, Iran has been fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA.

Toughness on Iran has become a litmus test for American politicians to demonstrate their support for Israel. Congress overwhelmingly passed a ten-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, which expired on December 31, 2016. The renewal makes it easier for the Trump administration to reimpose sanctions that President Obama lifted under the JCPOA.

Unlike other countries in the Middle East that have integrated missiles into their conventional armed forces, Iran has been singled out for the same behavior. It has no long-range missiles, no nuclear warheads for its missiles, and has not threatened their use. Without nuclear weapons, missiles are of negligible importance. Unlike the Saudis and Israelis, Iran does not have a large or modern air force.

A February 26, 2015, report by the director of national intelligence, titled “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Communities,” stated that Iran is not the chief sponsor of terrorism, and removed Iran and Hezbollah from its list of terrorism threats. The report asserted Tehran’s intentions are to “dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners and de-escalate tensions with Saudi Arabia…, and combat Sunni extremists, including the Islamic State.”

Yet there are countless examples of aggression against Iran. The Saudi government has sought for decades to motivate Sunnis to fear and resist Iran. To that end, it has spent billions on a campaign to expand Salafism (an ultra-conservative, austere form of Islam) as a major counterforce in the Muslim world.

In 2007, Congress approved Bush’s request for $400 million to escalate covert operations aimed at destabilizing the Islamic Republic, with regime change the ultimate goal. The funding request came at the same time that a National Intelligence Estimate – the collective work of America’s sixteen spy agencies – concluded that Iran had ceased its efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations employed some of the most draconian financial methods ever used against a state, including crippling sanctions on Iran’s entire banking, transportation and energy sectors.

The first known use of cyber warfare against a sovereign state was launched against Iran by the United States and Israel in 2009. The Stuxnet virus crippled Iranian centrifuges used to produce nuclear fuel.

Beginning in 2008, four of Iran’s nuclear scientists were assassinated on the streets of Tehran; the evidence pointed to Israeli agents. In 2011, a military arms depot was blown up, killing 17 people. The incident was similar to a blast in October 2010 at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps missile base in Khorrambad. Both acts of sabotage were attributed to Israel.

Image result for United Against a Nuclear Iran

Source: Right Web

American organizations such as the jingoistic United Against a Nuclear Iran, chaired by former Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., have called for attacks on Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf and on Iranian military forces that have been fighting the Islamic State in Syria. They have pressured the Trump administration to increase sanctions and to cancel the JCPOA.

These acts of aggression are justified in Washington and elsewhere by the standard rhetoric of the Iranian terrorism myth, but there is scant intelligence to support the claim. In a 2011 poll conducted in twelve Arab countries by The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 73 percent of the 16,731 individuals surveyed saw Israel and the United States as the most threatening countries, with 5 percent seeing Iran as such.

Most U.S. officials quietly acknowledge that Saudi Arabia and the Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies are the major supporters of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. A recently released classified State Department cable dated December 30, 2009, stated, “…donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Iran has been fighting the Islamic State in Iraq at the request of the country’s sovereign government. Iran lives in the neighborhood and relies on regional allies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad in Syria, to bolster its security if attacked. Syria was the only country to support Iran during the Iraq war. Tehran is keenly aware that the outcome of the Syrian war will have major consequences for the region’s Shi’ites, and could reshape the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have made Iran their major regional adversary, and to that end have built a formidable alliance. The Saudis and Israelis, for example, have aided al-Qaeda affiliated forces in the Syrian war.

Israel has pressured the United States and Russia to expel Iranian-backed militias from Syria, and to attack pro-Iranian forces. Tel Aviv would like to see Syria fractured into small, sectarian enclaves, so weakened as to be no threat. To that end, it has partnered with Jabhat al-Nusra (aka the al-Nusra Front) – al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria. United Nations observers have documented the delivery of material aid and coordination between Israeli military personnel and al-Nusra armed groups, and have noted that Al-Nusra terrorists have been cared for in Israeli hospitals.

By supporting al-Nusra, Israel has effectively sided with America’s enemy and could, therefore, be labeled a state sponsor of terrorism.

In the wake of the 9-11 attacks, President Bush, in his September 20, 2001, speech to Congress declared,

“Every nation now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists….From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

Iran has been fighting terrorism since September 11, 2001. Its national security depends on stable borders and a stable region. Consequently, it has been fighting in Syria and aiding the Iraqi government to recapture territories held by the Islamic State.

