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[l] at 10/13/19 5:19am


More war in wretched Syria. Half the population is now refugees; entire cities lie shattered by bombing; bands of crazed gunmen run rampant; US, French, Israeli and Russian warplanes bomb widely.

Now, adding to the chaos, President Donald Trump has finally given Turkey, NATO’s second military power, the green light to invade parts of northeastern Syria after he apparently ordered a token force of US troops there to withdraw.

This, of course, puts the Turks in a growing confrontation with the region’s Kurds, who have occupied large swaths of the area during Syria’s civil war. The Kurdish militia, known as YPG (confusingly part of the so-called Free Syrian Army), is armed, lavishly financed and directed by the CIA and Pentagon.

Most Kurdish forces are deployed along the line of the former Berlin-Baghdad railway, a major source of warlike tensions before World War I. Interestingly, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was making a state visit to blood enemy Serbia when the Turkish offensive kicked off.

Turkey calls the Kurdish militias ‘terrorists’ and links them to the original Kurdish resistance movement PKK which is on the US and Turkish black list. I covered the brutal conflict in eastern Anatolia (southern Turkey) between the Turkish Army and Kurdish militias known as ‘peshmerga.’ If the US can brand Syrian and Iraqi groups ‘terrorists,’ why can’t the Turks do their own terrorist branding? After all, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are in their backyard.

The US media is fiercely anti-Turkish because Ankara is seen as somewhat pro-Palestinian. Israel is a bitter foe of Turkey’s Erdogan. One rarely reads anything positive about Turkey or its leader. Not very many western readers even know that since the early 1500’s, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey. So were Iraq, Palestine, today’s Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Most important, Iraq’s vast oil fields used to belong to the Ottoman Empire until the British Empire grabbed them at the end of World War I. France seized Syria and Lebanon. Both former imperial powers are still mucking around today in the region and have the gall to criticize Turkey’s involvement in neighboring Syria.

The United States has zero historic interest in the region. US troops in Syria appear to have come from the US garrison in Iraq, which, as VP Dick Cheney hoped, would become a central US military base for the entire Mideast. The Washington war party is moaning that Trump has ‘betrayed’ the Kurds. Their unofficial head, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is demanding more war in Syria – the same warrior senator who dodged the Vietnam War by joining the National Guard as a lawyer.

The Kurds have been used and betrayed since 1918. They always seem to get the short end of the stick. The old Kurdish saying, ‘no friends but the mountains,’ is painfully true. Washington does not want to get involved in a new Kurdish state carved out of Syria or Iraq even though Israel is pushing it hard to further splinter the Mideast. Iraq’s and Syria’s oil deposits are still a powerful lure for imperial-minded powers.

Trump rightly calls the fracas in Syria ‘a stupid war.’ But many pro-war forces play on this tired, confused president who has gotten himself deep into the Syrian morass, a problem of largely American but also Turkish making. Ironically, former president Barack Obama foolishly authorized America’s effort to overthrow Syria’s Assad government under the guise of a phony civil war. This was one of the few Obama policies that Trump chose to follow. The neophyte president was unwilling or unable to prevent the deep state in Washington from encouraging the war.

The region in question is hardly the beating heart of Syria. It looks large on the map but is mostly desert and scrub, dotted by miserable little villages with Arab or Kurdish populations. Turkey, which has over 2 million Syrian refugees, is eager to begin repatriation of this massive burden created by its policy errors and the western powers.

In the middle is the scattered debris of the short-lived ISIS caliphate. Russia, which is selling Turkey its very capable S-400 anti-aircraft system, is watching with delight as old allies Turkey and the US split.

Even Trump knows how important Turkey is to the NATO alliance. A rupture between Washington and Ankara could see the vital US bases at Incirlik and Adana thrown out of Turkey. That’s why Trump needs to tread carefully.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Syria, Turkey]

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[l] at 10/13/19 5:08am

Deciphering who’s behind the violence leads to a long list of possibilities


“If we burn, you burn with us.” “Self-destruct together.” (Lam chao.)The new slogans of Hong Kong’s black bloc – a mob on a rampage connected to the black shirt protestors – made their first appearance on a rainy Sunday afternoon, scrawled on  walls in Kowloon.

Decoding the slogans is essential to understand the mindless street violence that was unleashed even before the anti-mask law passed by the government of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) went into effect at midnight on Friday, October 4.

By the way, the anti-mask law is the sort of measure that was authorized by the 1922 British colonial Emergency Regulations Ordnance, which granted the city government the authority to “make any regulations whatsoever which he [or she] may consider desirable in the public interest” in case of “emergency or public danger”.

Perhaps the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, was unaware of this fine lineage when she commented that the law “only intensifies concern over freedom of expression.” And it is probably safe to assume that neither she nor other virulent opponents of the law know that a very similar anti-mask law was enacted in Canada on June 19, 2013.

More likely to be informed is Hong Kong garment and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, billionaire publisher of the pro-democracy Apple Daily, the city’s Chinese Communist Party critic-in-chief and highly visible interlocutor of official Washington, DC, notables such as US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and ex-National Security Council head John Bolton.

On September 6, before the onset of the deranged vandalism and violence that have defined Hong Kong “pro-democracy protests” over the past several weeks, Lai spoke with Bloomberg TV’s Stephen Engle from his Kowloon home.

He pronounced himself convinced that – if protests turned violent China would have no choice but to send People’s Armed Police units from Shenzen into Hong Kong to put down unrest.

“That,” he said on Bloomberg TV, “will be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre and that will bring in the whole world against China….. Hong Kong will be done, and … China will be done, too.”

Still, before the violence broke out, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people had gathered in peaceful protests in June, illustrating the depth of feeling that exists in Hong Kong. These are the working-class Hongkongers that Lai supports through the pages of Apple Daily.

But the situation has changed dramatically from the early summer of non-violent demonstrations. The black blocs see such intervention as the only way to accomplish their goal.

For the black blocs, the burning is all about them – not Hong Kong, the city and its hard-working people. Those are all subjected to the will of this fringe minority that, according to the understaffed and overstretched Hong Kong police force, numbers 12,000 people at the most.

Cognitive rigidity is a euphemism when applied to mob rule, which is essentially a religious cult. Even attempting the rudiments of a civilized discussion with these people is hopeless. The supremely incompetent, paralyzed Hong Kong government at least managed to define them precisely as “rioters” who have plunged one of the wealthiest and so far safest cities on the planet “into fear and chaos” and committed “atrocities” that are “far beyond the bottom line of any civilized society.”

“Revolution in Hong Kong”, the previous preferred slogan, at face value a utopian millennial cause, has been in effect drowned by the heroic vandalizing of metro stations, i.e., the public commons; throwing petrol bombs at police officers; and beating up citizens who don’t follow the script. To follow these gangs running amok, live, in Central and Kowloon, and also on RTHK, which broadcasts the rampage in real-time, is a mind-numbing experience.

I’ve sketched before the basic profile of thousands of young protestors in the streets fully supported by a silent mass of teachers, lawyers, bewigged judges, civil servants and other liberal professionals who gloss over any outrageous act – as long as they are anti-government.

But the key question has to focus on the black blocs, their mob rule on rampage tactics, and who’s financing them. Very few people in Hong Kong are willing to discuss it openly. And as I’ve noted in conversations with informed members of the Hong Kong Football Club, businessmen, art collectors, and social media groups, very few people in Hong Kong – or across Asia for that matter – even know what black blocs are all about.

The black bloc matrix Black blocs are not exactly a global movement; they are a tactic deployed by a group of protesters – even though intellectuals springing up from different European strands of anarchism mostly in Spain, Italy, France and Germany since the mid-19th century may also raise it from the level of a tactic to a strategy that is part of a larger movement.

The tactic is simple enough. You dress in black, with lots of padding, ski masks or balaclavas, sunglasses, and motorcycle helmets. As much as you protect yourself from police pepper spray and/or tear gas, you conceal your identity and melt into the crowd. You act as a block, usually a few dozen, sometimes a few hundred. You move fast, you search and destroy, then you disperse, regroup and attack again.

From the inception, throughout the 1980s, especially in Germany, this was a sort of anarchist-infused urban guerrilla tactic employed against the excesses of globalization and also against the rise of crypto-fascism.

Yet the global media explosion of black blocs only happened over a decade later, at the notorious Battle of Seattle in 1999, during the WTO ministerial conference, when the city was shut down. The WTO summit collapsed and a  state of emergency was in effect for nearly a week. Crucially, there were no casualties, even as black blocs made themselves known as part of a mass riot organized by radical anarchists.

The difference in Hong Kong is that black blocs have been instrumentalized for a blatantly search-and-destroy agenda. The debate is open on whether black bloc tactics, deployed randomly, only serve to legitimize the police state even more. What’s clear is that smashing a subway station used by average working people is absolutely irreconcilable with advancing a better, more responsible, local government.

My interlocutor shows up impeccably dressed for dim sum on Saturday at a deserted Victoria City outlet in CITIC tower, with a spectacular view of the harbor. He’s Shanghai aristocracy, the family having migrated to Hong Kong in 1949, and he’s a uniquely informed insider on all aspects of the Hong Kong-China-US triangle. Via mutual Chinese diaspora connections that hark back to the handover era, he agreed to talk on background. Let’s call him Mr. E.

In the aftermath of dark Friday, Mr. E is still appalled: “Not only you’re harming the people making their living in businesses, companies, shopping malls. You’re destroying subway stations. You’re destroying our streets. You’re destroying our hard-earned reputation as a safe, international business center. You’re destroying our economy.”

He cannot explain why there was not a single police officer in sight, for hours, as the rampage continued.

Cutting to the chase, Mr. E attributes the whole drama to a pathological hatred of China by a “significant majority” of Hong Kong’s population. Significantly, the day after our conversation, a small black bloc contingent circled around the PLA’s Kowloon East Barracks in Kowloon Tong in the early evening. Chinese soldiers in camouflage filmed them from the rooftop.

There’s no way black blocs would take their gas masks, steel rods and petrol bombs to fight the PLA. That’s an entirely new ball game compared with thrashing metro stations. And color-coded “revolution” manuals don’t teach you how to do it.

Mr. E points out there is nothing “leaderless” about the Hong Kong black blocs. Mob rule is strictly regimented. One of the black shirt slogans  – “Occupy, disrupt, disperse, repeat” – has in effect mutated into “Swarm, destroy, disperse, repeat.”

Mr. E asks me about black blocs in France. Western mainstream media, for months, have ignored solid, peaceful protests by the Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vests across France, against corruption, inequality and the Macron administration’s neoliberal push to turn France into a start-up benefitting the 1%.

Charges that French intel has manipulated black blocs and inserted undercover agents and casseurs (persons vandalizing property, specifically during protests) to discredit and demonize the Yellow Vests are widespread. As I’ve witnessed in Paris first hand, the feared CRS have been absolutely ruthless in their RAND-conceptualized militarized operations in urban terrain – repression tactics – without excluding the odd beating up of elderly citizens.

In contrast, mob rule in Hong Kong is excused as protest against “totalitarian” China.

Most of the conversation with Mr. E centers on possible sources of financing for the initial nonviolent protest and, particularly, for the mob rule that the black blocs have brought in its place.

Motivation and opportunity will get you on the list, which is not terribly long – but is long enough to include names of people and organizations diametrically opposed to one another and thus unlikely to be working together.

Among governments, we can start with the still (if not, probably, for much longer) number one superpower. Trump administration officials, locked in a trade war with Beijing, would have no trouble imagining some advantage coming from a weakening of the People’s Republic’s rule over Hong Kong, and could perhaps see good in positively destabilizing China, starting with fomenting a violent revolution in the former British colony.

The United Kingdom, contemplating a lonely post-Brexit old age, could have pondered how nice it would be to get closer to its favorite former colony, still an island of Britishness in a less and less British world.

Taiwan, of course, would have had interest in provoking a test run of how One Country, Two Systems – the formula that the PRC and the UK used with Hong Kong in 1997 and that Beijing has offered to Taiwan, as well – might work out under stress. And after the stress of peaceful protest had exposed weak underpinnings, the temptation may well have arisen to go farther and make such a hash of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong that no Taiwanese would ever again fall for the merger propaganda.

The People’s Republic seems an unlikely protagonist for the initial, nonviolent phase, but there are plenty of Hong Kongers who believe it is now encouraging provocations that would justify a major crackdown. And we can’t completely rule out the possibility that a mainland CCP faction – opposed to the breach of recent tradition with which Xi Jinping extended his time in the presidency, say – is trying to discredit him.

OK, enough about governments. Now we need some on-the-ground agents, Chinese with plausible deniability who can blend in as they receive and disburse the necessary funding and handle organizational and training matters.

Here the possibilities are far too numerous to list, but one popular name would be Guo Wengui, aka Miles Kwok. The billionaire fell out with the CCP and, in 2014, fled to the United States to pursue a career as a long-distance political operative.

Even more popular would be name of Jimmy Lai, mentioned above. Confirming another of my key meetings, when Mr. E points to the usual funding suspects, the name of Jimmy Lai inevitably comes up. In fact, a US-Taiwan-Jimmy Lai combination may be number one on the hit parade when it comes to the common wisdom.

But when I tried that combination on for size I encountered problems. For one big thing, Jimmy Lai has made no effort to hide his aid to pro-democracy groups but in his public remarks has invariably encouraged nonviolent agendas.

As South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo wrote not long ago, “What’s wrong with making massive donations to political parties and anti-government groups? Nothing! So I am puzzled by the media brouhaha over Apple Daily boss Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s alleged donations worth more than HK$40 million to his pals in the pan-democratic camp over a two-year period.”

Let’s not give up so easily, though. I believe that some things are best hidden right out in the open in bright daylight.

Yes, Lai’s public voice happens to be Mark Simon, who worked for four years as a US naval intelligence analyst.

Yes, Lai has been good friends with neo-con guru Paul Wolfowitz since the latter became chairman of the US Taiwan Business Council in 2008, according to a Lai aide.