Iranians know all too well the egregious effects of terrorism. For decades, US and Israeli intelligence agencies have covertly financed, equipped and trained opposition groups that have fomented and carried out terrorist attacks inside Iran. Thousands of civilians and political figures, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, have suffered injury at the hands of terrorists. US intelligence agencies have supported the acts of violence committed by the Mujahedin-e Khalq – listed by the State Department as a terrorist group (now delisted) that advocates the overthrow of the Islamic Republic – as well as the Baluchi ethnic minority group Jundullah, aligned with the thinking of al-Qaeda.

Terrorism is a cudgel used to engender fear. And fear, grounded in erroneous information, can result in destructive government policies, and in the worst case, war. This is especially true of the U.S.-Iran relationship. After almost four decades, Iran and the Middle East have substantially changed, while American policy has not. Iran’s evolving and nuanced political system does not fit into Washington’s outdated, hegemonic good guy-bad guy worldview.

American, Israeli and Saudi regional objectives depend on the existence of an enemy; and to that aim, Iran’s terrorism designation has proven a potent rhetorical weapon. Given the circumstances, Tehran will continue its defensive, cautious strategy while asserting what it sees as its historical role in the region.

*

M. Reza Behnam, Ph.D., is a political scientist specializing in the politics, history and governments of the Middle East. He is the author of the award-winning book,Cultural Foundations of Iranian Politics.

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Trump to Move US Embassy in 2018

January 3rd, 2018 by IMEMC

Hebrew “0404” website, on Tuesday, said that US President Donald Trump has confirmed, to Israel, his intention to transfer the embassy of his country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as soon as possible, and will begin the transfer this year.

The website reported, according to the PNN, that Trump is pressuring his staff in Washington in coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to start working on the move.

“President Trump has sent a clear message that he wants to start moving the embassy soon,” a source at the White House said, adding that the work will begin in 2018.

The report said that the US embassy will be transferred from Tel Aviv to the Diplomacy Hotel, in occupied Jerusalem.

Israel occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967, and, in 1980, declared its annexation to the western part of Jerusalem since 1948.

Trump announced on December 6, 2017, his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his intention to transfer the US embassy to the occupied city.

Last night, the Knesset passed the “Unified Jerusalem”, law in the second and third readings, by 61 votes to 51, an exceptional majority of the Israeli parliament.

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Gangs, Race and Melbourne

January 3rd, 2018 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Two’s a company; three’s a crowd.  More?  This issue is preoccupying political and policing figures in the city considered by the Economist Intelligence Unit the most liveable in the world, bettering a whole host of other seemingly more appropriate candidates.  So liveable, in fact, that it houses all sorts.

Having repeatedly boasted, self-congratulated and beamed at the idea that Australia is the most multicultural nation on earth, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been less cautious of late.  He has been getting stroppy with the Victorian Government for not doing enough about what he considers Melbourne’s “growing gang violence and lawlessness”.

The straw that broke a very fragile camel’s back involved acts of vandalism in Werribee.  Depending on which news source you referred to, there was a mass riot at an Airbnb property that would have made the Communards proud. Other sources saw more modest damage to cars and rental property.  Everyone took notice of the juvenile expressions of delight from the perpetrators, who scrawled the letters MTS (“Menace to Society”) on walls to leave their little residue of destructive pride.

At the federal level, politicians see the former: mayhem, riotous violence, a loss of control.  Federal minister Greg Hunt has come up with his own assessment:

“Gang crime in Victoria is clearly out of control.  We know that African gang crime in some areas in particular is clearly out of control.”

In the tables of political point scoring, Hunt had found a handy, simplifying culprit.

For Hunt, there were no relevant sophisticated sociological principles here, nor matters of economics.  Society was imploding; an African wave of violence had been unleashed.  Nor was it a police issue.  “The failure is not the police but the premier.”

Victorian police have been a touch more tentative, while various African community leaders have been less than confident in the tag of “gang”.  Label and be damned.

“These young thugs, these young criminals,” claimed Acting Commissioner Shane Patton, “they’re not an organised crime group like a Middle Eastern organised crime group or an outlaw motorcycle gang. But they’re behaving like street gangs, so let’s call them that – that’s what they are.”

South Sudanese community leader, Richard Deng, prefers the direct option: engage the estranged; bring in those lost souls from the cold. Fine for Mr Turnbull to speak from a distant pulpit, but come down to Melbourne and see for yourself and cosy up to conversation with local leaders. 

“What disappointed me as a community leader is to see a Prime Minister of our country trying to say these are ‘African gangs’ – these are the children of Australia”.

Deng’s message is that of understanding, conciliation, accommodation, the sugary terms that have long ceased to exist in the official speak of Australian law enforcement.  This remains a country keen on promoting its tolerant cosmopolitanism even as it finances gulag processing centres for asylum seekers on tropical islands in developing countries.  Compassion rarely sells. 

Foremost in the approach of such figures as Deng it is that of instruction, the pedagogue in action, the elder in sympathy.

“He’s the Prime Minister, he needs to join hands with the State government and police to support these kids.”

Figures such as Ahmed Hassan, director of the outreach group Youth Activating Youth, adds his vote of confidence to ongoing efforts of the Victorian Government, ones that follow the pathway of encouragement and engagement.  Strategies are being implemented through sporting clubs, through schools.

“We need to continue this and it has to come from a federal level where the Prime Minister has to support the State Government initiatives.”

Race, immigration and security are not provinces where Australian leaders have been particularly keen to separate.  Every attack is a political opportunity, enabling markers of identity to be used to bolster the next populist policy.  Reassurance is less enticing than the drum beat of conflict, the stimulant of fear.  Rather than considering matters of structure and influence in terms of why a section of the population might turn to crime, or even more broadly mischief, the superficial will sell.

Matthew Guy, Victoria’s Liberal Opposition Leader, is an adherent to the tedious view that the fist is better than the mind, the prison a better solution than the classroom.  The fact that prisons are ideal schools for crime eludes him.  The Guy formula here is mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders, those involved in home invasions, aggravated car-jackings and armed robberies.

Not that the community leaders are necessary the best panacea for the lost.  Having assumed the authority to speak for alienated youth figures, they can themselves come across as compromised, seeking authority before others in the immigrant hierarchy. Resources, and prestige, are there to be fought over, even as the problem perpetuates.

Nor do they all agree, either.  Nelly Yoa has provided manna from heaven to more reactionary commentators keen to put the kibosh on “African” perpetrators.  As one who mentors the troubled, he feels that the Victorian government has been sluggish and slow on the uptake. 

“The State Government has watched this unfold over the past two years.  Nothing has been done.”

Between Deng and Yoa is a yawning chasm.  One claims that community leaders are engaged, their activities approved and backed by the Victorian government. The other insists that the issue has become something of a conference set, an interminable chat show that tanks more than thinks. 

“As a Melbournian,” claims Yoa, “I do believe enough is enough.  Action needs to be taken instead of just talking about it.”

But the options are thin, and refusing to involve those involved in matters of violence or misdemeanour adds teeth to their cause, whatever it might be.  Then comes the issue of policing itself, its protocols, its approaches.  As Deng himself explains,

“These are young people who like to make a name for themselves to look tough in front of the Victorian police”.

They are far from the only ones in this.

*

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: [email protected]

A friend asked “Why write for the left? It’s preaching to the converted”. The question reflects an error. The appeal of wide reach. It is why friends of Cuba despair. They say Cuba should abandon socialism because the world’s not following. It can’t beat the propaganda of the internet. The youth won’t listen.

They miss the point. It’s age old, and still alive in Cuba: the power of direction, of example. Fidel Castro said about Che Guevara that he never lost faith in example. One life, reflecting and living truth, has durable effects. It changes relations. It changes thinking. But it takes time, focus, dedication.

Of what will you convince multitudes? Victor Hugo writes:

“This sincerity of muck pleases us … When you have passed your time on earth enduring the spectacle of high and mighty airs put on by reasons of … political wisdom … it is a relief to step into a sewer and see the sludge that rightly belongs there.“ [i]

He means history and daily life. Some readers skip Hugo’s lengthy diversion into the sewers of Paris. But it matters. Drawn by “high and mighty airs”, you don’t “breathe in the enormous fetidness of social catastrophes”. Mao Tse- Tung said the same about how to know reality.[ii]

Critics say Che Guevara’s death was useless. The conditions for revolution didn’t exist in Bolivia. He didn’t achieve political success and so he can be dismissed. They’ll say the same of Ana Belén Montes, who completed her 16th year in a US jail. She’s over sixty, suffering cancer, still silenced.

Her cousin, Miriam Mock, writes that, at year’s end, Ana is the same caring, engaged, studious person as when she was apprehended. She’s allowed to communicate with only a few friends and family members. They’re not allowed to quote her. Her prison-mates supported her through cancer.

But psychologists insist: “There are no single brains”. [iii]  They use concepts like “mirror neurons”. Attitudes and orientations are passed around by “emotional transmission”: within families, workplaces and social networks.[iv] Psychologists don’t see how the idea of shared thinking is radical.

It has political implications, or should. It means that unless you do the hard work to discover and to live truth – some truth about human beings – you think like everyone else. You won’t know your humanity. You can’t, because the society you obey is a dehumanizing one, thoroughly.