Wolfowitz served as deputy secretary of defense from 2001 to 2005 under Donald Rumsfeld, sort of by accident: He was supposed to become George W Bush’s head of CIA. But, alas, that didn’t work out because his wife got wind of an affair Paul, a member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED, had with a staffer, who was married at the time … and so it goes.

And, yes, according to Wikileaks documentation, in 2013 Lai paid US$75,000 to Wolfowitz for an introduction to Myanmar government bigwigs.

A document suggesting a transaction between Lai and Wolfowitz. Photo: Wikileaks via SCMP

But none of that really proves anything, does it now? Innocent until proven guilty. Colluding with arguably the most important US policy and intelligence operative of the past two decades, apparently yes – but can we establish active involvement by either the Pauls or the Jimmys of this world in black bloc provocations to achieve the bloody Chinese intervention that Lai forecast? Innocent until proven guilty.

This is going to take some further work. Back to the old drawing board with Asia Times.

There will be blowback

“We in Hong Kong are few in number. But we know that the world will never know genuine peace until the people of China are free.”

– Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jimmy Lai,  Sept 30

As much as there have been frantic efforts by the usual suspects to obliterate them, the images of black bloc mob rule and rampage across Hong Kong are now imprinted all over the Global South, not to mention in the unconscious of hundreds of millions of Chinese netizens.

Even the black blocs’ invisible financial backers may have been stunned by the counter-productive effects of the rampage, to the point of essentially declaring victory and ordering a retreat. In any case, Jimmy Lai continues to blame the Hong Kong police for “excessive and brutal violence” and to demonize the “dictatorial, cold-blooded and violent beast.”

Yet there’s no guarantee the black terror mob will back down – especially with Hong Kong fire officials now alarmed by the proliferation of online instructions for making petrol bombs using lethal white phosphorous. Once again – remember al-Qaeda’s “freedom fighters” – history will teach us: Beware of the Frankenstein terrors you create.


[Category: Editor's Choice, BlackRock, China, Hong Kong]

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[l] at 10/13/19 5:00am

When a still-bewildered General Earl Charles Cornwallis surrendered his entire army to George Washington and to the Comte de Rochambeau at Yorktown in 1781, according to legend, a British military band heightened the humiliation by playing a ballad called, “The World Turned Upside Down.” The composer Lin Manuel Miranda later reimagined the song as a hit number in his acclaimed modern musical “Hamilton.”

In a time without speed of light communications, telegraph wires, radio or Internet, the fall of the British Empire in America still rocked the entire world. It was celebrated and welcomed from the Emir of Kuwait to the Tsarina Catherine in St. Petersburg.

Yet when the Houthi rebel movement that controls much of Yemen wiped out three Saudi Brigades and inflicted at least 2,500 casualties at the end of September, the Western media ignored it.

The outstanding analysis of Frederico Pierracini on this web site still stands virtually alone in offering unparalleled assessment of that event.

It is out of fashion among Western commentators to admit that any “decisive battles” can happen anywhere unless they are safely in the past and the United States has won them. But when the Nazi Wehrmacht overthrew the legendary French Army in six weeks of operations in 1940 and when the Red Army wiped out the elite combat forces of the Nazis at Stalingrad in the fall of 1942, those battles were indeed decisive and the clock could never be turned back from them.

The humiliating defeat that the Houthis have just inflicted on the Saudis is of comparable epochal significance. It does far, far more than confirm the victory of the Houthis in the long, needlessly prolonged civil war in Yemen that has killed at least 100,000 civilian dead over the past four years. The Houthis are now poised to bring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself crashing down.

There is dark poetic justice to this development. The House of Saud will fall as it rose, by a clash of arms in which a young, harsh but dedicated revolutionary movement challenged a worthless old reactionary regime supported by the great imperial power of the day and then destroyed it.

Saudi Arabia’s founding father King Abdulaziz ibn Saud was a dashing, charismatic young tribal leader whose conquest of Arabia from the previously dominant but lethargic, petty, and corrupt Hashemite Dynasty eerily foreshadows the rise of the Houthis today.

The Hashemites enjoyed the religious leadership of the Holy Cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina. They had previously served the Ottoman Turkish Empire but during World War I, they eagerly embraced the British Empire whom the family correctly judged to be on the rise and certain to supplant the Turks as the dominant empire of the Middle East.

This Hashemite reading of global strategy was correct. But there was one insurmountable problem. Sherif Hussein of Mecca was such a uniformly despised, unjust and unsympathetic loser that he was capable of leading no one, and most of his family was no better.

The British led by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill embraced the Hashemites  in the 1920s and put one of Sherif Hussein’s sons, King Feisal I on the throne of Iraq. Even with British military support, the family was hated there too. In 1958, the entire Hashemite Royal Family of Iraq was machine gunned to death in Baghdad in a massacre that shocked the world.

Back in the mid-1920s, Sherif Hussein himself had already been driven out of Arabia by Abdelaziz and the House of Saud. Not all the might of the British Empire and not all the efforts of Winston Churchill could save him.

So when the time came to explore the oil resources of Arabia, Abdelaziz spurned the British and gave the vital concessions to American oil companies instead. In May 1933, the Saudi Arabian government granted a concession to SoCal – the Standard Oil Company of California – in preference to a rival bid from the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company. It was the forerunner of today’s giant Saudi Aramco oil corporation.

However, all the fabled Saudi oil wealth of the past 80 years was based on their previous conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. The core military lesson was clear: Brave, passionate troops with dynamic, energetic leaders will always beat wealthier, larger and better equipped forces led by tired, corrupt and worthless rulers.

Now history is repeating itself, except this time the Saudis are going to be its losers not its winners.

The Houthi victory serves notice that the Saudis have met their nemesis. Arrogant, reckless young Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has had ample time over the past few years ago to call off his ferocious, cruel and bloody air campaign against the people of Yemen. He did not do so and it is too late now.

Payback is coming. And it will not stop at the borders of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The world is about to turn upside down again.

[Category: History, British Empire, Churchill, Saudi Arabia]

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[l] at 10/13/19 3:51am

Strategic Culture Foundation conducted the following interview with American professor of politics Colin S. Cavell on the seeming emergence of a more leftwing agenda among some Democratic politicians and a more radical consciousness among ordinary American citizens for social and economic equality.

Republican President Donald Trump has made frequent condemnation in speeches of “evil socialism”, as if betraying a fear among the American ruling class of such a popular turn towards socialism arising.

Democratic presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard are openly calling for progressive increased taxation on wealthy Americans and corporations – reversing decades of neoliberal policies. American voters are rallying behind calls for more radical wealth re-distribution and policies that challenge the skyrocketing inequality in the US where a handful of billionaires now own more wealth than half (160 million) of the entire population.

Professor Cavell gives his views on current developments in American politics with a historical perspective on socialist movements in US society. He warns, however, that the political establishment and a pro-capitalist corporate news media are working assiduously to thwart any movement towards a more just, democratic society. He also says that the legacy of the Cold War has stunted development of socialism in the US, but there are signs this baleful anti-communist legacy is being overcome.


Q: Democratic Party presidential contender Bernie Sanders seems to be getting a lot of support from working-class Americans for his policies of medicare-for-all and progressive taxing of the rich. Do you think this portends an awakening among ordinary Americans for a socialist government?

Cavell: Most US citizens, to my understanding of the average perspective delineated by many surveys and depictions in newspapers, texts, and on the mainstream media, have little understanding of what socialism is, only a fear of what it is described to be by designing capitalist politicians.

Q: Why is that?

Cavell: After a century of anti-communist and anti-socialist propaganda by the capitalist state and its supporters, “socialism” in the minds of most US citizens is a totalitarian hell with fire and brimstone where an evil Satanic dictator commands all to slave incessantly towards his own demands, all to the detriment of the body politic as well as to the diminishment of individual freedom and personal felicity.

Q: Do you seen any change in this general misunderstanding about socialism among the US population?

Cavell: After ceaselessly perpetuating such blather for now ten decades, the American people within the United States have begun, over the last few decades, to see through this smokescreen and, given the stagnant condition of their wages and living conditions in most cases and reversals in others since the 1970s, have concluded that the repeated mantra of the beneficent aspects of capitalism only benefit a small section of that class and not the great majority of the citizenry; hence, they are open to the voices of those like Sanders and other more leftwing Democrats, who are calling for the implementation of universal health care or medicare-for-all, or what traditionally has been referred to and disparaged by past US presidents and politicians as “socialized medicine.” What most US citizens in favor of this term understand is that medical costs will either be reduced or free of charge.

Q: What about policies for a wider socialist economy?

Cavell: As for any other aspects of “socializing” the economy, most are not clear about this, though there is generally strong support for extending access to education free-of-charge to institutions of higher education, that is, colleges and universities, as the student loan debt crisis is currently over $1.5 trillion and affects at least one-sixth of the US population, about 43 million adults. And, given that more education still holds out in the minds of many people the promise of a “better job”, meaning one with more pay and benefits, there is an inclination to advance oneself through the acquisition of more formalized education and degrees.

Q: How about the concept of social classes. Do Americans think of their society and economic inequality in class terms?

Cavell: Class consciousness is present amongst most citizens, although it is seldom articulated, at least not in the public media; instead, the US is still said to be a nation free of classes where merit will ensure that all who are worthy and who work hard will rise and be able “to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. Moreover, most US citizens believe they are members of the “middle class” despite the fact that the overwhelming majority live from paycheck-to-paycheck and have little to no savings should an emergency arise. So, no, what is not present is a working-class conscious of its own existence, functionality, strength, and power. What is not present is a working-class conscious of its historic role to forcibly overthrow capitalism if it is to enjoy any real sense of freedom. What they enjoy as consumers of products is what they equate with freedom, for example, having a cellphone, a car, an apartment, clothes, gadgets, food of some sort. As long as the capitalists are able to satiate the public with what the Romans referred to as “bread and circuses”, their rule is protected. Thus, at the current moment, ordinary US citizens are open to the possibility of medicare-for-all (free health care) and education-for-all through college and university (that is, free education); beyond that, only a failure of the US economy to provide sufficient jobs (that is, more than 5% unemployment rate) will engender the average US citizen to entertain what a socialist government and society may look like.

Q: What are the precedents for popular socialism in the US over the decades, for example, Eugene Debs and the Haymarket Martyrs?

Cavell: While utopian socialist communities existed in the US in the early nineteenth century, it was the worker demonstrations in Chicago, Illinois, on May 4, 1886, which ended with eight anarchists convicted of conspiracy and seven workers sentenced to death – the Haymarket Martyrs – which gave rise to the power of labor and a force to be reckoned with. Out of this attack on a peaceful organizing by workers arose International Labor Day to be commemorated on May 1, International Labor Day or International Workers Day, around the world each year to demand the legal establishment of the 8-hour work day, the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.

Q: That is quite a remarkable American legacy for international socialism, despite its subsequent suppression in the US. How about the legacy of Eugene Debs who ran for the presidency as a self-declared socialist candidate over a century ago?

Cavell: Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs ran as a candidate for the presidency on the socialist party ticket in 1900. Debs continued to run as a candidate for the US presidency on the Socialist Party of America ticket in 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920, with the latter campaign seeing Debs garner nearly one million votes, even though Debs was behind bars in prison at the time. By 1919, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) adopted the leading mantle of a Marxist-oriented communist party and would play a leading role in the labor struggles of the trade union CIO until the McCarthyite repression instituted by organized capital from 1950-1954 began the slow but steady repression of the Communist Party and all who supported it, ending with the merger of the CIO with the AFL in 1955. Socialist ideas, while informing labor and political activists from the 1950s to the 1990s, were largely retained by academics, one of the few areas that had some degree of freedom within US society. While specialized newspapers, journals, and websites are supported by a number of worker-oriented political parties today, mainstream capitalist media ensures that their rhetoric and arguments are largely absent from popular political debates.

Q: So much for America’s much-vaunted claims of free speech and independent media. Do you envisage the near possibility of Americans voting for socialism?

Cavell: Though my desire is for such a possibility to become reality, it is my candid assessment of US politics and the powers that enforce it which dissuades me from entertaining such a prospect. The capitalist class, if it has demonstrated anything over the past century, is ready and willing to crush any socialist or communist alternative to capitalism.

Q: Is Bernie Sanders a credible socialist prospect for president? Who else if not Bernie, Tulsi Gabbard or Elizabeth Warren?

Cavell: In my opinion, if a presidential election were held in the USA today without the usual interferences and obstructions of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the mainstream media, etc., then Bernie Sanders would be an easy winner. This, however, will never come to pass, as the capitalist class and all of its mechanisms will ensure that Bernie never reaches the nomination of the Democratic Party and thus will not be a candidate in the General Election of 2020 for the presidency.

NOTE: Colin S. Cavell is a tenured Full Professor of Political Science at Bluefield State College, West Virginia. He earned his Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2001. He has previously taught at several academic institutions across the US and internationally.

[Category: Society, Socialism, US]

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[l] at 10/12/19 6:10am

During the Open Mind Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2017, the organizers recorded an interview with James Corbett about his presentation, Echoes of WWI: China, the US, and the Next “Great” War.

[Category: Corbett Report, World War I]

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[l] at 10/12/19 5:25am


In a field beside a disused railway station on the plain just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier, a brigade of Syrian Kurdish soldiers were retraining in order to resist an invasion by the Turkish army. “We acted like a regular army when we were fighting Daesh [Isis],” Rojvan, a veteran Kurdish commander of the YPG (People’s Protection Units), told me. “But now it is we who may be under Turkish air attack and we will have to behave more like guerrillas.”

Rojvan and his men had just returned from fighting Isis for 45 days in their last strongholds in eastern Syria. I had met him first in a cemetery in the Kurdish capital Qamishli where he was burying one of his men who had been killed by an Isis rocket when driving a bulldozer to build field fortifications in the middle of a battle.

But now he and his men were learning new tactics to combat the Turkish military units that were beginning to mass on the Turkish side of the border.

Rojvan was a very experienced soldier and not given to false optimism, saying: “We are mainly armed with light weapons like the Kalashnikov and the RPG [rocket propelled grenade] launcher and light machine guns, but we will be resisting tanks and aircraft.”

Rojvan was speaking 18 months ago after the Turkish army and its Syrian Arab allies had invaded the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, forced most of its inhabitants to flee, and was preparing to replace them with Arab settlers.

What happened then may have been a preview of what we are about to see repeated on a much wider scale in northeast Syria after President Trump’s incoherent announcement that the US would not stand in the way of a Turkish invasion.

He has rowed back a little on this in the face of a deluge of criticism, but his basic message – that the US wants out, and does not object to the Turks coming in – has developed its own momentum and will be difficult to stop at this stage.

We are already on the downslope leading to the ethnic cleansing of up to 2 million Kurds in the vast triangle of land which the Kurds call Rojava in northeast Syria. Much of the Kurdish population lives in cities and towns like Qamishli, Kobani and Tal Abyad just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier. They are unlikely to wait to see what a Turkish occupation, backed by bands of Syrian Arab paramilitaries with links to al-Qaeda type groups, is like.

Trump’s support for America’s Kurdish allies was always rickety, but the brazenness of the final betrayal is still breathtaking. All the credit for defeating Isis is given to US forces under Trump’s wise leadership, while in reality the US role was almost entirely confined to airstrikes and artillery fire.

Speaking of the Kurdish role as the military core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the crucial battle for the Isis capital Raqqa, Brett McGurk, the former presidential envoy to the anti-Isis coalition, says on Twitter: “The SDF suffered thousands of casualties in the Raqqa battle. Not a single American life was lost.” Overall, 11,000 Syrian Kurds were killed fighting Isis over the last five years.

McGurk denies that the Kurds ever received lavish supplies of military hardware from the US: “The weapons provided were meagre and just enough for the battle against Isis. (The SDF cleared IEDs by purchasing flocks of sheep.)”

Since 2015 I have been visiting Rojava watching the YPG soldiers advance west and south and always wondering what would happen when Isis was defeated and the US did not need them anymore. The Kurds, who are no political neophytes, wondered the same thing, but there was little they could do to change the direction of events, except hope that the US would not entirely let them down.

It seems that, in the event, their most pessimistic assumptions are being fulfilled, though – such is the nature of the Trump White House – the extent of American betrayal is unclear.

The most important feature by far of the US military presence in Syria is airpower and not the small number of troops on the ground. Will the US maintain an air umbrella over Rojava and, if so, does this mean that the Turks will not be able to deploy their air force against the YPG? If this is indeed the case, it would give the 25,000 battle-hardened YPG troops more of a military option, though, even so, their chances of long-term success are limited.

It is unclear how far the Turks will advance: their attack could at first be in a limited area between the towns of Tal-Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. But the White House statement spoke of Turkey taking responsibility for Isis prisoners, most of whom are in a camp at al-Hol that is deep inside Rojava, close to the Iraqi border. Taking over this would mean the Turks seizing much of northeast Syria.

Do the Kurds have any political options? The only obvious one – supposing the Kurdish alliance with the US to be a broken reed – is to look to President Bashar al-Assad and to Russia. The Kurds do not like the Syrian government, which persecuted and marginalised them for years before 2011, but they do prefer them to Turkish control and probable expulsion.

The problem here is that the Kurds may have left it too late. So long as they were allied to the US, they could not seriously negotiate with Damascus. Now they appear to have the worst of all possible worlds: neither Washington nor Moscow nor Damascus is going to protect them.

But the options were never quite as simple as that: the Syrian army has never been strong enough to fight Turkey. Presidents Putin and Assad do not want a Turkish invasion but they will also be glad to see the back of the American forces.

The de facto Kurdish state of Rojava could swiftly disintegrate under the impact of a Turkish incursion. A scramble for its territory is already beginning: Syrian and Turkish army units are reportedly racing each other to take over the Arab city of Manbij just west of the Euphrates that has been under effective Kurdish control. A new chaotic phase in the Syrian war is beginning.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Kurdistan, Rojava, SDF, Syria, Trump, Turkey]

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[l] at 10/12/19 5:00am

To mark the 250th anniversary since Captain James Cook invaded New Zealand, the British Ambassador Laura Clarke issued a private statement of “regret” to the indigenous groups, for the killing of Maori people upon landing.

“What we did today, really acknowledged, perhaps properly for the first time, that nine people and nine ancestors were killed in those first meetings between Captain Cook and New Zealand Maori, and that is not how any of us would have wanted those first encounters to have happened,” Clarke stated.

British colonialism, however, is replete with the genocide of indigenous populations to maintain the fabrication of terra nullis, or barren land, which justified and normalised colonial settlement. Cook’s first endeavours in New Zealand were followed by the systematic killing of the Aboriginal people in Tasmania and Australia. Clarke’s acknowledgement is nothing but a perfunctory statement which fails to even acknowledge indigenous collective memory.

The commemorations, which are state-funded and will be attended by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, included the welcoming of a replica of the HMS Endeavour which brought bloodshed to New Zealand. The government’s approach to the commemoration sparked protest among the Maori groups for keeping in line with the colonial narrative. Maori leaders have rallied against the colonial narratives of Cook “discovering” New Zealand, rightly describing the landing as an invasion and Cook as part of the imperialist expansion endeavours which massacred the indigenous populations.

Tuia – Encounters 250 describes the commemoration activities as “an opportunity to hold honest conversations about the past, the present and how we navigate our shared future.” Yet the marginalisation of Maori voices, including the New Zealand’s government’s refusal to engage with Maori protestors, are clear indication that the “shared future” rhetoric is being used to eliminate the importance of indigenous narratives and memory. One main objection was the use of “euphemisms like encounters and meetings to disguise what were actually invasions.”

The government spent $13.5 million promoting the colonial narrative and held little consultation with the Maoris regarding the planned events. New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture said the flotilla would only stop “where a welcome is clear”. This specification indicates the government’s knowledge of indigenous disapproval and opposition, as well as its failure to mark the 250th anniversary of the invasion from an indigenous perspective.

In this regard, the New Zealand government’s stance is closer to the British statement excusing the colonial crimes against the Maori.

To mark the 250th anniversary, New Zealand could have embarked upon a different path – one that creates space for indigenous narratives to thrive and take precedence. It could also have demanded that Britain acknowledges its colonial theft and violence, instead of forcing equivalence between the coloniser and the colonised.

Speaking at the UN earlier this year, indigenous rights activist Tima Ngata declared with reference to the invasion, “to call that an ‘encounter’ is egregious in the extreme and a complete purposeful minimisation.”

Giving in to the colonial narrative as the New Zealand government has done legitimises colonial conquest and the massacre of the indigenous, besides outlining a tacit complicity in ensuring that colonialism remains cloistered as a historical topic. The truth is that colonialism is preventing indigenous narratives from taking their rightful place. Hence the massacres are being purposely overlooked to maintain the fictional narratives of exploration and discovery.

Understanding the colonial project is not tantamount to endorsement. What the British Ambassador and the New Zealand Prime Minister have achieved as a prelude to the 250th anniversary is a dilution of indigenous rights, narratives and memory. Regret is not an acknowledgement of colonial violence, especially when it refuses to acknowledge the victims murdered by the British Empire. Likewise, the New Zealand’s government’s dismissal of the Maori as “groups of people who have strong feelings” and who are expected to participate in an event that prioritises the glorification of Cook’s invasion is an aberration. The obligation, in New Zealand and elsewhere, is to discredit colonial ‘regret’.

[Category: History, British Empire, Colonialism, Genocide, Indigenous Peoples, New Zealand, UK]

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[l] at 10/12/19 4:25am


It is axiomatic that the worst place to be in a nuclear war is in a country with nuclear weapons, yet to this day, nuclear weapons are considered to be the ultimate sign of prestige in international relations, and represent for many countries an important guarantor of territorial integrity.

Particularly notable is the role that nuclear weapons play in allowing nuclear states dominance over non-nuclear states in territorial or border disputes. Which non-nuclear state would dare launch a major conventional attack against a nuclear power?

It is also inconceivable that any nuclear state would launch a nuclear strike on behalf of a non-nuclear ally simply to protect that ally’s territorial integrity. Therefore, the balance in any border dispute between a nuclear and non-nuclear state is woefully one-sided.

While nuclear weapons may have had a role in preventing the Cold War from turning hot, they currently act as a destabilising influence on the system of nation-states by granting a certain military impunity to nuclear states in their dealings with their neighbours.

Moreover, the environmental costs of storing and decommissioning nuclear weapons is plain for all to see, and primarily affects those countries that maintain a large store of nuclear warheads. All pollution is, first and foremost, local pollution.

There is a tiny audience that matters in the nuclear disarmament debate, namely the presidents of the United States, India, Pakistan, France, Russia and China, and the prime minister of the United Kingdom, as well as the leaders of a few states with nuclear aspirations.

I believe that each of these leaders is a patriot, genuinely concerned about their nation’s security and standing in the world, and therefore any appeal for unilateral disarmament without a credible solution for maintaining international order is certain to fall on deaf ears.

There may be a solution however in High Impact Conventionals (HICs), conventional weapons that offer a sufficiently high-level of destructiveness to provide a deterrent effect on any would-be conventional opponent, while mitigating to some extent the cost to the planet and to global security of nuclear weapons.

The United States in 2017 deployed its Mother-of-all-Bombs in Afghanistan, while Russian and China have both been working on the development of thermobaric munitions. In 2007, Alexander Rukshin described Russia’s Father of All Bombs thus:

Potentially, its effectiveness and capabilities are comparable to nuclear weapons. At the same time, use of this weapon doesn’t damage or pollute the environment like a nuclear weapon.

Serious consideration should be given to laying the framework of a multilateral treaty in which the world’s great powers commit to replacing their store of nuclear weapons with high-impact conventionals within a timeframe of, at most, twenty years.

Not only would such a compact contribute enormously to nuclear non-proliferation, it would also help to preserve the current multipolarity within the international system by allowing a toned-down equivalent to mutually-assured destruction to be developed by the world’s largest militaries, without the enormous security and environmental costs for both nuclear and non-nuclear states of standing nuclear deterrents.

While such a plan would not satisfy everyone, not least committed pacifists, I believe that it could find support from both communist and nationalist; from liberal and conservative; and, from nuclear and non-nuclear states.

It is not a solution that will lead to perpetual peace, but one which may well prevent the untimely destruction of the United States, Russia, China and the countries lying in their way.

It is not a solution that depends on global government, which even Kant viewed as a precursor to tyranny, but rather is one which can be pursued within the existing global system of sovereign nation-states.

It is a realistic realist solution.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Arms Race, Nuclear Weapons]

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[l] at 10/12/19 3:55am


For many years, the west has experienced an unfortunate drought of genuinely nationalist leaders.

Where the concept of national sovereignty had once been considered a sacred component of a political leader’s mandate, decades of technocratic governance from above, monetarism and consumerism from below and asymmetric wars abroad has caused the word itself to be dragged through the mud of insanity.

Somehow, over the years since WWII, the word “nationalism” increasingly became associated with “authoritarianism”, “fascism” and “isolationism”. If one were to be respected in polite society, to be associated with “nationalism” was political death for any sophisticated statesman.

This tendency became a cartoonish joke when a poster-boy for neo-liberalism by the name of Justin Trudeau celebrated his election victory in 2015 by proclaiming that he was the leader of “the world’s first post-national state”. Of course, Justin was then responding to the “authoritarian nationalists” apparently disrupting the world order by “annexing” Crimea in the case of Putin’s Russia and imposing “unwanted” development onto poor countries as was the case with Xi Jinping’s China. The U.S elections were just around the corner, and it was obvious that Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly lose.

Today’s 2019 world looks very different from the Obama-stained one that Justin lived in when he uttered those ridiculous words.

Since 2015, Russia has succeeded in completely turning the tide of chaos in Syria and the new Ukrainian government has even responded positively to reviving the “Steinmeier Formula” granting a special administrative status to East Ukraine. China has succeeded in over-thowing the neocolonial agenda of the IMF and has brought an alternative development model with the Belt and Road that now has 130 countries officially on board. The Trans-Pacific Partnership scam which was considered a done deal in 2015 has entirely collapsed, as has the momentum to build a military encirclement of China using the “nuclear threat of North Korea”.

Trump’s restoration of America’s traditionally nationalist roots tied to his commitment to defuse the multitude of America’s foreign military enmeshments as witnessed in his recent push to get out of “ridiculous endless wars” in Syria and Iraq, and constant appeals to “get along with Russia” have begun re-infusing the word “nationalism” with the dignity it lost long ago. Trump’s September 24 UN General Assembly speech was a refreshing defense of nationalism which boldly stated that “the future doesn’t belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots” and was a breath of fresh air for all sane onlookers.

Trump Must be Destroyed

Of course, sanity cannot be tolerated in the mind of an indoctrinated globalist.

The entire campaign to destroy Donald Trump going back to 2015 used every desperate lie imaginable in a vain effort to restore the dream of a post-nation state world order which its adherents refuse to believe has collapsed entirely. This includes Hillary’s attack on Trump for calling for peace in Syria on October 7, to the Liberal media establishment becoming pro-Bolton literally the moment the neo con hawk was fired for pushing a “Libya-model” on North Korea. Here the Washington Post led the pack exclaiming “John Bolton has finally spoken, and he put up a big warning sign about Trump and North Korea,” then asked “whether he might be a key witness in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry over Ukraine.”

The Coup Called Out

Not only has Trump gone on the offensive calling this process the coup d’état which it is, but has also launched a vast investigation of the real perpetrators of Russia-Gate both within America and beyond, led by William Barr and teams of investigators who just returned from Italy after a 2nd meeting with Italian intelligence chiefs over the role of MI-6 connected Joseph Mifsud- a key operative behind Russia-Gate.

While some people have chosen to treat Trump as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, President Putin demonstrated his understanding of this coup by calling out the deep state forces managing Ukraine who are attempting to destroy a potential Russia-USA alliance when he said: “we see what is going on in the United States: [some forces] are using any pretext to attack President Trump. Now that is Ukraine and all the wranglings linked to it- I mean the relations with Ukraine and President Zelensky… that once again confirms we had nothing to do with US political games from the very beginning. They have just looked for pretexts to attack the elected President”.