Hence, the continued silencing of Ana Belén Montes. With a prestigious job and a comfortable life, she cared about truth. She told the judge in 2001 that she stood before him because she obeyed her conscience. She stepped into the sludge and knew truth about US foreign policy. She acted on her concern for people who were dying, innocent folk getting in the way of US power.

José Martí said “To think is to serve”. He meant, for one thing, that you don’t get truth by “mere thinking”. Einstein knew it. He said great scientists, as opposed to good ones, are capable of solitude. They are capable of caring – for the universe perhaps, and for the people in it.[v]

Einstein recognized relations. He said the truth of socialism is obvious because if you see a group of happy people, you’ll notice passers-by smiling. Marx was one of many smart, sensitive philosophers (ones we don’t teach) who noticed what psychologists have now established: We don’t think alone. The Buddha was another: He said half the job of living ethically is walking with the right people.

They speak to you, silently, with their lives. Thomas Merton warned about filling the world with words, “expressing [ourselves] like nervous gunners, firing burst after burst of ammunition into the dark where there is no enemy.” There is an enemy, of course. We just need to identify it, properly. It takes work.

It’s our own shared thinking, rooted in social practises. It is why the Left must talk to and listen to each other. Finding the way forward is not about, as Merton says, “boring through silent nature in every direction with our machines … pretending to have a purpose”.

Yes, purpose. It’s an idol. Liberal philosophers say you need purpose to have reasons. They call it “instrumental rationality”: You act reasonably when we act for ends, for purpose. They say it is uncontroversial, or at least academic philosophers do. Some even say you need purpose to live.

It is not true. You need relations, the right sort of relations. It is how more adequate purpose is discovered.  It takes time. It’s worth the effort. It’s why Ana Belén Montes needs to be known. Her example is a real threat to dehumanizing liberal ideology. Otherwise she would not still be silenced.[vi]

We need her for direction in 2018. Please sign petition here.

*

Susan Babbitt is author of Humanism and Embodiment (Bloomsbury 2014).

This article was originally published by CounterPunch.

Notes

[i] Les Misérables (tr. Julie Rose) 1034-5

[ii] Talks at the Yenan Forum on art and literature http://collections.mun.ca/PDFs/radical/TalksattheYenanForumonArtandLiterature.pdf

[iii] Cozolino, L. The neuroscience of relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain (Norton, 2006) 6

[iv] Mauss et al, 2001; Larson and Almeida, 1999; Hill et al 2010 all cited in Michal Barnea-Astrog, Carved by experience (UK: Karnac Books, 2017)

[v] “Science and religion” and “Religion and science” in Ideas and Opinions (NY: Wings Books, 1954)

[vi] http://www.prolibertad.org/ana-belen-montes. For more information, write to [email protected] or [email protected]

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Israel Seized 2,500 Acres of Palestinian Land in 2017

January 3rd, 2018 by Days of Palestine

Featured image: Constructions of the Israeli settlement Ramot continues on Palestinian lands on 22 November 2017 (Source: Mahmoud Ibrahim/Anadolu Agency)

Israel has seized around 2,500 acres of Palestinian land, destroyed 500 buildings and constructed eight new Jewish settlement units in 2017, according to Palestine’s Land Research Centre (LRC).

According to the report of the centre, Israel seized Palestinian lands with “military aims” and the “aim to construct Jewish settlement units” in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem.

The report also recorded 900 incidents of violence and attacks of Israeli forces in East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Israeli and Palestinian law institutions, activities of Jewish settlement in West Bank and East Jerusalem have increased by three times in 2017 compared with the previous year.

Peace Now movement also announced that Israeli government approved the construction of 1,982 houses in 2015, 2,629 houses 2016 and this figure increased to 6,500 in 2017.

Israel’s Minister of Public Works and Housing, Yoav Galant, on December 24 announced a plan to build 300,000 new houses in East Jerusalem under the name of “housing on the land of united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel”.

Jewish settlement building activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered to be one of the most important obstacles in front of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that was halted in April 2014.

The Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently accelerated the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It has been stated that Israel has established 131 settlements in the West Bank, 10 in East Jerusalem and 116 in the regions of the Hill of the West Bank since 1967.

It is said that Israel wants to bring the number of settlers in the West Bank to a million in a short period of time, while half a million residents are currently living in Jews settlements in Palestinian soil and 220,000 in the settlements in East Jerusalem.

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UC Berkeley School of Law released a study that named Aida refugee camp in the occupied West Bank the most tear gassed community in the world. For anyone who has spent time in Aida, the findings are not so surprising.