A leading voice of the impeachment camp since 2017, Congressman Al Green (D-TX) showcased where the real anti-democratic sentiments of the deep state lie when he said on NBC “if we don’t impeach this President, he will get re-elected”.

Why do Globalists fear Nationalism?

Most of the liberal establishment zombies today who champion a post-nation state world order honestly don’t have a clue where their convictions come from. They don’t know why they equate nationalism with authoritarian tyranny. Of course, when one considers that ALL popular revisionist history books tend to assert that the Fascism of Mussolini and Hitler arose out of nationalism (not Anglo-American financing) it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nationalism, we are told by such influential eugenics-loving globalist scholars as Lord Bertrand Russell, is pure selfish egotism, which if left unchecked, will only consume all of its resources until scarcity and overpopulation demand it rapaciously dominate and subdue its neighbours until the world succumbs to the will of a global tyrant. Russelites believe that nationalism is inherently incompatible with a peaceful world because humans are just as selfish and bigoted as… well, Bertrand Russell! In his Why Men Fight (1916), Russell said:

“If men had any strong sense of a community of nations, nationalism would serve to define the boundaries of the various nations. But because men only feel community within their own nation, nothing but force is able to make them respect the rights of other nations, even when they are asserting exactly similar rights on their own behalf.”

A lifelong advocate of World Government, depopulation (and occasional advocate of unilateral nuclear war against Russia), Bertrand Russell always made the case that the primary tool to condition our society away from nationalism must be education and mass psychology. In his 1951 Impact of Science on Society, this father of modern liberalism said:

“I think the subject which will be of most importance polit­ically is mass psychology… Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called “education”… The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray. Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen.”

In his Future of Science (1924), Russell drew out how a utopian World Government could arise out of the bipolarity of a schismed society:

“Before very long the technical conditions will exist from organizing the whole world as one producing and consuming unit. If when that time comes, two rival groups contend for mastery, the victor may be able to introduce that single worldwide organization that is needed to prevent the mutual extermination of civilized nations… There would be at first economic and political tyranny of the victors, a dread of renewed upheavals, and therefore a drastic suppression of liberty. But if the first half-dozen revolts were successfully repressed, the vanquished would give up hope, and accept the subordination assigned to them by the victor in the great world-trust… Life at first might be unpleasant, but it at least would be possible, which would be enough to recommend the system after a long period of warfare.”

The decades following WWII saw the manufactured creation of a Cold War, nuclear terror, a multitude of assassinations and the sabotage of the US-Russia-China alliance which FDR had envisioned as the foundation for an anti-colonial post-war community of nation states.

Russellites such as Tony Blair and Sir Henry Kissinger celebrated the advent of Russell’s New World Order by cheering on the “Post-Westphalian era” as the Soviet Union collapsed and despite a few voices of sanity in the west, truth became falsehood, nationalism became tyranny and snow became, for all intents and purposes- black.

Why Russell Failed

Today’s nationalist revival is not merely a rejection of Russell’s program for world government in favor of an alternative power alliance. That is far too simplistic.

This revival is happening essentially because Russell’s entire view of nature and humanity are wrong. Unless one wishes to just kill everybody then “world peace” and “world stasis” are totally incompatible concepts as devoid of moral reason and incapable of creative change as are the minds of Russell and his ideological heirs.

Fortunately, humanity doesn’t appear to be the selfish scum which misanthropic geopoliticians presume and the imagined post-nation state utopia lusted after by the likes of Russell are impossible goals because the WHOLE IS NOT THE SUM OF ITS PARTS. As the greatest minds such as Plato, Augustine, Dante, Cusa, and Leibniz all recognized in their own times, humanity is not a closed system of finite potential to be controlled by social engineering overseers. Evidence rather points to the more optimistic likelihood that we are ordained with creative reason and free will, which gives us access to an infinite array of new discoveries both on the earth and beyond IF our political-economic systems encourage it.

Foreign Minister Lavrov echoed that view in his own way on October 3 when he said that the west “must stop playing zero-sum geopolitical games, stop dividing regions into spheres of influence and ultimately begin being guided by the generally recognized rules of interstate relations that are committed to paper in the United Nations Charter.”

Calling for the nations of the world to join in the developments of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping slapped Russell’s ghost brilliantly saying: “The Cold War mentality and zero-sum game are increasingly obsolete. Only by adhering to peaceful development and working together can we truly achieve win-win results.”

Standing alongside Putin at the Valdai discussion forum, Philippine President Duterte stated this principle of a harmony of all nations with the whole of which we are parts when he said “The Philippine people need to be enriched by other cultures and intellectual traditions… in order to embrace our shared destiny”.

So when President Trump says “the future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots”, and when a global sociopathic system goes into hyper-drive to destroy that President, you should take it very seriously.

[Category: History, Society, Establishment, Globalism, Isolationism, Nationalism, Roosevelt, Russell, Trump]

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[l] at 10/12/19 3:39am

When President Trump says “the future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots”, and when a global sociopathic system goes into hyper-drive to destroy that President, you should take it very seriously.

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[l] at 10/11/19 5:45am

Is Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Gambit an Anti-Impeachment Card?

[Category: Middle East, Syria, Trump, US]

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[l] at 10/11/19 5:40am

The 19th century Baptist Particular preacher from England, Charles Spurgeon, is best known for the one-line wisdom: “A lie spreads half way around the world while the truth is putting on his shoes.”

But what of half-truths, do they spread a quarter-way, or a third? Are these more like lies, or more like the truth?

By now the half-truth that President Trump announced the pull-out of US forces from its activities aiding the Kurdish separatists in Syria, on Monday, for the sole purpose of distracting the whole discourse from the impeachment proceedings against the sitting president, has spread at least some portion around the world by now.

A half-truth? It is indeed true that Trump had said the time had come for the US to extricate itself from its series of “ridiculous endless wars”, something which, before Trump, no Republican president in living memory has said.

The impeachment itself has the look and feel of yet another Democratic Party impeachment stunt, one which in all reality will have a difficult time getting through the House of Representatives and perhaps an impossible time getting through Senate, given Trump’s overall popularity among the energized base which numerous critical Senators will rely on. If the process would go through to the Senate, it is Chief Justice Roberts that would preside on the trial part, and being bound by his conservative record, it is nigh impossible that Roberts would be friendly to efforts to remove Trump on the extremely squishy grounds they would be presented on. After all, creating such future precedents would ultimately have a destabilizing effect on the executive branch, thereby threatening the constitutional framework of checks and balances between the two branches in question.

But the controversy surrounding the impeachment itself would be enough to raise serious questions in the minds of at least 1% of voters, to at minimum refrain from voting. That’s all Biden would need if he then, in turn, focusses his campaign on a few critical swing states. That’s what the strategy for Biden might hinge on – or is it? If the impeachment process goes through to the end, but ultimately fails, there is probably no other figure in American politics that could use the failure alone to energize his base to such a degree that the failure alone is part of what delivers victory to Trump towards a second term.

Whatever the case, for certain there is more here than meets the eye to this, and in politics nothing is random, nothing is coincidental. There is no doubt that there is a connection between the impeachment proceedings and Trump’s sudden announcement on Syria and the Kurdish YPG.

The honest question right now is simple enough: Is Donald Trump’s announcement a mere distraction from moves to impeach him?

No, it goes deeper than this – and here’s why.

While this wasn’t the first time either he as president, nor as candidate, he had said as much, along with this announcement came a specific and determined public order of sorts: American troops would be pulled back from northern Syria as the Turkish military prepares to clean up Kurdish forces active in the region. Under the Obama administration, and – if we are to believe the sitting president – reluctantly under the present one too, Kurds have enjoyed a degree of support towards the US plan to partition Syria.

The rise of anti-war Republicans is a relatively new phenomenon, something which came to be broadly known to the public and outside of its own previously insular sphere, through the campaign of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul in 2012 – a strong libertarian figure whose anti-war position was prescient and based in integrity, and whose campaign was frustrated by the neo-conservative establishment running the Republican Party.

This is far from a mere distraction, and has a far deeper meaning, motivation, and possible outcome. At least two times during Trump’s presidency, he has announced some curtailment of the US efforts in Syria, declaring that the US had succeeded in defeating the real threat of ISIS.

This threat of ISIS, incidentally, was the stated aim of the US involvement in Syria under the Obama administration. It was only after a few years by way of the slippery-slope of mission creep that this involvement began to openly declare the overthrow of the decidedly anti-terrorist administration of Bashar al-Assad as its ‘real’ primary aim. Trump’s move to ‘declare victory and go home’, a declaration that was in reality made possible by the Russian aerial campaign, was nevertheless met with some significant push-back.

And this push-back, both times, came in the form of moves from House Democrats to start impeachment proceedings. These calls for impeachment, for various and apparently random ‘whatevers’, all long before the final findings of Mueller which seem to have exonerated Trump, had their intended effect.

Yes, both times Trump was forced to continue the US misadventure in Syria, and after he reversed his de facto position on the matter, both times indeed, impeachment proceedings magically disappeared.

To wit, after the 2017 Shayrat missile strike which Trump ordered to ward of impeachment threats, the infamously anti-Trump CNN declared that Trump was finally acting like a real US president [Insert wise comment here that in America, being presidential has to involve bombing people or things in the eyes of liberal establishment media].

Trump doesn’t forget those times he had his nose rubbed in it, as Democrats threatened to work with never-Trump Republicans in the pockets of AIPAC and the Military Industrial Complex, and the so-called intelligence community [something something deep state ], to frustrate his proposed policy changes. Along with appeasing these directly through his de-facto reversal on Syria withdrawal, he ramped up sanctions on Iran to appease AIPAC and even moved to out-do his predecessor on military funding – all within a geopolitical environment that sees Trump calling on European partners to ‘finally’ do their part to finance NATO.

Now, we suppose we’re just going to have to wait for the ‘allegations’ that Trump worked hand in hand with a foreign government – not Russia, not Ukraine – but rather this time Turkey, to coordinate their attack on the YPG to time nicely with Trump’s strategy to frustrate calls to impeach him.

Maybe Trump’s opponents will go so far as to claim that his push to expand NATO’s presence in Greece was timed precisely to get Erdogan’s attention to make the Turkish move against the YPG here and now. That means we should be on the look-out for transcripts of ‘Trump-Erdogan conversations’, and more ‘insider leaks’ from ‘whistleblowing’ darlings of the deep-state. As Matt Taibi wrote in Rolling Stone, the real whistleblowers like Manning and Assange, wind up persecuted, tortured, imprisoned. The Ukraine ‘whistleblower’, he astutely observes “isn’t a real whistleblower”. Others less known wind up black-listed, permanently unemployed, doxed, and so it goes.

But if Trump is anything, he’s a man with a larger-than-life ego, but more than that he is underestimated as an intelligent and strategic thinker, and moreover, doubly excels at symbolic messaging. If his opponents really imbibe the propaganda they put out against him, they’ll always be in for one surprise after another.

So if in the past, impeachment was used as a reaction to his calls to end the Syrian campaign, and forced him to essentially re-think that apparently unrealized campaign promise – then now impeachment is being used against Trump to punish him for his moves to drain the swamp in Ukraine. Yes, a swamp filled by Victoria Nuland with over $5 bln dollars, Biden’s son Hunter’s unexplainable and magical seat upon the Ukrainian natural gas concern, Burisma, and the blood of the thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians killed by the Obama installed Kiev Junta in its ethnic cleansing operation in the former eastern regions of Ukraine.

With impeachment being used as a Democratic Party campaign/immunity ploy to perhaps elect or, why not, just install Biden, then what’s Trump’s interest on holding back on his peace plan for Syria? Surely this makes sense for Democrats as neither Pence nor any other Republican has either any appeal against just about any Democrat including Biden.

But Democrats didn’t plan that Trump would use something perceived as a weakness, a point of capitulation, as a bargaining chip, a card, a strength.

Just think of how Trump could map his options and possible outcomes out on a semiotic flow chart, and create multiple contingency plans. This has the look and feel of a well-planned maneuver, one that Trump will emerge the stronger from. In many ways it all begs the question, why do his opponents continually fall into his traps? Maybe this is what happens when Democratic Party strategic decisions are made by committee, by lobbyists, by pollsters interpreting the pseudo-data from their own convoluted push-polls. Maybe this is what happens when people really start to believe the hype they created about their opponent.

Trump’s team has counted the votes against him in the House and Senate – and guess what? These probably include the same never-Trump Republicans that lined up against him previously over his failed attempts in the past to wind down Syria. So what motive would Trump have now to keep these same war-hawks happy about Syria? He can only use Syria to his advantage here and now.

And keeping it real, Trump is interested primarily now in his re-election, and being able to implement whatever he can manage in his second term – but he has to get there first.

All in all, this means that rather than Syria being used against him under threat of impeachment, Trump can use Syria withdrawal threats to get those never-Trump Republicans to get back in line – yes, a little party discipline and solidarity.

Trump has had to let go on Syria a few times, and for all we know it was always set up as one of those cards he could play to survive. Maintaining a presence in Syria lines up generally with his policy against Iran, but claiming that he’s against such a presence allows him to play that card when it’s needed.


And on Trump’s end? He has a win-win.

If Democrats buckle on impeachment, he wins big. If they do not buckle and take impeachment a far as it can go, and prolong the process through the election, they await Chief Justice Roberts jurisprudence and Senate Republicans, taken together, doesn’t look good. If Trump can, as he likely will, use that to his advantage, he wins some and loses some, it will mean some recalibrating on swing states.

If Democrats don’t buckle and Trump can continue to make big news on ending US presence in Syria, he might make more moves against US presence in Syria, like at Al-Tanf, and all together win even more points with anti-war Republicans, and even Democrats who voted Trump on issues including the employment economy as well as foreign wars.

Swing states and that 1%, there we go again, Democrats so anti-war and suspicious of China’s relationship to the bleak US employment reality, that they voted Trump. And anti-war Republicans themselves aren’t some small grouping.

Overall, as the American Conservative put it together based on polling done by Politico, “Trump’s December announcement that he would withdraw US troops from Syria, polling data from Morning Consult/Politico shows that 49 percent of Americans support the decision while 33 percent oppose it.” The same article goes on to quote the [in other cases very unreliable] Glenn Greenwald of the [limited hangout] Intercept – “Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent.”

And, by the way, this also helps make it clearer why the DNC made a full reversal on Tulsi Gabbard’s ejection from the race for the nomination – they need to keep that segment of the ‘audience’ engaged until future notice, especially if Trump can angle to keep ahold of Democrats and Republicans who value foreign policy and war above most anything else. Now Tulsi’s magical reappearance in next week’s 4th debate, after missing the 3rd, makes a lot more sense. She previously showed she had a game-mind when she strategically attacked Harris’ attack on Biden’s alleged racism – showing that she could win support from [white] Americans fed up with being accused of such, and that she understood that Biden was the DNC darling, making her defense of him a clear indicator what they could use her in the debates later on, a brilliant insurance policy on the part of Tulsi.

If Dems don’t drop impeachment then he scores high in those above broken-down demographics, and likely score big enough to reverse the damage done by any impeachment proceedings that threaten his re-election, as they ultimately fail anyhow at the process level.

[Category: Americas, World, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Syria, Trump, US]

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[l] at 10/11/19 5:25am


On the 18th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump said on Twitter, “… it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.” He added, “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.” But rather than referring to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Trump was actually talking about the role of U.S. troops in northern Syria, about which he had just made a serious decision. One wonders whether Trump would take greater interest in the longest official war in U.S. history if he had real estate interests in Kabul. He made absolutely no mention of Afghanistan on the anniversary of the war. But neither did most members of Congress.

There was a near blackout of the anniversary in the media as well. Of the major newspapers, only the New York Times paid some attention to it with a lengthy special called ‘We Are Inside the Fire’: An Oral History of the War in Afghanistan. While the report centered on the voices of Afghans, the paper minimized the role of the U.S. For example, the first section covering 1989 to 2001 was described in this way: “After the Soviet occupation, Afghanistan fell into a civil war between factions that were mostly bound by personal loyalties.” The Times did not see fit to add the civil war was largely fueled by U.S. weapons and cash flooding into the hands of the anti-Soviet jihadi warlords the CIA had deployed against the USSR. Those warlords and weapons set the stage for the Taliban and the brutality that followed. Still, the Afghan voices in the narrative consistently mentioned the futility of the U.S. war, with one doctor in Kandahar saying:

It would be better if Americans had never come here. Fewer people would have died. This war is not Afghanistan’s war; it is the war of the world, but they are fighting it in Afghanistan.

All that Trump has done since he took office is increase the number of U.S. troops that had been serving, at least initially, and most recently walk away without warning from the years-long effort to sign a peace deal with the Taliban. Although the president rails about the “endless wars” that the U.S. is engaged in, the longest of all wars is the seemingly never-ending one in Afghanistan that he appears to have swept under the rug for now. But this is par for the course. In its 18 years, the Afghan war has never quite managed to capture the attention of presidents or the public for any sustained period of time. It was the reason why my co-author James Ingalls and I titled our 2005 book about the war “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence.” Nearly 14 years after its publication, the phrase “Propaganda of Silence” remains tragically relevant.

When the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush’s stated goals were to stop the country from being a haven for terrorists like the 9/11 hijackers and rescue ordinary Afghans from the brutality of the Taliban—an attempt at claiming “humanitarian intervention.” In practice, the war was essentially retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Afghan babies born when the war began are now old enough to vote, but it is highly unlikely that most of them cast ballots in the recent Sept. 28 elections, postponed twice because of a major spike in violent attacks by the Taliban.

On election day, Afghanistan was on lockdown, paralyzed by Taliban threats of a bloodbath and Afghan government security efforts to thwart any attacks. Reports indicate that only 20% to 30% of registered voters showed up to the polls. According to The Guardian newspaper, “Militants attacked communications towers to take down mobile phone networks, cutting off nearly 1,000 polling stations from their headquarters in Kabul. More than 2,000 polling stations never opened on Saturday because of Taliban threats.” Although about 10 people were killed across the nation (double the official estimate), that relatively low figure was more a measure of poor turnout than a peaceful election. Compare this to  15 years ago, when 90% of the electorate registered to vote and 60% to 83% actually voted in the nation’s first post-Taliban presidential elections, a reflection of the excitement then among Afghans for a chance at democratic participation.

The results of this year’s race are expected in mid-October with the same two rivals that ran in elections five years ago facing off for the second time: Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. In 2014, vote counts were too close to call and both men declared themselves the victor. Their political stalemate ended only after the U.S. cobbled together a clumsy power-sharing deal, installing Ghani as president and Abdullah as his chief executive. This time around both men are once more claiming victory and say they would refuse a similar deal. Reports of electoral fraud through ballot box-stuffing are also adding uncertainty to the race. Ultimately the real winners will likely be the Taliban, whose intention was to thwart the elections and who are reveling in reports of low turnout. In a statement, the organization said the low number of voters reflected an “absolute rejection and boycott by the nation,” but made no mention of the relentless threats, intimidation and violence it has inflicted on the Afghan people.

There are few good options left for the war other than ending it. In the past, American troops offered some measure of strength to government-backed forces against the Taliban and provided security for government officials. But the U.S.’s presence has had such an overall negative impact that as the doctor from Kandahar told the New York Times, “It would be better if Americans had never come here.” Today, even with U.S. troops present, a return to a pre-Oct. 7, 2001, era is more likely than ever. By the Department of Defense’s own assessment, “The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces remain in control of most of Afghanistan’s population centers and all of the provincial capitals, while the Taliban control large portions of Afghanistan’s rural areas, and continue to attack poorly defended government checkpoints and rural district centers.”

Just as Afghans born at the war’s start are now coming of age, Americans born at the same time are now old enough to serve. Private Hunter Nines was only 7 months old when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. He now heads to Afghanistan to serve in a war that more than three quarters of a million American troops have served in. In an interview with ABC News, Nines revealed the same ignorance about the war in Afghanistan as our politicians and media, saying, “Honestly, I don’t think a lot about it.” All he knows is that “I’ve got a job to do, and that we’re still over there right now and it’s not done yet.”


[Category: Editor's Choice, Afghanistan, Pentagon]

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[l] at 10/11/19 4:30am

For a change, President Trump managed to unite the US Congress this week – in provoking broad condemnation of his surprise announcement to withdraw American troops from northeast Syria.

All the more so because his ad hoc deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has quickly spun out of control, launching a Turk offensive against Kurds in northeast Syria.

Turkey labels Kurdish militants “terrorists”, while the US has allied with them, having used them as proxies ostensibly to fight jihadist terror groups. (The US has also covertly sponsored the jihadist terror gangs, such as Islamic State, or ISIS, indicating that the real role of the Kurds for the Americans was to annex parts of Syria.)

Trump was assailed by Democrats and Republicans for his “betrayal” of the Kurds and for “destabilizing the Middle East”. Even political allies like Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and hawkish advisers Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio joined the fray to lambast Trump over his apparent policy shift.

Hold on a moment. The reaction is no doubt hyperventilating over-reaction, which gives Trump way too much credit in making a “strategic decision”.

Closer to the truth is that this president, in typical loose-cannon fashion, simply stumbled into what appears to be a major policy shift, when in reality what he was after was a cheap PR boost for re-election next year.

After all, we are in American presidential campaign mode. That’s why the Democrats are gunning for impeachment based on flimsy “evidence” of Trump’s alleged collusion with Ukraine against Democrat rival Joe Biden.

For his part, Trump is, of course, seeking a bit of glory with voters, and that most likely explains his announcement last weekend ordering US troops to withdraw from northeast Syria. That followed a phone call with Turkey’s Erdogan on Sunday in which Trump apparently acceded to demands to give Turkey a free hand to make an incursion in northeast Syria to push back Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan appeared to assure Trump that Turk forces would take responsibility for running prisons holding thousands of ISIS terrorists. That’s implausible given Turkey’s past covert liaison with these jihadists, but to Trump’s ear that probably sounded a great idea to save America money.

Everything about how Trump made the announcement indicates that his main purpose was to win votes, without a care for repercussions in Syria. It was classic Trump making up policy on the hoof and without any fore-planning. It was all about him looking victorious and “bringing our troops home”. He mentioned how he was elected to bring an end to “ridiculous, endless wars”, and now that’s what he was purportedly doing with his latest initiative in northeast Syria.

It’s obvious that Trump hadn’t even thought through the ramifications. His only goal was to give himself a big pat on the back for “defeating ISIS 100 per cent”, and handing over security matters to Turkey, in order to get American troops home (as promised three years ago!) and to save US taxpayers loads of money. It was transactional Trump choosing the path of least costs.

To fend off criticism about betraying the Kurds, he inanely said later in the week that the Kurds were not important allies with the US anyway, since they hadn’t helped “us in the Normandy Landings during World War Two”.

After the Sunday phone call with Erdogan, the White House issued a statement Monday, saying: “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria. The United States armed forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and the United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘caliphate’, will no longer be in the immediate area.”

That statement contradicts claims made later by both Trump and Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, saying the US hadn’t given Turkey a green light to go on an offensive.

Trump probably had cluelessly forgotten, or overlooked, that the Turks would see the US pullout as a “green light” to make an incursion into Syria to hit the Kurds. He thought his deal with Erdogan was about sub-contracting out security to Turkey and save America money.

Because, when the torrent of condemnation from US lawmakers erupted over the next few hours, Trump was forced into a making a spectacular U-turn. Amid vilification for betraying the Kurds, the president then made a wild threat against Turkey, saying he would “obliterate” its economy if it attacked the Kurds. (So far, Turkey seems to have ignored Trump’s threats.)

Trump tweeted: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)…”

You can tell from his egotistical, blustering words, that Trump is way out of his depth on what he thought he had agreed to with Erdogan.

In subsequent remarks, it was even more obvious that Trump was floundering over what was supposed to be a “big policy shift” and also making stuff up to scramble himself out of a hole he had just dug for himself.

Speaking from the White House on Monday, he said: “We’ve been there [Syria] for many, many, many years beyond what we were supposed to be. Not fighting. Just there. Just there. And it’s time to come back home.

Trump went on with delusional claims: “People are extremely thrilled because they say it’s time to bring our people back home. We’re not a police force. They’re policing the area. We’re not a police force. The UK was very thrilled at this decision … many people agree with it very strongly.”

Asked if he had consulted the US military chiefs of staff, he said: “I consulted with everybody. I always consult with everybody.”

Media reports indicated that Trump had not consulted with “everybody”. The Pentagon seemed to be blindsided by his impromptu agreement with Erdogan. The British government was not “thrilled”; Downing Street warned against any Turkish incursion into Syria, saying it would flare up dangerous conflict.

The way Democrats and Republicans have grandstanded over Trump’s flippant decision-making is equally contemptible. All the criticism of Trump has revolved around the false, conceited notion that American military in Syria are a force for good in a supposed fight against terrorism. The outpouring of delusional American claims about its troops in Syria has been sickening. American forces are in Syria illegally, are guilty of war crimes, and should be removed immediately in disgrace.

If Trump actually did remove US troops from Syria then that would be an unmitigated good thing, so that the blighted country could begin to restore its territory and sovereignty after eight years of American-sponsored covert war for regime change using terrorist proxies.

But the hullabaloo over Trump’s electioneering gimmick is completely out of proportion.

The State Department and Pentagon were reported to have said the number of US troops withdrawing from northeast Syria were as little as 50 individuals. There are reckoned to be about 2,000 American troops in total in Syria. They are not coming home in their thousands to ticker-tape welcomes on Main Street. That was just Trump’s vote-catching spin. After all, it was a year ago that he first mentioned US forces withdrawing from Syria. They’re still there.

Turkey’s Erdogan likes to brag about taking military action. It’s not clear if a massive ground invasion will go ahead, following heavy shelling against Kurdish positions in Hasakah and Raqqa Provinces east of the Euphrates River. Several civilians have been killed, according to Kurdish Red Crescent and Syria’s SANA station. There maybe further cross-border skirmishing, but Erdogan knows the risks of getting bogged down in Syria are great.

Only last month during a trilateral summit in Ankara, Erdogan signed a joint statement with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, in which the three leaders vowed to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We can be sure that Moscow and Tehran have firmly reminded Ankara of its commitments and will not take any backsliding kindly if Turkey were to annex northeast Syria.

For several reasons Trump’s Syria “withdrawal” announced this week does not portend anything significant, other than a myopic PR gimmick which has ruffled a lot of silly feathers in Washington.

Tragically, however, his ham-fisted PR gimmick may result in a lot of innocent lives being lost owing to the green light he clumsily flashed to Turkey, thinking he was getting a “good deal” for boosting his voters.

[Category: Americas, Middle East, World, Syria, Trump, US]

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[l] at 10/11/19 4:25am

The war hawks will whine but we’ve been there long enough and must honor our commitments to Turkey.


When Syria tragically collapsed into brutal civil war in 2011, Americans had two contending reactions. One was to stay the hell out since there was little they could do other than offer aid to relieve suffering. The other was to intervene big time in order to transform the Middle East.

Naturally, the president, leading congressional Republicans and Democrats, and virtually the entire foreign policy community chose the second option. Never mind American interests, public opinion, fiscal responsibility, practical capabilities, and common sense. It was Washington’s job to reorder the world. What could possibly go wrong?

Without seeking congressional approval, the Obama administration embarked on a multi-faceted campaign: oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had not attacked or threatened America; find, train, and empower moderate insurgents to create a liberal democracy in Syria; use radical extremists, such as al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, against really radical extremists, such as the Islamic State; expel Iranian forces, even though they represented a government with far more at stake in the conflict than America and had been welcomed by Damascus; convince Moscow, a Cold War ally of Syria, to advance Washington’s agenda; employ Syrian Kurds to act as America’s shock troops against ISIS; persuade Turkey, which profited greatly from the illicit ISIS oil trade, to combat the Islamic State; pacify Turkey while arming Syrian Kurds, which Ankara viewed as an existential threat; and occupy sovereign Syrian territory until the foregoing objectives had been achieved.