While refugee camps across the occupied West Bank are inundated with Israeli raids and political violence, Aida is in a special position, as Israel’s separation wall hems the northern edge of the camp. Just behind the wall is an Israeli military base with two large gates in the wall that open wide enough for two military jeeps to exit at once. One gate opens into one of the main streets in Bethlehem, right by the main entrance to Aida, while another opens directly into the camp.

Tear gas is Israel’s go-to crowd control method, but there need be no crowd or protest in Aida for Israeli forces to shoot gas through its streets, saturating the resident’s air.

“Residents have alleged that tear gas utilization by [Israeli forces] is not directly correlated to political tensions, non-violent or violent protests, or stone throwing incidents,” states the Berkeley study, which is entitled, “No Safe Space: Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestine Refugees.”

Even if there are indeed protests being led along the streets of the camp, it is impossible to control where the gas goes once released into the air.

As the study found, “Aida camp has the appearance of a densely populated urban slum,” with an area of about 17 acres (roughly the size of the White House grounds) and about 6,400 resident living in small apartments.

The study analyzed that on average the numbers translate into a density figure of 90,000 people per square kilometer, “exceeding the figures of even the most densely populated cities in the world,” meaning just a bit of tear gas in a small area has a major impact on a disproportionate number of people living in the camp.

What Is Tear Gas?

Tear gas is not actually a gas at all, but rather a solid chemical irritant released like an aerosol.

The study explained that the “gas” is usually made up of synthetic CN (chloracetophenone), CS (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) or naturally occurring OC (oleoresin capsicum, also known as pepper spray and made from potent capsaicins inside hot peppers).

The problem is little to no studies have been done on the long term effects of tear gas. Since the substance was created for crowd control, it is also unknown what effects it could have on people and communities that are exposed to it on a weekly or even daily basis, as in Aida.

In addition, newer forms of CS, such as CS1 and CS2 have been “siliconized to increase the half-life and potency of the chemical,” the Berkeley study explained. Even less is known about these new strains.

Berkeley was unable to determine what specific chemicals are being utilized inside the gas shot by Israeli forces in recent years.

What we do know is “chemical irritants” were banned for use in war and international conflict by the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention. While civil law enforcement forces are allowed to use them for certain measures “as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes,” the forces shooting gas in West Bank refugee camps are nearly always soldiers, not border police forces.

Mass, Frequent Exposure

In polling for the study, researchers found that 100% of residents surveyed reported being exposed to tear gas in the past year.

Many residents say Aida is used as training grounds for new soldiers on how to use Israel’s crowd control techniques.

“Many interviewees remarked early in the interviews that ‘this is normal’ or ‘we are used to this,’” researchers documented. “But as the interviews went on, they noted that while they have gotten accustomed to frequent tear gas exposure, they were deeply concerned about the long term impacts of this exposure.”

One woman interviewed in the study told researchers that she was concerned that

“if it can hurt this bad within seconds, what does it do over years?” Another man asked, “We don’t know if it causes cancer or chronic asthma. I am sure we will die young because of this.”

One mother noted she was most concerned for her young children.

“My baby was exposed by the time she was 2 months old,” the woman was quoted as saying. “By the time she is my age, what will happen? Her skin is so delicate and her lungs are so small and thin, I’m sure she will suffer bad effects for years.”

Of those polled, 55 percent of respondents describe between three and ten tear gas exposures — both indoors and outdoors — in the one month period before the poll was taken.

Over the same period, 84.3 percent of people said they were exposed to the gas while inside their home, 9.4 percent at work, 10.7 percent in school, and 8.5 percent elsewhere, like in a car for instance. Meanwhile 22.5 percent of people polled said that they had been hit directly with a tear gas canister in the past — which has the potential to be a deadly projectile on its own.

More than 75 percent of people polled told researchers they experienced “eye-related complaints” (pain, burning, tearing), skin irritation, pain and respiratory problems that lasted more than 24 hours after the exposure to the gas.

In addition, 20 percent of people reported ongoing symptoms such as “headache, difficulty concentrating, eye irritation, sweating, difficulty breathing, coughing, dizziness and loss of balance were attributed to chronic tear gas exposure.”

Researchers reported in the study that “the community’s sense of injustice about these attacks was profound, and it has deeply impacted their lives day to day,” from students being gassed while in class, studying or trying to sleep, to parents frantically attempting to ensure infants and young children have some sort of protection against the gas.

The study found that

“virtually everyone we interviewed or surveyed in Aida reported that they had some medical or psychological symptoms attributed to tear gas.”

*

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women’s issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Featured image is from the author.

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