It was the plan of a madman—or an arrogant, officious, ignorant social engineer with no understanding of human nature, the Middle East, or America. Predictably, the result was almost complete failure. The Islamic State was at least defeated, but it was also opposed by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Russia, European governments, the Gulf States, and America. Just some of those countries could have done the job, yet they had little need to contribute much once Washington had taken responsibility.

In spite of all that, today, Assad is still in power, and aided by the Iranians and Russians. There were never many moderates and democrats, and they never had much chance of winning. Most of the insurgents, radical and more radical, are gone, courtesy the Syrian military, other than around the city of Idlib. Ankara has occupied and ethnically cleansed Kurdish territory in northern Syria and is preparing to seize more borderlands containing Kurds.

Until recently, around 1,000 American military personnel had been left in Syria, stationed among Kurdish forces that occupy around a third of Syrian territory. The occupying Americans’ job, explained Washington policymakers, was unchanged: oust Assad, bring democracy to Syria, get rid of the Iranians, bring sense to the Russians, and, until Sunday anyway, stop the Turks from harming the Kurds. Washington’s ambitions remained ever fantastic even as after its means shrank to near nothingness.

Moreover, the mission remains entirely illegal, without congressional or international warrant. On his own authority, the president entered a foreign war, occupied a foreign country, dismembered a foreign nation, established a foreign security commitment, and threatened war against a foreign government along with its long-time foreign allies. This is the sort of behavior that the British king engaged in, which the nation’s founders sought to curb by placing the power to declare war in congressional hands.

Of course, there remains much to criticize about the president’s decision to move U.S. forces away from the border and presumably exit entirely. Even when he does the right thing, he usually does so for the wrong reason and in the wrong way. Still, his previous efforts to end U.S. participation in Afghanistan and Syria generated frenzied opposition from the war hawks who dominate Congress and even his own staff. Again and again he gave in to those prophesying doom if the smallest deployment anywhere was curtailed to the slightest degree. Perhaps the only way he can set policy is by acting without warning, essentially by fait accompli.

None of the arguments for remaining in Syria are serious, let alone persuasive. Wishing for a different result does not a viable alternative make. By means more foul than fair, Assad has won: no minuscule American military presence is going to oust him, force him to hold fair elections, or make him send home the Iranians and Russians who sustained him. Even a vastly expanded American commitment wouldn’t achieve what eight years of civil war failed to do. And there is no popular or political will for such an effort.

The U.S. military is not the only force standing between Americans and a globe-spanning ISIS empire. Every Middle Eastern country is threatened by the Islamic State, and each of them has a greater interest than the U.S. in ensuring that the group does not again metastasize. Indeed, an expanded Syrian military presence in areas occupied but not populated by Kurds—currently opposed by Washington—would create an important barrier to an Islamic State revival.

The greatest outrage against the president’s decision is over his leaving the Kurdish autonomous region of Rojava vulnerable to Turkish attack. Yet the Kurds had good reason for battling the Islamic State, which threatened them as well. Washington did not force them to act and provided them with aid, arms, and protection. Nothing entitled the Kurds to a permanent American security guarantee, especially protection from neighboring Turkey, an American ally.

Moreover, the Kurds had little reason to believe in America’s sponsorship. In the 1970s, Washington worked with Iran’s Shah to use them against Iraq, before abandoning them. In 2017, Kurdistan held an ill-advised independence referendum, and the Trump administration unhesitatingly backed Baghdad—which closed the airspace over Erbil and forcibly reclaimed non-Kurdish areas, including Kirkuk and nearby oil fields.

Nor should anyone confuse a potential Kurdish homeland with liberal, democratic, and moderate values. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Turkey, is no friend of the West. Kurdistan is a family-run state. The Syrian Kurdish movement is neo-Marxist and linked to the PKK. The U.S. can, and should, have sympathy for the Kurdish people and work with their authorities when appropriate. But Washington should act without starry-eyed illusions. Ankara’s concerns are overblown and its treatment of the Kurds at home and abroad has been outrageously brutish, but neither do Kurdish politicians win medals for humanitarianism.

As for issues of credibility, it is far worse to needlessly risk lives and resources to fight an unnecessary and foolish war than to walk away from a bad promise or deal. No one will judge America’s willingness to defend against existential threats by its willingness to sustain a marginal wartime commitment that generates few benefits. Virtually all great powers put their own peoples and interests first, as assorted American allies and friends have learned to their detriment over the years.

More important, but lost in the analysis, is the fact that Turkey, a member of America’s premier military alliance and treaty ally of almost 68 years, has a higher claim to credibility than the Kurds. Discomfort with Ankara notwithstanding—a good case can be made for expelling the Islamist, repressive Erdogan regime from NATO—as of today, Turkey remains an alliance member in good standing and Washington remains committed to that government’s defense. If the U.S. won’t prioritize Ankara’s security claims, what nation can rely on Washington? If credibility is the issue, then Turkey wins any dispute with the Kurds.

Perhaps the most dangerous attitude in Washington is the certainty that today’s policymakers can succeed where yesterday’s policymakers failed. Consider Uncle Sam’s disastrous record in foreign civil wars. Ronald Reagan’s greatest mistake was taking the U.S. into the Lebanese Civil War, with its more than a score of contending factions. Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan, 18 years after joining an internecine conflict that had begun years before.

The U.S. and Europe intervened in Libya’s civil war, and after eight years of combat and chaos, featuring the rise of ISIS and the murders of Egyptian Copts, fighting continues. More than four years of American backing for Saudi and Emirati depredations in Yemen have yielded tens of thousand of civilian casualties, horrendous famines and epidemics, and increasing attacks on the Saudi homeland, with no end in sight.

Then there is Syria. As that conflict raged, Samantha Power, one of the chief advocates of promiscuous military intervention, complained that war supporters were being held accountable for their previous blunders, especially in Iraq: “I think there is too much of, ‘Oh, look, this is what intervention has wrought’…one has to be careful about overdrawing lessons.” How unfair: destroy a nation, in the process empowering Islamist radicals and terrorists, wrecking minority religious communities, and triggering conflict that kills hundreds of thousands, and people are less inclined to listen to you. Is there no justice?

Imagine what American foreign policy might look like if officials were judged on the results of their actions. Who in power today could withstand scrutiny? Whatever would they do in Washington?

These are the people who are most upset over President Trump’s apparent decision to bring home U.S. forces from Syria. He should ignore the carping. He promised to stop the endless wars. Syria would be a good place to start putting America and Americans first.


[Category: Editor's Choice, al-Assad, Obama, Syria, Trump, US]

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[l] at 10/11/19 3:55am

It is a maxim of US statecraft that Washington “does not have permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” That maxim, attributed to Henry Kissinger, was starkly demonstrated this week when US President Donald Trump gave Turkey a green light to launch a military offensive on northern Syria, targeting Kurdish militants.

The Turkish offensive began on Wednesday with air and ground attacks against Kurdish positions in northeast Syria. It is not clear yet how far Turkey’s operation will proceed, but already there are reports of civilian deaths and thousands of people fleeing from artillery and air strikes, and possibly a major ground invasion by Turk forces into Syria.

The Syrian government has condemned the military assault as “aggression”. Iran has likewise condemned. Russia cautioned Turkey to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. European states also censured the Turkish incursion, requesting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Russia vetoed a European-led resolution because it was not, in Moscow’s view, wide enough to cover all illegal foreign military presence in Syria.

President Trump called the Turk operation, named with Orwellian duplicity Operation Peace Spring, a “bad idea”. How ludicrous and cynical of Trump. Only days before in a phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he assented to remove US troops and a security guarantee for Kurdish militants, whom Washington has been using as an “allied” proxy force in Syria’s war.

Trump came in for much bipartisan and media flak in Washington for “betraying our Kurdish allies”. But as the maxim goes, American imperialism doesn’t have allies, only “interests”. The Kurds found out this week in the most cruel and callous way that they are merely “interests” for Washington, to be discarded like pawns off a chessboard.

The cynicism in Washington is astounding. The ethnic Kurdish people straddling Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran have time and again been exploited by US imperialism over many decades to act as proxies for American interests, only to be abandoned when their perceived usefulness expires.

The cynicism of Turkey’s Erdogan also knows no bounds. He declared that the offensive on Syria was an anti-terror operation, to, “bring peace and security to the region… We will protect the territorial integrity of Syria and save the region’s people from the claws of terror.”

This is brazen double-think by the Americans and fellow NATO member Turkey.

Washington couldn’t care less about the Kurds, whom it has weaponized and trained for the alleged purpose of “fighting terrorism” in Syria. The reality is the Americans have mobilized the Kurds to act as proxies to carve up Syrian territory with a disingenuous promise to provide them with regional autonomy. The real objective for Washington was always to exploit Kurdish separatist aspirations in order to dismember Syria for its bigger scheme of achieving regime change in Damascus. That scheme failed, thanks in part to Russia’s military intervention from the end of 2015 to defend Syria.

Now the Kurds have been left out to hang and die by Washington because of some whim by President Trump. Having unleashed Turkey’s escalation of violence against Syria, Trump is obviously flailing around seemingly to mitigate the onslaught, threatening to impose economic sanctions on Ankara to wreck its economy. It’s a comedy of errors, which is decidedly unfunny given the humanitarian consequence from Trump’s ham-fisted dumping of the Kurds.

So, what can be done to de-escalate the violence? First, Turkey must respect its stated commitment to the Astana process, along with Russia and Iran, in which it vows to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. There is no excuse for launching military strikes on Syria, regardless of claims about “ridding a terror corridor”.

Secondly, as Syria, Russia and Iran have repeatedly stated, all foreign troops unlawfully present in Syria must get out of the country immediately in compliance with international law. American, British, French and Turkish troops, special forces and warplanes have for too long violated Syria with egregious violation of international law. Those NATO states are culpable of war crimes and aggression. European denunciations of Turkey this week are hypocritical nonsense.

The harsh truth is that Kurdish leaders have allowed their people to become pawns in criminal intrigues by NATO powers against the nation of Syria. One would think, surely, the Kurds must have learnt lessons from multiple past betrayals by Washington. They find themselves in a pitiless situation – again – because they foolishly subjugated their interests to those of Washington.

Kurdish militants – who paradoxically have fought effectively against Washington’s other proxies, various jihadist terror groups – have only one choice. They must somehow reconcile with their Syrian Arab brothers and the Syrian Arab Army to defend their common nation of Syria. That means a repudiation of America’s imperialist dirty games.

Russia, with its principled record of intervention to end the war in Syria, might play a role in facilitating a new alliance between the Syrian government forces and the Kurdish militia. In a new constitution being negotiated by Syrians perhaps the Kurds can be afforded eventually a degree of regional autonomy. But first they have to earn that right by defending the nation and freeing themselves from the nefarious imperialist scheming by Washington and other NATO powers, which is intent on destroying Syria.

[Category: Editorial]

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[l] at 10/10/19 5:25am

Aaron MATÉ

There is growing evidence that President Donald Trump briefly froze U.S. military assistance to Ukraine for political goals. Max Blumenthal explores how the Ukrainegate scandal overlooks the dangers of those weapons sales to Ukraine and the corrupt interests behind it.

Under Trump, U.S. military assistance has prolonged a bloody proxy war with Russia, killing thousands in Ukraine and enabling far-right Ukrainian forces — all while enriching weapons manufacturers and DC lobbyists.

Guest: Max Blumenthal, Editor of The Grayzone and author of “The Management of Savagery.”

Watch/read Part 1 of this interview here.


AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback, I’m Aaron Maté, here with Max Blumenthal, editor of The Grayzone and author of several books, including his latest, The Management of Savagery. We’ve been talking about several of the other facets of the Ukrainegate scandal that have gone ignored.

In this part, Max, let’s focus on the military assistance to Ukraine that Trump briefly froze and the outrage about that. We’ve been talking in the previous segment about the corruption of Joe Biden and others when it comes to Ukraine. Let’s talk about it now in the context of this military assistance, and I have to note that Kurt Volker, who up until just this week was the State Department envoy, the US envoy to Ukraine, has a huge conflict of interest that is not being discussed. So I want to read to you a paragraph from the Washington Post talking about Kurt Volker. It says, “Volker started his job at the State Department in 2017 in an unusual part-time arrangement that allowed him to continue consulting at BGR, a powerful lobbying firm that represents Ukraine and Raytheon. During his tenure, Volker advocated for the US to send Ukraine Raytheon-manufactured anti-tank Javelin missiles, a decision that made the missile firm millions of dollars. BGR has said Volker recused himself from all Ukraine related matters in response to criticisms about conflicts of interest.” That, from the Washington Post this week.

So, Max, we have here the top US envoy to Ukraine keeping his job as he’s in this post at a lobbying firm that is making millions of dollars off the sale of missiles that he himself is lobbying for in his position. So there’s that angle and then there’s the fact that what is the impact of all this. Well, the impact on the ground has been to prolong a bloody and disastrous proxy war between the US and Russia because it’s US military assistance that has kept this thing going, basically, similar to what the US did in Syria. And all this is not being discussed. Your thoughts on this, Max Blumenthal.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, it is being discussed in the sense that Trump is selling out our ally, and there’s all of this outrage that, quote-unquote, aid is not being provided to Ukraine. The aid being military assistance, and it’s sort of, it seems to be aid the way that it’s provided to Israel, where loans are given to Ukraine and they’re paid back to the American arms industry to, what, create jobs? Today it was announced by Raytheon that they’re expanding their Tucson campus to handle new weapons manufacturing demands, thanks to the $39 million deal just approved by the Trump State Department to send these Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Now, I reported on Kurt Volker’s relationship with the BGR Group, which is headed by Raytheon, one of the Raytheon’s top lobbyists in Washington, Ed Rogers, while he was also executive director of the McCain Institute, named for the man who issued, who authored the bill in the Senate, demanding all of this military assistance to Ukraine and serving as Trump’s liaison to Ukraine. And I thought this was a bizarre relationship, and I wrote about it again last year in 2018 and nobody in Washington paid attention. The mainstream media wasn’t really concerned about this obvious case of official corruption, and now they are because Volker’s out, he’s kind of maybe considered a bad guy because he played a role in shepherding Giuliani to Ukraine or helping Giuliani to dig up dirt on Trump’s opponents. But this was a serious issue. I think that Volker was actually seen as a check on Trump’s impulse to do détente with Russia, and that’s why this wasn’t brought up. Because Volker did play a role in influencing Trump to authorize, for the first time, to do something that Barack Obama refused to do: to authorize the initial shipment of these Javelin anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian military to turn up the heat on Russia.

Now, if you go back to the Republican convention in 2016, you can start to understand the origins of this Ukrainegate scandal that we’re talking about now. It was there in Cleveland where [senior Campaign advisor on policy and national security] J. D. Gordon, [rejected a proposed amendment to] the Republican National Committee platform about [sending] offensive weaponry to Ukraine, which was, a call for “offensive weaponry” [instead of] “appropriate assistance.” [“appropriate assistance” was the final language used]. And this was immediately seized on by the Democrats, who were starting to ramp up their Russiagate narrative and push the collusion theory that Trump had engaged in a quid pro quo with Putin to remove a call for offensive weapons to Ukraine in exchange for Putin interfering in the election against Hillary Clinton and hacking her emails, or whatever. Seems, it seemed, like, patently ridiculous to me, but, you know, the Huffington Post went with a headline at the time, “The Big Winner at the Republican National Convention: Vladimir Putin.” And so it’s always…it’s a win for Putin when one of the major parties in the US takes a turn towards détente and peace. Barack Obama had refused to authorize those very same offensive weapons because his National Security Council and his foreign policy team believed in advancing the Minsk II accords, at least to some extent, which would have de-escalated the proxy war in the east of Ukraine. Of course, all those people and the Ukrainians, they’re just bullet stoppers to us, we don’t care about them. And so the pressure mounts on Trump to authorize these offensive weapons, do something to prove that you’re not a Russian puppet! And Trump explicitly says, “I am NOT a Russian puppet. I authorized anti-tank busters to Ukraine!” He actually has come out and said it. It was a symbolic arms shipment for Trump to show that he wasn’t a Russian puppet.

For the Ukrainians, for the people in the east of Ukraine who are on the pro-Russian side, it means something very different, because they’ve been engaged in a trench war since 2014-2015. People in the frontline communities there have been dying in the sporadic artillery attacks, and there hasn’t been a tank battle since 2015, so the point of sending these Javelins, it doesn’t provide any defensive…it provides no defensive quality for Ukraine or the Ukrainian people. All it does is continue escalating this proxy war.

And so what we’re talking about now is not something that is in the interests of progressive people. We’re not talking about suspending human…, you know, aid for humanitarian programs, the way Trump has done to the Palestinians. Talking about suspending aid that actually directly interferes with something that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been elected to do, which is to make peace with Russia. There is a constituency for peace throughout Ukraine on the pro-Russian side and on the nationalist side, and he was elected to do what he’s doing now, which is called the Steinmeier Formula, named for the foreign minister of Germany, where elections will be held in pro-Russian areas in the Donbass in exchange for a withdrawal of Russian military support. And that is just, that just seems to me to be a good thing. The “quote unquote” international community is behind it. You know who’s against it? The neo-Nazi elements in Ukrainian society who are out in the streets protesting it and hardliners in Washington, including people who are close to Joe Biden, who’ve been wanting to constantly turn up the heat against Russia and use Ukrainians as bullet stoppers. And so I think it’s time to look into how this deal developed and what the effect is on the ground.

And one last point. Who put together the plan that McCain advanced in the Senate? It was the Atlantic Council and the Brookings Institution, two centrist, militaristic think tanks in Washington. And who funds both of those think tanks? Raytheon. Who is the defense secretary right now, who has signed off on this deal with $39 million of Javelins to Ukraine? The former lobbyist for Raytheon, Mark Esper. Who was funding John McCain? Raytheon. Who was supporting the firm of the former Ukra…ah, US liaison to Ukraine, Kurt Volker? Raytheon. So basically this deal is also the product of official corruption in Washington.

AARON MATÉMax, I’m going to add one more name here, someone who’s playing also a very prominent role in this, and that is Adam Schiff, the leader of the impeachment inquiry. As you reported on, I’m going to quote from you here, that the arms industry has rewarded Schiff handsomely as he has pushed Russiagate, which has pushed Democrats into adopting the same kind of militarist posture that Ukrainegate is doing now, and you write that, “Schiff’s largest donor in a previous campaign cycle at $12,700 was Northrop Grumman, the defense giant. Raytheon, the manufacturer of the Javelin anti-tank missile system, was close behind it with $10,000 in contributions. In all, arms giants accounted for over one-sixth of Schiff’s total donations.”

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, and the Atlantic Council just paid to send one of Schiff’s top staffers to Ukraine on some mysterious trip in September. But, yeah, Schiff has never met a war, a Washington war, he didn’t like. He’s even supported the US-Saudi war on Yemen, and he is one of the favorite donors…a favorite, uh, you know, recipients of arms industry donations. I mean, you just look at how much money this previously unheard-of member of Congress in California gets; I mean, he’s just raking a millions of dollars from corporations in the arms industry.

In 2013 Adam Schiff actually was treated to a $25,000, sorry, $2,500-a-head fundraiser by Ukrainian-born, California-based arms dealer named Igor Pasternak, and Pasternak has really benefited from the proxy war in eastern Ukraine. He got a lucrative contract, a lucrative contract to supply the Ukrainian state border guard with surveillance systems, and then he got another deal to replace the Ukrainian military’s old AK-47s with the new version of the M16. And the funniest thing is, I think PolitiFact has done some fact check on whether Schiff has a relationship with a Ukrainian arms dealer named Pasternak, and they declare that it’s mostly false by focusing on the fact that Pasternak has US nationality and that he was only born in Ukraine, but he’s from Kazakhstan, and they kind of nitpick. But it’s completely true that Schiff is deeply involved with the arms industry and they’re paying him for a good reason. This is someone who has pushed a narrative. I think it’s a…this is a ricochet effect of it. I think, you know, Schiff has his own vain ambitions for being in the limelight and pushing Russiagate, but there’s a ricochet effect which is benefit…it’s benefitting his donors for him to push this Cold War narrative.

AARON MATÉAnd, you know, I don’t claim to say that it’s intentional, but I have to note that as all of this outcry is going on in Washington about Trump briefly freezing the military assistance to Ukraine — because again under Congressional pressure he did unfreeze it and now it’s been approved as we saw with new Javelins sold just this week — but as that was going on, as you mentioned, this Ukrainian peace process is going forward. Just this week Zelensky, agreeing to hold elections in the Donbass, this region where Ukrainian forces are backing Russian-backed forces, which is a huge step forward. And it’s in this outcry over Trump and this claim that he’s endangering Ukraine, what is actually happening on the ground in Ukraine is being ignored. And as we wrap, Max, I’m wondering if you can comment on just how the scandals that Democrats have embraced, how aligning themselves with the national security state throughout Trump’s presidency, instead of resisting him for all of his dangerous policies to the country and to the world, but resisting him from the point of view of the imperatives of the national security state, where they don’t like his talk about having better relations with Russia, for example, about what that has done to just the overall progressive/liberal cause in general.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I saw Common Dreams, one of the websites that was really one of the major sources of critical analysis and reporting during the invasion of Iraq, retweeting David Frum yesterday, and it really reflects the atmosphere where the kind of progressive movement has been, un…almost unwittingly domesticated and neutered by the national security state into this kind of anti-Trump resistance where anything that harms Trump is…and anything that opportunistically hurts him is acceptable, even if it advances a new Cold War, which no progressive should support. And so here we are again, freaking out about the suspension of $400 million in military aid at a time when the Ukraine is going through a historic shift, moving towards peace.

We should be talking about how this affects Zelensky. You know, and it also upset me the way Trump treated Zelensky, that he kind of just treats him like this…this little colonial puppet. It upset me the way that Joe Biden treated Viktor Shokin, where the American vice president can just simply come in and fire the attorney general of another country and then go to the Council on Foreign Relations and brag about how he got rid of the “son-of-a-bitch.” It just shows our whole colonial relationship with Ukraine. This country has been turned into bullet stoppers by Washington. It’s been through two color revolutions, the Maidan coup has destroyed its gross domestic product, its export sector has been wiped out because its historic trading relationship with Russia is gone, corruption is sky-high, the people who looted all of the IMF loans and put them into foreign bank accounts are in power, and Ukraine has seen a migration crisis that’s almost on par or maybe worse than Venezuela’s, but we never hear about it because it’s of our doing.

So, we should actually start looking at this from an anti-war point of view, and we should also consider the fact that Ukraine’s interior ministry is controlled by someone, Arsen Avakov, who has been the benefactor of the world’s largest collection of neo-Nazis and helped integrate a neo-Nazi militia, the Azov Battalion, into the country’s National Guard. So that they now receive or have received US military assistance and Canadian military assistance. This is serious, like, you know, the progressives and anti-Trump people who are freaking out about the Proud Boys marching through Portland. Why aren’t they talking about the fact that we keep sending hun…tens of millions of dollars of offensive weaponry into a military that has a literal neo-Nazi battalion integrated into its ranks?

The 2018 NDAA blocked — thanks to some intervention by Democrats in the House — supposedly blocks assistance to the Azov Battalion, but it’s impossible to know how that will take place. There… it’s… we’ve reported at The Grayzone, as Asa Winstanley reported at Electronic Intifada, that the Azov Battalion is receiving Israeli weapons, and actually the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel attacked us for it. But they confirmed it at the same time. And they are taking US weapons into the field. So we should actually be talking about arming neo-Nazis with US taxpayer dollars and we should also talk about the fact that, as you and Ben Norton discussed, a would-be US domestic terrorist who wanted to kill Beto O’Rourke, and many others sought to go to Ukraine to train with the Azov Battalion. We should talk about how the Rise Above Movement, a white nationalist group in Orange County, actually did go to Ukraine to train with the Azov Battalion, and how Ukraine is becoming a global center of white nationalist activity, as the US is sending these advanced weapons there. But that discussion is only taking place within some sectors of alternative media that still maintain an anti-war point of view. It’s not taking place on Democracy Now!, it’s not taking place that I’ve seen at The Intercept, and I just don’t know how an institution like Common Dreams comes to retweeting one of the architects of the Iraq war, David Frum, just because he’s against Trump. But that’s really a sign of the times.

AARON MATÉYou know, on the media front, I can only think of one exception, which is an article in Ha’aretz, which is headlined “Rights Groups Demand Israel Stop Arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine,” speaking to that controversy that you mentioned before. We’re going to leave it there, though. Max Blumenthal, final comments as we wrap.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Go to The Grayzone.com for more great reporting like this.

AARON MATÉSounds good. Max Blumenthal, senior editor of The Grayzone, author of several books, his latest being The Management of Savagery, thanks very much.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot, Aaron.

Editor’s Note, October 9 2019: This transcript has been edited to correct errors about J.D. Gordon’s role on the Trump campaign and about the RNC platform on Ukraine. Gordon served as a senior Campaign advisor on policy and national security. And the RNC platform was not altered — an amendment that called for sending offensive weaponry was simply rejected.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Proxy War, Schiff, Trump, Ukraine, US, Volker, Zelensky]

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[l] at 10/10/19 5:00am

The last few weeks have seen media dominated by tumultuous events in the region, in particular the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oilfields, which shocked the Kingdom and sent a very clear message to Donald Trump that if he continues to pursue a policy of denying the world of Iranian oil, then Tehran has the capability to also restrict the flow from KSA as well.

But it also sent another message which was perhaps heeded better in Riyadh than in Washington which was that Iran is prepared to start a war with Saudi Arabia if it has to, as it is being pushed into a corner where diplomatic options seem meaningless in comparison to military ones. In the last few days of the UN’s general assembly, we witnessed informal shuttle diplomacy by several world leaders trying to send messages to Iran’s president. Macron, Johnson et al failed with the “it’s a good time to talk” approach, when, in reality all they achieved was to advertise to the world their shocking ignorance of Iranian politics, as it would never be President Rouhani’s off-the-cuff decision anyway to meet Trump in the alcoves of the UN building.

Sobriety won the day though with leaders from the region who showed Trump and the UNGA circus that in fact all they provided was an occasion where such leaders could be in the same room as one another. But while western media got itself wrapped up in the debate of whether Trump could strike Iran – or indeed whether Saudi Arabia could – we all took our eyes off the ball.

The CBS interview with Saudi Arabia’s capricious crown prince drew some attention for the polemic subject of Khashoggi as “MbS” claimed that he didn’t order his murder.

No one is buying that. As indeed, neither the folly that Iran didn’t strike the Saudi oilfields. The Middle East is a quagmire of lies and half truths. What emerges as the only real truth is a lack of appetite for war.

Saudis won’t strike Iran

The real bombshell in the interview, which MbS was clearly prepared for, was his almost incidental comment about wishing that Trump and Rouhani would meet and that he preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

And so the cat is out of the bag. Saudi Arabia is certainly not in a position to strike Iran, militarily, and the US is certainly not going to take any lead in such an operation. We have arrived at the diplomatic option through default of exhausting the rhetoric of the military one, which only really existed as a facet of Trump’s alter ego via a twitter rant. It’s also worth noting the pressure on MbS in Riyadh which is reaching fever pitch from his contemporaries who are angry with him about the Iranian attacks.

And where are the hawks baying for blood with Iran anyway? Bolton and Bibi are out; MbZ is reported to have struck a deal with Iran, with MbS now looking for dialogue.

President Rouhani confirmed this when he claimed that Pakistan’s Imran Khan had been asked by the Saudis to talk to the Iranians. And so, Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince, often in the news for making foolhardy, misjudged decisions, actually made a smart one: reach out directly to Iran.

So now the dog is wagging the dog, leaving Boris and Macron somewhat redundant in their cheap suits as they take on the mere role of onlooker to what is a huge decision taken by the Saudis. If those back channel talks function, without petulance, then there is a very good chance that the tension in the region can be deescalated but it will be for the Saudis to tell Trump that he has to reverse the lever on the Iran sanctions, starting with the more recent tightening of sanctions on the central bank in Tehran.

The talks might prove embarrassing for Trump whose entire Middle East policy has been to capitalize on instability, indeed even contribute to it, in the vain of providing business and jobs to the US arms industry. But when talks get going between the Saudis and Iran, it might just become evident that in reality, Riyadh cares little about the so-called threat of Iran’s nuclear or ballistic capabilities – which it will have whether it is a pariah state or not – but more about its abilities to eclipse Saudi Arabia in time with its geopolitical ambitions and business verve.

Of course, the Saudis will no doubt ask for the Iranians to back peddle on their enrichment program and to guarantee that no such attacks will follow the recent one on their oil fields. But what they really should be doing is looking for ways to follow the historical events which followed immediately after the end of WWII where France and Germany used natural resources and energy as a basis for securing a peace deal with one another. This is the role which Macron and Boris should be playing rather than mimicking a man about to jump in a swimming pool (as the UK leader did at UNGA, looking buffoonish into the bargain).

Let’s do nukes together

Nuclear energy in the entire region could be the way forward for both countries and the money that the Saudis would save on defence could be ploughed into state building, jobs, start ups and the new vision of a modern economy. Probably, MBS wants a way out of the Yemen war, which is face- saving as well. He is more likely to get that by talking directly to Rouhani than Trump, Boris or Macron. We shouldn’t get carried away by the initiative by MbS, but it is hugely encouraging and pragmatic that he took the step to engage the charismatic Pakistani leader to step up to the crease. And hugely significant that he chose a regional leader who had good relations with Iran in preference for the cheap suits at UNGA. Any kind of war in the region would sky rocket oil prices which would be devastating for the economy of Pakistan, not to mention regional instability. The honeymoon period between MbS and Trump is well over. This at best now is a gauche marriage of convenience which has only given both partners a headache without the sex. The Saudi Crown prince’s overtures to Russia however are in full swing as President Putin will visit Riyadh in mid October and will look to capitalize on the mess that Trump’s foibles have created for the kingdom – which might even involve broadening the arms spending chit-chat beyond merely S-400s. Saudi Arabia is waking up and smelling the coffee as Trump’s so-called “war” with Iran makes no sense in any light. Working out a peace plan makes a lot of sense for the entire region. Someone needs to call the CEO of Lockheed Martin with the bad news as Putin’s Middle East Peace plan seems to be more of a runner than Trump’s.

[Category: Middle East, World, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UN]

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[l] at 10/10/19 4:25am

Trump has tossed the ball right back into Erdogan’s court, and given Putin a headache


US President Donald Trump is not known to practice judo. It is possible he may have picked up a few judo techniques from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who is a black belt.

But what Trump has just done to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is straight out of a physics concept used in judo.

Taking advantage of the opponent’s momentum is a smart judo technique. If he charges at you and you just stand there, he’ll knock you over. But the velocity he’s gaining can be simply used against him by pulling him over, which will cause him to throw himself. You can save yourself a lot of time and energy if you can take advantage of your opponent’s momentum.

Erdogan has been vociferously threatening to invade Syria and decimate the Syrian Kurds aligned with the US military, who are ensconced in the northern regions bordering Turkey. In the past year or so, the US has been trying in turn to pacify Erdogan, appease him, cajole him and at times even threaten him not to launch an incursion into northern Syria east of the Euphrates, where residual pockets of the Islamic State jihadist group still exist and thousands of ISIS fighters are interned in camps under the watch of the Kurdish militia, their implacable foe.

Erdogan loses his cool

On Saturday, Erdogan lost his cool and gave a timeline. He threatened that since the US hasn’t accommodated his demands to clean up the “terrorist corridor” along Turkey’s border with Syria, nor to fulfill the agreement to set up a “safe zone” in northern Syria, he would take matters into his own hands and launch a unilateral invasion east of the Euphrates “as soon as today or tomorrow.”

In Erdogan’s words: “We have completed our preparations and action plan, the necessary instructions were given … We will carry out a ground and air operation.”

Trump urgently spoke to Erdogan, and late on Sunday, the White House press secretary issued a statement taking note of Turkey’s determination to move forward “with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.”

The statement made it clear that the US “will not support or be involved in the [Turkish] operation,” and the US military contingent in northern Syria “will no longer be in the immediate area” of Turkish incursion.

It added that “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”

How far Trump and Erdogan reached an understanding remains unclear. The Turkish readout claimed that Erdogan will visit Trump in November.

Caught in a crossfire?

At any rate, Trump doesn’t want US troops to get caught in a crossfire between the Turks and the Kurds in Syria. In a series of tweets, he reverted to the refrain that the US had no business to remain militarily engaged in Syria. Trump tweeted:

“The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, including capturing thousands of ISIS fighters, mostly from Europe. But Europe did not want them back, they said you keep them USA! I said ‘NO, we did you a great favor and now you want us to hold them in US prisons at tremendous cost. They are yours for trials.’ They again said ‘NO,’ thinking, as usual, that the US is always the ‘sucker,’ on NATO, on Trade, on everything.

“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood.’ They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”

Meanwhile, RT has cited Kurdish sources to the effect that the US military pullout from parts of eastern Syria is already underway. A terrible beauty is born – Trump is finally having his way on troop withdrawal from Syria.

The stunning development has compelled all protagonists to scurry like headless chickens. The first reaction from the Kremlin betrays a sense of unease that the mercurial Turkish president may now become Russia’s headache.

Kremlin spokesmen Dmitry Peskov refused to be drawn into a discussion on Trump’s unexpected decision – “it’s not for us to decide what this signal is about.” He blandly repeated Russia’s position that “all foreign troops illegally present in Syria must leave the country.”

Russia’s predicament

Russia’s predicament is understandable. So long as Erdogan was grappling with the US, Moscow could stand back and take vicarious pleasure and take advantage of it. But now Trump has thrown in the towel, signaling he has had enough of Erdogan’s tantrums.

In principle, Russia should welcome the US withdrawal. But if Turkey moves into northern Syria, it will open a Pandora’s box – to be sure, Damascus will object. Iran has already warned Turkey against an invasion and offered to mediate with the Kurds. The Kurdish militia will resist the Turkish military and Damascus may seize the opportunity to launch an offensive to take control of Idlib in northwestern Syria from the hands of radical Islamist groups, which are supported by Turkey.

Russia may find itself in the unenviable position of being the broker on all these fronts. No doubt, a Turkish invasion of Syria at this point will infinitely complicate Moscow’s delicate moves on the diplomatic chessboard in search of a Syrian settlement.

To be an arbiter and a protagonist at the same time is an impossible situation, even for Russian diplomacy. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that the Turkish military may get bogged down in a quagmire in northern Syria.

Kurds thrown under a bus

Trump is also sure to face a lot of criticism on several scores. The Kurds have a lobby in the Washington Beltway, and there is criticism that Trump is throwing America’s Kurdish allies under the bus and that will erode US credibility as a dependable ally in the Middle East.

A powerful section within the Pentagon and the US intelligence establishment see Syria through the Cold War prism and believe that an open-ended American military presence in Syria is a strategic imperative, given the Russian military bases in that country. This viewpoint will have resonance among the political elite, think-tanks and the media who are critical of Trump.

On the other hand, Trump can bank on the optics of his decision – that he is ending US involvement in a Middle Eastern war that doesn’t concern American interests directly. Domestic opinion favors such an outcome.

In overall terms, the US withdrawal from Syria has profound implications for the region. Israel will be even more dependent on Russian benevolence. Russia has cautioned Israel against destabilizing the Syrian situation.

If the Turks prove recalcitrant, the Russian-Turkish-Iranian axis in Syria will meet sudden death. Peskov said Putin had not yet had any contact with Erdogan.

Trump’s decision leaves Erdogan utterly free to order his troops to invade Syria. But he will also be moving into the vacuum created by the US withdrawal in hostile territories. It’s unlikely that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will stand by Turkey in this risky adventure.

In fact, Turkey stands in splendid isolation. It cannot but be gripped with angst, feeling like it is trapped in an infinite Sisyphean nightmare. Turkey is joining Saudi Arabia as a fallen angel in the Beltway.

Fundamentally, these developments signify that the US retrenchment in the Middle East is accelerating. Trump has made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of going to war with Iran to safeguard Saudi Arabia.

Now, his decision on Syria will trigger disquiet in the Saudi mind that he may take a similar approach to the war in Yemen at some point very soon.

The big picture is that the regional states are coming under pressure to sort out their differences and disputes through their own initiatives – which indeed is a good thing. There are signs that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are seeking a modus vivendi with Iran.

Most certainly, during his visit to Saudi Arabia next weekend, Putin is going to push for the Russian concept regarding a collective security architecture in the Persian Gulf region. In recent remarks, Putin suggested that Russia and the US along with some others such as India could be “observers” in an inclusive collective security mechanism among the Gulf states.


[Category: Editor's Choice]

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[l] at 10/10/19 4:10am

The small U.S. territory island of Guam, which houses significant U.S. military bases, is also home to an independence movement that is growing gradually because of the lack of self-rule.

[Category: Guam Island, US]

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[l] at 10/10/19 3:55am

The issue of the United States waging what seems to be a global war by way of sanctions rarely surfaces in the western media. The argument being made by the White House is that sanctions are capable of putting maximum pressure on a rogue regime without the necessity of having to go to war and actually kill people, but the reality is that while economic warfare may seem to be more benign than bombing and shooting the reality is that thousands of people die anyway, whether through starvation or inability to obtain medicines. It is often noted that 500,000 Iraqi children died in the 1990s due to sanctions imposed by the Bill Clinton White House and current estimates of deaths in Syria, Iran and Venezuela number in the tens of thousands.

And meanwhile the regimes that are under siege through sanctions do not, in fact, capitulate to American demands even when they are feeling considerable pain. Cuba has been sanctioned by Washington since 1960 and nothing has been accomplished, apart from providing an excuse for the regime to tighten its control over the people. Indeed, one might argue that free trade and travel would have likely succeeded in democratizing Cuba much more quickly than threats coupled with a policy of economic and political isolation.

Apart from their ineffectiveness, the dark side of sanctions is what they do to third parties who get caught up in the conflict. America’s recently imposed total ban on Iranian petroleum exports comes with secondary sanctions that can be initiated on any country that buys the oil, alienating Washington’s few remaining friends and creating universal concern regarding the United States’ long-term intentions. Indeed, the United States was a country that prior to the “Global war on terror” was generally liked and respected, but today it is widely regarded as the most dangerous threat to peace in the world. This shift in perception is due to the actual wars that the US has started as well as the sanctions regime which has as its objective regime change of governments that it disapproves of.

Another aspect to sanctions that is somewhat invisible is the impact that government action has had on what are regarded as the constitutional rights of American citizens. Max Blumenthal has written an interesting article on a recent application of sanctions that has affected a group of citizens who were seeking to attend a conference in Beirut Lebanon.

Blumenthal describes how the attempt to criminalize any participation in a conference sponsored by the Iranian NGO New Horizon as a “significant escalation in the Trump administration’s strategy of ‘maximum pressure’ to bring about regime change in Iran.” A number of Americans who had intended to speak or otherwise participate in the conference were approached in advance by FBI agents, evidently acting under orders from Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The Agents warned that any participants in the conference might be subject to arrest upon return to the US because New Horizon is under sanctions. One of those who was approached by the Bureau explained that “They’re interpreting the regulations to say that even if you associate with someone who has been sanctioned, you are subject to fines and imprisonment. I haven’t seen anything in the regulations that allows that, but they’ve set the bar so low that anyone can be designated.”

The New Horizon Conference is an annual event organized by Iranian TV host and filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh and his wife, Zeina Mehanna. New Horizon was placed under financial sanctions earlier this year by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). [Full disclosure: the author attended and spoke at the conference in Mashhad last year]

US government interest in New Horizon conferences appeared to begin in 2014, after the Jewish Anti-Defamation league (ADL) called that year’s meeting an “anti-Semitic gathering” that “included US and international anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and anti-war activists.”

Potential participants in the Beirut conference made strenuous efforts to find out just what the consequences might be if they were to attend the event, but the Treasury Department refused to be drawn into a debate over restrictions that were arguably unconstitutional. Lawyers who were consulted warned that any notice from the FBI that someone might be arrested should be interpreted as meaning that someone will be arrested. Other sources in the government suggested privately that the Trump Administration would be delighted if it could make an example of some Americans who were soft on Iran.

Now that the conference has been concluded without any significant American presence, there has been some clarification of how the sanctions might be applied. Responding to a query by a potential participant, an OFAC employee explained that “transaction” and “dealing in transactions,” as those terms are used by OFAC, are broadly construed to include not only monetary dealings or exchanges, but also “providing any sort of service” and “non-monetary service,” including giving a presentation at a conference. Any person engaging in that activity could be subject to legal consequences because the Treasury Department and OFAC have broad latitude to take action against persons who violate its rules or guidelines, and that a range of factors are taken into consideration when deciding to take action against any specific person or for any specific violation.

When asked whether dealing with non-sanctioned Iranian organizations might also be construed negatively, the OFAC employee observed that there could or might be consequences. That’s because Iran (along with North Korea and a few other countries) is a “comprehensively sanctioned” country, meaning that anything having to do with “supporting it” is sanctionable.

Exactly how speaking at any Iranian sponsored event is damaging to American interests remains unclear, in spite of the “clarification” provided by OFAC, but the real damage is to those US citizens who choose to travel to countries that are at odds with Washington to offer a different perspective on what Americans actually think. And there is also considerable value in those travelers returning to the United States to share with fellow citizens perceptions of how foreigners regard US foreign policy, insofar as anything describable as a policy actually exists. In truth, the sanctions regime with its steady diet of punishment has now entered a new phase, as Blumenthal observed, where White House aggression overseas is now blowing back, eroding the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights in an act of self-destruction that is both unnecessary and incomprehensible.

[Category: Security, War and Conflict, Iran, Lebanon, OFAC, Sanctions, US]

As of 10/13/19 11:27pm. Last new 10/13/19 5:44am.

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